JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину
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Transgender / Transformation stories in English

1

Paul Gray looked through his mail in the teacher's lounge. Oh lovely, another invitation to a pointless workshop dedicated to wasting district money that could be better spent on keeping the campus from deteriorating. He tossed the invitation in the trash bin and took a sip of his Sprite.

A letter... from Lendridge... I'd been a long time since he'd heard from him, not since he'd moved to Salem, Oregon.

Seeing nothing else of interest, he opened the letter with his room key and pulled out a folded note. It was handwritten and in a hurry by the looks of it. A lot of the text was illegible chicken scratch save a couple of sections where he'd taken special care with his writing. Frowning slightly, Gray read the first section of legible script.

"... never figured her to be one... I noticed back about a week ago... she's been keeping to herself most of the time recently... I tell you, Paul, she's the one you've been waiting for... If not for you and the Secret Society, I would have overlooked her... But I tell you, my friend, she's a Selanek... says she's supposed to be a boy... magic can change reality, can't it?.. suggesting you come at once to investigate... Sincerely, Patrick Lendridge."

Gray put the letter away in his shirt pocket. He sighed and muttered to himself, "Oh boy..."

2

Chris shifted back and forth between her left foot and her right. A smile filled her lips. Julian Devers looked at her cautiously, "Did I just hear you right? Did you just say that you want to stay a girl for the rest of your life?"

Chris nodded vigorously, "Of course, being a girl is so much cooler than being a guy."

"I'd like to see you prove it." Devers fiddled with a rubiks cube in his hands, "You know I can never get these darn things to come out right."

She laid a hand on his hands. Devers looked up at her. She smiled warmly and leaned towards him. "How about this?"

She put her hands around his head and kissed him full on the lips. The kiss lasted only about a minute, but what a minute it was. She stared deep into his eyes and sat on his lap.

Devers contemplated all this a moment, "That's not quite a proof, but I suppose I'll take it."

Chris wrapped her arms around his neck, "Oh lover, I'm just getting started."

Devers shook his head and set her back down on the ground. She frowned and held her hands close to her chest in anticipation of his next words. When they didn't come, she asked, "What's wrong? Am I not pretty enough? Just gimme a few moments and I can fix that."

Devers shook his head and sighed, "No, it's not that."

Chris had no idea what it could possibly be. Devers looked at her. "You said you wanted to be a woman for the rest of your life. Well, let me do that, don't wait for the others."

Chris gasped, "Really? You can do that all by yourself? Oh, please! Please do it to me, make me a real woman!"

Devers smiled and pulled her closer to him, "I'll make you a real woman, then afterwards maybe I can make you a real woman in a different way."

Chris giggled and uttered breathlessly, "I'd love that."

Devers swirled his hands around, said a couple of words and pronounced, "Now your transformation is permanent. You're a girl for the rest of your life, no matter what. Nothing can change that."

Chris listened to him and as she did, something about what he'd said struck a cord deep inside her. A girl, forever?!! NO! It couldn't be! Devers cackled as she looked down and tried desperately to revert back to her guy form.

"No! I'm not a girl, not forever!"

Devers put on a sad look and said, "But wasn't this what you wanted? You were asking for it, no begging for it!"

Chris felt her cheeks, hair, legs, chest, and all the rest. And they were all hers till the day she died. Female for the rest of her life, no chance of her changing back. She screamed in Devers grinning face and buried her head in her hands.

NO NO! It wasn't real! She hit the ground with her fists, back and forth, but it didn't hurt, nothing hurt. She couldn't feel anything. She seemed numb to everything, numb to all the world. She wanted to die.

Chris jerked awake in her bed, soaked in sweat, and panting. Nothing but a nightmare. But she was still a girl. Maybe it wasn't a nightmare. She looked over at the clock, which showed the date as well as the time. It was Thursday 10 AM, just the second day of her three female days. She settled back on the mattress. Then something struck her.

10 AM.

Oh shoot! She was late, no make that really late for class! She jumped up out of bed and bounded for the door. Why hadn't her mom woken her up? Man oh man, this was not looking to be a very good day. She sighed and looked around. At this point, she realized that her pajama bottoms were wet and red with blood.

She clenched her eyes tight and sobbed. Why did this have to happen to her?! She pounded her head against the wall, which only succeeded in giving her a headache.

First of all, she got out of her soiled clothes and went into the bathroom where she stared at a tampon for a couple minutes as though it were an ancient relic from a lost civilization. She trembled as she put where it had to go and sighed. "Just one more day after this and then I get to go back to normal for a while." Hopefully protected from any leakage, Chris proceeded to get dressed. She contemplated taking a shower for a minute.

The drawbacks were, aside from the fact that she'd have to take out the tampon and reinsert it again after the shower, the risk of wasting too much time, as well as falling asleep in it. Frankly, she'd much rather fall asleep in her Calculus class, but then Gray had guaranteed her an A. What was the point of going anyway?

This became her tired mind's mantra... sleep, sleep, what's the point of going anyway?.. she tried to shake herself awake.

She finally decided on taking a shower and as she had anticipated, it just about put her to sleep. Nearly crawling out the glass door, she wrapped a towel around herself and returned to her bedroom. She took a quick look around and found herself to be the lone inhabitant.

She walked around, examining the house needlessly. With a sigh, she decided to head back to her room and get dressed. She put on a pair of jeans and a Dragonball Z t- shirt. She lay on the living room couch and sighed.

She leaned against her brother's "Can't sleep, clowns will eat me", psychotic pillow and hoped her dreams would be more pleasant than that and less disturbing than the one she'd had this morning.

Leaning back further, she quickly drifted off to sleep.


3

"She picks the one day we need her the most to sleep in!"

Tangerine tried to calm down the pacing Gray. "Come now, I'm sure she has a good reason for not showing up. Perhaps she's sick or something."

Gray thought about that, "Well, her sister did have a touch of the flu the other day, so I suppose it is possible."

Tangerine wore a rather thick coat of skin-tone makeup to cover up his orange complexion. He fiddled with his guest pass and said, "There now, you see, no reason to go ballistic. We'll just stop by her house later. Or give her a ring, something like that and things'll be fine. I mean it's not like this Selanek-possible is gonna run off or something, is she?"

Gray sighed and looked out the dusty window of the teacher's lounge at the students walking about during passing period. Fortunately, he'd arranged for a substitute to take care of his classes for the rest of the day. He drummed his fingers on the sill. "I suppose not."

Tangerine nodded and looked around, "Hmm... Nice little place you have here. Used to be a classroom, right?"

"Right, now it's the teacher's lounge." A pretty lady walked by outside.

"Rather impressive, don't you think, a school spread out like this on five acres? You get plenty of that good California air." Gray chuckled, "I suppose."

Tangerine held his hands behind him and walked over to his friend, "What's the matter, Paul? You look rather distant."

Gray turned away from the window and settled into one of the chairs scattered about. "It's Lendridge."

Tangerine made an 'oh' with his mouth and pulled up a chair opposite to Gray. "I thought the two of you had made your peace with one another somewhere along the line?"

"Far from it. The last I remember of him was his face in my face, yelling at the top of his lungs while a dozen vicious thoughts lashed at me from his mind."

Tangerine remembered too. "He always was a bit of hot head, even more so than me," he said with a sly grin. Gray shook his head, "I don't get it... this letter. In it, he calls me his 'friend'. The overall tone is not that of the Pat Lendridge I remember."

Tangerine wrung his hands together slowly, "Well, people change, you know."

Gray stood up and stared at Tangerine, "Not Lendridge. My gut tells me there's more to this than he's letting on."

Tangerine sighed, "I don't know, Paul. I don't know."

Gray brought his Sprite up to his lips, then pulled it away for a second to say, "Well, I know Lendridge." Then he took a sip.

Tangerine had nothing to say in response.


4

*Knock knock*

Chris heard the sound in her sleep but didn't connect it with anything at first. Then it came again, slightly louder this time.

*Knock knock*

She thought absently that someone was knocking on a door.

*Knock knock*

It sounded rather close; kinda like it was her door. She opened her eyes a slit and yawned. Then it came again.

*Knock knock*

This time she could hear it clearly. Someone was knocking on her front door. She picked herself up from the couch. Why had I slept there anyway? She wondered. Then she remembered the nightmare.

*Knock knock*

She stood up and walked over to the door. She turned the latch and pulled the door open. For an instant her eyes, just barely getting over the meager light of the living room, had to adjust to the sudden glow of the noon-day sun.

She blinked a couple of times, put her palm out like a visor to cut the glare and asked, "Yes?"

For a moment, she thought the figure before her was Andrew Johnson before she realized that was impossible. "I'm sorry to bother you like this, were you sleeping?"

She froze a second when she realized it was Devers. "Um, no, I'm just fine. What brings you here?"

Devers rubbed his hands slowly and said, "Well, I was kinda wondering if I could talk to you." Chris paused a moment with that deer-in-the-headlights look before she responded, "Uh, sure."

Devers walked in slowly, "Nice home you have."

"Thanks. So what can I do to... for you?" She felt herself turn red at her little Freudian slip. Devers looked her in the eye; "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure... go ahead." Her heart began to race.

Devers edged closer to her, "Well, it's kinda like this... I know we don't know each other all that well and we've just met and all that, but I feel strongly enough to ask..."

Chris felt her heart pounding. "Yes?"

"... will you? Will you... . I mean will you, um, play cards with me?"

Chris' shoulders slumped, "What?!"

Devers pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket, "I'm partial to blackjack, but we can play anything you want." Chris shook her head, "Is a dream or reality?"

Devers shrugged, "Could be. If it is just erase me from existence."

"Why would I want to do that?" Devers shuffled the cards and said, "Leave me in then if you prefer."

Chris sat back down on the couch, "I don't know if this is real or just my imagination." Devers sat next to her. "Does it really matter?"

"Of course, because if this is reality then what I'm going do next will have far reaching repercussions." Devers leaned towards her and asked, "And what is that?"

She grabbed his head and kissed him. "That" she said, pulling away from him for a second. Devers looked at her in shock but that shock quickly faded, "Planning to anything else with far reaching repercussions?"

"I might." She locked lips with him again and sighed, "Too bad this is a dream."

Someone put a key in the front door. After a second of jiggling the door opened. Her mother stood there, a look of surprise on her face. "Christine, what are you doing?"

Devers grinned, "What does it look like she's doing Mrs. Wren? Sorry, Chris, but this is reality."

Chris' mouth fell open and she screamed.

"Darn it!" She panted and leaned back against the cushion. Having two nightmares in one morning was enough to make her give up sleeping. She rolled off the couch and onto the floor.

She looked around. The house was empty, just as it had been when she fell asleep. Reflecting back on the dream, she felt relieved that it wasn't real. Leaning against the foot of the couch, she pinched her hand, leaving behind a red mark that quickly faded away. The jolt of pain she received convinced her that this was realty.

She rubbed her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. She put her arms behind her head and thought about the nightmares. She couldn't remember too much about the first one, just something about being a woman is cool, kissing Devers and being a woman permanently. She shook her head in the hopes that all memories of the dream would be erased in the process. But this didn't work.

The other dream seemed weirder, reality vs. dreamscape, kinda like something out of an Outer Limits episode. She shook her head again to rid her mind of the imagery. Her stomach growled. She checked the clock on the wall. It was about a quarter till noon.

Chris stood and walked over to the kitchen. She hoped for a note or something on the counter from her mother, but alas, nothing. She opened the fridge door and her long, pink nails rapped against the door as she did. It brought her back to that first day.

She contemplated cutting them and using some polish remover to change them back to their normal color. She walked over to the bathroom and rummaged around for the nail clippers. Fortunately, they were on the second shelf and, conveniently, the polish remover was right next to them.

She looked at her nails a moment. They sure were pretty. Stop that!, she told herself. Another headshake, but the incongruent thought didn't go away this time. What point did it serve to cut her nails and return them to their normal color? They'd probably just revert back a few minutes later. Besides, she thought, it was kinda cool to have long nails. No it's not! she told herself when she realized how close that sounded to her comment in the dream.

Chris readied the clipper. She wondered momentarily which she should do first, remove the polish or clip them. She opened the container of remover and prepared to apply it to her nails when her resolve waned.

They were just nails for Pete's sake! What did it matter if they were long or short or pink or orange or decorated with pistachios? she thought. That last one made her giggle a second then gasp at what she had done. She had just giggled like a girl, just like she had in the nightmare!

She put away the remover and clippers and looked down at the floor. What was happening to her?! Maybe it was some kind of female-saturation-psychosis. Sure that seemed like a stretch, but what else could explain her dreams and her behavioral changes? Her period?

She shook her head vigorously. She had to go to school. If not for the classes, just so she could talk with herself and get all this off her chest. Chris leaned against the doorframe and sighed.

Just this day and next, she reminded herself, just this day and the next.


5

After a bowl of cereal, some toast and a glass of juice, Chris picked up her purse, which had about eighty bucks in it, and walked out the door. She felt better after having eaten. She clutched her purse close to her and began walking.

The pedestrian traffic was light. The occasional person passed her by, but they scarcely glanced at her. Her walk went quickly, but then she was in no hurry. In fact, she had no idea where she'd be going after her session with herself. Her afternoon was pretty much open. Maybe she'd go down to the mall and buy a cute outfit.

She screeched to a halt and nearly tripped over her own feet. A jogger noticed this and frowned but continued jogging as though nothing had happened. Chris gritted her teeth. Cute outfit! Where'd that idea come from?! She shook her head again and growled to herself, "Why? Why is this happening? Why can't I just think about ROP, Playstation, or Magic the Gathering or better yet about focusing my skills like Christof taught me, focus on becoming a better sorcerer? All that clothes junk is pointless! I have plenty of clothes in my closet!"

She moved faster, slowly working up to a run. I'd been a while since she'd had a good run. Pretty soon, she was up to the pace that the jogger had been going but she kept accelerating. Faster, she needed to go faster! She panted, breaking out into a full sprint. The blocks went by, one after another.

Quickly she began to tire, but that didn't slow her down. She just kept going faster and faster until it seemed like something had to give and that something turned out to be her knee.

She could hear the popping as she misjudged the curb. At first, she thought it was her ankle. She'd injured it back on Corvalis but Kestrel had fixed it for her. She collapsed in a heap and cringed as she tried to move it.

Sitting on the ground, she clenched her teeth and groaned. Why did this have to happen to her?! It was her own fault though, why was she running so fast? It was insane! Surely, she knew that it was unsafe to run that fast on a sidewalk? Chris tested herself on the knee and immediately crumpled back to the ground as the pain shot up her leg. It was like the ankle all over again, only higher up. She debated for a moment whether the pain was worse this time or that time. She settled on a stalemate. All pain sucks.

"Christine?"

Chris frowned and looked up. A man was standing next to her. Odd that she hadn't heard him approach. Her heart stopped when she realized who it was. "Oh, damn!", she said aloud, when she meant to keep that as her internal voice.

Devers crouched beside her and asked worriedly, "What's wrong?!" He had on the same trench coat he was wearing when she last saw him at the IHOP and before that on the way home. Before her life changed forever.

She edged away from him as best she could, "Stay away from me!"

Devers wore a quizzical look, "Huh?"

"Don't touch me!"

Devers grunted, "Well that's fine 'hi, how do you do?'. What's the matter with you?"

Chris felt tears fill her eyes, "Please... don't touch me... leave me alone..." Devers felt confused. Here Christine was in obvious distress and she didn't want help. In fact, she seemed repulsed by his presence.

"Are you sure about that?", he asked.

Chris didn't exactly respond, but tears dripped down her eyes as she sobbed slowly. Devers sighed and wracked his brain for an explanation to Christine's odd behavior. His guess wasn't too far off. Must be her time of the month, he figured.

"Now listen here, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to help. Are you hurt?"

Chris answered between sobs, "My knee is... hurting."

Devers looked at her legs. She was wearing long pants so he didn't know for sure which one was the injured one. "Left or right leg?"

"Left."

He took her left leg in his hands, which prompted a sudden gasp from Chris, who immediately kicked Devers in the chest with her good leg. Devers coughed, "I was only trying to help!"

"Well you're not helping if you must know and that really hurt!"

"Sorry... well, I think it's just sprained. There might be some tendon damage though, so don't quote me on that. Give me your arm."

Chris hesitantly presented her arm to him and he slung it over his shoulder. Their heights were a little uneven, but Devers' crouching down helped a little. Chris limped along with Devers supporting her. It was slow going though. "So where were you headed?" asked Devers.

"Warrenson High."

"Ahh, I see. That explains your running. Late for class?"

Chris shook her head, "No, I just ran because, well, I don't know. I just felt in the running mood."

Devers chuckled, "Interesting. Well, feel in the running mood anymore?"

Chris grimaced, "Not really... hey can't I just fix this with my curative magic?"

"I don't see why not. Why don't you go ahead and do that? You've been getting to be a real burden anyway." Chris scowled at him and prepared to do her first curative incantation and she had no idea how to begin. Well, first of all she had to focus on the goal, which in this case was an uninjured leg. But then, was that the correct way of going about this? She had no clue.

It was worth a try though. She focused on an uninjured leg. At first it seemed like the incantation wasn't going to work, then a warm, calming sensation filled her. It only lasted about a minute. She tested her injured leg and happily discovered her incantation had cured her.

Devers smiled and patted her on the back, "Good job. An excellent incant, if I do say so myself." Chris nodded and decided this was the time to part company with Devers. "Well, thank you for helping like that. But I must be going."

Devers waved and smiled to her as she walked on, then he continued in the opposite direction. After a while, he was out of view. Chris breathed a sigh of relief. But why? The real Devers hadn't done anything.

You can't punish someone for something they did in a dream, especially your own dream! Chris paused a moment to run a hand through her hair then she walked on.


6

She made her way to the bleachers where the transportation doorway, the one made out of graham cracker, stood. Swarms of ants crawled all over it. She reminded herself to bring a can of Raid the next time she visited it.

She quickly punched in the code for the psychiatrist's office and carefully opened the door so as to avoid the ants.

The same room from yesterday greeted her. She walked in and closed the door behind her just as carefully. Standing there a moment, she waited for her male counterpart to show up. When he didn't arrive after about a minute of waiting, she sighed and decided maybe she should try later. She turned around to leave.

"Hello."

Her head drooped, "Darn it! How come I have to turn around?! Are you too embarrassed to appear right in front of me?"

Male Chris sighed and responded, "It's nice to see you too, Ms. Congenial."

"I am not a Miss!"

He arched his eyebrows and asked, "Oh yeah? Then what are you?"

"A guy stuck with a girl's body, at the moment, how about that? You're not gonna catch me in any traps!" For Chris, it felt better to have an at least seemingly real person to throw her anger at without any repercussions. He tossed up his hands and asked innocently, "Oh come on, why would I try to catch you in a trap? What would be the purpose of that anyway?"

She grunted, "I don't know."

"If you don't know then how am I supposed to know?" Chris lashed out at him, "Well, you're my sub-conscious. I don't know what you're thinking or what you're trying to achieve. All I know is you're messing with my mind!"

"How could I possibly do that?"

Chris really had no idea, so she tried grasping at straws, "Maybe Gray or one of the others set this up, put in some kinda of sub-conscious restructuring system to try and change me."

Of course, he noticed the flaw in her logic immediately, "Why would they do that?"

She kept on the offensive though, "How am I supposed to know?! I might have known him as a teacher for a while, but that's just an illusion he wears. How do I know that he's not wearing any more illusions, maybe even ones that Tangerine and Christof don't know about? Or perhaps they're in on it too?"

Chris began seriously thinking about this. Guy Chris walked over and patted her on the head, "Paranoia really doesn't suit you."

Chris edged away from him, "Stop it! Ok, so that's lame, but something's going on that they don't want me to know about. How about all this Selanek junk? I say they just want to use me as a martyr for their own purposes. I know it!"

As she went along, she realized the absurdity of her allegations. She rested her chin against her hand and sat down on the couch. The other Chris smiled and asked her, "Got it out of your system yet?"

"Hardly."

He changed the topic all of a sudden, "I'm glad you decided not to cut your nails, they look lovely like that. In fact I'll go further and say that you are lovely, even in those clothes. No, I take it back, beautiful is a better word."

Chris felt herself blush for an instant before she caught herself. He smiled. Chris looked away from him. She ran her hand through her hair again and sighed. "I don't care."

"Oh yes you do."

"No I don't. I don't care if you think I'm beautiful, besides, you're biased anyway!"

He snickered, "That's right! I kinda forgot about that."

"It's difficult to forget about a thing like that."

He shrugged, "Well, sometimes more so."

Chris glanced down at her nails for a second. Pretty? Well, yeah, she could kinda see that, she just couldn't accept that. Lovely and beautiful though she couldn't see.

Guy Chris walked slowly around the couch where she was sitting. "You're thinking about it, aren't you?"

Chris didn't give so much as a head nod. After a moment she asked, "Why do you think I'm lovely and all that? I can see how you might think my nails are kinda... cute... I guess, but lovely, no way! And as for me, in total, you're just loco is you think I'm beautiful."

He sighed, "I can convince you of it, but only if you want to be convinced."

"Huh? What the fruit are you talking about?"

"I know it sounds a tad confusing, but just think about it for a second. Only with an open mind can you accept new ideas."

"Isn't that a bit generalized?"

"So sue me if I sound like a fortune cookie."

She smirked, "Better watch out 'cause that might come back and bite you in the ass. Who says you can't file a lawsuit against yourself?"

He narrowed his eyes at her, "You wouldn't..."

"Oh wouldn't I... ok, I probably won't."

"That's what I figured." Chris looked up at him. "Ok, just tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"Why am I beautiful?"

He sat down on the couch next to her, "Well, is your mind open?"

"It's open enough."

"Really?"

"What? Do you want me to take a hammer and chisel and split it open? Because that's the only way it's ever gonna be more open than it is right now!"

He put his hands up in defense, "Okay okay. Well, first of all, let me start with your nails." He took her right hand in his and rubbed his thumb slowly, carefully along the top. "The color reminds me of the birthday party I had when I was eight years old. It was one of those rent-a-party-room affairs. And the balloon I got to keep was this color."

Chris narrowed her eyes at him, "I remember that. But isn't that kinda weak?"

He reassured her, "I'm not finished yet."

"Now aside from that when I look at them I make a mental calculation. I've seen nails far longer than this, mostly on medical assistants at my job site. But these are better in some ways because they're not egregiously long while still being quite a bit long. And naturally grown too. No glue-on nails here. This is the real thing and that makes it all the more impressive. Then you've got this lovely nail polish. Don't you think that's a really pleasant color?"

Chris rubbed her lips against one another nervously, "I guess so."

"All in all, that comes together to make your nails look truly beautiful."

"I don't see it."

He sighed, "Well, I tried."

Chris kept looking at her fingers a moment, then up at her counterpart, "Well, what about the rest?"

He smiled, turned to face her as best he could and looked her over. "Well, let's start with your head, that's as good a place as any."

He reached under the couch and pulled out a 12 inch by 12 inch mirror, which he handed to her. "I didn't see that when I came in!"

"It's magic, cope."

She looked into the mirror, "Ok, what about my head?"

"First of all, there's that hair to get past."

"It's the same as it's always been."

"Possibly..." He presented his own ponytail for her inspection. She compared them. They were rather close in appearance but her hair was something like 3 centimeters longer. That was it. "I told you, just about the same."

"All right, I'll give you that one. But what surrounds it really determines what it looks like. Say you saw a ponytail like that on a big, surly biker dude."

"Ok. And?"

"What I mean to say is people would have different feelings about that because of the bigger picture of how he looks aside from the ponytail. On you, it kinda reminds me of a movie star's hair. Not those glossed over, phony hairstyles that they wear to ritzy affairs though. I mean the kind that they have in their movies, where even though they're pretending to be common folk their looks still shine through anyway."

Chris looked at her hair in the mirror and turned it so that she could see all of it. Movie star? No way! "I ain't no movie star."

"True, but you look like one."

"Gimme a break."

Chris hung his head, "You know you're being very stubborn today!"

"So sue me."

"I just might..." he said with a smile. He cleared his throat and continued, "Well, aside from your hair, there's your face, needless to say, and there's no disputing that it's absolutely beautiful."

She paused a moment. She remembered all the times that Grenn had told her she was beautiful and she'd accepted it without so much as a word of dispute. Well, she was just being polite. "It's really rather plain."

"You're being obstinate!"

"I'm just telling it like it is, my face is plain!"

"What about before all this?"

"Before all this I didn't really care. And I still don't! What does it matter anyway if I'm pretty or cute, or even beautiful? Are looks all that matter? What about intelligence?"

He shrugged, "That's not the point."

"It is the point!"

"What you're doing is trying to answer a fact with a ethical debate! This is not about whether the world puts too much importance on attractiveness. This is about convincing you of who you are. It is vital to your self-image, to your self-esteem, that you realize who you are."

"And what exactly am I, to you?! Am I miss wall poster of the month? Am I the girl you dream of sleeping with? What am I?!"

Chris coughed, "What are you talking about?"

"Huh?"

"I'm not real remember? I don't have posters, I don't have dreams!"

She held her head in her hands, "Well I do have dreams and they're scaring me."

He grinned and put his hand on his chin, "Ahhh! Now we get to the meat of the issue at hand!"

"Shut up. I thought you were telling me why I'm beautiful?"

"I'll finish later. First tell me about these dreams you've been having."

Chris edged away from where he was sitting on the couch, "I don't wanta."

"Come on, you'll feel better afterward."

She rocked her feet back and forth, "I don't even want to think about it."

"Was it really that bad?"

Chris rubbed the area around her bra strap then an instant later jerked her hands away as though she'd touched a hot coal. "As I said, I don't even want to think about it."

"You didn't answer my question."

"So what?"

He moved over closer to her. She gave him a vicious look. "Listen to me. I know you're scared, scared to death about these things you're feeling, thinking, sensing, but you can't keep them bottled up. That'll just make things worse for you."

She shook her head and bared her teeth, "Don't come any closer to me."

"You changed the subject."

"SO WHAT?!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. She shut her eyes tight and sobbed, breathing sharply in and out. He tried to comfort her, but she would have none of that. "YOU JUST STAY AWAY! OR I'LL..."

She was about to say 'kill you', when she realized that would be pointless. He couldn't die. Guy Chris didn't leave her side though. She looked over at him through her tears, "I'm not meant to be this! Don't you see?! I was born a guy, I grew up as a guy and it feels right for me to be a guy. When I'm like this it feels like everything is wrong."

"How so?"

She stared at him silently for a second. "Well, for one, my mind feels different. I have these incongruent thoughts. My face, which you're so enamored by, not only looks unnervingly different, but it feels different too. When I used to touch it, I could feel the hints of stubble, I knew what it felt like. I had it memorized." She put a hand up to her cheek, "Now when I touch it, it doesn't even feel like mine. Everything seems different. My chin is not quite in the right place, nor are my cheekbones. I have thinner eyelashes and softer skin. Now someone who was born a girl might love to have a face like mine, but I'd rather have my old one back."

She continued, "As for this hair of mine, well, it's just about the only thing that doesn't feel too strange, but that's it. Listen to my voice, I sound like I swallowed a helium balloon!"

He smirked and eventually started laughing. Chris, in spite of herself, smiled a little too and stifled a chuckle. He saw his chance and grabbed her. She gasped, but soon started laughing as he tickled her. She tried to push him away, but he refused to let go.

She started giggling and squirming to get away from him. "Stop it... hehehe!... your... hehehe... gonna make me pee my pants!" But he refused to stop. He kept tickling her. The two of them fell off the couch and rolled around on the floor while he continued to tickle her. "I'm gonna... *giggle*... get you... *giggle*... for this!" He finally quit tickling her when she stopped trying to get away. They lay against each other on the ground. She turned to look at him. She smiled broadly and tried to catch her breath. She wiped aside her tears and asked, "Why'd you do that?" He looked into her eyes, "You looked like you needed it."

She chuckled, "Shouldn't have said anything about a helium balloon. I really do sound like that though."

"You sure do."

She stared at him. "Thank you. I guess I did need that. It was fun."

"Would you like a second go?"

"No!"

He smiled impishly and wiggled his fingers. She laughed to herself, "Get away from me." He inched closer to her. "I'm gonna get you!"

She smiled a second then the smile faded but didn't quite go away. She looked at him pleasantly and began to move closer. He wore the same look. "Chris?" she asked.

"Yeah?"

"Could you hold me?"

"Sure."

He wrapped his arms around her. She leaned her head on his shoulder and shut her eyes. She ran her hands along his back. She sighed and nuzzled him. He let her go.

"What?"

He held her hand and explained, "Go back to talking about yourself."

She looked down at his hand, "Well, my hands have these nails, these painted nails. And I've never had painted nails before, not for any real length of time and certainly not ones of this length. As well, my... hands are softer, smoother and narrower. And it's changed the way I write. I have a much smoother way of writing now."

"And this is a bad thing?"

She shook her head as she looked at them, "Not really bad, just strange, unfamiliar. But they remind me of my mother's hands." She laid her hand against her cheek and shut her eyes. "She has such beautiful hands."

He gave her a moment to reflect on that before speaking, "And the rest?"

She opened her eyes and sighed, "Well, there's my chest."

"Obviously." She looked him in the eye a moment then said, "It's been difficult to adjust to. There's the whole strangeness of it to begin with. You feel like something's wrong with you. You've got these things sticking out of your chest and it's like 'they shouldn't be there' you think, but they just stay there anyway. Compared with all the other things, they're the worst. They're always there, reminding me of what I've become. Of what I'll be three days out of a week for the rest of my life."

She moistened her lips. "And I suppose you want to know my take on the rest as well. My hips are quite a bit wider and as the textbooks say my 'center of gravity is lower' too. It's kinda strange, different. I suppose I can do that old 'stand against the wall and touch your toes' thing they talk about. What I mean is I've heard that while a guy can try and stand against a wall and reach down and touch his toes, his center of gravity is too high. He can't do it. Only a girl, with her lower center of gravity can do this. Kinda one of those little, 'I'm better than you' things that feminists hold over guys, I guess."

"Wanta try it?"

She looked at the wall, "Ok, I'll try it."

She put her heels against the wall, bent over to touch her toes and fell flat on her face. "I guess it's not a thing that works every time for every person", said Guy Chris.

Chris growled, "I'm not giving up yet." After about the tenth time, she finally decided to give up. "Anyway, it's strange."

"Yup."

She walked around a little bit, "Can I skip over the next thing? I mean it is what makes me a female, but I know enough about it already by having it and you're my sub- conscious, so you get some of that too and plus we've both had sex-ed class. So can I just pass over it?"

"Sure, after all you were the one who brought the issue up. You said you felt different like this and you didn't like it."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Don't make me use the tickle on you again."

She sat down and rested her hand on her cheek, "Please..."

"You're progressing so well, just don't be afraid."

She took a deep breath, "This morning I woke up from a nightmare. One where I was acting out of character. I was enjoying being a woman and wanted to become one permanently. I came on to Devers and he permanently changed me into a girl. Then, in the dream, I realize that I'm a girl for life and I scream. Then I woke up." She'd been able to reconstruct the plot of the dream from what she'd remembered of it but she had lost all the other details.

"But when I woke up I realized I had overslept, so I rushed, trying to get ready. Then I realized I was wet. I was having my period. Would you like to know anything else?"

Chris shook his head, "I already know everything, I'm you after all."

"Then why do you want me to dig all this up and talk about it if you already know?"

"To help you. As I said yesterday, you're not talking to me, you're talking to yourself. Tell yourself how you feel. Don't let what you feel tell you what to do."

"Now you're sounding like a fortune cookie."

He grasped her hand, "Let me tell you why you're beautiful. Because you don't even try to be. In fact you do everything in your power not be beautiful and yet you still look lovely. You have a wonderful personality when you're not making wisecracks or yelling in people's faces. You're a beautiful person, as well as being a beautiful woman, Christine, and there's no two ways about it. That's the truth."

She rubbed his hand with hers. "I'm not really ready to accept it yet though. I can't. I'm not a woman, not a true woman at least and nothing you say right now will change that."

He rubbed her hand gently, "At least you're not yelling in my face any more."

She smiled, "Just so long as you don't tickle me." He smirked.

"Oh no you don't!"

But it was too late, soon she was squirming around, giggling and half-heartedly telling him to "Cut it out!" They laughed to one another when it was over, out of breath and exhausted. He recovered quickly though since he was an illusion. It took a little longer for her.

She panted and looked him in the eye. She wrapped her hands around his head and kissed him on the lips. A short kiss.

When she pulled away, he arched his eyebrows and asked, "Why did you do that?"

Chris grinned and answered, "Don't read too much into it. I just wanted to be able to claim that I'd kissed myself... on the lips."

"Is that really it?"

"Yup."

Neither of them spoke for a moment then he said, "I'll see you tomorrow, I guess."

"Yeah."

He gave her a peck on the forehead and helped her to her feet. She watched as he faded away slowly where he stood. She touched a hand to her forehead. The place where he had kissed her was still moist.

She touched her fingers to her lips. It wasn't quite like her kiss with Grenn. That one was different. She exited out the graham cracker door a minute later. "Darn ants!", she muttered to herself as she carefully closed it behind her again.

7

"Should we file a missing person's report?" asked Tangerine as he and Gray stood on the front porch to the Wren residence. Tangerine had used his abilities to open the door but they had found no one inside. "Do you think she just went out on the town, so to speak?"

"I don't know, it's possible."

Tangerine thought about something, "Why don't you just go alone, like the letter says, or maybe I can go with you or something?"

"This is not a one-person affair. And as much as I'm glad you've regained your backbone, this Selanek business complicates things. Sure I can probably read her mind, but she won't want to talk to me. The only person she might talk to would be Christine. She understands what this girl, who was probably originally male, is going through. As well, she'll be my backup in case Lendridge's intent is not entirely benign."

Tangerine sighed, "All right, let's keep looking. Where do teenage girls usually hang out? When I was young I used to hang out at the bookstore."

Gray chuckled. "Well, you're strange... I've mind-read my share of teenagers. Mostly to see if they're trying to cheat on a test. And teenage girls typically flock to one of three places; a clothing store, a salon or a mall. And since those two places are usually found inside of a mall they go there nine times out of ten."

"If you say so. Then I guess we better try there next. Can't hurt to look. Besides I've been thinking of getting some new shoes for a while. And I'd also like to get that new Arthur C. Clarke book they've said is out."


8

Chris waited for the bus to the mall three blocks down from Warrenson High on Seventh Street. She sat on one of the benches and waited. The 12:20 bus arrived on time shortly afterward. She paid the fare and boarded the bus, which wasn't all that crowded today. She chose a seat towards the back next to a woman and two kids that Chris figured were her children. A boy and girl, each roughly ten years old.

Chris smiled pleasantly at them, but made no attempt to speak. She took her seat and sighed. "Dragonball Z?" someone asked her.

She turned in the direction of the voice. A rather nerdy fellow was looking in her direction. He was sitting on the opposite side of the bus. He wore coke bottle glasses, a plaid shirt and khaki slacks. His face had sporadic outbreaks of acne. "You're a fan of Dragonball Z?"

"Yeah" she said with a slight smile. He fidgeted a little bit, "Cool. I, um, really like it, this week's episode was, um, really good."

It surprised her how much he was floundering in his attempts to talk to her. One of those 'I'm not worthy!' kinda guys, she figured. He didn't make much eye contact with her, probably too shy.

"Really? I missed that one. What happened?"

He moistened his lips once, then proceeded to remoisten them. "Well, um."

She gestured for him to come over to her side of the bus. He uneasily got to his feet and walked over to where she was sitting. He sat about three seats over from her. "So what's your name?" He looked at her a second as though she'd just asked a difficult question, then the answer came to him with a jolt. "... Ronald Bernson... Ronald.."

"Hi, Ronald" she said with a smirk, "My name is Christine Wren."

"Hi."

"So, tell me about that episode and sit a little closer. That way you don't have to yell."

He edged over one seat, trembling. "Ok."

"Sit right next to me, Ronald." She wondered to herself for a second if she was doing this out of sympathy or morbid curiosity. Ronald edged over like a snake, trailing along the chair. He seated himself on the farthest possible edge of the chair and looked nervously at her. "Ok."

She moved into his chair, prompting a quick yelp from Ronald. There was enough room for the both of them because of Chris' relatively small size, but not much more than that. She pressed her leg against his leg. She could feel his pulse through his slacks. His heart was racing.

"Ok, go ahead and tell me."

Ronald turned to look her in the eye a second, probably taking that moment to memorize her face. Then he came back to reality, "Huh?"

"Tell me about the episode. I'm excited to know what happened."

Actually, she could have said something less plausibly suggestive than that, but since she was toying with him, she decided to pull out all the stops.

"Ok. Well..." He proceeded to tell her the plot, fumbling at some points and shifting his eyes away from hers at times, mostly to think of what he should say next.

Chris listened with half an ear, but maintained eye contact with him. She'd seen the episode three times already.

She thought for a second of asking him if he'd like to go out on a date sometime, but for just a second. She was enjoying this way too much!

When he stumbled his way to the end, she smiled and said, "Wow, sounds like a good one. I'm sorry I missed it."

"It was... um, I tape them all though and keep them. I'm a big fan."

"Cool. Yeah, I got this shirt at the mall a little while back. I don't know, I might get another one while I'm there."

"That's good."

She tugged on her shirt to straighten it out and tighten it and turned to face Ronald. "You see, it's Goku. He's my favorite character."

She figured that he would be more focused on the *cough* outline her shirt had.

But he just glanced at it quickly and turned away, nodding vigorously. What an honorable guy, she thought. She could see the mall out the window across from her. She didn't have much time to finish this up. Or did she?

"What's your phone number, Ronald?"

"Huh?"

"Oh, I was just wondering, you know, I could give you a call, we could talk, maybe get together and watch that episode or something. It would be cool."

He stared her a moment as though waiting for her to say, 'sucker!' or 'Not!" or something like that. When she didn't, he handed her a small card.

"It's, um, a business card."

"Whoa, that's so cool." The card listed his name, address, phone number, beeper number and web site address. "Internet-based?", she asked.

"Yeah."

The bus stopped, "Well", she said, "this is where I get off... oops, I almost forgot to give you my number. Let me get something to write it on."

She took out a piece of scrap paper from her purse and wrote her number and address on it. "There you go. Give me a call or something." Ronald nodded and stared down at the note. She thought about giving him a goodbye hug, but figured that'd probably be a little much for having just met.

"Bye, Ronald." He finally found his voice, "Um, bye, Christine. Have a nice day. I promise to call later."

9

She stepped off the bus with a smirk and pulled her purse close to her. The doors of the bus closed after her and it motored off. She turned to wave goodbye to Ronald, but he didn't see her. Probably still reeling from shock, she figured with a chuckle. Why had she done that? Did she even have any intention of having a serious relationship with him? She was gonna change back into Chris for four days the day after tomorrow. How could she have any kind of serious relationship with anyone with a situation like that? Her headshake came back after a rather long absence. What was she thinking trying to flirt with a guy?!

Was she going nuts? Maybe, she thought, this was what adjusting to her situation was like? She sighed and decided to take things slowly, after all, she had that whole Selanek business to work out first. It's hard to plan in the long-term when you've got something like that hanging over your head like a sharpened pendulum, ticking down closer with every instant.

But what could she do? Mope and hope? No, she decided she wouldn't let that get her down, not right now, not today. Her counterpart had lifted her up with a frenzied tickle and she was determined to ride the emotion high from it.

She walked over to the main entrance, with its double-level marble fountain. She walked past it, watching all the little kids that were teasing the water with hands until their worried parents pulled them away.

She pulled open the one of the many glass doors. A couple of restaurants that catered to the tastes and needs of business people were first, with a cyber-caf just past that. A sneaker store and western art shop. She stopped to browse at a mid-scale clothing store. She wandered in and looked around. She saw a couple rather nice items, but nothing that begged 'buy me!'

"Can I help you, ma'am?" asked a female clerk who smiled a full set of gleaming white teeth. She'd been addressed as ma'am before, just not in her world. "Um, just looking."

"Anything in particular that you're looking for?"

A little voice in the back of her head said, "Something that shows off my body." She silenced the voice before it made her speak those thoughts though. "I don't know, got anything different?"

She smiled and nodded, "Come with me." The clerk took her to the back section of the store where she pulled a blouse off the rack that made her mouth drop slightly. She pulled it back up and asked, "What is it?"

"It's imitation velvet." And bright red, as she could see. She wondered how she'd look in it. "Do you have a changing room?"

She pointed to a doorway off to one side. Chris thanked her and walked over to it. She opened one of white slat doors and took her Dragonball Z shirt off. She pulled the blouse over her head and realized as she was adjusting it that was about a size too small. Her belly button showed.

As well, it pressed against her chest a little. She pivoted and modeled in front of the mirror. This could work, she thought. The headshake hit her with a vengeance. What was she doing?! What's was next, hot pants?!, she asked herself. Was she having some kinda mid-female days crisis or something, trying to jam all her exploration into one afternoon? This was nuts! This wasn't how she acted! Was she changing? Had her counterpart's tickling knocked a screw loose or something because she hadn't been acting the same since? She asked herself all this and pulled the blouse off. It really was a cute blouse though, she thought to herself. Maybe some other time, she told herself, take it slow.

What about Carpe Diem?! She asked herself back. Seize the day and all that?! Live today as though it's your last because tomorrow is always in question! She pulled the blouse back on, picked up her purse and the t-shirt and walked out. The clerk smiled and nodded, "Does it fit all right?"

She smiled back at her, "It's just fine. What kind of pants do you have?"

She led her over to a row of pants. There were khaki drawstrings, leather pants and of course, hot pants. She shook her head. They just didn't really interest her. She had a strange thought.

"Where are your skirts?"

Come on, you've got to be kidding!, she asked herself. The clerk pointed her to a large display. "What length of skirt are you interested in?"

You better not get a short one, she told herself and this time she listened. "Not too short. About the knee." That would still be kinda short though, she told herself.

She settled on a lovely cotton, flower print one with a calmer shade of red than her blouse which she put on in the changing room. Now though there was the matter of the clothes that she had been wearing. The clerk helped her out by giving her a bag for them.

The total came out to 39 dollars, which Chris promptly paid. That left her with forty bucks because of the bus fare.

She waited a minute before exiting the store. Not that there were a lot of people outside the door that would see her, but there'd be a few and she felt scared out of her skin. She tried to stay calm, browse around a little bit. The clerk noticed this and asked, "Will there be anything else?"

She shook her head, "No, I don't think so. Thanks."

"You're welcome, ma'am. Have a pleasant day!"

"I will."

She exited out the glass door and stood there a moment. No one burst out laughing at the sight of her. No one suddenly gasped or yelled and no one dropped to their knees either. In fact she didn't get any more looks than she had gotten before. Men glanced at her and her chest but that only meant their eyes were open.

Deciding to act natural, she walked along until she got to the games shop. She walked inside and scoped out the Magic the Gathering sets available. "Can I help you?", said the clerk, a fellow with styled, sandy brown hair with blond highlights at the tips and a meticulously kept goatee, who was reading a translated manga.

He scratched his chin for a second and stared at her disinterestedly. She leaned on the counter with her arms folded under one another and glanced up at the box sets along the wall. "What's your newest Magic set?"

The guy reached over and picked up a set of Nemesis edition cards. She already had a few of that edition. Or at least Chris did. "Hmm, that's the newest?"

"Yup, ma'am." She sighed and tapped her fingers on the counter. Well, no luck here. "Thank you." She exited out the door. He nodded slowly, pulled up a chair and went back to his reading.

She walked on through mall and came to the bookstore. Normally she would have passed it by but she figured since she was being different today for some rather inexplicable reason, she went in. She looked through the magazine rack. Vogue, Teen, Seventeen and all the rest. She picked up one and flipped through it. Despite the fact she was having a strange day, she still found them boring as heck.

She found a row of romance novels. She picked out one that looked rather interesting with the prerequisite painted cover featuring two hot bodies getting steamy. She thought about getting Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, but figured she had enough experience as both sexes to write a book of her own.

She settled on one of the bestsellers, a thriller by an author she'd never heard of that, nonetheless, looked compelling. Chris took her purchases up to the clerk and noticed a familiar face in the sci-fi section. Tangerine.

Sure he had on a thick coat of makeup, but she could tell it was him. She waved to him, but he didn't see her. He was too busy searching through the titles. She thought about talking to him, but figured that he might get upset if he were interrupted.

She took the bag with her purchases from the clerk and exited.

She continued walking down the promenade, stopping only to buy a drink from one of the vendors. It wasn't pop gnome, but it quenched her growing thirst. And it wasn't Sprite either, oddly enough.

She walked and sipped her soda. She noticed an artist set up off to one side. She walked over and asked him what he painted. "I paint people as anime characters. I used to be an artist back in Japan before I moved here. For ten years I drew for all the famous programs." Yeah, yeah, she thought, no need to give me your biography.

"Cool. Could you draw me?"

"Yes, full body or just your face. Five and three dollars. Five for full body."

"I'll take a full body drawing." She paid him and laid her bag down next to his easel, but not her purse. That she kept with her. "Okay, now what?"

He gestured with his hand to the small, white cloth on the floor about six feet in front of the easel, "Stand there and choose a pose."

She walked over and stood there. "All right. How about this?" She leaned slightly to her right and folded her arms around her stomach. The artist frowned and shook his head, "We could try that one, but I don't think it'll come out all that well."

Chris returned to a regular standing position. "What do you think would be best?"

"Try moving around for a second and I'll tell you when I see something good."

And she did, shifting to the left and back again, crouch, till she figured she'd exhausted all her possibilities. She laid an arm behind her head, looked off to one side and... . "That's it! Hold that pose!"

She froze where she was and listened as he began rubbing the paper with his pen. She tried focusing on something in the direction that she was looking. The artist groaned and tore away the paper. "I need to start again. Could you put your hair up? I think it will look better that way." She narrowed her eyes at him, but looked in her purse for a hair clip. She found a scarlet one and attached her ponytail to the top of her head. The artist smiled and told her to resume her pose. She turned slightly and put an arm behind her head again.

Chris held the pose and looked at stores she was pointed at. A hair salon. She thought about it. Oddly enough, as she watched, Gray walked out of the salon. He walked quickly and darted into one of the clothing stores. After a quick look around, he exited and walked on. How odd that he would be here. Last time she checked her watch it was about 1:00, far too early for school to be out already. She wondered if something was wrong.

"Ok, madame, you can relax now." Chris let her hand drop, but kept watching Gray. He ducked into another clothing store, only to rush out. She thought about it. Salon, and then clothing stores. Was he looking for something? Or maybe someone? Could he be looking for her? Surely not. He could read minds. He would have sensed her thoughts immediately. Then she remembered that he had to look her in the eye to read her mind. Naw, it couldn't be her... But then who or what was he looking for? She thought about maybe getting involved. Let them handle it, she told herself, you've taken care of the last three. Take a break.

She waited for the artist to finish the coloring. A couple of passerbys stopped to watch him paint. Chris wished she could too, but the easel was, of course, turned away from her. She picked her purse up and slung it over her shoulder. The artist didn't complain any when she did this so she figured it was ok. A small crowd was gathering to watch and the response to his work was favorable.

Chris couldn't wait to see the finished product. The artist dabbed the paper a few more times, inspected his work a moment, and asked, "What is your first name?"

"Christine."

He picked up another pen, drew for a moment and then tore the paper off the pad. Chris walked over and took the drawing from him. She looked it over, "Wow.", was her first response. This guy sure had talent. The anime he'd drawn looked like something out of a real program. He sure captured her facial features really well too while incorporating her clothes and even adding a wink to her eye. She thanked him, rolled the drawing up carefully, kept it rolled up with a rubber band that he gave her and laid it inside her bag.

She walked across the way with her items and went inside the hair salon. There was only one other customer at the moment. One of the salonists, a heavy-set, middle aged woman with a twinkle in her eye and a cheery smile on her lips, greeted her, "How are you on this lovely afternoon?"

"I'm great, how are you?"

"Oh, I wish we had more days like this, far too warm too often I say. So what will it be, my dear?" Chris ran a hand through her hair. "I don't know. I've had it like this for a long time. I just kinda walked in here and said to myself, I want something different, something bold." The salonist smiled and put her arm around her. "Well, let's see what we can do for you. First let's get it out of that ponytail."

She asked herself, What am I doing? quite a few times and wondered for a minute if she cut her hair like this that it would change on her guy self too. The headshake hit her again. What was she even doing in a hair salon? Didn't her sub-conscious say that her hair was lovely as a ponytail? No, as she thought back to it, it was more along the lines of a celebrity character style, a beautiful person slumming it, trying to make themselves purposely look unattractive.

The salonist pulled off the scrunche she was wearing and sat her down in one of the chairs. She thought back to the stream and her hair, how it looked strange, like it wasn't even her's. She got that feeling again and it unnerved her.

She set her bags and purse down underneath the counter.

"What kinda look would you like?" asked the salonist.

She thought about it and decided what would probably look best on her, "Give me a trim to kinda even it up... or, well, I don't know." Boy, that was weak.

"What kinda image do you want to convey with your hair?" Image? She hadn't really thought of that. She had an idea though. "You'll probably think I'm odd but I'd like to look like I'm wise sorceress who means business."

"Really?" she said with a chuckle.

"Yup." The salonist combed her hair a little, "Fantasy buff?"

"You could say that."

"Well then, madame sorcerer, we'll try to fix you up nice and good."

10

Gray panted and stared at the table, his teeth clenched. His eye even twitched a little.

Tangerine looked amused, "You know I never pinned you to be such a hot head, Paul. Come on relax. The sun is still shining, there's still air to breathe, and the weather is pleasant. That's all that really matters, doesn't it?" He looked through his book while tapping his brand new shoes against the floor, "This should be good. Clarke co-wrote it with this other guy, Baxter. Wasn't he the one who wrote that book where the world blows up at the end and I mean really blows up because of the rocks they brought back from the moon or something?"

Gray whispered to Tang, "Listen, I'll say this once and only once, get me a taco."

Tangerine didn't expect that, "Chicken or beef?"

"I don't care!"

Tangerine put his hands up in defense, "All right!" He laid his book down and went over to the Mexican restaurant. Gray pounded his fists for what seemed like the hundredth time in as many minutes and asked himself, "Where could she possibly be?"

He wasn't at the point where he was worried for her life yet, that'd be tomorrow morning if she didn't show up for class. Of course, by then the situation in Oregon could have changed significantly. Time wasn't a commodity that they had a great deal of at the moment. He rapped his finger on the table and looked over at Tang's book. He picked it up a moment and read a little bit.

11

"It looks wonderful. You really did a great job!" The salonist smiled, "I just did what you asked. Do you feel like a wise sorceress now?"

She nodded and rocked her head to the left and then to the right. Her hair laid against her neck then fell back the other way. She really did do well when considering what she had to work with. At least it was longer than her hair as a guy, although not by much. Fortunately, she didn't clip that much. She just evened it up, framed it and made some bangs in the front.

All in all, she liked the way it looked. A little bit of movie star-esque glamour. Just a touch. She gathered up her things, paid the salonist and bounded out of the salon after saying goodbye. She checked her watch. Almost two. Maybe she'd grab a snack in the food court or something and do some more shopping. Not much else she could do though since she only had fifteen bucks left, probably about five or so for lunch, just to be sure, and the rest for who-knows-what. She walked further down the mall, glanced at some of the clothing stores but knew she didn't have enough left to buy anything. Sure she could put it on her credit card, but then nothing would stop her. She'd probably go berserk.

But that left her with an interesting thought. If reality changed with her and she bought something on her credit card as a girl would the charge still be there when she shifted or would it vanish away, only to reappear when she shifted back? It was roughly the same issue as the hair issue and she really didn't know for sure.

Piercing salon. Yuck, she thought. No way!

The theater. None of movies she really wanted to see were out yet so she just walked by it to stop at the food court. She saw Tangerine at the end of a rather long line.

She walked over to him. He didn't say anything. Did she really look that different? She gave him a tap on the shoulder and he turned to face her. He still made no connection. She grinned and said, "How are you doing Tangerine?"

Tangerine's hair stood on end, who could this stranger know his true name?! He stammered and tried to tell her his name was really Thomas Gordon. She shook her head and told him who she was. He didn't connect it at first. "Christine... Wren?"

Then his eyes bulged open. "Christine? Is that you?"

"Yup, it's me."

"Well, we've be looking all over for you. Paul got this letter from an old friend of his... and the Secret Society's... this morning saying he knows someone who might be a Selanek and that he should come urgently."

"Oh my. I'm sorry. I didn't know. Did you call my house?"

"Paul called quite a few times, but with no success. We even went over there, but I guess you'd already left or something."

"I've been kinda hard to locate these last few hours, I guess."

"Definitely, then it turns out you've gone and gotten yourself a makeover."

Chris blushed, "Well, I wouldn't really call it a makeover, just a sudden change, just for the heck of it, just to see what it would be like."

Tangerine rubbed the sleeve of her blouse, "Nice material, but is that blouse dress code compliant? I see a midriff. I don't know, might be questionable." She smirked, "Well, I not at school right now, am I?"

"That's true. And a skirt, I see. As well as a different haircut."

"As I said, I just wanted a change, just for the heck of it."

"And quite a change it is. I scarcely recognized you. Why don't you go talk to Paul, you know, give him a shocker. It may not be as big of a surprise because of his, hobby, so to speak, but you'll get a few seconds of confusion at the very least. Go on. I've just got to place an order here. Would you like anything?"

"A small chicken burrito and a drink."

"Ok, what kind of drink?"

"I don't care."

Tangerine shook his head, "You and him are both alike."

Chris frowned, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Tangerine waved her off, "Never mind, it's a rather lame joke."

"Oh, I see."

She turned around and spotted Gray sitting at one of the tables, reading a book. She knew the moment he looked at her that he'd be able to read her mind, so she'd have to time this right if she wanted to catch him by surprise like Tangerine said. She walked over slowly, always being sure to put a person between him and her, should he look her way. It must have succeeded because she didn't see his eyes once.

He was too busy reading. She stood right next to him. "Are you looking for me?"

He recognized her voice. "About time. Tang and I have looked just about everywhere for you. Where have you been?"

Chris shrugged, "Oh, just about everywhere, although probably not at the same time you were." She sat across from him. His nose was still wedged in the book. She grunted and asked, "Where's that book Tangerine got?"

"This is the book Tangerine got and how did you know that?"

"I saw him in the bookstore, he didn't recognize me though. Probably because I was wearing a skin-tight imitation velvet blouse and a knee-high skirt."

"Very funny."

"No, it'll be funny when you look up and see that I'm not kidding."

"Listen Christine, there two things I know as constants and standbys in this world. One is that we're all going to die some day and other is that the day you wear a skirt and a skin-tight blouse is the day I give up teaching and take up yodeling."

"In the Alps?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Why don't you look up, yodel-a-e-do?"

He shook his head, his face still wearing the book. "I don't need to look up to know you're just joshing me, besides, I'm at a very interesting part."

"Fine, suit yourself. But realize you're also missing out on my new haircut. It's no longer a ponytail."

Gray chuckled to himself, "You're a riot, Chris!"

"I just can't wait to see the look on your face when you finally finish that part and take your eyes out of that book."

"Oh reeeeally?"

"Reeeeally."

"Well, we'll see." Chris sure sounded like she was telling the truth, thought Gray, but that was impossible. No way! But what if she was? He made it to the end of page twenty and put the book aside, looking straight at Chris.

She got her sudden look of surprise before his mind-reading filled in his confusion. In fact, she got even more than that. She got a gasp and a rather loud one at that.

"What the?!... oh." He arched his eyebrows, "I'm surprised that you skipped the piercing salon."

"It's not my style."

"Hmm, I never figured that outfit to be your style either, but it looks like it is. And that haircut. I wouldn't place it as being one a wise sorcerer would have, but suit yourself. Personally, I think you're doing all this because you're on the rag. Mood changes come with that territory." She felt tight around her neck. I can't believe he said that!, she said to herself. Out in public like this, with all these people listening! They're probably all staring right at me!

"Is that so?" She leaned on the table, supporting her chin with a hand and narrowing her eyes at him viciously. Gray knew better than to answer that question. Chris picked up one of the packs of sugar and twirled it around in her hand. "The anime drawing was a waste of money, I say. And why didn't you call to me or something? From that distance I would have heard you!"

Chris turned that pack around in her fingers. He probably already knew. "Would you prefer that I turn off my ability for a while?"

"Why don't you ask my thoughts?"

Gray tapped the base of his neck three times, "Done, now I can't read your thoughts until I do that again."

"Thank you." She lowered her voice, "Do you know how embarrassing it is to hear a guy say that you're 'on the rag'?"

"No, but I know how you felt when I said that and I apologize. I should have been more circumspect."

She folded her arms and looked at him. Her eyes teared up, "What's happening to me? I feel so strange, so different. Is it... you know... or is it something else?"

He held her hand, "Listen. Next to death, the most traumatic thing a human being can endure is the loss of their identity. Your body and your reactions to certain stimuli are different and that's frightening to you. You feel as though you no longer know who you are. Even though I can hear your thoughts, I can't even begin to know what that feels like."

"What do I do?", she sobbed. Gray really had no idea. Even though he had some prior experience with this because of the previous people Johnson had performed the Ro'vi'dani incantation on. But all those had been total failures, so no help there.

"Keep talking to your counterpart, even when you shift back. As odd as it sounds now being a guy again will seem a little weird to you when you change back. In fact, I recommend that you burn your next three female days subsequent to the end of these three, and maybe an extra set too."

Her jaw dropped, "What?! I don't get your logic! Spending a longer time as a girl causes my behavior to change and my familiarity with being a girl to increase, so you want me to spend even more time non-stop as a girl. A week and a half!"

"Then you'll have nearly three weeks as a guy after that. Besides, any time during those six extra days you'll be able to change back into Chris, although I don't recommend shifting back and forth over a short amount of time. Wait about an hour between shifts. Otherwise you could be in extreme discomfort due the cellular trauma."

"I don't know. I'll think about it."

"Well, think about it in Salem, because that's where we have to go as soon as possible. What's taking Tang so long?"

She narrowed her eyes and asked "Who said anything about 'we'?"

Gray smiled, "I did. Why did you think we were looking for you?

"You wanted to tell me about the letter? Maybe inform me of a test I missed or something?"

Gray folded his hands. "Yeah right. I need you to come with me to Salem, Oregon. That's where this fellow who sent me the letter lives. He used to be with the Secret Society, but we parted company with him on less than friendly terms. Well, at least I did."

Chris leaned back against her chair, "Ahh, the plot thickens. So this letter talked about a Selanek, another one?"

"Well, a someone who could possibly be a Selanek. I don't know, it was rather incoherent. You see Patrick has the most atrocious handwriting I've ever seen. I could scarcely make out half of it. Here have a look."

He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. Chris frowned and squinted to read the writing. "That won't help", he told her.

"Is this your name?"

"One can only guess."

"It looks like he wrote 'Gunk' instead of 'Gray'. This is astonishingly bad. Parts of the second paragraph and last paragraph are the only things I can make out." She read them. "Well, at least he still considers you his friend."

"Oddly enough", responded Gray with a chuckle.

"How much of this have you been able to read?"

"Just parts of the second and last paragraphs. It looks like he took special care when writing them. The rest just seems like a hurried mess."

"Hurried?"

"Yes. While Patrick has bad handwriting this is worse than even he achieves normally. No, he was frantic to get this letter sent. I think there's something going on that he didn't put in the letter. Or at the very least it's in one of the illegible paragraphs."

Chris carefully refolded the letter and handed it back to him, "If he was in such a hurry to get a message to you, why didn't he just send an e-mail or call you up on the telephone?"

"Well, not everybody has e-mail; me and, as far as I know, Patrick included. And as for telephone numbers, mine is unlisted and I've never had the interest to track down his."

Chris put her finger to her lips, "Here's a question, how are you going to know where to find him? I didn't see anything in the letter about an address."

"Well, here's an answer." He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope with a typed out address on an adhesive. She tossed up her hands, "You didn't show me that. How was I supposed to know?"

"How about woman's intuition?"

"Shut up." She folded her arms and glared at him. Gray smiled faintly, picked up the book and continued reading a little. "So why do you need me to go with you anyway? Is it because this girl might be a Selanek?"

"Yes, that and the fact I'm used to working with a backup should something happen to me. Besides, if this girl is a Selanek. You know what that means?"

"She could be exceedingly dangerous if we get on her bad side?"

"Yes. And she probably started out as a guy, just like you."

Chris hadn't thought about that, but he was right. All Selaneks were women who were originally of the opposite sex. Why would this one even be considered a possible if she didn't fit that prerequisite? Did reality change for her too? The letter would seem to indicate that. Was she a girl all of the time? Chris figured it was possible. The only reason she could shift back and forth was because of the splint. Had she been splinted too? The letter didn't say anything about that, as far as she could tell.

Tang finally came back with a plate full of food and drinks. "Oof! Quite a load! Gimme a little space to set this down." Gray moved the book away and Chris put her bags and purse underneath her chair. Tang handed them their orders and borrowed a seat from one of the empty tables for himself.

"So how have you guys been since I've been gone?"

Gray gave him a recap, "Chris here got a real look of surprise out me and got peeved because I said 'on the rag' about her, aloud." Chris flashed him a dirty look. "I recommended she take her next days right after her third one is finished, get them out of the way. And I showed her the letter." Gray lost his interest at 'on the rag' because Tangerine was eyeballing Chris' bag, "May I have look?"

"There's nothing in there except what I was wearing before... Oh yeah, and a drawing and two books." Tangerine's eyes lit up, "May I look at them?" Chris handed the bag to him. He pushed aside the clothes and eyed the books carefully, " 'A Passion that Would Never Die' and 'Last Man on the Plain'. Interesting choices. Is the drawing this rolled up thing here?" Chris nodded. He pulled it out, took off the rubber band and unrolled it.

"Gee golly! That's a fine drawing. Anime, right? I don't watch it all that much, but I do recognize the style. I must say you make a really cute 'toon." He offered it to Gray but he shook his head. He'd already seen it through Chris' thoughts. Tangerine rolled it back up and put it away. "That's rather nice. Are you gonna frame it or something?"

"I don't know. I might." She took a bite of her burrito. Gray looked at his taco disgustedly. It was chicken. "Why didn't you get me a beef one?"

Tangerine sighed and shook his head, "Live with it. You were the one who said you didn't care!"

"When I say, 'I don't care' that means go with a beef taco. When I say, 'it doesn't matter' then I'm leaning towards a chicken taco."

Tangerine fumed, "I don't memorize your bloody code system! Frankly, you can shove it for all I care! And don't you say anything about that Pepsi I got you, Chris. It's bad enough he's particular." Chris smiled innocently.

Tangerine chomped down on his taco, "Hand vhere's vy vook?" Gray handed it over with a smile. "The first guy dies at the end of chapter one."

Tangerine's eyes bulged out, "Blast you!"

Chris smiled. Now she knew why Tangerine was such a hot head.

Gray took another bite of his taco and seemed to be enjoying this thoroughly. "Come on, Tang. You know I'm just joshing you! He dies later in the book, I skipped ahead." He frowned nastily at Gray. Chris took a sip of her Pepsi. "So what's the plan?" she asked after swallowing.

Gray understood even with his mind-reading ability turned off, "We'll catch a shuttle flight to Salem, book a room and talk with Lendridge. Simple as that, I hope."

"What? No teleporting?! No jumping through cross-dimensional gateways that are infested by ants?"

"No, and keep your voice down a little. Those only work on immense distances or special cases, of which this is neither. As for teleporting, whoever said we could do that?"

"Never mind. Should I pack a bag or something?"

"Probably, just enough for a day or two though. Do I need to talk with your mother?" Chris shrugged, "I guess so, but she's not home yet. I suppose we could leave a message or something, maybe after the fact."

"Well, let's take care of that then and grab some clothes for you."

He stood up, taco and Sprite in hand. Chris picked up her purse, bag and food and followed him. Tangerine scrambled to finish and take what he could. He ran along with his book and drink trying to catch up, "Hey, why eat and run?"

"We've got to get to Salem, no time for dawdling."

"I'm not dawdling. Confound it, Paul! Slow a bit, will ya!"

Chris stopped to look at a clothing store, but Gray tugged her along. "No time for window shopping."

"You're pushy."

"So sue me."

"You know, you're not the first person who's told me that today."

"Ok goody, then you can collect from multiple persons."

"I don't think I'll be able to collect from the other guy."

"Let me guess, your counterpart?"

"Gee, with guessing like that why do you even need mind-reading?" Gray remembered and tapped the base of his neck three times. "It helps when you least expect it."

12

Chris picked up some clothes at her house and packed them into an overnight bag. That was the easy part. What was difficult was coming up with an explanation for going to Salem, Oregon all of a sudden. She left behind the drawing while taking her new books in the overnight bag.

Gray paced around a little bit and wondered about what would be best. Tangerine thought of something.

"Oh that would never work!" said Gray reading his mind.

"How do you know for sure?"

"None of the ROP Conferences are anywhere near Salem, besides Christine would have given her mother more advanced warning."

"Can't we just enchant her or something?" asked Chris.

Gray grinned, "Well I can use my suave, manly charm to convince her that her daughter will be safe on a brief visit to the Pacific Northwest to deal with matters of global significance."

Chris arched one eyebrow, "I meant a magical enchanting."

"Well, I suppose we could resort to that. Tang?"

Tangerine stepped forward and rubbed his hair, "Well, first of all, I need one of her hairs."

"Why? Why a hair?"

"Because."

"That's a really weak reason."

"Cope."

Chris found a strand of her mother's hair on her hairbrush. Of course.

Tangerine did the incantation because aside from his debonair charm and mind reading 'hobby', Gray had no real magical powers. "There. Now you don't exist to your mother."

That caught her by surprise. "What?! How does that help?!"

"Well..." He thought long and hard but couldn't come up with an answer. "It's easy to undo at least."

She shook her head, "What about all the other people who know me?"

Tangerine grimaced, "That would be one difficult incantation. Do you realize how many strands of hair you'd need for that one?"

Gray tossed up his hands, "Whatever. We'll work through it. I mean you're not going to be gone for a year or anything. It's gonna be for a day or two and then you'll be back. Just tell them you were sick or something."

Chris nodded weakly and followed Gray to his car. A yellow Gremlin. Tangerine waved so long to the two of them. Chris tossed her bag in the back seat and hopped into the passenger side. Gray got in the driver's side and put his key in the ignition. He turned it once and prompted a pained groan from the vehicle. Chris folded her arms and looked at him. He smiled a second, tossed a wave to Tang and tried again. This time the sounds that emerged from underneath the hood sounded more like a growl. At least that was encouraging.

"Had this for a while?" asked Chris, wearing an overly pleasant smile. Gray uttered a 'ha' and told her, "Won it at a swap meet raffle a couple months ago. Before that I had to ride a bike or use the bus to get where I wanted to go."

Chris leaned to the right and looked out at Tangerine's Dodge Viper parked by the curb. That had been a rather nice ride. When the car finally groaned itself into an idle, Gray breathed a sigh of relief and told her, "Well, that wasn't near so bad as the last time."

She now understood why I'd taken him a full twenty minutes longer to get to her house than it had taken Tangerine and her. "Would you like me to put some music on?"

"CD?"

"Ahh, not quite."

"Cassette?"

"Almost there."

Her face dropped, "Eight-track?"

"Bingo!"

He pulled an eight-track cassette from under his seat and showed it to her. She raised her eyebrows a second and then left them fall again. "Read my thoughts."

"I'm getting a 'not-in-your-life' vibe."

"Got it."

Gray eased the car into drive, prompting a high pitched squeal and a sharp back and-forth rock that ceased when he removed his hands from the stick. "Sure you don't want me to put a tape in? It would make the time pass quicker." Chris put her hands over her head and sighed. "Just drive."

13

They made it to the regional airport in an amazingly short amount of time. Although whenever the Gremlin hit the blistering pace of fifty miles per hour the entire frame began vibrating as though it about to fly apart. Any more above that and the vibrations became so bad that Gray couldn't hold the wheel straight.

Chris felt relieved when they finally made it. She just about bounded out the car, nearly forgetting her overnight bag. Gray pulled a similar bag out of the hatchback, which she assumed held his clothes. Together they walked the short ways to the terminal. Once inside they made their way over the ticket booth and inquired about shuttle flights to Salem.

The ticket agent, a professionally dressed young woman with short brown hair in a pageboy cut, looked down at her computer screen and back up at them. "I have a Regal Air Shuttle flight departing in forty minutes from terminal 7 bound for Salem Regional Airport. Is that all right?"

Gray smiled, "That'll be fine. Two tickets, coach."

Chris looked at him and thought to herself 'cheap', but she should have expected that judging from the Gremlin. But then again, as a teacher, Gray probably didn't make all that much, especially a math teacher. Coach was fine she told herself. Probably the best she'd ever be able to afford anyway. And besides, what was the big deal with those upper classes anyway? You just get free orange juice and papers and junk like that and more leg room and better movies and more personal attention and tables and...

Sigh.

She shook her head and told herself again that coach was just fine. The ticket agent handed a ticket to Chris and a ticket to Gray and told them to have a pleasant flight. They picked up their bags and walked down the path to terminals 5 through 8. Gray glanced to the right a moment and saw something that made him smile for a second and look over at Chris. Chris answered him back with a 'what?' look. He curled his lower lip with his finger and said, "I just had an interesting thought."

"And this surprises me how?"

He gestured to the small store across the way. The sign on the front said, "Formal Attire for Business People." She turned to face him with a look of doubtfulness.

"So?"

"Come along with me." He walked over to the store. She shook her head. This from a guy who wouldn't even let her window shop for one minute. She followed him regardless.

The owner of the shop, a burly, hairy man paradoxically wearing a monochrome suit similar to the kind Barbi preferred, glanced up at Gray wearing a look of alarm.

"Paul... it's been a while... what brings you to my shop?" He fidgeted nervously as though Gray's presence was unsettling him. Gray gestured to Chris, "The young lady here would like one of your best formal suits."

"No I wouldn't!", answered back Chris with a frown. Gray ignored her.

The man looked at Chris a second. "I'd have to get her size. I can't guarantee though that I'll have her size in stock. I might have to special order one."

"I think you can come through for me, Harry. If you don't, well, then there might be some rather unpleasant consequences."

He looked at Chris again. She folded her arms. What did he mean by that?

Harry sweated a little, but nodded his head, "I think I can fix her right up."

"Good, and hurry it, will ya. We have a flight to catch in a little bit."

Chris left her bag with Gray while Harry took her to one of the back rooms. All sorts of suits and formal attire lined the walls. A couple of mirrors hung on the walls and there were two dressing rooms towards the back.

"That fellow a friend of yours?"

"Sorta, I suppose." Well, at least he hadn't asked her if she was his daughter.

Harry grunted, "He's a rather nasty fellow once you get to know him, for your information. Stand over here please." Chris stood on a section of the floor as he got out his tape measure. Once he'd measured her, Harry looked along the wall. "Well, you're in luck. I have something that should fit you pretty well. Would you like pants or a skirt?"

She looked down at her skirt and thought about that. She'd prefer a little time out of one. "Pants."

"Will you be needing a dress shirt?"

"I suppose."

"Dress heels?"

"God, no!" She shook her head. If there was anything that her mind agreed on whole-heartedly, no matter what, it was that there was no way she was gonna wear heels, high or otherwise! "I'll just take some dress shoes that match the suit."

"All right." He looked along the wall and gathered up certain items. "Here. Go ahead and try it on." Chris nodded and went into one of the dressing rooms. First of all, her took off her imitation velvet blouse, skirt, and shoes. She put on the dress shirt first. Buttoning it up, she noticed that it was rather sheer, as all dress shirts are, and she could see her bra through the material. She gritted her teeth, hoped that the suit jacket would cover that up, and felt better when she put it on and it did.

She put on the pants and shoes and walked out. Harry looked pleased with the result. "Not bad. You wear that suit quite well."

"Thanks." She appraised herself in the mirror and figured that she did look better. More classy, more professional. In that midriff showing blouse and skirt she looked like a teenage girl. In this, she looked like an elegant young woman. The headshake lashed out at her again. This is worse!, she told herself.

Still, she bit her lip and smiled, "I like it."

"Good, then let's take you back out front." What was so bad about this?, she thought. While you could still the outline of her chest now the midriff was gone as well as the tightness. No more skirt to show off her legs. She realized what it was after a moment. Johnson had mentioned it, but because of her ponytail she hadn't seen it. Now it was staring her in the face. She looked like a frickin' young, blond Scully!

They walked over to where Gray was standing, rummaging through an assortment of silver pocket watch chains. Chris sighed and glared at him.

"That'll do", he said after a quick glance.

She burst. "Do for what?!"

"Doesn't she looked better now, Harry?"

Harry nodded, "Quite better. By the way, here are your clothes." She put them in her overnight bag, which was now rather full.

"The usual price, right, Harry?"

Harry nodded solemnly. "Right."

Gray walked out waving while Chris followed behind, looking back at the crestfallen Harry. Once they were outside, Chris whirled him around and pressed him against the wall. "Ok, what was that?!"

Gray looked down at her a second and smiled, "Nice grab."

"Shut up. What just happened? Why did I get a free suit and all that?"

He gave her a look. She took her hands off him and held them up in resignation. He cleared his throat. "And don't give me one of your verbose, senseless stories!", she warned him.

"That story wasn't senseless."

"It was borderline!"

"Whatever. Anyway, Harry, our friend back in there, has a great deal of secrets that he used think no one knew about, but miraculously, I know all of them. So I use that knowledge as, leverage, so to speak."

"Blackmail."

Gray shrugged, "Call it what you will."

"And another thing, why did you even have me get a business suit in the first place?"

He rubbed his hand on her shoulder, "You had a little piece of lint right there." They looked at each other silently for a moment. She wrung her hands together. Gray put both of his hands on her shoulders.

That sure made her feel small.

He pointed her at a rather reflective section of glass that showed one of the landing strips outside. "Compare how you looked just a few minutes ago to how you look now." She answered with a thought.

"I don't watch the X-Files, but isn't looking elegant and professional a good thing? Especially with this case?"

"What do you mean?"

He explained. "This young woman in Salem who used to be a guy, we can only suppose, is probably going through some tough stuff that you can relate to. Now, think about it, which is the better image? A midriff showing velvet blouse and feminine skirt wearing teenager or a professionally dressed, elegant young woman?"

"You're going quite a ways on supposition." Gray tugged her by the arm, "Sure I might, but let's talk about it later or else we're gonna miss our flight. Come on." She opened her mouth to speak but closed it a second later. She didn't grasp his logic.

Dressing like a doctor or a businessperson didn't seem like it would help. This girl might have gone through the most traumatic thing she's ever experienced. Did he think she'd want to see someone wearing a suit? She'd probably already seen plenty of suits. Of course, coming in wearing what she had on before might not have been a good thing either. She thought about it as they rushed to Terminal 7.

14

"We should be leaving in a couple of minutes," said the flight attendant as she led them to their coach seats. Gray smiled at her a moment and put his bag in the overhead compartment. Chris put hers right next to his and got ready to sit down next to him.

"Sorry, ma'am, but your seat is over here," said the flight attendant, gesturing to one of the seats a few rows down. Chris picked up her bag and walked over to her seat. Why couldn't Gray have gotten seats that were right next to one another? Would it really have been that difficult? It didn't look like this flight would even be that full. Or did he do this on purpose for some other bizarre reason?

Her seat was right next to a young teenage boy playing a Game Boy Color. Great, she muttered to herself. She stuffed her bag in the overhead compartment and took the seat next to him. His eyes immediately turned away from his game and to her chest, but just for a moment as he attempted to cover up his hormones with a look at her face and one down at her arms. She felt perturbed, but didn't say anything. She'd been ogled before, was it really such a big deal? Yes!, she shouted inside her head, You're a guy! Ogling is not natural, you should feel weird or strange or terribly embarrassed or anything, feel anything!

She scowled at him a moment, but he didn't really notice, so she stopped doing it.

"Hi."

"Hi."

Chris turned to face him in her seat, "Do you have parents?"

"Of course. Just not on this plane."

"Flying alone?"

"Yeah."

"Cool."

He looked at her a moment with a contemplative face, "Are you, like, a secretary or lawyer or something?"

She grinned and shook her head, "Naw, I'm a..." She thought about the first thing that came to mind, "Doctor."

"What kind of doctor?"

"A psychologist." The boy folded his arms and stared at her skeptically. "That's not a doctor."

"Yes it is. It's a kind of doctor."

He analyzed her a little bit more. "You look kinda young for a doctor."

"Thanks, I guess." The boy arched his eyebrows and returned his attention to his video game. She reached up to get her bag out of the overhead compartment and take out her two books. She decided to read the thriller first.

The kid glanced over at her for a moment, but just a moment. Someone walked next to her and settled into the seat closest to her on the other side of the aisle.

She turned to look at him a moment. He had blond hair just like hers cut close to his head with a sculpted goatee on his chin and shimmering blue eyes. He even had on a business suit similar to hers in color and style.

He smiled at her and nodded. She returned the gesture, opened her book to the first page, and began reading. "Excuse me, miss?"

The man across the aisle had addressed her. "Yes?"

"I know this sounds kinda cheesy, but I've just gotta tell you that you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

"You're right, that does sound cheesy." She looked sternly at him. That just about killed his conversation. But then he wasn't about to give up quite yet. "It's true. Sure some women like to wear sexy clothes and all that, but the way to know true beauty is to look at a women who doesn't even try to go look good but still her good looks shine through nonetheless."

"Are you saying I'm trying to look dumpy?!" Why'd she even care?

The fellow shook his head vigorously, "That's not what I'm saying at all. You got it all wrong. What I'm saying is that even though you're dressing in a way that doesn't quite accentuate your body, you still look good."

"So you're saying I'd look better in a bikini, or something like that?" The fellow thought about that. He wasn't about to fall into a trap. He'd learned from time and failure.

"Not necessarily a bikini, but something with a little more skin."

"I'll take your word for it."

He knew he wasn't getting anywhere with her. Time for a restart. "It's an honorable word. I just tell it like it is. That's me. Taylor Kingston."

He offered his hand in greeting. She looked at it a second and then up at him.

"Hello, Mr. Kingston."

"Hello... ?" She knew he was trying to prompt her to give her name, but she was resolute. "Yes?" He gave up tiptoeing around the point. "What's your name?"

"Stewardess?" One of the flight attendants walked over, "Yes ma'am." Chris glared at Taylor, "I'd like to be moved to another seat because I don't feel safe here."

"Whatever's the matter?"

She pointed straight at Taylor with her finger, "This man has been harassing me ever since I got on this plane. I made it clear to him that his actions were unwanted but he persisted nonetheless." She spoke loud enough that most of the people in coach could hear her. The passengers began muttering about themselves. A couple of flight attendants gathered around as Kingston watched speechlessly. Each and every one of them shot him a vicious look. Which meant that he could probably forget getting any service later in the flight.

They guided a sobbing Chris away and up to first class where they seated her down for a minute and she cried to herself. They padded her on the shoulder said that everything would be fine. The captain came back and told her that they were going to offer her a first class seat as compensation.

"And don't you worry about that man, I'll make sure he doesn't get anywhere near you" said one of the flight attendants. She handed her bag to her and her books. "I hope you enjoy your flight. We apologize for any discomfort you have endured up till this point. If you have any questions, complaints or problems, you just ring for me and I'll be here. Will you be all right?" Chris nodded through her tears. She smiled and walked over the flight attendant seats where she strapped herself in and prepared for takeoff.

Chris smiled to herself. This had potential. She leaned back. Ahh, this was much better than coach. Much roomier and much less crowded. The closest person to her was another man in a suit typing furiously on his laptop. Was it the suit that had sold her story or the fact that she looked like an innocent while Taylor seemed sly and about as guilty as they came? She leaned back against the seat and continued reading her book. The plane lurched forward, pressing her backwards against her seat.

15

By the time they landed around half-an-hour later, she had finished close to fifty pages of her thriller. Just the standard fare. Chinese terrorists take a small, mid-western town hostage and threaten them with stores of weapons, including a 70-kiloton nuke. Realizing how these books usually turned out, she expected the fellow who was getting the most characterization, a brawny town sheriff, to be the one who saved the day, somehow. Maybe for a twist they could have the bomb go off, perhaps killing the villains, while the heroes get away 'in the nick of time'. Unfortunately, hundreds of cows are fried in the process. But this allows the people of the town to have a big celebration cookout.

She smirked to herself and put the book back with the other one in her bag and walked towards the exit. Taylor stood nearby waiting for her, his arms folded. He didn't look that happy. "Why did you do that?!"

"Because I don't like you. At all. You drip with self-conceited chauvinism."

She thought to herself for a second. She remembered the fairy and the dwarf back on Corvalis. But this wasn't Corvalis, how would people react to something like that? She'd have to go about this carefully.

With her overnight bag slung around her shoulder, she used her other arm to grab Taylor's arm and tug him along. Even though he resisted, she was able to pull him along easily. They snaked between the departing passengers while Chris muttered quick 'sorry's' to those that she accidentally bumped into. Taylor felt strange as they went along.

"Where are we going?"

Chris smiled back at him and said only, "You'll see."

As it turned out, she was taking him to the women's restroom, which was only about a hundred feet away from the exit. Taylor objected vehemently, but this did nothing to change Chris' mind. Once they were inside, Taylor looked around a second and frowned at her.

"Why'd you... ?" Taylor screamed as he heard his voice and noticed his reflection in the mirror. Chris expected to see Taylor faint, but he... or rather she, just stood there in a state of shock.

Whereas Taylor's suit had fit perfectly before, now it looked obviously large on her. The sleeves of the jacket and her dress shirt ended just past the tips of her fingers. She pulled up her sleeves. Her hands were small and childlike, topped with short yet pink nails with red hearts in the center. Taylor examined her face in the mirror. Her goatee was gone and her short, blond hair now hung past her neck. Her blue eyes blazed with panic and fear.

"What did you do to me?" She hesitantly brought her hands near her chest and gulped. Chris folded her arms and smirked, "Isn't it obvious?"

"Huh?" She stared at her, befuddled, and put her hands up her suddenly long hair. "What do you mean?"

"Perhaps I should explain. You see you didn't just try to hit on any old girl. My name Christine Wren and I'm a sorcerer on a bit of a mean streak at the moment. I used to be guy like you, but as you can see, things have changed slightly."

Taylor's mouth hung open a minute, then her pants dropped. She gasped and, red- faced, tugged them back up and glared at her, "I don't care what you used to be! I didn't do anything to turn you into a girl. Just make me normal again!" Taylor froze a second after saying this and thought about what she had noticed when her pants fell. She put her finger up a second and waved it, "Give me a moment."

She opened one of the stalls and shut it behind her. Chris looked underneath and could see her pants as she dropped them. Another scream.

Chris shook her head, "You think that's bad? Just wait until you get mood swings and wake up to your period." Taylor burst out of the stall, eyes wide and panting, "I'm a girl."

Chris rolled her eyes, "Well, duh! I'd thought you'd figured that out when you saw your face and the rest."

"How is this possible?"

Chris explained simply, "Magic. Remember I said that I was a sorcerer?"

Taylor's mouth dropped as she looked up at her. Looked up at her. She tossed that around in her head a moment. "How tall am I?"

Chris rubbed her chin and thought about that a second, "Five-foot-three."

"Oh geez. That's really short." She looked at herself in the mirror, clutching tightly to hold her pants up. Chris tapped her on the shoulder, "Let me help you with that."

Her pants and shirt pulled close against her body. She fidgeted with her pants and complained that they were too tight, "But they look sooo great on you."

Taylor whirled around and opened her mouth to say 'what?' when something stopped her and she looked down at them. They did really look good on her. Her head shot up. What am I thinking?, thought Taylor. She smacked her head against the wall rather hard.

"Ooch, I'd advise not doing that. Well, later."

She walked out the door, leaving Taylor perplexed and frozen in her tracks. Once outside, she ducked into a corner where no one could see her and incanted invisibility, a defense spell. Walking back, she discovered that Taylor still hadn't left the bathroom. She waited, but didn't have to wait long as Taylor bolted from the restroom and looked around nervously for her. Tears poured down her eyes. She crouched by the door and let the tears cascade down her cheeks. She buried her face in her knees. Then, all of a sudden, she beat her fists against the ground and told herself, "I'm a man. Stop it!"

Chris felt sorry for her. After all, what had he done to her? Nothing really. He might have been a little tactless, but that was it, nothing so bad as it justified this kind of punishment. Why did she have to take out her aggression like this and force her condition upon others? It was wrong, morally, utterly wrong. She gestured so as to remove the female incantation, but after she'd done that, Taylor was still there, quivering, shaking, crying and a woman.

She made herself visible when no one was looking. "Get up", she told Taylor. Taylor glanced up at her in astonishment. "Please, change me back. I don't want to be this." She gestured to the slope of her chest. Chris pressed her upper teeth against her lower lip and said with a nervous smile, "Well, actually. This is kinda weird. I can't. Sorry."

Her jaw dropped and that wasn't all. All the strength seemed to leave her when she heard that. Chris had to do something. "Hey, come on, I'm sure we can figure something out."

Taylor looked up at her. "Figure something out?! This is all your fault, you better find a way to fix me. I was about to go to lawyers' conference. That's right, I'm a lawyer, so you better get ready for one big freakin' lawsuit."

Chris backed away from her, but she growled and jumped on her right leg. Chris tried to shake her off, "I'm gonna make your life a living hell if you don't fix me!"

She hopped backwards, trying desperately to remove Taylor from her leg. For being small, she sure made up for it in strength. Someone tapped her on the shoulder. Chris turned around.

It was Gray.

"Who's the new friend?"

Chris gave him a quizzical look, "Don't you know?"

Gray lifted up his overnight bag and set it back down on his shoulder, "Of course I know."

"All right then."

Taylor let go of Chris' leg with one of her arms so that she could point at Gray, "Are you in cahoots with her?! I'm gonna sue both of your asses!"

"In retrospect, that was probably a bad incantation to cast."

"True."

Taylor bared her teeth, "I'm not gonna let you slither your way out of this. The amount of pain and suffering I'm enduring is growing by the minute!"

"Get off my leg! You realize this is assault, don't you?"

"I don't care, go ahead and counter-sue if you like, but it won't hold up in court."

Gray patted Chris on the shoulder, "Girls, girls, come on now, play nice."

They shot him a look. "I'm not a girl!" both of them said at the same time. They looked at one another. Taylor relaxed her grip, but not by much.

Chris handed her bag to Gray, "I'll handle this."

"The hell you will!" exclaimed Taylor, pondering sinking her teeth into Chris' ankle, the only exposed region of her leg.

Using both hands, she grasped Taylor by the shoulders and tugged her off. Taylor fell back against the tile floor with an 'oof!'. Chris turned to Gray and said, "Run."

The two of them scampered between confused disembarking passengers while Taylor stumbled to her feet. "Get back here you jerks!"

She ran as fast as she could after them. But her *cough* chest slowed her down because of the unfamiliar sensation of running with it like it was and the fact she didn't have a bra on either. She shook her head. And no way anything or anyone was gonna get her into one, ever!, she told herself.

Chris and Gray paused over by the baggage terminal to catch their breath. Gray scolded Chris for using her magical abilities in such a way. "I thought you would have gotten past holding petty grudges. Didn't Christof teach you better than that? Didn't I teach you better than that?"

"He deserved it!"

Gray nodded, "Yeah he did. That man has more secrets than Harry, and different ones that that, really different ones." He chuckled to himself and rubbed his lip. "With him, he's done a thousand injustices to women, used them and all that. But Harry, heh heh, well I won't get into them, but they're really different."

"Sweet" muttered Chris to herself sarcastically.

Taylor walked over to the two of them, out of breath and on her knees. Gray rubbed his chin and thought, "Now you can't change her back, for reasons unknown, but I think that Tangerine might be able to."

Taylor's eyes shot up, "All it takes is for me to eat a Tangerine? Get me some fruit!"

Before Gray could correct her, she ran over to the nearest restaurant asking for some tangerines. Oddly enough, they had some and she bought a whole basket full of them. Walking back, she chuckled to herself and presented one of the tangerines to them.

"Don't you guys get the mistaken impression that you're out of the woods. Oh, I'm gonna get both of you as soon as I change back."

She didn't even bother peeling the tangerine, she just bit into it. An instant later, she realized that her clothes were far too small. She took off her jacket quickly while biting off more of the tangerine. Then off went her pants. Fortunately, she still had her boxers on and they were the same size as before. Which meant she had a great deal of difficulty holding them up. Gray and Chris watched this whole scene. Gray attempted to inform Taylor that he meant a person not a fruit, but she wasn't listening. Oh well, she'd learn soon enough.

Pulling her dress shirt off, she swallowed the last of the tangerine and looked down, expecting to see herself restored. Instead, she saw a naked woman, exposed to all the world since her boxers had fallen down to her feet. Scrambling, she quickly tried to cover herself as she put her clothes back on.

"You tricked me!" she screamed at Gray. Gray cleared his throat, "As I was about to correct you, Tangerine is not in fact a fruit, but rather a person."

Taylor laid her head against the ground, "Then take me to him."

"Sorry, dear, but he's back the way we came and we have far too important business to attend to here." Chris glanced at Taylor and waved her hand, "That works better doesn't it?"

"What works better?" She looked down to see herself clad in feminine undergarments. Fortunately, Chris' magic was obscured by Taylor's frantic efforts to cover herself in her cast off garments. After seeing herself so dressed, Taylor immediately passed out. Chris and Gray went over to her side.

Gray realized something as he was picking Taylor up. "You know what? You could have just conjured up your clothes and hair style and all that instead of spending money earlier."

"Yeah, I guess. But where's the fun in that?"

"Good point. Let's get Miss Sleeping Beauty over to one of those benches."

They laid Taylor on a nearby bench. A couple of curious passerbys gathered around them and the scantily-clad Taylor. Chris put on her pants, dress shirt and jacket. Chris smiled passively at the crowd, "Um, sorry about that. My friend, um, is a little tipsy." The majority of the people nodded understandingly and walked away. The remnants were the usual looky-loos seeking closure. But after a while even they got bored and went away.

Chris tried to shake Taylor awake, but to no avail. Gray thought of something and told Chris to step aside. "I have an idea."

He leaned against Taylor's ear and whispered, "Oh, Tracy, my beloved wife."

Taylor shot up out of her seat and as an automatic response, kicked Gray in a place that really hurt. He grimaced and muttered between sharp breaths, "Well, it was an idea."

Taylor glanced around quickly, "Who said that?!"

Chris put her hand on Taylor's shoulder. Taylor turned around and put her hands up in defense. "I will knock you down in a second. So don't you dare mess with me."

"Oh, I don't doubt your prowess, but remember one thing." She pressed her pointer finger against Taylor's forehead and tipped her backward and onto the floor where she landed with a 'thud' on her rear end.

"Things have changed a teeny, tiny bit." Taylor gestured down to herself while still on the floor, "You call this teeny tiny?"

"Think about it. I could have changed you into a primitive animal."

Taylor shuddered at the possibility, "What do you want from me then? What will it take to get me changed back?" She got back to her feet.

Chris smiled, "Well, as we've said, we have important business here..."

Taylor retorted, "As do I, so what's your point?"

"Does yours have any bearing on whether this world continues to exist?" Chris shot back as her. She was caught off guard by that. "Well, not really."

"So there, chew on that a minute. Besides, think about it, here you have a rare opportunity to learn about the fairer sex first hand. No need to go reading watered-down books about them. You are 'them'. Now you get to experience all the aspects of being a woman; sexual discrimination, harassment, mood swings, your time of the month, different plumbing, the indiscriminate stares of men and the constant struggle of weight management and all that other junk. I don't know. That's all I've been able to piece together. I've endured most of them. Oh, wait, I left out the pluses. Hmm, gimme a sec..."

She thought about it long and hard, "I guess it just depends on how you look at things."

"You're not giving me the impression that this will be a very positive experience. In fact you make it sound like hell on Earth."

Chris nodded, "Yes, I suppose I am, but most learning experiences tend to lean toward negative when you're having them."

Gray leaned on the bench, still trying to regain his composure. "You sure had a nice kick there, little lady."

Taylor erupted, "Who are you calling 'little lady'?!" She gave him another knocker, sending him down for the count. Chris looked him over carefully and looked back up at Taylor, "Maybe we should take you to an anger management class."

Gray agreed, even though he just said it with a groan. She waved her hands over Gray. "Get up." He moved his legs and found he was no longer in pain. "Wonderful work, what did you do? Did you use some curative magic?" He looked into her eye and his jaw dropped, "You didn't?"

Chris smiled nervously, "Sorry, when I get on a trend it's hard to break. At least I restrained myself." Gray sighed, "All right, at least it feels better. But check your magic for a second. I'd hate to have to go crawling back to Tangerine with... umm... well, you know."

Chris tried reversing and found she could do it with ease, with Gray, but not Taylor, for some reason. If only she could figure out what was the hang up. She was about to restore the change in Gray when he made a gesture through his discomfort and muttered, "Don't worry, I'll pull through, somehow."

Taylor glared at her, "How come you can change him back and not me?!"

"If I knew why then I might be able to fix you, Tracy." Chris said that last bit with a smirk. Taylor growled, "Who're you calling 'Tracy'?"

"You. And I must say the name fits you well."

Tracy clenched her fist, "That's not my name!"

"How's about I make that your name?"

"How?"

Chris shrugged, "The guy that made me like this was able to change reality to accommodate my changed form. I've been thinking of trying it myself."

"No thanks, I'll go crazy if everyone thinks that I'm really a girl."

Chris whispered to her, "Wake up, you really are a girl."

"No I'm not! I just look like one. Nothing else about me has changed."

A workman wearing tight leather pants walked by them. He had on a thin white shirt with sparse spots of gray from engine grease. Tracy glanced down at his pants and could feel her tongue rubbing against her lips...

She gasped and clutched her cheeks with her fingers, "What the heck is happening to me?"

"Gee, I still haven't gone wild for the opposite sex as a girl yet and I don't intend to any time soon. I wonder what's different with you?"

Tracy got in her face, "There's nothing different about me, it's just this body, it just takes me over at times."

"Wait till you go shopping..."

"Shut up! Oh man... *sigh* I need to get back to being a guy before I become a chick for real."

Chris took Gray's bag on her other shoulder since he was in no condition to carry it yet. She asked him, "I thought you could read minds, but didn't you avoid her attack, why?"

"She didn't look at me, remember, it has to be eye to eye for me to mind-read."

"Oh yeah."

Tracy gasped, "My luggage, I better go get it quick. Where are you guys staying?"

Gray muttered, "Motel 6." Chris muttered, "Cheap", under her breath. "Are you sure we can't go back to find this fruit guy right now, hop a plane right back and get all this straightened out?"

"We could, but we won't."

"Then please take me with you."

"Only if you pretend to be my daughter, seventeen year-old daughter."

Both Chris and Tracy shouted, "What?!", at that.

Gray explained, "There's no way I could pay for the room any other way, besides, you don't look much older than a high school girl and that's what Chris is going to do too."

Tracy looked at her questioningly, "Really?"

Chris folded her arms, "Actually it's news to me."

Gray smiled, "I was going to tell you, eventually."

"Well, that'd nice", remarked Chris, not very happy.

"It's a real bargain."

Chris pursed her lips, "Oh, I bet it is."

Gray shook his head, "Well, if you'd offered to chip in then maybe we could have gotten better accommodations, but you didn't, so be glad I was able to get what I did."

"You didn't even ask me to!"

"Come on, now that wouldn't be proper."

A couple of rather nosy people had gathered around and were debating their best course of action. "Maybe you should auction off Tracy to get money, say as a bride to someone. I mean after all she's not your reason for being here and besides, then you can stay at a Hampton Inn or something like that. Move on up in the world and get yourself a worthy place."

Chris shooed them away.

16

Tracy came back to them, grumbling to herself, tugging a rather large suitcase behind her with a laptop case on her shoulder. Chris asked what was wrong and she explained that she'd been manhandled, by men no less. Each of them had received the same treatment that she'd given Gray, who'd begun to walk upright again, although slowly.

"I wish you'd been there to give them a taste of what it feels like to be treated like nothing but a piece of meat...", she reflected on that a moment, "... I guess I can see your motivation for doing what you did to me. I behaved irresponsibly and I apologize for it."

Chris chuckled to herself, "So you say now, but how strong will that lesson be in your mind when you're back to yourself and probably back to getting the girls and treating them like pieces of meat too? How long before all that you've learn is gone then?"

"Probably about five hours", replied Tracy honestly. "And then all of this knowledge will be for nothing. You've got to learn what it's like, that women are people too."

Tracy slanted her eyes at Chris, "That sure sounds hokey."

"Well, it's true. You're still a person, aren't you?"

"I'm not debating whether women are people. I know that."

"Yeah, but do you understand it. I don't think so. You treat them as though they're just there for your personal entertainment."

Tracy dropped her things, "Oh yeah! What about how women treat us? Why are you defending them? They do it too. They use us for their own personal amusement."

Chris shrugged, "You're right, I can't speak for all women. In fact I don't pretend to represent even a few of them. I wasn't born a woman and I'll probably never really understand them even though I'm one right now. But from what I've been able to glean from my experiences as Christine so far is that women don't like being manipulated to the purposes of men, nor do they find happiness easily."

"That's kinda thin, not to mention biased."

"So sue me."

Tracy grinned slightly. Then Chris remembered that she was a lawyer.

"Listen, let's stop wasting time and get to that Motel 6", that last bit she said with animosity focused in Gray's direction. Tracy folded her arms, "I have a lawyer's conference to get to too you know."

Chris looked at her a moment, "And you intend to go as you are?"

"There are women lawyers, all I need to do is present my certification at the door."

Chris smiled, "What's the name on the certificate?"

Tracy gritted her teeth, "Oh, shoot! Wait, Taylor can be a woman's name, can't it?"

"I guess, but you'd kinda be reaching. What else is on there?"

"Let me think, um... oh shoot, it has my age on it."

"What age is that?"

"I'm 35."

Gray smiled slightly, "You look awfully good for a thirty-five-year-old, Ms. Kingston."

Chris rubbed her hands carefully, "Well, yeah, that's because she's about 18."

Tracy looked down at herself and back up at Chris, jaw open, "I'm a frickin' teenager?!"

"Yeah, I thought your were in your twenties, I'm pretty bad with ages. Also I wanted to make you younger than me, so you might be biologically closer to 17 or something like that."

Tracy laid her head against a cement pole, "Well, I guess that explains why I'm so short."

Gray leaned back against another pole, "Actually, if you don't change back, that's about the tallest you'll probably ever be. You might grow a few more inches, but it's unlikely."

Tracy lashed out at him, "What do you mean 'don't change back', this Tangerine guy can fix me, right?" Gray shielded his groin and covered his eyes. When he opened his eyes, tears were streaming down her eyes. "Can he fix me?"

"I'm sure he'll try his best." Tracy stumbled backwards, as though struck. She looked down at her hands, walked over to one of the benches and crawled up into a fetal position. Chris sat on the bench next to her and edged over. Tracy edged away, becoming more of a ball.

Gingerly, she took her head and placed it in her lap. Chris cradled her head and ran her hands through her hair. She comforted her as though she were her child, even though they were probably only a year apart in age. Tracy pressed her face against her lap and bawled.

She kept crying for a couple of minutes when she looked up at Chris' eyes and laid against her chest. Chris gulped. "It'll be all right."

"No it won't."

"Come on, let's go."

The three of walked out towards the front where they went outside, in search of a cab to take them to the motel. When they exited a few dozen people applauded. A certain fellow wearing a bright green fez with a red tassel that contrasted his gray, monochrome suit siting off to one side applauded the loudest.

"Ahh, quite a performance don't you think?"

His companion glanced at him as if he was crazy and shrugged, "I wasn't really paying attention."

"Oh, but it had everything, fantasy, drama, and nudity, with just a touch of profanity. Not quite up to the standards of American cinema, but tweak that last bit a little and you're there."

His companion shrugged and held his luggage close to him. "Nudity? In a place like this?"

He twirled a drink around in his hand that had seemed to come from thin air and smiled, "Ahh, but therein lies the lure to those with only modest attention spans. But all perhaps not to be, except for a ploy concocted by one not in this play, but then in this world of ours we each have our own little part to play in the drama of life. That one would be me."

"Oh really?"

"Yes." The man smiled, "You're a pleasant fellow to talk to, you know that? Here have this orb. It's a lovely specimen, don't you think... ?"


17

Tracy grumbled as she set her suitcase down next to the sink and looked over at the two beds. "So who gets what?"

"I'll sleep on the floor, you two can have the beds."

Tracy smiled, "That's good enough for me." She jumped on one of the beds and leaned back. Chris glared at her. Maybe next time she wouldn't be so kind to Tracy.

Gray set his bag down next to Tracy's suitcase, as did Chris. Tracy was already flipping wildly through channels. "That's only seven frickin' channels here?! What kind of a dive is this that they only have seven channels? The place where I was gonna stay had more than a hundred."

"Unfortunately, that room's under Taylor's name and credit card, isn't that right?" asked Chris, knowing the answer in advance. Tracy nodded emotionlessly, trying to focus her attention on the screen, which featured an Entertainment Tonight Special Report about a thriller coming out soon.

Gray and Chris went outside and grabbed themselves another taxi. But they only had enough money for half the distance to Lendridge's home. Chris kicked a couple of rocks as they walked along. She turned to look at Gray and told him sharply, "When you go somewhere you usually take money or the nearest equivalent. Hasn't anyone told you that?"

Gray didn't say anything in response to that, but then, what could he have said? They made it to Ledridge's home eventually, but when they tried the door they discovered it was locked and that no one was home at the moment. Chris boiled over, "This is a fine mess we're in here, no money, no way back to the motel, no people here to greet us, but then I was expecting that because you didn't call ahead to tell them we were coming and now the world will probably get wiped out by some thought-casting teenager who goes psycho with her powers or something. This cannot get any worse."

But worse stepped out from behind a tree. "Miss me?" asked Barbi.

"Don't we just have the best luck?" asked Gray with smile.

Chris didn't smile in the least, she stared at Barbi's grinning face with contempt.

"Oh, by the way deary, I got it fixed. Now I can smile to my heart's content."

No problem, she got rid of him yesterday, she could get rid of him today. "Take me out to the ball game.."

Barbi smiled and shook his head, "Only one time per customer."

"Hey, Gray, sing 'take me out the ballgame'."

At that point, Barbi noted another problem. "Only people touched by magic or those that have inherited magic can use that on me. Sorry, darling."

"What do you want Barbi?"

"Well, I just got out of that limbo session you sent me to. Awful place, just like a group counseling session. You have draw how you feel, I drew something rather inappropriate and they put me in the bathroom with the door looked. They knew just what would break me. Only by the shear fact that you didn't sing the song three times instead of one, as is required to permanently send me to limbo, I was saved 'I love myself because I'm me' songs played on a poorly tuned piano. What I want is to stretch my legs a little and tell you that the lady you're looking for and Patrick Lendridge are both down at the Walberg Memorial Hospital. Later."

With that, he vanished behind another tree. Gray didn't feel right about this, "It's not like him to actually help us, not to mention let us off the hook like that. Something strange is going on."

"I agree. Well, let's get going. Do you know where that hospital is?" Gray shook his head, "No. You?"

"No way, I've never been here in my life."

Gray sighed, "Well I guess I'll just have to go around reading minds until I find someone who knows where it is."

18

And that's exactly what they did. It was fortunate that it didn't take long for Gray to find someone who knew where the hospital was because a rainstorm hit and they had to hurry along through the rain, searching for shelter.

As it turned out, the hospital in question wasn't as far away as they thought it would be. Walking in through the sliding door, Chris shivered and felt the water drip from her hair, which lay flat against her head. She glared at him and said nothing. Gray dripped quietly as a thunderclap sounded behind him. He contemplated this a moment while Chris turned around at the sound, looking worried, then glanced back up at him.

"You look like you could use a towel" he said.

"No kidding?"

He smirked, "This is nothing. Just a little downpour."

Thunderclap, this time louder.

"With a little lightning mixed in to make things interesting."

Chris asked the nurse for a towel, but she just stared at her and went back to her work. Incensed, Chris frowned at her and stormed off, looking for the laundry room. Gray wandered around, looking for anyone who even slightly resembled Patrick.

He focused and looked at the nurses. He could hear them.

Damn shame about that boy in 17, so young. Near to the end of spring. Gonna need to buy some more dresses for Abby, she's such a sweet girl at times. Teachers say she doesn't pay attention enough, but she's young, a child, children feel like that sometimes. That one a child, older though, sorry thing to lose her mind so young, just a teenager, suicide-attempt, Kelly Lendridge.

Gray whirled around and almost asked her what she said, but that would have only prompted a look of confusion from her.

Instead, he tried to wing it with a touch of honesty.

"Excuse me ma'am, I'm looking for a fellow named Patrick Lendridge, you see he wrote to me and said that I should come as soon as possible, something serious." Gray produced the envelope at evidence." The nurse shook her head. How odd, she thought. Not as odd as you might think, thought Gray. She cleared her throat, "Oh, I'm sorry, it's just that it's a sad thing. Terrible. The Lendridges."

"Really, whatever happened to him?" Gray tried his best to play dumb. The nurse related the tale to him, "They brought his daughter in the other day. She'd just tried to kill herself, slit her wrists, ankles, just about everywhere, but they got her here in the nick of time. She's under a 24-hour watch now. Mr. Lendridge is all broken up about the whole thing. Hey, is your name perchance Paul Gray?"

"Why yes it is."

"He left a note with me saying that he's waiting for a friend of his by that name to show up." Chris rounded the corner, drying herself off with a towel. Her hair was still damp and her suit darkened in a few sections, but overall she looked better than she had. She handed a towel that she was carrying under her arm to Gray and he dried himself off too.

"Could you tell me where he is?"

She pointed to the right, "All the way down the hall in the relatives room for the protected ward."

"Thank you."

Walking, Gray filled Chris in on the details he'd been able to glean. "This Selanek-possible is his daughter?!"

"Yup, odd I'll grant you that, but conceivable. I haven't seen him for nearly twenty years."

"Surely he would have mentioned that in the letter, wouldn't he?"

"Remember we weren't able to decipher most of the text, perhaps he said something about it in there?" Chris nodded.

Walking down the hallway, they came to the protected ward. Gray looked around quickly trying to spot Patrick. A strange humming filled his ears. He grimaced and covered his ears. Chris shook his shoulder and he crumbled on the floor in agony.

"Gray, what's wrong?!" He didn't respond, rolling around on the floor, trying to say something, but the words dying on his lips.

"Gray?" asked a voice nearby. Chris looked up at a balding, red-headed man in his fifties wearing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. "Who the heck are you?"

"Patrick Lendridge." He skipped around the pleasantries and went over to Gray's side. "I need a nurse over here! Come on, my friend, you're not gonna get off that easily, we still have that last fight to finish." A couple of nurses in blue scrubs came over to where Gray was lying, eyes closing slowly, and assessed the situation.

"He's going into shock. I need a gurney." The nurses tried to attend to the situation as calmly as possible. Even though Chris had a certain degree of medical training she decided it was best to keep her distance. She thought of casting a curative spell, but since she didn't know what was wrong with him, she decided to hold off on that until she was sure of what was going on.

One of the younger nurses checked his pulse, "He's got an irregular beat." One of the older RNs verified this and called over a defibrillator. They set it up on the floor where he'd collapsed, pulled off his plaid shirt and laid the pads on his chest. Unlike all the movies where they pressed the paddles against the patient's chest and yelled "clear!", the pads were simply activated by the presence of an irregular rythmn. As they prepared to do compressions on his chest, the machine beeped and prepared to give the lowest level shock.

Everyone backed off. Gray quivered slightly, but not by any stretch of anyone's imagination did he suddenly jolt forward. The defibrillator beeped shrilly and prepared to set up a higher cycle while they continued compressions.

"Fastest route to ICU?" asked a nurse.

"West elevators to the third floor", answered an orderly. After the defibrillator tried a second time, unsuccessfully, to restore a normal rythmn to Gray's heart, they lifted him onto the gurney that seemed to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere and rushed down the hall to the nearby elevators.

The whole thing lasted about three minutes, by Chris' estimation. Every part of her body felt weak, especially her bladder and her stomach. Her head pounded and her face looked green. Lendridge laid a hand on her shoulder, "Are you a friend of Paul's?"

"Yes, as well as being a student of his."

Lendridge looked after the place the gurney had vanished to and then back at Chris, "I didn't expect him to bring others with him. Doesn't seem like the Paul Gray I remember."

Chris walked a little closer to him and lowered her head in respect, "He brought me with him because he thought I might be able to help your daughter, or son, I should say. You see, I went through something similar."

"You're a Selanek?" Lendridge didn't seem all that surprised. He just asked matter-of-factly. This unnerved her slightly.

"I have quite a few of the criteria, but not all, thankfully."

This time though Lendridge was surprised, "Why do you say that?"

"Well, possibly being a Selanek isn't exactly a thing that I like, needless to say."

Lendridge looked upset, "How can you say that?"

"Well the dying young part isn't all that great."

"True, but think of your contribution to the world. To humanity."

Chris said, less than empathetically, "Whoopee. So how's your child responding to her current situation?"

"Much the same as you. Permanently changing into the opposite sex, as she said has happened to her recently even though I can remember her like she is now all the way back, is traumatizing."

Chris felt embarrassed to say this, but did so nonetheless, "My condition is not permanent. I've been splinted."

"I see. But you'll assess that, you know, like I said in the letter, right?" Chris honestly had very little idea of what he was talking about. "Well, your letter wasn't very clear on that, or at least what we were able to read wasn't very clear on that."

Lendridge sighed, "Sorry, I was in a bit of rush to get it to Paul. Because if Kelly really is a Selanek then she must be splinted at once."

Chris thought about something, "Why do Selaneks have to be splint anyway? I thought they could control their limitless powers?" She'd wanted to ask Gray that for a while, but it had always slipped her mind before her read her and the others hadn't yet given a satisfactory explanation for that one. She was beginning to get over the animosity she felt towards the others for taking her thought-casting away.

"Well, let me think, it's been a while since I've been with the others. Why were you splinted?"

She turned that around in her head, she thought back to the IHOP. Tangerine had told her that they didn't know for sure what Johnson's motives were. Or whether she was an actual Selanek and they still didn't. So why did they have to splint her anyway? Maybe it was one of those self-fulfilling prophesies. They splint her because she seems like a Selanek because that was what happened to the others. She tried not to dwell on it, tell herself that she would be fine and that she would get through this, somehow.

"They weren't sure if I was a Selanek or not."

"I see. That's usually the reason, or fear of Selaneks, remember there have only been two so far."

"Yeah."

Lendridge put his hand softly upon the shoulder of her jacket. By now, the water was gone, but growing traces of human sweat were clinging to the insides of the sleeves, mostly because of what had happened to Gray.

"Would you like to see her?"

"Ok, how is she doing?"

Lendridge smiled, but not very convincingly, "It's been rather depressing since her suicide attempt. She won't even talk to me, just stares at the wall all day, probably thinking terrible things she'd like to do to herself. She was on round-the-clock watch though."

"Let's go see her." Lendridge nodded quickly and guided her down the hall. After they were out of sight, a women leaned over the corner cautiously. Her long, white fingernails rapped against the white, stucco wall. She wore a blue nurse's uniform, but an uncharacteristic expression on her face, a sneer. That wasn't all that was odd about her face. It also had a small, scoop-like depression on the cheek.

"You never know who you'll meet in a hospital." She folded her hands and walked after them, cackling. An elderly man with a walker and an empty urine cup in his hand crawled by and listened to Really Bad Guy as she walked down the hall cackling.

The man shook his head and sighed, "It's all them HMO's... makes them feel so cocky. Bad enough I have to give piss for them. Oh my, I hope I don't give it here. Come on legs, take me to the promised land." He crawled a little faster to the restroom.

19

Lendridge led her past row upon row of hospital rooms. Chris noticed that most of them were unoccupied. As well, there seemed to be a lack of nurses in this particular area. Chris noted these abnormalities with detached interest as she straightened her still moist, but drying suit jacket.

Each of the rooms they passed had the same basic amenities; two egg-carton beds, a modest restroom, 10-inch television and medical equipment lining the peach-colored walls----naturally.

Then they turned the corner and the style of the rooms changed dramatically. Still a TV, but only one bed. Another addition included a sterile room which led to the patient room, the kind used in cases of nasty infections or to protect AIDS patients from secondary illnesses.

Only one of these rooms was occupied, room 317. Chris could tell this from the outline of a person covered in an off-white sheet. She grimaced when she realized that the inner set of windows were shattered all along their lengths. The outer windows had small, pin-point impact craters.

Chris wracked her brain for a moment, trying to figure out how that could have possibly happened like that. But then she realized that magic required no rational explanation.

"How come there's no one else here?" Chris asked, looking up and down the vacant halls. From her rotations at hospital sites she knew that the protected isolation wards typically had two nurses assigned to each bed.

"Kelly's been rather violent recently, just the last few hours. I think she's taking a turn for the worse. Do you see those cracks in the glass?"

Chris nodded.

"Well she didn't do that with her fists or anything like that..she just glanced at them and they splintered all of a sudden. That just about scared the bejeezus out of all the nurses. They wouldn't even talk about it, too shaken up. The head of the department shut everything down, moved all the patients to other floors and decided to leave her alone and give her time to cool off."

Chris wasn't really listening to him. She was looking through the shattered windows. The figure beneath the covers shifted, her head emerging for an instant, then retreating.

Lendridge put his hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him anxiously and sighed. "Do you feel up to talking to her?", he asked.

Chris tried to put herself in Kelly's head. What was she thinking? What did she feel at this precise moment? She considered the situation she was facing. Transformed into an unfamiliar form, faced with a place in society totally foreign to her and having difficulty coping with that sudden shift. Frankly, she told herself, seeing a young woman coping much better with a similar situation would probably not get her hopes up, but rather heighten her anger and focus it into a laser beam of rage. But what other choice did she have?

She said as much to Lendridge. He acknowledged this solemnly and opened the outer door for her. Chris stepped into the sterile room and picked up one of the towels lying on the gown rack. She rubbed her sleeves with the towel until they were adequately dry. Looking into the patient room, she saw the form shift again underneath the sheets. Carefully, cautiously she pushed open the inner door and walked into the room. She closed the door behind her and turned around to see a face staring blankly at her from the top of the sheets.

It took all her willpower not to recoil at the sight of Kelly. Her red hair was in an uneven tangle, as though someone had tried to give her a hair cut and failed miserably. Her small eyes were surrounded by gray ovoids, like she'd been socked in the eye. Chris sniffed the air a moment. It had the lingering odor of urine.

Kelly turned in bed, but didn't do anything to acknowledge Chris' presence. She might as well as have come in whilst invisible. "Hello, Kelly Lendridge."

She looked her in with a glint of fury which died down an instant later. She said matter-of-factly, "That's not my name."

Chris sat in the chair next the bed. She tried not to breathe in too much of the pungent odor, which she now knew was emanating from Kelly's bed. "What is your name then?"

Kelly breathed a couple of times and answered after a bit of contemplation, as though trying desperately to remember, "Kevin Lendridge."

Chris folded her hands and smiled faintly, not patronizingly, just faintly.

"Really?" Kelly shook her head, "That was my name till about a week ago when I woke up as this?!" Her angry gesture, half-shouted, was the first emotion Chris had seen from her.

"What do you mean by 'this'?" Chris tried playing dumb and hoped that Kelly hadn't yet discovered that she could read minds.

Kelly tossed off her covers, sending them past the end of the bed and onto the floor. "THIS!" she yelled, not quite angry at Chris, but at somebody, the person who'd done this to her, maybe even herself.

Chris looked the rest of Kelly over. There were stitches on her wrists, ankles and even some on her stomach, leftovers from her suicide attempt. She looked terribly dumpy, probably unwashed for several days. Her nails were dirty and bloodied, as were her feet. She also looked a bit on the thin side. The groin of her hospital gown and the section of bed near that area were both moist, probably with urine.

Kelly noticed that she looked disturbed by this fact. "I'm not gonna piss like a girl, I'd rather piss right here, damn it all to hell!" Kelly screamed and beat her fists against the wall. Chris tried to calm her down, but she didn't stop until her hands were oozing blood.

"I punch like a goddamn girl!" Kelly settled back on the bed, limp as a rag doll and stared at the urine mark on the bed.

A silent moment passed. Finally, Chris said, "Run out of cuss words to use?"

"Fuck you" muttered Kelly, still staring.

"Apparently not. Let me see a moment. Now you said you don't want to urinate like girl and that you punch like a girl, but you are a girl. Isn't that true?"

"NO! It's not true! I'm not, or at least I wasn't."

Chris nodded slowly, "You weren't a girl before? You were Kevin. A boy?"

"Yes." Kelly stared at her in the hope that she'd understand what she meant and take her seriously.

"Interesting. Can you prove this?"

Kelly sighed, "Everyone thinks this is how I've always been. I don't understand. It just happened. And now when I think of something I want or get really mad, things happen. I can damage items without touching them. It's like magic."

Chris looked over at the windows, which prompted a nod from Kelly. She wondered whether to just come out and say who she was or tiptoe a little more to be sure it was safe.

"I believe you, Kelly."

Kelly waited for the all-important 'but' which didn't come. She stared perplexed at Chris and asked her, "Really?"

"Oh yes. You see, my name a little more than a week ago was Christopher Wren."

Kelly's enthusiasm faded and her rage welled up, "LIAR!" The inner windows vaporized and scattered against the floor of the sterile room. Chris raised an eyebrow, "Interesting that you would call me a liar." She was treading on soft ground here. But she had a plan. "Let me show you something."

That was what Johnson had said to her before he changed her life forever. She found it an apt phrase to utter at that precise moment. "Stand up." Kelly turned and laid her legs over the side. She put her weight on them and got uneasily to her feet. A slow drip of urine ran down her left leg. Chris grabbed her arm and guided her to the mirror in the small bathroom. She looked at herself and then back at Chris.

Chris asked. "What do you see?"

Kelly stared at her and prepared to deliver her response. "Some person, a girl, a damn girl." Chris gestured to herself and asked, "What do you see when you look at me?" Kelly shrugged. She'd have to try a little harder to get a response out of her. "What do you think when you look at me?"

"If you were wearing something better that crap I'd be thinking of jumping your bones, but otherwise, 'what a bitch' is what I'm thinking." Chris glared at her. How dare she call me a bitch! "What's wrong with this?"

Kelly pointed out what was wrong with her outfit, "First of all, your legs are covered. Who the hell wants to see a woman with her legs covered? And your neckline is way too high and you look absolutely not sexy."

Chris folded her arms, "Oh, so you're a fashion expert now?" Kelly recoiled at the suggestion, "Hell no! I just know what turns me on, or at least used to. Now it's just like a ghostly memory." She stared down at the floor and let her eyes droop.

"So do you think you're sexy?"

"I don't give a fuck." Chris frowned at her, "You're sure a potty-mouthed little girl." That little girl part ought to get her riled up, figured Chris. Kelly just about foamed at the mouth and screamed, "I am not a goddamn girl!"

The outer windows vaporized and scattered in the hall. They looked hotly at one another for a while. Chris pressed her teeth softly against her pointer finger and thought of what to say. "Take off your gown."

The reaction she got from Kelly was totally unexpected. She untied her hospital gown, took it off, and tossed it to Chris. "Ok." Chris stared open-mouthed at her as Kelly stood there, in the buff, with her arms at her side. "Why did you do that?"

Kelly scoffed at her, "You told me to."

Chris shook her head in disbelief, "Have you no modesty?"

Kelly shrugged, "Should I?"

Chris rolled her eyes and told her to look into the mirror. Kelly did so and Chris used a mild attack spell to render her immobile. Kelly just stood there while Chris repaired her injuries.

The scars vanished away. Along with the dark rings around her eyes. Her toenails, bloodied and dark, healed and turned bright pink. Her uneven red hair smoothed out its tangles and hung straight on her shoulder. She tinted away the dirt and did the same to the rest of her body, giving her skin an overall healthier look to it. As well, she added a pound or two to her body just so it wouldn't look as emaciated. She cleaned up the urine and finally gave her nails like hers.

Tapping her finger against her lip, her wondered what to do now. She put an outfit on her. Starting with the necessary requirements, she built up to a rather nice ensemble of a stripped t-shirt with a modest neckline and an knee-length yellow, cotton skirt. A pair of white sandals adorned her feet. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail with a conjured scrunche and stood back to admire the transformation. Whereas before Kelly looked like a beaten girl in her last hours, now she looked downright pretty, in fact Chris would even say gorgeous. She shook her head once in astonishment and removed the attack spell.

Kelly staggered backwards a moment, then got her bearings and looked up in the mirror. "Oh my god! What the fuck have you done to me?!"

Nothing wrong with a little bluff, "You see Kelly, I'm just like you. I have the ability to change things that I'm thinking about. I have these strange, seemingly impossible powers to change the world around me and the people in it. Now do you understand?"

Kelly touched her hair and trembled as she wrapped her fingers around it. Closing her hands up into fists, she tried desperately to rip the hair out by the roots. Unsuccessful at this she tugged at her t-shirt and attempted to tear it into smaller pieces. But as much as she tried, even focusing her thoughts and using all of her physical strength, the material was just too strong, as well as being imbued with special, magical durability. Finally she was able to just pull it over her head and off. She looked down, astonished.

Chris folded her arms and glared at her, "Don't tell me you've never worn a bra yet. You are girl, after all."

Kelly exploded, "Of course I haven't and I'm a guy!"

"What about the time between your transformation and now?"

"I went without." She slid her legs back and forth slowly, "You didn't!" she exclaimed, open-mouthed. "You're wearing a skirt. What? Do you want to go without underwear with something like that, give everyone a free show?"

"I'm wearing panties?!" Chris went over her side and held her by the shoulders. This was quite a dangerous thing to do should Kelly realize her potential and smash Chris in half or something like that, but instead she just submitted and waited for Chris to do what she was going to do to her. "Look in that mirror."

Kelly leaned her head over for a split-second glance, then shrugged, prompting Chris to tell her what she was supposed to be seeing. "What do you see now?"

"I see the same thing as become, some cunt, that's all." Kelly's language was really beginning to get her peeved. Still, she stayed as calm and professional as her suit seemed to say she was. "Why do you say that? Do you look all that much different?"

"Yeah, hell yeah." Kelly couldn't believe that she was trying to downplay the enormity of what had happened to her, and if she could be believed, Chris as well.

"How?"

"Huh?"

"How do you look different?" It sounded kinda like the same question her sub- conscious had asked her earlier, but it still was a valid question, and not an easy one to answer either. Kelly looked at Chris as though she had some kinda of foreign object shoved up her nose. "What do you mean how? Take a damn good look!"

"Actually, I see a real tomboy." Kelly roiled a second, as though insulted by the comment, but then she realized that was a good thing and resumed her skeptical glare at Chris, "Who gives a shit?" She answered that question herself, "Certainly not me."

Chris could sense that she'd struck something inside Kelly. Where do go and what to do now though? "I mean look at the size of your tits, I best you by a full cup at least." Actually, Chris had no idea if it was full cup, heck, she didn't even know what designated a cup, or even what she was. And she kept firm to her resolution not to seek out the answer to that question.

Kelly staggered backwards and for the first time, Chris saw her falter, "Really?" Her voice was faint, confused and worried. But a tight scrunching of her face, probably her version of Chris' headshake, brought her back to normal. "Good! They're nothing but a pain anyway. I wish they were gone!"

Chris knew that Kelly was focusing all of her mental power on making such a thing a reality, but due to the limitations of the Ro'vi'dani incantation, which undoubtedly had been cast on Kelly, all her efforts were in vain.

Contemplating furiously, Chris tried to think of other insults, but a few minutes ago Kelly was much worse looking than she was now, so it was difficult to find anything from before that could potential hurt Kelly. She probably didn't have any attachment to her nails or her smooth, flawless skin, not yet at least.

Kelly gripped her chest and tugged at them, as though trying to pull them from her body. But, alas, this too was impossible. After a certain amount of touching, she realized the pleasurable feedback she was getting and screamed. About to smash her fists into the wall, Chris grabbed her tightly. "Let me go, damn you!"

"No", said Chris simply. She had one chance left. Why did her sub-conscious always have all the good ideas? She tickled Kelly. At first, she didn't think it was going to work, then came a giggle. She'd let down her defenses. Chris went at her with everything she had. Soon, both of them were a giggling mass, rolling around on the floor, Kelly happy as a lark. If only this moment could continue indefinitely.

Chris knew she would have to use it effectively. If she wasted this chance, then it might never come again.

Right when Kelly's laughter was at its peak, she relaxed her hold on her and got to her feet. Kelly expression changed from a broad smile, the first Chris had seen on her, to a curious frown, "Why did you stop?", asked Kelly, rubbing her fingers together.

She could play off the endorphin rush. "Listen Kelly. I can help you. I can do something that will allow you to take change back into Kevin for four days a week. It's called a splint."

Kelly smiled, still filled with euphoria.

"Sure."

Chris had no idea how to cast a splint, but she hoped that she would be able to figure it out as she went along.

But right before she was able to even begin casting, a lightning bolt wrapped around her wrist and swung her out of the bathroom, into the room and flat against the wall, two feet above the floor. A cloud of charged particles swarmed around her, keeping her in place. Straining to hold her head up, she saw the face of her attacker. And he looked very much like Kelly, almost like a brother to her.

Kelly got to her feet and stared open-mouthed at her counterpart. "What the hell is going on?" Her counterpart smiled wily at her, "How would you like to have your body back Kelly? Well here it is!"

She looked her male-self over, "How is this possible?"

"Just decide, do you want it or not?"

Things were just moving too fast for Kelly. She clutched her head. Chris launched a defense spell and flung the electrical spell against the wall, incinerating the television. Chris had a hunch as to what was going on. "Barbi."

Kevin cackled, "Try again." He focused an astral beam on Chris' leg and pulled her in like a fish caught on a hook. Dangling her by the leg upside down right in front of him, he whispered, "The Shears universes can be very desolate."

Chris had no idea what he meant, but it was enough to get her thinking, then it came to her. "Guy."

"Hello, Christine", said Guy pleasantly. Then he snarled, "And it's Guyanna, remember!" The astral energy spun her around several times, then flung her against the wall. Chris caught herself with a repulsion defensive incantation and landed back on her feet. Something clicked with Kelly and, mouth hanging open, she muttered, "Guyanna?.. mom, is that you mom?"

Mom?!, Chris thought to herself. Guy faced Kelly with a wide grin and explained, "That's right, my darling daughter, mommy has returned."

Chris felt her legs give out.

20

Kelly gritted her teeth and shook her head, "No way, no fucking way!"

Guy lifted his hand, "That's enough of that language, didn't your father teach you better?"

Kelly opened her mouth to say 'fuck you', but instead it came out, "I apologize."

Guy nodded his head, "That's better. Now I suppose an explanation is in order, my dear. But first, I have to kill one thing." He turned his palm and a column of light flew at Chris' head. She swerved and incanted an astral shield, which succeeded in deflecting the column.

"Come now, Christine, you know there can only be one Selanek and that will be me."

It all suddenly became clear to her. After dodging another astral attack, Chris exclaimed, "You're going to swap bodies with Kelly and become the Selanek!"

Kelly felt left out of this stunning revelation. "Selanek?"

"I'll explain later." Guy motioned a fire field that surely would defeat Chris when it simply blew out. Kelly frowned at him, "Tell me now."

Guy looked at his daughter as though she'd just betrayed him. Chris took on the role of explaining the situation to the Kelly. And she did, as far as she knew the situation to be. She gave her an expurgated version of Gray's story and her own and after about ten minutes, she was up to date with everything.

Kelly glared at her mother, "How did this happen?"

"I did it. I performed the incantation that changed you."

"Why?"

Guy shrugged, "The infinite powers."

"Huh?" That had been one of the details that Chris had left out when she explained things to Kelly. "You have the ability to do anything you want, except change back and that's what I'm offering to you."

Kelly tossed that back and forth in her head. Perhaps being a girl wasn't so bad after all. "I can do anything besides that?"

"Yup, anything. Say you wanted to make the sun go nova, just thought-cast it and it happens."

"Ok" said Kelly after a moment of silence. "Ok, what?" asked Guy, a little worried.

"How long does it take for a nova to reach here?"

Guy reverted back to Guyanna, "You're joking." But she wasn't able to say that with any degree of confidence and Chris could tell that she was shaking in her boots, even though she wasn't wearing any.

"You misjudged me, mom. I refuse to be manipulated... get out of here, you bitch!" Guyanna's form shifted into that of a dog, a Chihuahua. Guyanna yipped at her and Kelly hit her with a electric blast much like the one that Guyanna had used against Chris. Guyanna scampered out the door, growling back at her as she ran.

Chris massaged her arms, still hurting from the attack that Guyanna used on her.

"So... so... um... were you bluffing?"

Kelly sighed and nodded, "Yeah, as much as I feel like I want to die, I just can't go through with it. I just can't. Which is why I ask you, no plead with you. Kill me now before something terrible happens because of me."

Chris looked pained, "I sorry, I can't."

"But you have to! I can't live like this and my mother won't leave me alone until she has my powers."

"I can splint you. That way she even if she tries to trade bodies with you..." Guyanna stood in the doorway and chuckled. She'd assumed Kelly's form. "You're an amateur my dear, why don't you let a professional give it a try?" She lunged at Kelly and the two of them launched electrical attacks at one another.

Guyanna though tried to go easy on her daughter. After all, she had intentions of inhabiting that body when she done. Kelly countered as best she could, but she was even less experienced at on her feet casting than Chris was. Then Guyanna feel to her knees and looked down. "Oh my God! She's swapped with me! Chris, help me!"

Chris looked over at Kelly, who was wearing a shocked look, "No she didn't, Chris! You believe me, don't you?" Chris didn't know quite what to believe. She'd seen this situation a dozen times in several movies and television programs. She had to pick which one was the real Kelly. Both Kellys' looks of shock seemed convincing, but then Guyanna could just be a good actor. Looking back and forth, she placed herself between the two of them and wondered what she should do. Whatever she picked, given how these things usually turned out, then it would probably be the wrong thing. Pick Guyanna-Kelly to knock out (for that's what she intended to do to whom she chose) then find out that Kelly really was swapped. Pick Kelly and find out Guyanna was bluffing. Narrowing her eyes, she finally made her decision, aimed an arm out at each them and knocked them out cold. She'd sort things out when they awoke, but right now, she had a major headache.

21

Chris tapped her foot on the ground as she looked at the two Kellys collapsed at both ends of the room. How could she possibly discern which one was the real Kelly? What questions could she ask? She probably knew as much about her life as Kelly's mother did. She was still letting the shock of that revelation seep in.

Ok, Guy's goal before was acquiring the last bit of that world that her cousin had collected to make sure she had the full set of worlds, for table settings or study adornments or something like. To do that, she blew up a rather large town. And she had all those soldiers. Why did she do that? Regular combat... when she could just grab it like the others? Was it due to the Secret Society's protection or some rather vague quantum rule or evil person requirement? She rolled this back and forth in her head, then realized she'd done nothing to advance the issue at hand. Ok, Guy had been gone, presumably for a while. Kelly admitted not having seen her for a while, but she'd pulled a Ro'vi'dani on her about a week ago or so. Had she disguised herself or something? It seemed plausible. What did it accomplish to swap bodies with her and all that though? The power? What was it with evil-doers and power hunger?!

The Kelly closest to the door groaned and unsteadily got to her feet. She breathed heavily and looked at Chris nervously. She really had no idea if this was the real McCoy. "Ok, stay where you are and don't do any funny stuff."

This Kelly sighed, nodded and dropped to the ground, exhausted. A swarm of cackles filled the air. She spun around to find the one near the window with her arms folded and a sneer on her face. "I really should be an actress, I really did a rather good impression of her, don't you think?"

Everything cleared up for Chris. She blocked Guyanna's path to Kelly. "You're gonna have to kill me to get to her."

Guyanna couldn't help but cackle uproariously, "Listen, little girl, you don't threaten people by offering to let them do things that they want to do! Haven't you learned that?!" She flung another bolt at Chris, which cut into her heel. She crumpled to her knees, sharp tingles of pain filling her legs. Guyanna walked closer to her. She slapped her hand against Chris' suit, "And what's the deal with this? Oh well, at least you'll die well dressed."

She held her hands up and Chris knew she had to do something, but what? All of a sudden, Guy's hands cramped up and she winced in pain. Glancing at someone right over Chris' shoulder she yelled, "Let me go or I will destroy you!"

Chris looked over at Kelly. No longer was she passed out on the ground, she was standing on one knee, her hand aimed at her mother, emitting a gray beam of energy focused on her wrists. "How about I take away your powers instead?"

"Ha, you can't do that." Chris nodded to Kelly, remembering back to Corvalis. Guyanna grinned wickedly, "Only I can do to that. It's an ancient art and not one for amateurs."

Kelly arched her eyebrows, "Then use it on me, go ahead, I dare you." Chris didn't know what Kelly was aiming at, but it was a pretty good bet, since she hadn't used it on her yet, that Guyanna was bluffing. Guyanna's grin quickly wore down to a look of contempt. "I'll contend with you another way."

"Ha, right back at you." Guyanna exploded and shifted back to her normal form, "How dare you speak like that to me! I will make you pay dearly for your insolence." Chris felt it would be best to just let the two of them fight it out amongst themselves. She backed off a little, but Guyanna noted her movement. "What's the matter, Chris? Aren't you going to defend your brethren? Would you like to know the big reason I came to Corvalis? It wasn't just for the continent. While securing the continent was one of my goals, it wasn't my only goal. First, I needed to create an army to occupy the continent with. The others were taken with a single incantation, but because your friends are rather.clever..then I had to use the down and dirty methods. Unfortunately, my timetable was altered by your interference. But no matter, for my other goal was to see your powers in action. I'd already set in motion young Kevin's fate, a surrogate for my new body, a body with unlimited powers over all universes. As you can see, I aim high and when I have that body, I will take this universe and complete Evil's set. Then a nightmare of unimaginable power will descend upon those that are left in the other universes and they will too be annihilated. Not a mere collection, no no. I told Christine that because only she'd believe such a thing. Far too witless, that girl. A blistering idiot cast in the same image as my ignorant cousin. But Evil will soon see the error of his ways when his universe of 'babes' vanishes from beneath him and", she shut her eyes and smiled, "he returns to my side and no longer am I the weakest one, the one better deserving of the pointless title of Emperor of the Universe, but rather I shall have justly earned my throne as Empress of Infinity! Nothing shall be above me, nothing! I shall rule all and create a new reality in my image!"

She flashed her eyes open and glanced around the room. "Damn it all! They ran away." She beat her fists against the wall, "What did they say in those evil strategy courses?! 'If you're got the good guys cornered, never start spouting a verbose, rambling speech that reveals your entire plan!' You idiot!"

A figure entered the room. Guy turned to face him. "Who are you?"

Barbi sniggered casually, holding the sides of his gray, monochrome suit. He fixed his fez and asked, "Don't you know me?"

"No, who are you?" she repeated. He overlooked her answer, "Remember the time when we were trapped in the Trios tri-juncture, where rudosium grows, the only cure for magical poisoning, purely a side issue, but you looked at me in that special way and I looked at you and we made love for hours in the helix?"

"What the heck are you rambling on about? I don't even know you!" Her face grew red, both with embarrassment that he would say such a thing and anger at his obstinance in refusing to reveal his name. "Oh well, then I suppose we begin anew. My name is Barbi."

Guy gave him a weird look, he continued, "Yes I came from the same province as you. The same place that gave rise to Love, Peace, Danger, Taboo, Up Yours, Saucy and Ginger, just to name a few. Whatever happened to Love and Peace? I really miss them, we really had some good times, yes we did."

Guy felt something click inside of her, "You're..him!"

She raised her leg up and hit him squarely in the groin. A lot of shots in the pills in this one, don't you think? But unlike Gray, Barbi just stood there, laughing, pulled a black silk bag out of his pocket and responded, "My dear, now don't tell me you've forgotten? I keep them in a bag. It can be a real pain sometimes though. Taboo would always steal them from me and fondle them during lunch. Saucy and Ginger thought I was getting that way over them and those girls would zap me till I was lit up like a Christmas tree. I really hated Taboo."

Guy grabbed the bag out of his hands and tossed it against the wall. Barbi recoiled when they slammed against the wall, then screeched and dropped to the ground when they fell against the tile floor. Quivering, he smiled through the pain and said, "Just like old times, isn't it?"

She walked over and despite his objections, stamped her feet on the bag a couple more times and picked them up. He lay on the ground, twitching with pain. Guy tossed the bag up and caught it twice. Each time he gasped and winced, worried about her dropping them, then in pain when they slapped against her hand. Guy squeezed her fingernails into the bag, prompting heavy breathing from Barbi.

She sniggered as he had done, "I think I'll hang onto these for a while. You never used to let them out of your grasp. You've gotten careless in your old age."

"I may no longer be a ripe spring chicken, but take a look at yourself" he growled. She squeezed harder and he changed his tone, "You're 240 million years old and you still look lovely." She relaxed her grip and stuffed the bag in her scrub pocket. "Amazing how well they fit in here", she said, patting her pocket, "You can hardly feel the bulge."

"Quite humorous, my dear. Well, if you are going to keep them for a while, please do remember to walk them twice a day. They need their exercise. And make sure to give them plenty of water, Leftie's been getting rather dehydrated recently."

"I'll have them barking in a day or two."

Barbi frowned, "What in the mystical finity are you talking about?"

"Never mind. What do you want anyway? What are you doing here?" Barbi twiddled his thumbs, "Oh, just wondering if we might be able to touch base, reminisce about old times, that sort of thing."

"Forget it, I have more important matters to attend to."

Barbi grinned slightly as she turned to leave, "It's about Christine isn't it?"

"Hardly, rather it's about my son, Kevin."

"Never met him before, is he clean?"

"What?!" Barbi shrugged his head to one side, "Well you know, children these days can get their hands into just everything. Back in our day though things were different. Including the fact that the dinosaurs were still around in this here universe. Pity no one told anyone else about it, would've gotten a great deal more tourism than it did. Then, sadly, that blasted comet hit and ended the whole show. What did we get in place of the dinosaurs? Mammals..jolly good lot if you're itching for a bland meal, but a bore when they developed brains, half of them just let the priceless thing go to rot."

"My, this is all very fascinating, but it's also terribly pointless, I'm out of here."

Barbi waved after her, "Say hello to your son for me and let him know that I think his mum is one hot girl." Guy 'humph'ed and walked out the door with her head held high. Barbi sighed and got to his feet slowly, "Too bad she's so uptight. Just so long as she doesn't learn where I keep my member though, that's just fine with me."

22

Chris clutched tightly to Kelly's hand and tugged her along the hospital halls. They finally stopped at the front desk, sufficiently sure that whatever Guy would try, she wouldn't do in front of all of these currently bewildered people in the hospital lobby. Kelly panted and leaned over, struggling to catch her breath.

The lady at the front desk look at them, "Can I help you two?" For a moment, Chris thought of telling her the situation, but then figured it was pointless anyway. Instead, she asked, "Where's Paul Gray? I think he was admitted, probably to the ICU. He collapsed in the hallway leading to the protected ward."

"There was fellow admitted to the ICU who was in defib, he collapsed around that area." She spoke calmly, but not cheerfully. Chris had a feeling that she didn't have good news to tell her.

"He passed away just about twenty minutes ago."

Chris froze in place, her lower lip slipping, "That's not possible, surely you have him mistaken for someone else. He just fainted or something."

"Well, they haven't performed an autopsy yet, but from what I heard, he just had a sudden, massive heart attack. These things happen sometimes."

Chris lunged at her, "Not to him! How can you people say it was a heart attack?! I saw him myself before he collapsed, he was clutching his ears and one of your nurses said he was going into shock. That can't be him!"

The lady backed off, "That's just what I've heard, go down to the ICU, that's where he was. Besides they'll probably need you for identification and notification."

Chris had no idea of who should be notified of Gray's passing, the only person she could think of off-hand was Tangerine and she didn't even know his phone number. Kelly coughed once to get Chris' attention, but instead attracted the attention of the lady at the front desk.

Her voice became more pleasant as she asked, "How can I help you ma'am?"

"Yes, do you know where my father is? I'd like to sign out of the hospital and if you can't find him, I'll just sign out for myself." The lady looked down at a pad of paper that neither of them could see. She asked for her name. Grimacing, she said faintly through her teeth, "Kelly Lendridge."

The lady looked up, "What was that, dear?"

Kelly took a breath and said her name again, only slightly louder than before, as though she was saying something profane. She looked along her hidden pad, then back up at Kelly, "You're that weird, suicidal girl, aren't you?" Kelly glared at her, infuriated most at the gender reference. Even Chris was peeved at her tactlessness. "Where's my father?"

But she stayed on her train of thought, "I heard from some of the ladies and doctors in the protected ward that some really strange stuff went on when you were around."

Kelly gritted her teeth and Chris began to worry that this might only lead to violence. But Kelly relented and turned away. The lady picked up her phone and paged Kelly's father. They waited a couple of minutes and sure enough, Patrick Lendridge came walking down the hall. His expression brightened when he saw his daughter. "How are you feeling Kelly?"

She looked pained but answered with a faint smile, "I'm feeling a little better. I think it's time for me to leave the hospital. Besides, mom is back."

All the color drained from Lendridge's face, "Guyanna's back. Oh dear, whatever does she want now?"

"She wants to swap bodies with me and take over the universe." The lady at the desk was about to sit down when her ears heard this. She'd been aiming for her sliding chair, but missed by about a foot. She stood up with a jolt and looked questioningly at the three of them. "Listen, I just want to know one thing. What the heck is going on?!"

Guyanna stomped into the room, a broad grin on her face, "Well well, if it isn't Patrick. I figured if Kelly was here, then you had to be too. Did she spill the beans about my plans for complete conquest? Oh my, I sure hope she did. I do love a little chaos to brighten things up."

She swung her hands out and bolts of lightning shot through the ceiling and started flames on the floor. The lady at the desk retreated behind her desk and rest of the people in the lobby ran screaming until Guyanna leveled her hand in the air and they all paused. She turned it a quarter turn. And all the people in the room lost their clothing. He put her other hand to her lip and pondered things. "Let me see. Last time I made an army composed of men, so let's go the other way this time, soldier women." She turned her hand another quarter turn. The unclothed men and women were each enveloped by beams of light. When the light vanished all the men had been replaced by muscular viragos. And the women had been turned to pure muscle. "Just to even things up, no horsemen.. whoops, horsepeople, this time, just foot soldiers." She turned her hand so the palm was facing up, but before the incantation could begin Kelly flung a beam of light at her and hacked over her hand.

Guyanna, her eyes full of fury, huffed and glared at her daughter. Her hand grew outwards to fill out the stump that'd been left behind. "Foolish contemptuous girl! You will suffer even worse than your friend beside you will." Her new hand turned the last quarter and the amazons were clothed in leather bodysuits lined with silver and covered with hanging medallions of solid gold. Vast supplies of weapons filled her packs, ranging from diamond daggers to round orbs or metal that served a purpose that Chris and Kelly could only guess at. Perfectly in sync, they raised their golden-handled blades and roared a single battle cry. They lunged forward and straight at Guyanna. Still in sync, they each thrust their sharp blades up and through Guyanna's body and through her head. Her body lolled around and her eyes opened. Without the benefit of her tongue, she muttered, "You're beginning to annoy me, my dear."

The blades retreated and her soldiers fell to one knee in reverence. Her wounds resealed themselves and she gestured at Kelly. The soldiers advanced upon her. She grunted and focused. "Sorry, Kelly. But I'm smarter than that. I suppose you'll have to be too if you wish to survive."

The amazons roared and held their shimmering blades high in the air. Kelly looked stumped, so Chris decided it was time to come up with something. She punched her fist up in the air. A blast wave emanated from the point that she punched. The amazon soldiers paused mid-step, then looked around perplexed. The mind-control incantation that Guyanna had used on them was gone.

A couple of soldier screamed and dropped their weapons. The males who'd been caught up in this mostly fainted but a few ran their hands along their new bodies, exploring tentatively. A couple even tried to slice their own heads off with their swords. But failed miserably at this since they seemed to have no prior experience with such weapons. The lady at the desk cried in her hands, but had to admit that her body was much more buff now than it had been before.

Guyanna folded her hands and cackled, "That is of no consequence to me. Now they're just easier to destroy, along with the rest of you." She brought both her hands up and then down. Bat-like creatures punched their way through the ceiling, presumably nurses and doctors on the upper floors. They resembled the amazon soldiers in that they had human-like faces, but their mouths were full of enormous incisors. Their uniforms were badly torn, especially in the back where they had sprouted wings. Chris could tell they were all female as well because of the outlines of their chests. But she decided not to ponder this issue for long since the bat-women were coming in her direction.

One of the newly freed Amazons lifted up her sword and hacked the one that was attacking Chris cleanly in half. She panted and looked back at her. In a squeaky soprano, she shouted, "Run!" Chris knew immediately why she had sounded like that. The bat- woman had taken a bite at her. As Chris watched, astounded, wings spouted from the Amazon's back and her face shifted. Her breasts bulged outward and she turned, lashing her fangs at Chris, but Chris was ready with a stun incantation. Unfortunately, the bat- women who'd been sliced in half was slowly fusing back together. Patrick, Kelly and Chris mutually decided this was the best time for a strategic retreat. The hallway to the Intensive Care Unit was clear, at the moment, and since the answers to what had happened to Gray seemed to be in that direction, they took off as fast as they could go.

Guyanna gestured and yelled, "After them!"

23

"Lovely afternoon, isn't it?", asked Chris, half out of breath as the three of them ran, the din of dozens of pursuing beasts just around the corner behind them. "Splint me now!", said Kelly.

"What?" asked Chris. "She'll leave me..alone if I'm... splinted right? Isn't that..what you said? Even..if she tried to trade bodies with..me, it wouldn't work or..something?" Chris remembered, "Each wizard, as far... as I can tell... only has three main... abilities.." She paused a moment to grab an extra breath. "I only have transformations, attack/defense and curative magic. It's anything you want, be broad about it."

"I don't care, gimme the same."

"Come on, anything."

She thought about it as they rounded another corner, passing the screams and stares of the patients behind. "Man this is... a really long hallway", said Kelly.

"Yeah", said Chris.

The three of them ducked into a broom closet and fortunately, the bat-women were as dumb as real bats. Panting nervously, they listened to each other's breaths in the darkness. None of them moved as screeches filled the air and quickly passed them by. Kelly, whispering, asked, "Isn't there an encyclopedia for this kind of stuff?"

"What do you mean?"

"A listing of choices of what you can do, so you know what's available."

Chris muttered to herself, "You'd think."

"Huh?"

"Never mind."

Chris looked in the direction of Kelly's voice, "I'll tell you this, whatever you choose will be nothing but trouble. Take curative magic, it's wide choice, a lot to work with."

Kelly agreed and tried to think of a second, "Manifestation?"

Chris hadn't thought of that, good one. "And for your last one?"

Kelly took a little while longer, painfully aware that even though the bat-people had long passed them the screams of the patients and medical staff mixed with animal sounds were still lingering in the air. "Evil Magic."

Chris cleared her ears out in hopes that she hadn't heard what she'd thought she'd heard, "Huh?" Her father objected, "No way! I forbid it."

"Um, what exactly is that?" asked Chris, feeling rather left out of this particular conversation. Kelly explained, "You know, dark magic, like the kind mom uses."

"I wouldn't pick that one if I were you."

Kelly clutched Chris' hand in the darkness, how she was able to find it astonished her. "The only way I'm gonna defeat her is to use her most potent weapon against her." Chris had to admit that Kelly had a good point, but Patrick made the argument that all those who had chosen dark magic as one of their three at their Splinting had become evil sorcerers. Kelly argued that they were evil to begin with and that wasn't an equal comparison.

They went back and forth, but Patrick was resolute. "I will not allow you to choose dark magic! You'll end up just like your mother!"

"Oh come on! She's totally different!"

Patrick reached through the darkness to touch his daughter's face, but his hand went a little low and he accidentally touched her chest.

"What the hell are you doing?!", yelled Kelly and she kicked her leg squarely into his groin. He made a high-pitched 'eehhhh' sound and fell to the ground a 'whomp!' Ok, is there anybody left in this story who is male and hasn't had his jewels assaulted yet? Chris found the light switch, looked at Patrick and whistled sharply, "Whoa, down for the count all right."

Kelly huffed and glared at her father. Chris put an arm behind her head and asked, "Are you all right, Kelly?"

"Of course I'm not. Dammit, why can't he just let me be?! He thinks that imposing rules and listing everything you can't do is the earmark of good parenting!"

Chris nodded slowly, "Well at least you have father who cares about you."

Kelly felt embarrassed, "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter. You know looking back on my life thus far, being changed has been the worst thing that's happened to me in a long string of bad things. I've never really thought far beyond the year 2000. That end of the world stuff can really saturate your mind after a while. And now, as a am, I'm probably gonna die in a year, you too, if we turn out to be Selaneks. They say all that stuff about, oh it's the best for the universe. I don't care. I just want to be alive and a normal person. Heck I'd even take being a girl permanently if it meant I'd live a normal life. I could be nurse or something like that. They make good money, don't they? Not quite as much a physical therapist, but then I could get married to nice guy, maybe Ronald Bernson. He sure is cute. We'd live in a nice house, plenty of room for our three children.."

Kelly eyeballed Chris nervously, "I don't want to turn a hose on you, but I will if I have to." Chris shook her head, "Sorry, I got a little carried away imagining it."

"From the way you longingly described it, you sound like you enjoy being a girl." Chris shivered, "I can't change what's happened to me anymore than you can change what's happened to you and I have someone who everyone thinks was a great man to blame for what's happened. But I don't care what kind of guy he was, I just wish he hadn't picked me. What the hell am I supposed to do with one year of incredible powers? Am I supposed to reshape the world or something, weed out the sorrow and all the problems? That's a tall order for anyone to meet. And then I give birth and die. So where's the compensation for my sacrifice? What do I get in return for giving my life? I know that sounds selfish, but darn it! I'm selfish then if means my life. I don't want to die."

Kelly looked over at her father, the reality of what Chris was telling her beginning to sink in. "I feel the same way. But I don't know if I could chose life as a girl over death as a martyr."

Chris sighed, "Well let's not get ahead of ourselves. We may not even have a choice in whether we stay as girls, live or lose our powers. I was just saying that if I was offered the choice, hypothetically, I'd stay a girl if it meant life."

Kelly leaned against the wall, "What do you think Guy meant when she said that there can only be one Selanek?" Chris really had no idea, but then who knew what went on inside Guy's warped, twisted mind. "Maybe she meant that figuratively."

Kelly had a line of thought going, "Or maybe she meant that through some rule or something, there can only be one Selanek in a single universe or at a given time?"

"How would she know that? There have only been two Selaneks to judge that by." Kelly's idea wasn't trounced yet though, "What if there were others that had the Ro'vi'dani performed on them around the same time as the two Selaneks and they didn't become Selaneks?"

"Well then they'd be overcome by magical poisoning or vaporize one month after it's cast on them." Kelly grimaced and muttered, "Ouch", to herself. "But there is a cure for magical poisoning though", she continued, "Unfortunately, it's terribly hard to find and I've heard it's just about as bad as magical poisoning itself."

"I'd take it."

Chris thought to herself aloud, "I wonder if there's a way to un-become a Selanek."

Patrick groaned and having heard Chris' words, answered, "There's a possible way. I remember Tangerine telling me about it once, but it would be much too dangerous to attempt."

Kelly and Chris gave him their full attention, "What is it?"

"It's in the same place as the cure for magical poisoning. It's called the helix. It serves the double purpose as a play thing for dark sorcerers who are immune to its effects and a soul stripper to those that are not."

"Sounds rather unpleasant."

"To regular sorcerers, yes. It takes your every feeling, thought and sensation and sends it back at you multiplied a hundred-fold in the form of an attack. As well, it cycles your powers against you. Then it spins your astral force until it strips your soul from your body. The only way to survive it is to be one of the very few who have a partial immunity. If you have total immunity all that happens is it cycles every pleasurable sensation you've ever had back at you multiplied a hundred-fold. Guyanna's one of the few who are immune to it, Barbi as well, which means they can never be Selaneks because the spell wouldn't work on them."

Kelly pounded her fist against her palm, "So that's why she wanted to trade bodies with me. But how come I'm not immune if she's my mother and she has full immunity?" Patrick got to one knee and explained, "I'm a regular human. That's a dominant astral state compared with a dark sorcerer astral. But you still have magic in your blood though, which makes you a natural choice for the Ro'vi'dani'."

Chris said a quick 'shh'. She'd heard sounds just outside the door. Like someone was moving just outside. Figuring out what was going on, she quickly kicked the door and slammed it open. A figure went flying across the room to land against the wall.

Guyanna.

Guyanna brushed herself off and got to her feet. Her nose was oozing blood. She waved her hand and it abated.

"You two are the easiest to hear through a closed door that I've ever known. Yes, dear, I'll never be a Selanek, not with this body, but yours has everything I need."

Kelly gestured to herself, "So why don't you just take it?"

Guyanna cackled, "Oh, you know nothing of the ways of magic. Even if I was you I wouldn't be able to incant a body swap. Do you know how much effort that requires? No I have to do it with old magic. Book magic, long locked away and never taught, the kind that makes the most powerful of people quake when they hear of it. The Siki spells."

Kelly and Chris looked at one another while Patrick did his own bit of quaking. "That's impossible, all the Siki books were destroyed during the Dark Cleansing!"

Guyanna sniggered and pulled a thick book out from under her scrub shirt bound in a coarse, pale green binding. "The hide of a green horn-tail."

Chris felt reluctant to ask, knowing that was probably what Guy was expecting, but she asked anyway, "A green horn-tailed what?"

"Why a dragon, of course. The Siki use only the finest materials." She opened the book carefully and holding her hands aside, watched as an amber flame shot from the pages and about a foot into the air. "They also throw the greatest parties. Real body swap maniacs those Siki. The first time I went to one, my date ended up on the other side of the room, a pretty brunette. If that isn't a twist, then I don't know what is. I kept to my own body though. Those Siki might have been interesting, but they weren't always entirely trustworthy. You always had to be on guard to deflect a mind control spell. Interestingly enough, that's precisely what I'm gonna use on you."

She turned the page, flames licking at her fingers. She brought her hand up her face and licked it, dousing the flames. Then she turned the page again and repeated her action. "Ahh, here it is. Ready? Meot abbe dorno seti ati allvi corsibli."

Kelly's head lolled and she looked faintly up at her mother, "Yes, mistress." Chris cast a reversal spell. "Sorry, Chris, but only dark magic can defend Siki mind control." Chris shook Kelly, "You can do dark magic, just focus, beat back the Siki incantation. You can do it."

Guyanna cackled. "Too late, Christine. Too late. Now Kelly, do you want to trade bodies with me? Look at me." Her form shifted to that of Kevin. "Am I not handsome? I'm the man you used to be. Wouldn't you like to be me?"

Kelly's mouth moved to speak, but then it closed. Chris could tell she was trying to fight the old magic. But that wasn't enough to defeat it, "I ... would."

"Good. Here we go... iblicori vialli tai tesi nodor bela mento." Chris tried to think of all the incantations she could imagine, but Guy would surely think of one of them. A vocal cord paralyzer or a book burner. She had to try something. She crossed her arms. Guyanna's arms went slack and the book fell from his hands, landing at his feet. His face was smiling though, "Too late, Christine." His body shifted to that of Kelly. Her face looked around in shock. "Oh my God."

Kelly-Guyanna cackled, "How do you like your new body, Kelly? It's yours till the day you die. Oh, and don't worry about fighting back with any powers you might think you have, because you don't have any, not anymore."

Chris thought of something, "Wait. It's that easy?"

Guyanna frowned that her, "Well, I wouldn't exactly call it easy, but that's all that is required to do a body swap incant, the Siki are quite concise when it comes to that."

"So why didn't you just do that to Kelly when you first ran into her?"

Guyanna thought about that, "Well, it's like this... umm, darn it! I don't need to explain my motives to you. I need to kill you." She picked up the book from the ground and turned to the end. She sneered and said, "The Siki incantation of mortal death. Unfortunately I can't destroy your soul too, so I'll just have to settle for this."

Guyanna took a deep breath and shut her eyes. She opened them and her mouth, ready to intone the spell, opened as well. But she looked around to discover that she was alone in the hallway.

"You idiot! Well, no matter. With my immense powers I'll seize this world and infinity will be mine."

24

Chris found herself back at her home. Patrick and Kelly were both there, just as perplexed as she was as to how they had gotten here.

"Tangerine may think I can do nothing but cheap parlor tricks, but I still a spell or two left in me." Magenta smiled at the three of them. Chris asked her what was going on. Magenta explained, "Could sense that the three of you were in trouble so I focused all my will on teleporting you here."

"Why are we here?" asked Chris. Kelly asked, "Who are you?" Chris could have explained her relationship with Magenta, but decided just to say, "She's a friend."

"The reason I brought you here is that the way to defeat Guy is here. You remember that pendant necklace I gave you back on Corvalis? Well you'll need to use it sooner than I anticipated."

Chris remembered. She'd left in on her dresser. She was about to go and retrieve it when Magenta produced it from her pocket. "A real shame the neglect you've shown it. You've treated it like a circus novelty."

"Sorry about that. So how can it help things?"

"It has many powers. One of which is the ability to transport the wearer to any point in history, in any universe. You must use it to travel back to Jervin, nearly 200 million years ago when Guy first bought that book."

Chris was surprised that Guyanna was that old. She held up her hands, "Wait, I have an objection. If I travel back in time, that would change the past, generally considered a bad thing since it affects the present in various unknown and far-reaching ways."

"Don't worry, it'll just remove her book and undo the change, but she'll think that everything is fine. You'll return one minute relative time after you've left here."

"What about causality, the past affecting the present in ways we can scarcely imagine? What about the three primary rules of time travel? Don't touch anything, don't interact with anybody, and try not to look at anything?"

"This is magic, don't worry so much." Chris sighed and slipped the necklace over her head. As soon as she did a column of fire, much like the kind that blazed from the Siki book, surrounded her. Coincidence? Chris didn't know for sure. But as quickly as the flames had erupted, they were gone and so was her house. In its place stood a world that just blew her mind.


25

Vibrant, psychedelic colors filled the immense square box, which held what seemed like a billion people. And none of them were bumping into one another. Every few minutes a man or woman would jump up and run around yelling, "We live in a box! We live in the box!" But the others quickly calmed him or her down and they resumed rational banter about the weather, the escalating price of air and speculation about the next Emperor of the Universe.

Chris looked around nervously, worried they might recognize her or something. Then she realized that she was 200 million years in the past. Small shops literally popped up all around her. The billion-or-so odd people shifted from talking mode to buying mode. Chris couldn't discern any noticeable difference between them and regular people, that was until one of them transformed himself into a dragon and ate the merchant he'd been arguing with. A couple of other fellows dragged him away in energy beams as he roared, "I'm innocent" whilst picking the merchant's eyes from his fangs.

Chris figured they probably had a pretty good case against him. A golden robed man with the smile of a dignitary walked between the shops, waving to the angry patrons as they booed him. A girl, slightly younger looking than Chris, socked him in the side. "Dad, cut it out. You're embarrassing me!"

Dad patted her head, "Oh come on now, really Really. How am I embarrassing you?" Chris had to admit that Guyanna had changed a lot in the intervening 200 million years. But then, who wouldn't?

"You stand around and wave your hands. It's so embarrassing 'cause Everyone's watching. Oh crap, he's looking right at me! I wish I was dead!" Chris just realized that she could kill Guyanna and then prevent not only the current situation, but the attack on Molehill as well. But then what would happen to history? She had no idea, so best not to chance it. Don't go for a cure-all, she told herself, just a remedy.

"Not until you're older honey." Dad smiled, waved a couple more times and walked amongst the crowd, eliciting another round of hearty boos. Everyone walked over to where Guyanna was standing. She held her hands behind her head and smiled pleasantly, "Hi, Everyone. How are you?"

"I'm fine. I teleported my younger sister here because she said she needed some new dress powder."

"Cool, I'm here..a.alone. I was just thinking of getting some too."

She listened to the level of the boos and grimaced. Probably hoping that her father wouldn't come back this way soon and embarrass her once again. "So what kind do you prefer?" She looked enthralled that he would ask her for advice.

She stood a little straighter and thought about it, twirling a bit of her white hair with her fingers. "Well, let me see, satin powder is good, great for conjuring up classy wear. But your best standby is cotton powder, and more comfortable too."

Everyone snorted, "That's lame, why do girls' clothes gotta be so weird? Guys clothes are simple. No powder or any of that just a clothes wishing pill, swallow it and think of the clothes you want and you got them. But all Denver ever thinks of is a red chemise and he wears it too. If you ask me he's one of those wizard-types who'd be better off in the sandy fourth."

Guyanna looked hurt, but didn't say anything direct to Everyone, "Here's some powder, silk and cotton, that's probably best." She picked the two flat cases off the table and handed them to Everyone. She looked at him hopefully and asked, "I was thinking, umm, would you like to go on a..da..day..date or something sorta like that or something."

Everyone laughed, just about in her face, "Yeah right! I wouldn't be caught dead with you. You're just some kid. I got a real girlfriend, not some little twirp half my age."

Her ego shattered, Guyanna said, half-heartedly, "I'm only two years younger than you."

"Whatever. Bye, whatever your name is."

Guy opened and closed her mouth like a fish gulping for air at the rim of its bowl, "Really Guy." Everyone shrugged, "Yeah, whatever."

When he was out of sight, she pounded her fist against one of the vendor's tables. The merchant yelled at her, "You break it you pay for it! Have a nice day."

She scrunched her lips tightly together and panted. Dad came back, a stir of boos marking his return. He waved back to them, still all smiles. "How are things, Really?"

"Everyone hates me!"

"Aww, come on, not everyone hates you."

"No, I mean Everyone hates me." He understood.

"Yup, you're right, he does hate you." She buried her face in her hands and muttered to him faintly, "I hate you."

"Not until you're older, honey." And with that he walked off, eliciting more boos from the various consumers and merchants.

Guy meandered around while Chris wondered when the purchase of the Siki book would finally take place. Guy stuffed her hands in her robe pockets and pretty much hung towards the middle of the central thoroughfare.

Looking around, Chris finally found a merchant advertising Siki books. She ducked behind the table when Guy wasn't looking and pulled the merchant down to where she was crouched. "I'd like to buy all your Siki books!"

"Ok, that'll be a thousand Kerishnas."

"A thousand whats?"

"Surely you've heard of money before."

"Yeah yeah, what else will you take?"

The merchant looked her over, "Your left testicle."

"Sorry, but it's currently out of service."

"Ok, twenty seven strands of your lovely hair."

"Done. Give me a pair of scissors."

"No no, I must have them intact or no deal."

Gritting her teeth and wondering why she'd agreed to this anyway, Chris felt the merchant pull each of the twenty seven strands out by the root. Some were a little loose, so they weren't quite so painful to pull out, but those weren't the kind that the merchant chose. Huffing and suffering for a terrible headache, Chris wrapped her arms around her newly acquired books and rubbed her necklace in the hopes that it would activate and take her back.

"Hi, what kind of Siki books are you selling?", asked Really.

"Sorry, but we're all sold out" answered the merchant. That was final straw that broke her relatively calm exterior. "Darn it all! Everything is against me! Well I'll show them, I'll show them all. I'll become the most powerful dark sorcerer any world has ever known, then I'll wipe out those that oppress and confront me. Then I'll be the..the.Girl of Forever.hmm, that doesn't quite fit. What else is there?"

The merchant chuckled and Guy stormed off. Chris figured this was a good time to go. She massaged the necklace and the dragon's eyes lit up. The column of fire surrounded her. As she vanished, she saw the merchant put the strands of hair into the same book Guyanna possessed, which he pulled out from under the cloth of his table. She had succeeded! Or so she thought. As the column reached its peak, the merchant reached under his table to get another item while Guyanna rushed over when he wasn't looking and swiped the book. Well actually she did leave a few coins on the table as payment, but that didn't even begin to compensate for the lost cost of the strains of hair, but then what good were they anyway? That was what Chris wanted to know!

Darn it all, she hadn't been able to change history after all! She cursed herself and her rush to leave! If only she'd stayed a little longer she could have stopped Guyanna from taking the book or warned the merchant at least. Now all was lost. Nothing could stop Guyanna in the present.

In the present..

Chris pulled the necklace over her head and held it in her hands in hopes that the fire would quell and it did. Slowly at first, the blurring Jervin simply diminished, then shifted back into focus. She could see young Guyanna rushing off as the merchant looked around, perplexed. The flame snuffed out and she was immersed in the world again. No time to get her bearings. She ran after Guy as fast as she could. Trying to think of a spell that would halt her, Chris rounded the corner right after Guy and hit face first into the box wall. She looked up and shook her head. How had that gotten there?

She turned around and saw Guy running straight at her, but looking in the opposite direction. Had she cast a teleport incant? She'd thought it. Thought-casting. It was returning to her. She grabbed Guy and tackled her to the ground. Guy squirmed and shrieked, "Let go of me, you jerk! What do you want?! I'll tell Dad on you!"

Chris wrestled the book away from Guy and jumped to her feet. Guy pounded her fists against Chris and commanded her to give the book back. "I spent my diurnal allowance on that! Give it back!"

Chris tried to hold her down with her hand, but this only succeeded in getting it bitten by Guy. "This is not for children."

Guy's mouth dropped, her arms went to her side and she stomped her feet. "I am not a child!"

"Oh my gosh! Look at that!" exclaimed Chris, gesturing off into the distance. Guy swiveled around to look at what she was pointing at, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Fortunate for Chris that Guy was young enough to have never heard of that trick. When Guy turned around, she was about to say, "I don't see anything." But the sudden absence of Chris made her mouth hang open and exclaim, "Darn it all!"

Dad came back, the merchants finally resorting to actually throwing rotting food. He pushed some kermit sauce out his eyes and hummed a merry little tune to himself. "I think the campaign's going quite well. I'm sure to be voted Emperor of the Universe in the next election." Guy muttered to herself, arms folded, "That's because you're the only one running." And muttered quieter. "The only one stupid enough."

Dad didn't hear her or if he did, chose not to. "Pretty soon you'll be living in the Imperial House. Isn't that exciting?"

"It's a single room shanty with a corner for a toilet, a corner for a mattress, a window for a door and a big gaping hole in the center that leads straight down into the bowls of hell!"

Dad smiled, "It's a fixer-upper. Besides, there are some people who live in mere boxes 'cause they can't manifest houses."

"Look around! We live in a box!"

Dad grimaced and looked displeased for the first time since Chris had seen him. A round of cheers filled the air only to fall silent when a pleasant smile returned to his lips. "Now now, I won't have my daughter speaking ill of the sky. That box-world garbage is just a myth. Now come along. We have much to do before sunset."

"There is no sun. The box is self-illuminating!" He put his hand over her mouth to shut her up and whistled to himself. She growled and pounded her fists against her sides. Chris shook her head and looked on. She slipped the necklace back over her head and an instant later she had left Jervin behind and was back at her house.

Kelly tested her powers, "You did it!"

Magenta smiled broadly, "Now to put you back where you were." She waved her hands, strained a little and teleported them back to the hallway where Guyanna was scratching her head, small sparks emerging from the tips of her long fingernails. She lit up when she saw them arrive. "My friends! I was worried sick about you! What happened? We were fighting those bat-women when I suddenly found myself alone."

She hugged Chris warmly, and gave a kiss to her husband and daughter each. "So what happened? Where did you three go?"

Chris looked at Kelly, who was flabbergasted by her mother's sudden personality change. Guyanna put her arm around Chris and walked her a little ways away from the others. "So what do think about my offer?"

"Uh, what offer?"

"My offer to teach you the ancient magical spells."

Chris looked back at Patrick and Kelly. Neither of them had moved since Guy called the three of them her friends. Chris said, "What did I say about affecting the present in ways we can't even imagine? I told you."

Guy looked confused, "What do you mean?"

Oddly enough, this rather surreal moment was made even stranger as Guyanna walked around the corner and up to her counterpart.

"Well well, what do we have here? Really, I mean it. What do we have here? Because I don't know." said Guy.

Guy looked at Guyanna. Guyanna flashed a sinister grin, "Looks like a real pest. I'll have to squish it before it multiplies." She tried a mind control incant on her d ppleganger, but in spite of her friendly demeanor, this Guy was no pushover. She whirled a white cloud spell back at Guyanna and erected a cube-like shield around herself. The cloud ruined Guyanna's electric attack. Frustrated, she leapt into the air at Guy. The two of wrestled around, intermittently using attack spells on one another.

Chris felt like she had to do something and looked at Kelly and Patrick for support. They both took a big step back and felt that this was an issue for Guyanna to resolve on her own. Besides, interfering in such a heated magical battle would an unwise decision.

The Guyannas rolled around for several minutes before they finally detached themselves from one another and fell on their backs, exhausted. Guy gave Chris a look that seemed to say "Help me" to her. Chris wanted to intervene but like before with Kelly, she had no idea which one she should help and which one she should hurt. The one farthest from Chris got to her knee, face glistening with sweat and said through her gasps, "I'm beat. You win sis'. Wanta get something to drink?"

The other Guy nodded, padded her sister on the back and said, "Sure."

Chris stared at the two of them, trying to rationalize this. But rational flew out the window when yet another Guy walked around the corner.

Kelly mused to herself, "Do you think there's a cloning machine around the corner or something?"

Chris seemed ready to accept any explanation just as long as it got rid of all these questions piling up in her head. The new Guy spread her hands out. "Pity you didn't change more, Chris. Just a mere jaunt from one universe to the next. Allow me to dispatch these imitations then I'll get back to the business of killing all of you."

She shot a lightning bolt out of each hand that locked onto another Guyanna. The three of them twitched in sync and glowed. A sudden explosion rattled the walls. Chris and the Lendridges shielded themselves as the three Guys smashed through the ceiling.

When the dust settled, a large, gapping hole in the ceiling stood before them and no Guyannas were to be seen anywhere. Chris advanced upon the hole and a couple rather large hunks of plaster fell on the floor next to her. She looked up through the new skylight to the clear sky above.

She smiled and said to the others, "Well, the good news is it's not raining anymore and it looks like Guyanna's gone, for the time being at least."

Kelly took a look for herself and flashed her eyebrows. Patrick, still limping a bit because of Kelly's jock kick, decided to take Chris' word for it. Remembering their ICU goal, they walked off in that direction.

Looking through the automatic doors, they could already tell that chaos was going on because of what Guyanna had done. Fortunately, it appeared all the bat-women had been changed back into regular women due to Guyanna's..leaving. Some of whom, Chris could reasonably assume, had originally been men. As the three of them walked through the doors, a hush fell over the women in the ICU. Quite a few were clothed in ill- fitting garments several sizes too large, presumably rather tall men before. All eyes turned to Patrick, who was, as far as Chris could see, the only male around. A couple of girls smiled at him. Chris grimaced. Hopefully this wasn't a mind control spell of Guyanna's too.

She held her hands up and addressed all assembled. "I know something rather strange, no make that very strange has just happened. Some of your were and still are drastically transformed. Now that's because a very bad sorcerer who goes by the name of, oh, well actually it doesn't matter what her name is, but she is really..bad..."

She figured they'd immediately tune her out and condemn her a whacko if she told them Guyanna's name. "Some of you were changed into weird, bat-like women." She directed this to the befuddled young women towards the back who were struggling to hold their clothes up since they'd been torn by their transformations. "Others changed into muscular Amazons and others who were previously male, now forced to come to grips with the fact that you are female. This is not an easy thing to deal with. I know, I have to deal with it too. But there might be a way to undo this because I too have powers similar to that bad sorcerer's. Come over where I am and allow me to try and turn you back. I may only be able to change a few of you. I don't know."

A swarm of young women crowded around her, pleading to be the first. A dew- eyed blond girl, about 14 or so, tugged on her hand. She appeared to be the youngest of the transformed. "Please change me back. I don't want to go through life again. Especially like this with no one who knows me."

She explained that she was a 90-year-old great-grandfather until she transformed into a bat women, then this, when the spell wore off. Chris struggled to change her, but to no avail. She tried the same with a couple of other transformed men, but with no success. Whatever incant Guyanna had used, it was tough. Kelly gave it a shot too, but couldn't find a way to undo Guyanna's incant. Maybe Tangerine might be able to crack it, but she had no idea what to do. The 14-year-old cried into her hands and sighed, "Well, I suppose this does have a silver lining to it. I get another chance at life, maybe I'll even get it right this time."

Chris nodded. That was one way of looking at it. The other women walked around, dejected, but soon remembered their duty to their patients and looked worriedly at the ones who'd been transformed like them but were not yet awake to realize this.

Chris asked around about Paul Gray and they sent them down to the basement where a blond girl, just slightly older than the 14-year-old and about a head shorter, was sitting at a desk, resting her pretty little head on it. She sat up quickly, her long hair flying at her face. She pushed it out of her face and spit a little to get rid of a hair that'd got in her mouth.

"Um, how can I help you?" she asked in a high, girlish voice that made her seem even younger than she looked. Her face turned red at the sound it and she tried to smile, but it came out more like a nervous grin. The lab coat and pants that she was wearing where terribly oversized for her now petite body. Fumbling with her sleeves, she tried in vain to make her hands emerge. Emitting a groan of frustration, she got to her feet. She shrieked in surprise when her pants and boxers went tumbling to the floor. Trying to hold on tight to them with her hidden hands she skipped carefully along and looked absolutely comical. Chris advised her to just leave the pants behind.

Still a bit red in the face, she said, "Bu.bu.but, I'm not wearing anything underneath." Chris size adjusted her clothes, much to the astonishment of the medical examiner. "Don't ask, I already explained it to a whole group of people upstairs who are going through the same thing as you. Just ask them about it." She didn't want to come off as rude, but that this point, she didn't feel like giving that whole speech all over again.

The medical examiner still looked perplexed, but nodded after a moment. "And sorry, but I don't have the ability to change you back." The medical examiner looked crestfallen when she heard that. She began sobbing, "I have two daughters older than I am and a wife three times my age. What am I going to do? What am I going to tell them?"

Chris didn't know, but did have encouragement to offer, "Don't worry, when word about what happened here gets around they'll find out and I'm sure they'll understand." The medical examiner sighed. "You know what the scariest thing is?"

"What?"

"As much as I try, I can't stop thinking about my youngest daughter's Backstreet Boys poster." Chris nodded understandingly. The girl sighed and shook her head, "Well, I suppose I'll have to cope then if nothing can be done about this. Should make front page headlines in tomorrow's paper.heck, it'll make world news. Anyway, forget about that. No reason for me to forget my manners just because I've suddenly been changed into a teenage girl. My name's Dr. Douglas Reynolds.name change I guess would be in order, but I don't really want to think about that just yet."

Kelly looked her over, "You look like a Melanie, just.for your information."

"Melanie?! Well, maybe, but it's such a cutesy name.."

Chris coughed and explained that they were looking for a Paul Gray. Had he been brought in here? Melanie looked over a listing of corpses brought in over the last couple of days. She twirled a bit of her blond hair around her fingernail and hummed to herself. When she realized that her mind was wandering, she did her best impression of Chris' patented headshake and brought herself back to reality.

"Well, a guy did come in, a Paul David Gray, that's what his ID said, collapsed in a hallway of this hospital just an hour or two ago. I didn't have a chance to do an autopsy before, well, you know what, happened and since I'm now five-foot nothing or something like that.."

Chris reached down and put her hand on Melanie's head. Seeing the amount that Chris had to reach to get her hand down there made her feel even smaller. Chris measured the distance down and proclaimed, "Actually you're just a little over four-and- a-half feet."

Melanie's mouth opened slightly to speak, but then she paused and thought about that. "Oh my God." she muttered to herself when it finally sunk in.

She pulled her size-adjusted pants up higher and was surprised at how high up they could go and still be reasonably comfortable, particularly around the crotch. She rubbed her feet back and forth slowly. "What am I doing? I'm sorry. Let me get the.fellow for you. Terrible thing, simply terrible."

She pulled a ring of keys out of her desk drawer and walked into the morgue. Scanning through the numbers, she tried to reach the one she was looking for, but discovered she lacked the height to reach the keyhole. Chris lifted her up a little, making her turn red again. Unlocking the drawer, she hopped to the ground and told Chris to open it up. Staring at it a moment, she realized that this probably was Gray, the fellow she'd been talking to just a short time ago. How things had changed so much since then. Wrapping her slender fingers around the door handle, she pulled it down and looked into the darkness. The form of a body, a man, lay before her. Did she have the will to do this? She prayed that is wouldn't be him, that the form wasn't him and all this was a big misunderstanding.

Pulling the slab out slowly, she knew instinctively that it wasn't. Once it out all the way, she turned around and looked at the others. Melanie was off to one side, devoid of emotion, as was Kelly. Only Patrick looked rather worried, hands pressed against his lips, as though preemptively trying to quell a scream. She noticed a faint look in his eyes that she couldn't quite read though. What was it? Anticipation? Confidence? No, that couldn't be it.

She looked back at the body, breathed a light, scarcely calming sigh and took one end of the sheet into her fingers. Pulling carefully, she felt the sheet catch in a few places, but it quickly got over them. Exposing the body for all to see, she quickly turned away and headed for the nearby sink where she promptly lost the unrecognizable remnants of the chicken burrito she'd scarffed down for lunch.

Due to Gray's need to hurry.

She thought back to him and wished she'd gotten to know him better, spent less time moping about her condition and more time worrying about the people around her, protecting them against this. But could she have done anything to stop this? She didn't know. She wasn't even sure as to who had done this to him. It didn't seem like Guy's modus operandi. She relished death but didn't do it coldly.

Whether wise or not, she preferred to come out and tell you she was going to kill you. None of that sudden stab to the back stuff. Or perhaps it really had been natural causes? But it just seemed so queer that it would happen right then. She shook her head, about to speak, to say something, when she stumbled backwards, as though struck. "Whoa. Man that felt weird."

Her voice lowered slightly, as though she was trying to imitate a man, "Not as weird as it is for me." She frowned, "Who is this?"

Low voice, "Paul Gray. Who were you expecting, Groucho Marx?"

"Actually this is a real surprise. You're dead."

"I know that. What? Did you think I didn't know?"

She narrowed her eyes, "Ok, but why are you in my body?"

"It was the only way I could think of to get your attention." Kelly and Patrick watched carefully as this exchange went back and forth, as it seemed that Chris was having a conversation with herself. Melanie rubbed her chin with her fingers, as though stroking a phantom beard. She appeared skeptical. But then she was a four-and-a-half foot teenager wearing a mini-sized version of her lab clothes, so just about anything seemed possible to her.

As a famous, female philosopher once said, "I'm way past the point of common sense." And so was Melanie.

"So do you know how you died?"

"Beats me. I heard this really terrible buzzing in my ears though. That's the last I could remember of life. My next memory was of a heart monitor machine screaming a flatline."

Chris, with a smirk that Gray didn't really appreciate, asked, "So how's death, all in all? Did you get a chance to meet you-know-Who yet?"

"Not even close. I did meet a lovely lady though."

Patrick smiled, "Still a hit with all the women, eh Paul?"

"Hi, Patrick."

Chris looked at Kelly. She lowered her head and smiled faintly. Chris said, "Um, lovely..daughter you have, Patrick."

Kelly quelled the urge to correct him and Patrick answered pleasantly, "Thank you, Paul. It's good to know you're um, still in existence."

"Yeah."

Chris burst out at him, "Hey! Will you let me get a word in edgewise?"

"You should take Kelly to the IHOP and have the others splint her. You can assist in it, but it's best that you take a back seat role. Psychic splints can be terribly involved incant-wise."

"So that means, what?"

Chris sighed, scoffing at what seemed like her own question, "Take the next flight back home, you idiot."

"Listen bud, one more comment like that and I'm kicking you out and you can walk back home, or whatever it is you do when you're dead."

"Oh yeah..oh wait. I could just jump back home and tell Tangerine about all that's happened in advance."

"Good, get lost. I don't want you in my head anymore anyway. You're beginning to get annoy me. It's bad enough you were able to read my mind before, now you're right in my thoughts."

"I'll miss you too."

"Miss what?!", she said pseudo-angrily. With that, he was gone. She smiled a little, but felt glad to have her mind back under her total control. Melanie wobbled back and forth humming a song in her head. She sighed, "They're all so gosh darn sexy, especially Josh!"

Chris didn't have to ask about whom she was thinking dreamily. They left her to her fantasies and walked out to the parking lot where a rather large crowd of reporters was waiting to ambush them. Setting up a fall-back perimeter, the media forces concentrated towards the middle, effectively blocking their path of escape to Patrick's Toyota Previa. Chris had decided that Paul's Gremlin should died with him. It was the only merciful thing to do. At least for the Gremlin.

A second wave of reporters cemented the blockage. Then came the artillery, question hitting after question, the roar of them overpowering as they seemed to be working in concert to create a jumble of incomprehensible noise. Chris explained to them quickly. It took about three minutes once they'd all quieted down. Most of them laughed even though Chris had left Guyanna's full name off. They walked through the sliding doors and into the hospital. She sighed. Well, they'd know soon enough. Their target having given them their fill. They went off in search of more.

Looking back knowingly at the reporters as they disappeared into the hospital, Chris wondered if they would accept what they found. She told Patrick to drive to Motel 6 and they got in the car.

Kelly sat next to her in the car. Not really thinking about what she was doing, she put her hands on Kelly's shoulders and pulled her slowly into a hug. At first resisting her and looking quite confused, Kelly soon relented and wrapped her arms around Chris. The hug, which last only a few seconds, helped to set both their minds at ease, for the moment at least.

As they pulled apart, Chris looked into Kelly's eyes and saw them moisten faintly.

Quickly, Kelly turned away and rubbed her eyes as though she were simply clearing away a lash. She muttered a quick 'yeah' and focused her eyes forward as Patrick started the car up. They put on their seat belts. Chris kept her eyes on Kelly though. What did she feel she had to lose if she just let out that pent-up emotion in a non- violent way?

Was it a male honor thing? Geez, what would it take? Chris grasped Kelly and turned her around to face her. Again her subconscious had the best ideas, "Say what you're thinking right now and don't be afraid to jabber."

Kelly turned away, teeth clenched, "I'm not thinking anything terribly important."

"Tell me. Everything is important."

She took a deep breath and looked down at the floor, "Well, I was thinking about my friend Wesley. Before all this, we used to be friends. We did stuff for each other and you know, the basic friends stuff that is the most important yet difficult to classify. Companionship, pretty much. Then this happened and he's suddenly different around me."

"I had the same thing happen to me."

Kelly glared at her, "I'm not done yet! I feigned illness to get off for the rest of the week. But was in school as a girl for one whole day. During that single day of school, he glanced at my chest no less than 41 times. I felt like sending his brains flying out the back of his skull with my fist. But even before I wasn't strong enough to do that. He also had the nerve to ask me out on a movie date!"

"What did you tell him?"

"I said 'no', a firm, decisive no."

"Oh.."

"What do you mean by 'oh'?" Chris smiled innocently, "I think you like him."

"WHAT?!" The sound reverberated through the car a moment and attracted the notice of other drivers even though all the windows were rolled up. Chris and Patrick had both anticipated that reaction. "Well, you didn't chew him out or insult him or anything like that. You wanted to let him down politely because you liked him."

Kelly struggled for the right words to get her feelings across. But as she searched for them, her feelings seemed less certain. Her eyes moistened, she looked helpless and confused. Her hands went up to clear her eyes. Chris read the movement a second early and held her hands away. She fought against her, but didn't fight enough. She relaxed her hands and laid her head on Chris' shoulder. Trembling, she sobbed heavily on Chris' suit jacket. Wrapping her arms protectively around Kelly's head, she discarded all thoughts of forcing Kelly to cry and comforted her.

Patrick looked back a moment and said to them, "We're here." Chris felt reluctant to let this moment end. She'd finally made breakthrough with Kelly. She'd gotten through her male-ego. With a sigh, Kelly thanked her dispassionately and stepped out of the car. Chris stared after her, then stepped out as well.

26

As Chris had entirely expected, Tracy was snoozing on the bed, suit jacket off to one side, bra lying beside it, her shirt untucked and a trace of drool dripping down her cheek. Also the top couple of buttons of her shirt were undone, revealing a substantial amount of cleavage. As well, her pants were unbuttoned, but she was still wearing them, though just barely. Chris could come up with only two possibilities, the first one rather innocent, Tracy was undressing to change her clothes and fell asleep, and the other not quite so innocent. But you can draw your own conclusions.

She sighed and shook her awake. Looking blearily up at her, she yawned, turned onto her side and frowned at her questioningly. "Morning?"

"Nowhere close to it." Tracy sat up quickly and looked over at the others. "Oh hi there..AAAAAAAA!" She looked down at herself, snatched up her bra and suit jacket and rushed into the restroom.

Chris walked over to the door. "Keep yourself amused while we were out?"

"Uh, yeah, well, I saw some TV programs. A couple of good ones", she said, her voice slightly muffed by the closed door. She walked out, now properly dressed. Chris looked at her watch, "I'm surprised. You've acclimated really well. I mean look at the speed at which you dressed."

"Yeah yeah, whatever", muttered Tracy nervously, desperate to get the topic off herself. "So who are these two and where's that guy you were hanging out with?"

"This is Kelly and Patrick Lendridge, the reason we came. And Paul's dead." Tracy looked taken-aback, "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Chris glared at her, "You should've at least been courteous enough to ask politely."

"What's politely? Wasn't that politely? And since when did you care?"

"Oh, leave me alone." Chris looked over at Tracy's suitcase and grinned wickedly. She waved her hands and pronounced, "That'll fix you."

"Huh?"

"Open it up." Cautiously, as though the case held a venomous snake inside, Tracy unzipped it and looked down with horror at what greeted her eyes. "Oh my God, everything's so femmy." Sure enough, each of her clothes; be it the suddenly pink t-shirt, turned blouse, the khaki shorts now several inches shorter, the socks turned into nylons, the feminine underwear, provocative swimwear or revealing sportswear, had been changed.

Chris tapped on the laptop case. "NO!", screamed Tracy, but she knew it was too late as kitten stickers appeared on the case. Unzipping the top noisily, she took one glance and shuddered, "It's bright pink and it's got a zillion stickers!"

"Yeah, cute, isn't it?" Did being impolite justify what she'd done? The clothes were, well, because Tracy would need something to sleep in and then something to wear tomorrow but the laptop was just because she wanted to.

Tracy grumbled, "Cute?! Ack!" She pulled it out. Smiley faces and doe-eyed kittens decorated the laptop. Thunderstruck, she jerked her hand away, as though it were hot. She closed up the case and laid it aside. "No way does that look like a lawyer's laptop!" Chris smiled, "It's not a lawyer's laptop, it's a young teenage girl's laptop. Turn it on and take a look."

Tracy exploded, "If you so much as changed even one of my case files, I'll wring your neck!" Chris chuckled, "Don't worry, I didn't touch the files. I just gave it a rather different motif."

Tracy stared at her, "Why do you torture me?"

"Oh come on, it's not torture. Have a little sense of humor." Tracy laid the laptop on the table and stood a little ways back from it. Kelly went over to Chris' side and folded her arms, watching too. Sitting down in the chair nearest to the laptop, Tracy gulped and awaited the changes. Lendridge really had no interest in this petty squabble, so he sat down in the other chair and closed his eyes to rest.

He didn't get to rest long before Tracy started complaining, "It's all friggin' pink and what group is that? N*Sync? Man they're hot..oh my God!" Tracy realized what she had just said and proceeded to bash her head against the wall, which inadvertently caused her to fall off her chair and onto the ground with a loud 'plop!'. The fellow in the next room over said something through the wall that was incomprehensible, but most likely profane. Chris narrowed her eyes.

Tracy dusted herself off and got back in her seat. Searching through the files, she fidgeted a bit and sighed nervously, "It's got nothing but girly stuff and pictures of..you know. Where are my case files?!" Chris walked over to the laptop and gestured at the screen. Tracy glared at her, shifting back and forth in the chair, "You lumped it under the file name 'boring junk'!" She quivered and rubbed her legs tightly against one another. Chris noticed this, "Is something wrong?"

"Um, I have to, um, yah, you know, go, as in really go, real bad."

Chris rolled her eyes, "Then go!"

"I'm, uh, not really all that sure how. I've been, you know, holding it since *cough* and all."

Chris sighed and announced, "Any and all people in this room who do not know how, come with me." Chris led both of them into the restroom. Patrick declined to go with them. Instead, he dealt with booking a flight to Stockdale.

When the three of them emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later all them looking more relaxed than they had been entering, save Chris who looked a little haggard. Even Kelly looked serene. "Ok, I good and bad news. On the bad side, no shuttle flights from here to Stockdale tonight, but there is one scheduled to leave at nine in the morning, sharp, that's the soonest one. I booked four seats on that one."

"Good" said Chris, "Well it looks like we'll be staying the night here. So what are the sleeping arrangements?" Patrick shrugged, "You three can set up however you want, but all I need is a top sheet and those two chairs. Maybe a pillow too if you can spare it."

"Oh come on, you can sleep with one of us." Kelly backed off a little, as did Tracy. Neither of them wanted that particular arrangement. Chris thought about it, "Or we could make it all-girls."

Patrick backed away, "No way! I am not going for that! I'll take the chairs and that's final. Now I have to pack some suitcases for Kelly and me. There's a small restaurant near our house. Do you guys want anything to eat?"

All of them were hungry. Especially Kelly. She'd pretty much starved herself for the last few days.

27

Dinner was fine even though Tracy complained about every single aspect of it, from the unsanitary women's restroom to the mediocre food. Whilst constantly reminding them, especially Chris, that the hotel she would have been staying at had a restaurant with a much superior menu and several cordone-blue graduate chefs.

Getting clothes took a little while longer. Kelly objected to just about everything that they were packing in her suitcase. Especially anything that looked even remotely feminine. But she relented when Chris pointed out that what she was wearing was even more feminine than the things she was objecting to.

Once back at the room they fought over who would get what bed and what represented the midway point. Patrick muttered to himself, just loud enough for them to hear, "Three teenage girls and one room.*sigh*"

To which the three of them answered back, "We're not girls!" The fellow next door grumbled yet again and said something profane. Chris glared at the wall and thought about it. Only if he said something else, she decided.

Tracy reached over to pick up the remote and said, "Can you or her, you know, pick up stuff without touching it, kinda like Luke Skywalker?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Well then you could pick up this remote without having to reach over and touch it." Chris muttered, "Lazy." Tracy frowned at her, "I'm not lazy. Just wondering."

"Do you honestly think that Luke would abuse his Jedi powers in such a ludicrous way?!" Tracy actually thought about it, "Well I know they don't have remotes in Star Wars, but say he wanted to grab a Tellarian beer or something and the Klendathu death matches are on holovison or something. He'd probably take the easy way, just like 'zoom', and 'force' it to his hand."

"You have absolutely no knowledge of Star Wars terminology and you've got at least two other sci-fi things mixed in there."

"Oh yeah, like what?"

"Well, first of all, Tellarian is Star Trek, I'm sure of it. And Klendathu is the bug homeworld in "Starship Troopers." Holovision though is from a couple dozen various sci-fi shows." Tracy twirled the remote around in her hand, "Never mind." She plopped down on one of the beds. Kelly and Chris struck together on the other one. Kelly laid her legs flat and locked her hands together behind her head. She then quickly crossed her legs. Chris lay down too and turned to face Kelly, one hand behind her and other under her head. "Whatcha thinking about?"

Kelly looked like she was gonna smile for a second, but quit halfway there. "Just wondering why I'm not screaming anymore and why I haven't screamed more. Why am I just sitting around and thinking and not trying to destroy everything in my path?"

"Well, I have theory that maybe the Ro'vi'dani spell has some kind of built-in, magical Prozac or something, a chill pill." Patrick shot down this theory.

Chris shrugged, "Well, I had a theory. Listen, I know this is a tough thing for anybody to face."

Tracy injected, obviously listening in on their conversation, "Yeah, so why aren't you comforting me, Ms. Playing-Favorites?"

Chris turned quickly, shouting out, "Because you're a pain in the ass." The fellow next door yelled through the wall, "And so is he."

Chris twisted her hand and the guy in the other room suddenly fell asleep. They could tell this because of the faint snores they heard through the wall. "Restraining yourself now are you? Well why didn't you afford me the same courtesy? Then I wouldn't be stuck in this darn rat hole! I'd be eating caviar and hobnobbing with all the important lawyers in the area. Darn it all!"

"Listen..I could make you a rat in this here 'rat hole' as you call it. Am I perfectly clear to you?" Tracy lay back against her bed and sighed, "Yeah, you're clear."

She turned back to focus her total attention on Kelly. "What I'm trying to say is that we each have our own way of coping with things that we can't fully comprehend. It might be humor, in my case, or crying or working or any of a dozen other methods. But the point is we do what we can to try to make things feel normal again. But none of it will change things, nothing will make it all feel normal again, at least not in our cases. We look in the mirror, our bodies changed in so many overwhelming ways. We resist anything that even remotely reminds us of what's happened. All in the vain hope that all this", she gestured to herself, "will be undone by our resistance. That we will be made whole men again, but we keep looking and hoping."

A silent moment passed before Kelly turned to her and said quietly, "If you're thinking of becoming a psychologist any time soon, forget about it."

Chris rolled her eyes, "Don't you start acting like her!" She gestured with her head at Tracy. Tracy narrowed her eyes.

Kelly shook her head, "I'm sorry. I just wish I had my ignorance back, that I didn't know there was magic out there..that there is real evil out there and my mother is it. Because for the rest of my life, I'll know that, and I'll feel like an outsider for knowing it."

Chris put her hand on Kelly's shoulder, "No, you'll always be around friends."

Kelly smiled and held Chris' hand with her's, "Thank you."

Tracy made a sound and asked, "Geez wiz, you two aren't gonna kiss or something, are ya?"

Chris turned around and pretended to make an incantation. Tracy hopped backwards and behind the edge of the bed, just the top of her head peeking cautiously over the top. Chris sighed again and told Kelly, "I'll talk to Tangerine about getting you into the Secret Society. We'll find you and your father a place where you can be safe in case your mother tries something or one of her evil brethren tries something."

She looked over at Patrick, who seemed prepared to say something in objection but didn't. Instead, he nodded solemnly. Chris rubbed Kelly's red locks with the back of her fingers. Tracy's question made her halt a moment. Kelly looked into her eyes, then turned away. She wrapped her arms around Kelly's head, pulled her close to her, and planted a motherly kiss on the top of her head. Even Tracy didn't have anything to say about this.

What was she doing? Was she playing favorites? Did she have a different connection with Kelly because of their shared trauma? She didn't know for sure. Kelly shut her eyes and said, "Thank you for all you've for done me."

"I only did what I could. I only wish I could splint you myself."

Kelly looked into Chris' eyes, "It's ok. Actually I think it's a good thing."

Chris' eyes widened in surprise, "A good thing? I never expected you to consider staying a girl for a few extra minutes, let alone a few hours, as a good thing."

"If I were a guy again then you wouldn't give a rat's ass about me. Sorry about the profanity, but it's true. You wouldn't be comforting me like you are now. You'd be on the other side of the room comforting her because you wouldn't want to be anywhere near me because I'd be a guy and not a girl like you."

Chris had to admit that she had a point. If Kelly were a guy right now, then she wouldn't be holding his head or even anywhere close to him. The conflicting feelings would be too much for her to deal with. She'd be more comfortable next to Tracy, despite the fact she loathed her.

Patrick laid his hands on his knees and stood up, "So who's up for a shower?" Tracy volunteered to go first after some prompting.

She zipped open her suitcase. The action reminded her of her painted nails. She'd been able to forget about them for a couple of minutes. She thought back to the waitress at the restaurant who called her 'miss'. Bad enough their food was crappy! She'd called Chris and Kelly by the same too. Tracy watched their expressions. Chris looked a little uncertain, perhaps even disappointed, but didn't do anything more than that. How odd! She had thought to herself when this happened.

Kelly's reaction surprised her more. She seemed rather subdued, even when the waitress called her that, as though it were natural for her. But it wasn't, was it? Was it becoming natural for her? Were they all getting used to it? Tracy'd shot a glare at the waitress when she did that, but the girl didn't notice.

Tracy wasn't about to lay down and accept this! This was all Chris' fault, darn it! It was all her fault! That bitch!

She glared at Chris suddenly. She was turned away, whispering to Kelly. Tracy had to summon all her effort to suppress a growl. She thought about strangling her during the night. Then she came back to herself. How could she even think about such a thing?! That was a terrible thing to think about. All Chris had done to her was give her a different set of eyes to look at the world through. That was one way of thinking about it. And it wasn't like she was gonna have them for the rest of her life..his life..she told herself. Quit with the feminine pronoun, you are still a guy deep down. Really deep down, she thought with a gulp as she looked down at her chest. Enough pondering, she told herself, you're getting to be like that Kelly! She finally found her pajamas and turned again to glower at Chris when she pulled them out and looked at them. She didn't really recognize them at first. Not with all the teddy bears and smiling stars printed on them. The only thing still the same about them was they were blue. Gone were the gavels that'd made them her favorites. Darn Chris!

Still, she thought to herself, you had to admit they were kinda cute. She was about to hit her head against the wall again when she realized that she'd better come up with a different way of clearing away strange thoughts before her head was covered with bruised lumps.

Kelly got up suddenly and did ten toe reaches. She turned to Chris and asked, "How long will the pool be opened for?" Chris looked through the brochure and checked her watch, "About two hours. The flight is nine in the morning though. So don't be out too late."

Kelly looked at her, confused, "Oh, I was just asking. I didn't mean I actually wanted to go swimming."

"Ok." Kelly crossed her legs again and said, "But even say if I did want to go, I couldn't, you know, because I don't have a swimsuit." Chris jumped off the bed and went over to Tracy as she was about to close up her suitcase. "Give me one of your swimsuits." Tracy narrowed her eyes at her, "Bikini?"

"Oh God, no!" said Kelly when she heard that. Chris reassured her and said to Tracy, "One of the regular ones." Tracy tossed a hot pink and red spandex swimsuit at her and asked with a girlishly pleasant voice whilst fluttering her eyelashes, "Need anything else?"

"No", said Chris, glaring at her. Kelly pulled out her pajamas for later, some rather benign plaid ones. Tracy looked jealously at her. Chris offered to help Kelly put on the swimsuit but, with a sigh, she said she'd be fine.

She closed the door behind her and took off her stripped shirt. Looking down she took off her bra easily and laid it to one side. Then off came the rest. Standing there unclothed, she looked at herself in the mirror a moment then put on the swimsuit. It fit nicely. Not too snug despite the fact that Tracy had a smaller frame than her. Maybe Chris changed the size before she gave it to her. It didn't really matter. She looked at herself in the mirror and felt pleased by what she saw. Why on Earth did she feel that way? She scrunched up her face to get rid of that thought and looked back at herself. She sighed and was about to open the door and leave when she decided to try something. She showed her white, even teeth and said, seemingly to an invisible companion, "Hi, my name is Kelly Lendridge." She tried not to say it too loud, worried that the others might hear her. That didn't quite seem right, needed to be more to the point, "Hi, I'm Kelly Lendridge." Not bad. She turned around and looked at the different angles of her body. Someone pounded on the door, "Hey, the pool does close in less than two hours! You know that right?!" It was Tracy. Kelly answered, "Just a second", then muttered under her breath, "Ya jerk."

She checked the fit of her swimsuit and told herself, "Just like the ones you wore as a guy, but with an.extension." Still she didn't quite feel right in it, even though the bottom part was similar the ones she wore to swim meets. She realized in an instant what was bothering her. This swimsuit fit much too smoothly and..flatly, so to speak.

She scrunched her face up again and walked out the door. She put her arms down by her sides and presented herself to Chris and her father. "How do I look?"

Patrick smiled beamingly, "Just like you did in that last meet before all this."

"Yeah", she said to herself, "before all this." Chris patted her on the shoulder, "Have fun and try to relax." She grabbed herself a towel and walked out the door, suddenly feeling rather naked when it shut behind her.

While the air was thick and warm, hanging like a heavy mist around her even though the sun was setting into a reddish-orange horizon, Kelly felt a shiver pass through her. She walked along, barefoot, to the pool.

Unlike the pools she usually frequented as a swimmer, this one was outside. She preferred those kind. Lifting up the latch, she walked over to one of long backed pool chairs and laid her towel on it. Looking at the pool a moment, she judged its length at about 25 meters. Not bad for a motel 'this cheap', as Tracy put it.

She used one of the stepladders to get in and pushed off the wall into a graceful backstroke. She found that she could go through the stroke motions with greater ease than she ever had since she was a kid, pushing off the opposite wall in what felt like personal- record time. Thinking about it, she realized that she had the ability to make herself go even faster and not have to exert herself. She could use her powers to turn herself into a mermaid or something, give herself webbed feet at the very least.

She shook her head at the idea, treading water in the middle of the pool. But, she told herself, she could make it so she could breathe underwater. None of that gills stuff. No, she had the power to make herself able to. She snickered and plunged her head underwater. The first thing she noticed was that the air in her lungs was tugging her to the surface. With a water-muffled 'grr', she thought-cast that air would no longer tug her down. Grievously violating the laws of physics, but then it was magic, so no problem.

She also commanded her eyes to be able to see underwater. All very neat and cool, for several minutes when she grew tired of having it easy and rose to the surface. She undid her changes and took in a breath of cleansing air. She was no longer alone at the pool. A young man about her age was setting his towel on another chair. He was shirtless and nicely tanned all over his body. He had a broad, rather muscular chest, not really the kind you'd get from mere weight lifting, more like the kind developed from years of swimming, probably for sport.

Well, well, a fellow swimmer, she'd have to show off her prowess. Kicking off the wall, she did the quarter stroke in what once again felt like personal-record time. Kicking off the other end, she thought about shifting to the butterfly stroke, but figured that would create too much splash, so she did the backstroke a couple more laps just to show she had endurance. He watched her silently, holding a book in his hands. But it didn't appear his full attention was on it. Her first reaction was, what a pervert! Then she thought, I wonder if he thinks I'm a good swimmer. With the backlash thought, I doubt he cares, just came to gawk at me!

She swam even harder, slowing down only on lap thirty when her shoulders cramped up. Reaching for the stepladder, she pulled herself out and panted. The young man looked a little lower than her face, then into her eyes as though trying to make amends for his hormones. Kelly looked down and saw with horror that the swimsuit was clinging tightly to her form, displaying her every, um... contour. To make the situation even more embarrassing, a cool breeze that certainly wasn't around when she got in chilled her nipples and presented a wholly untrue picture of her. She crossed her arms over her chest, a little red in the face.

The young man had been watching this whole scene closely, but didn't show that much emotion in response. She snapped up her towel and wrapped it around her. Flashing him an attempted, innocent 'what?' look, she put her hands behind her wet hair and waited for his next move.

Like clockwork, "Great technique you have. Do you swim professionally?"

First came the butter up. He was hitting on her! How dare he!

"No, just high school meets. I've got about seven medals though, two of them gold."

He nodded, "Well, keep at it and I'm sure someday you'll have an Olympic medal around your neck." Kelly grunted and asked him, "Do you swim?"

"Yes." And he gave her a demonstration. He swam strong and much faster than she did, but nowhere near as gracefully. Hmm, she thought. She'd been wanting to do this for a while, ever since she found out from Chris that Tracy had been transformed by her. Maybe she'd take transformations as one of her three. She'd wait and see how this went first though. Like a spider waiting for a fly, she waited for the precise moment that he got out of the pool to say, "Wait right there."

He paused mid-step right outside the water. Snickering, she walked over and gave him a little tap and pushed him back in. "Ok, you're normal again."

He coughed and asked, "Why am I in the water?"

"My name's Kelly Lenridge."

"Hi, Simon Mills. How did I get back in here?" Kelly prepared to transform him like Chris had transformed Taylor, but as she was about to make it happen, her resolve waned. So many people had been transformed today and she wasn't going to be the reason for yet another one. She wasn't gonna express her anger by imposing her condition on others. That just wasn't her.

She helped him out of the water and moistened her lips to speak. "I better get going. I have to catch a flight early tomorrow."

"Cool, on vacation?"

"No, I actually live in the area. We're moving to Northern California, Stockdale to be precise."

"Cool" he responded, toweling off. "Listen, I know this seems rather sudden, but could I have your phone number? For in California I mean."

Kelly giggled, she actually giggled, then she sobered up and said, "I'm sorry, I don't know what it is, not yet at least. What's your number?" He looked around, "Ahh shoot, I don't have anything to write on." Kelly magically pulled a note card and pen from behind her. "How'd you do that?"

Kelly smiled, "I'm also an amateur magician." And a little bit more, she thought to herself... as well as being the perfect cover for a transformation. He wrote his number on there and handed it to her.

"I know how do to hypnosis too. I can make you think you're anything or anyone."

He smiled, "Really? That's cool."

She grinned playfully, "Would you like me to show you?"

"Ok, what do you want me to do?" She gestured to the pool chair and told him and lay back on it. She nearly giggled to herself when she thought about all the things she could do with her powers. She tried a little mind manipulation. "You're getting sleepy..."

28

"Man, you Selanek chicks are both whacko! You get off changing guys into girls!" exclaimed Tracy when Kelly related what happened over by the pool.

Kelly defended herself, "I changed him back. Then I kissed him goodnight."

Chris and Tracy both looked shocked, "You what?"

"Never mind, I shoulda never told either of you. At least dad's not saying anything."

"That's 'cause he's sleeping!", said Tracy. Patrick's snores confirmed this fact. He'd set up the two chairs into a rather nice bed, just as long as he didn't try to move and didn't need to get up at any time during the night.

Chris sighed and thought about things, "I don't know what to tell you Kelly. I've been kissed by a guy as girl before, in fact I initiated the kiss. Maybe it's just a Selanek thing. In fact it took longer for you to kiss a guy than I did. I did it on my second day. So don't worry about it. He sounds like a really nice fellow."

"I suppose." Kelly looked at the slip of paper in her hand and wondered if she would actually call him. Tracy glared at Chris, "Yeah, but did you change your guy into a girl and change him back before kissing him?"

"Actually I did. I turned him into a twin of myself."

Tracy arched her eyebrows, "I don't think I want to know."

Kelly shook her head and rubbed her moist hair with her towel. "I don't think it's anything, I was just curious. Look at that, I'm getting water on the floor. I better go take a shower."

She locked the door behind her and looked up at the ceiling. She saw Simon's face, even in there. What was happening to her? Obsession about a guy she'd just met? It was ludicrous! She looked at her face in the mirror, her red hair still dripping. She dried it a little more. But then what was the point of that? She was gonna take a shower anyway. She shivered as she slowly unzipped her swimsuit and laid it nearby but not next to her clothes from before. Her skin felt clammy. She shivered violently.

Someone opened the door a crack and carefully walked through holding her pajamas. It was Chris. She laid the pajamas down on a particularly dry section of floor.

Kelly grabbed for her damp towel and wrapped it around her body. She still shivered. The air in the room was much cooler than the air outside. Especially the bathroom.

Chris looked faintly amused. "Give me your towel."

"Why?"

Chris grinned, "Interesting."

"What's interesting?"

Chris moved a little closer to her, "Just that back at the hospital you didn't much care whether you were clothed or not. Now you're suddenly modest."

"I'm cold, that's all."

Chris could read between the lines of her words, "Kelly, what happened out there that you're not telling me about?" Kelly felt the towel slip a little. She pulled it back up.

"Nothing." Chris pleaded her with her eyes. Kelly relented, "When I changed Simon into a girl, didn't feel what I thought I'd feel when I saw her body. Girls used to turn me on as a guy. But I felt nothing. In fact, seeing her kinda turned me off. When I changed him back and kissed him though, that was when I felt something. I imagined stuff like you did back in that closet we ducked into. But I turned away. I made up something about feeling ill and I rushed back here. I left without saying goodbye."

"And you feel bad about that?" Kelly's heart pounded in her head, "I don't know what I feel. I just know hormones are ragging all over my body and they're making me feel things that I'm not familiar with."

Chris nodded and turned away, "You go ahead and take your shower. We'll talk later, all right?"

"All right, please don't tell the others what I said though."

"Don't worry.."


29

"So what were you and that other weirdo talking about?", asked Tracy, arms folded over her chest, wearing her teddy bears and stars pajamas.

Chris didn't say anything. She just glared at Tracy and lay down on the other bed on the opposite side. Tracy opened her mouth to say something else then decided it was in her best interests not to. She frowned and told Chris, "I'm sorry about your friend."

Chris didn't answer. "Listen, why are you tormenting me just because I'm not reacting to my situation in a benign, lay-down-and-die manner? What do you want me to do? Go sleep with some guy?!"

Chris pulled the covers around herself and said, "Goodnight."

Tracy glared at her a moment, then turned away. She got under the covers and pressed her head against her pillow. Darn it all! Why was Chris mad at her? She didn't have any right to be! Tracy pulled her head under the covers and shut her eyes.

Almost immediately, the phone rang and Tracy brought her head up out of the covers to look around. Chris looked over at her, "Answer it."

"Why don't you answer it?", asked Tracy sharply. "You're closer" responded Chris, turning away and groaning. Tracy sighed and reached over to pick up the receiver, "Yes?"

"Hello, is Kelly Lendridge there?" It was man's voice. Tracy figured it that guy from the pool. He had a nice, comforting voice, she thought to herself. She leaned back and twirled the receiver cord around with her long nails, which she had inherited from Chris.

"Who wants to know?" She wondered whether she should lie about Kelly.

"My brother, Simon, does." She thought about that. So this wasn't the guy from the pool, it was his brother. "Oh really."

"Yeah, are you her sister or something?" Tracy smiled. An unnecessary gesture, but she'd always felt that a smile found it's way through in your voice. "No, who are you?"

"Oliver Mills."

She could hear Kelly turning off the shower. "Hello, Oliver. My name is Tracy Kingston. Kelly's in the shower right now, she should be out in a minute or two. Can I take a message for Kelly or do you want to wait until she comes out?"

Tracy could hear some muffled talking on the line, then Oliver said, "We'll wait."

She crossed her legs and asked Oliver, "So, are you a swimmer like your brother?"

Oliver chuckled, "Only in my dreams."

"So what do you do?" It sounded like Oliver was sitting down on a bed. "I'm still in high school, Clemenson High. But I want to be an artist. I've already done tons of drawings and paintings. I haven't sold any of it though. I doubt they're even good enough that anyone would buy them."

"Have you tried?"

"Not really." Tracy rolled her eyes. "Well that explains why you haven't sold anything yet. You gotta take a chance, show your work to people and maybe one of them will like something so much that they'll want to own it."

She could hear a smile on Oliver as he said, "I just might do that." Tracy had a strange thought. "What room are you in?"

"123, why?"

"I'd just like to come over and talk to you, that's all." She imagined him, a handsome hunk of a man, standing in the doorway waiting for her with his muscular arms reaching out to hold her and make passionate love to her. Her legs jerked apart. Stop thinking that!, she told herself with a headshake that she'd borrowed from Chris because of the pain that resulted from head-butting the wall.

Kelly walked out of the bathroom, still drying her hair off with a towel. Oliver paused a moment and said, "Sure, come on over."

She uttered a quick "ok" and said, "Kelly finally got out. Here she is."

Tracy waved Kelly over. Kelly wore a look of confusion as a rubbed her hair vigorously a couple more times. "Who is it?" she asked, going over her hair one last time.

"Your boyfriend", explained Tracy with a smirk. Kelly snatched the phone out of Tracy's hand and asked, "Yes? This is Kelly Lendridge."

Tracy put on a pair of sandals from her suitcase.

"Well let me talk to him..ok, sure.hi Simon."

Tracy walked over to the dresser and pocketed the keys. She whispered to Chris that she was gonna go over to the Mills' room. Chris snored in response. Patrick responded the same way and Kelly wasn't to be bothered, chuckling lightly at something Simon was saying to her.

Tracy opened the door and walked out. About three steps out the door, she paused and realized something rather profound. It was a little after midnight, she was wearing a pair of girly boxers, a bra, teddy bears with stars pajamas and she was going to the room of a man that she'd just met over the phone five minutes ago. It seemed like there was something seriously wrong with this picture. But she sighed and continued walked again.

She had to walk past the ice machine to get to room 123. A man-size lizard creature was standing at the machine, filling a plastic ice container. He padded the top with his clawed hand, plucked a chip from the top and crunched it loudly with his sharp teeth. Tracy nodded to the lizard-man and asked him, "How are you doing?"

The lizard-man grunted and said something incomprehensible. Munching on another ice chip, he closed his eyes and moaned happily. He looked over at her, shrugged, put another ice chip in his mouth and waved. She smiled and waved back.

He tucked the container under one scaly arm and walked away, probably back to his room. Tracy shook her head and tried to convince herself that she hadn't just seen what she had.

She walked the rest of the way over to room 123. Taking a long, calming breath, she rapped on the door and waited. She didn't have to wait long though as a man immediately unlatched the door and looked down at her.

He wasn't quite the man in her fantasy, but then who is? He was nicely muscled though and he had a cute smile. Looking at her, he narrowed his eyes slightly, let his lips hang straight and locked his eyes right on hers. Despite the fact he wasn't the man she imagined, her hormones told her to jump his bones immediately. Fortunately, she was able to override their commands. "May I come in?" she asked merely as a formality.

"Sure. Come in." The room had the imprint of men on it; dirty clothes bunched together in a heap, an implacable odor and a brisk chill to the air at made her glad that her pajamas were loose fitting and that she was wearing a bra underneath. She'd noticed when she was out that the air was rather stagnant, even at this late hour. But it was terribly cold in here.

She shivered a little. Oliver picked up quickly on what she was trying to tell him and turned the air conditioner down.

Simon was occupied, talking on the phone to Kelly. The two of them sat down on Oliver's bed. They jumped around like kids, trying to find the best position that offered them both comfort and ease in conversation.

They finally settled on the same position that Chris had used when talking to Kelly. One arm behind, one hand under the head, turned to one side. They faced one another. Oliver asked the first question.

"Are you from around here?"

"Not really. I'm from Northern California. Stockdale to be exact."

"Cool. So what are you doing here?" Tracy would have liked to tell him, but each thing she could think of telling him sounded ridiculous in her mind. "I took a flight with the intention of coming up here and having a rather peaceful couple of days, but things didn't quite turn out how I expected them."

"What happened?" Tracy'd talked herself into a corner. Oliver was curious to know about her and she really had very little she could tell him that would be both true and believable at the same time.

"Boy, where do I begin?" Oliver smiled at her, "At the beginning."

Yeah, easy to say. She took an even longer breath than she had when she knocked on the door. "Well it's like this.."

She was lawyer, she told herself. She could stretch the truth a little and then everything would be fine. "It's like this" she said again needlessly, "I was taking a flight here to go see my Aunt Penelope." Actually, Tracy thought to herself, she's been dead for several years. "And halfway through the flight I got really sick, chunks flying all over the place, making a real mess for the stewardesses to clean up. Fortunately, it's a just a shuttle flight, so we landed in a relatively short amount of time. But I was still sick to my stomach, so I dashed into the lady's room and cleaned out everything I'd had for the last couple of hours, including a bag of salty peanuts. Once I've gotten that out my system, I get my bearings and go to retrieve my luggage."

Oliver listened attentively.

"I wait by the conveyor belt and keep waiting. I check with the airline and they can't locate it. I'm just about at the end of rope when they find one of my two suitcases, coincidentally the one with just my clothes. The other one had a gift that I was bringing my aunt, some other necessities, and most of the money I'd brought for the trip. All I had was about forty bucks in my wallet. Things looked pretty grim."

She could feel herself really getting into the performance like she would when giving her closing argument. "Then my salvation came in the form of two Good Samaritans. Christine Wren and Paul Gray. They actually came from Stockdale too, in fact on the same flight I did. They said they would put me up in their room for as long as I stayed in Salem. They'd come here to connect with some old friends. But even though things were looking up, I was soon in for a shock when I went to go see my aunt."

Oliver appeared riveted, "What happened?" he asked. The arm that Tracy was lying on was beginning to get numb, so she rolled onto her back and continued her story, "I went over to her house. A small, single bedroom place. I hoped that I might be able to stay with her and not have to impose on Christine and Paul, but the day I came she wasn't there. Her neighbor was and he gave me the bad news. Penelope had a stroke two days ago and lingered in a coma for a couple of hours before passing away. I was floored when he told me, all the strength went from my knees and I just sobbed right there." Tracy manufactured a tear or two when telling this part, so as to add to the realism.

"The neighbors had taken care of the funeral arrangements. That helped at least. I don't know if could have dealt with all that right then. I phoned mom and dad and told them the bad news. We all cried together for a while and they told me since everything was taken care of, it would be best if I cut my trip short and came back home. Fortunate for me that I had a return ticket that I could cash in for an earlier flight. And Christine and the others.."

"Others?" Hmm, he had been paying close attention to what she'd been saying. "Well Paul decided to stay a little while longer in Salem", she lied, "And Christine and the people they visited chose to go back to Stockdale. It's fortunate that everything happened the way it did. I don't think I could stay even a night in Penelope's home, not with what'd happened. But they're gonna drive me to the airport and that works out just fine."

"That's good to hear. I'm sorry about your aunt. My sincere condolences."

Boy did that sound hokey to Tracy, but even though she'd lied about everything, she appreciated his concern.

"So what are you like? What are you interested in?"

She felt glad that he didn't asked her what kinda men she was interested in. She took information from her childhood and twisted it around to provide material. "Well, I'm the daughter." she paused at that word a moment, shook her head, coughed, and then continued, ".of a prominent writer in the area, Richard Kingston. My father is my inspiration. He always says to me, 'Never just say what you can do, but rather always do what you can.' My mother, a lawyer, is the woman I look up to. I plan to go to UCLA and became a lawyer, just like her. I remember when I was a little girl. She would read her closing arguments to me instead of bedtime stories. I didn't really care, they put me right to sleep anyway. *Chuckle* In fact I think they put me to sleep faster than regular bedtime stories."

Oliver smiled. "You asked what I'm interested in. Well, the law fascinates me, every aspect of it. There are cases that are landmarks in the American justice system, take Roe V. Wade for instance.." Tracy continued, scarcely taking a breath of air as she energetically told him about all the important court cases she'd read about. Then she told him about the negatives, about those that manipulated the justice system to get their clients off, those whose only goal was to score a win. Those kinda like her.

She also related to him her love of water sports, Japanese animation and flying, oddly enough. Her dreams of one day owning a small-airplane, which she'd actually achieved several years ago, but all that was gone now. Yup, she was back to square one, until, she reminded herself, this Tangerine fixed things.

Having finished, she then asked him, "So tell me about yourself. What interests you? Do you have a girlfriend?" Simon was still talking on the phone with Kelly.

Oliver looked down at the mattress, then into her eyes, "I've never had a girlfriend, not really. Just like a movie date, but no connection. I didn't feel love, at least not like..the..*cough*, never mind."

Tracy frowned, "What's wrong? You can tell me." She crouched up in bed and edged toward him. Oliver made his way to the end of the bed and got to his feet. "Let me show you something."

Tracy didn't realize the weight those words held for some many people. "Sure."

He walked around to her side and pulled out an plastic easel and a collection of drawing items, such as paint, pens and brushes. "What fascinates me is art. Drawing and creating with your hands is something that at first exists not even in your mind, but somewhere else. At first, you have to get in contact with the paper and understand it. You have figure out the picture that is lurking somewhere, dredge it up and get it in your thoughts, then get it out as fast as you've got ahold of it, otherwise you'll lose it forever. Even with still or live subjects, I've only painted a few because I prefer dreamscape images, there is a single frame of motion that is perfect in all ways in any scene and once you realize that and recognize that single frame, you've got to put in on the paper as quickly as possible otherwise it'll slip away."

Now it was Tracy's turn to listen intently. "May I see what you've drawn?"

"Sadly, I didn't bring any of my previously works with me. Although if you stand just about right there", he gestured to a clear section of floor, "I'll be able to demonstrate and give you an idea of my drawing."

Isn't one drawing in a single story enough? Nawww!

"Okay." Tracy stood precisely where he told her too. Immediately he put his hand on his mouth and tapped his foot. "Is there something wrong?", she asked. Simon hung up the phone and looked at the two of them. Tracy smiled at him.

Oliver sighed through his hand and stretched his neck one way and then the other. All of this did nothing to help him find his single frame of motion that was utter perfection.

He coughed and asked her as politely as he could, "I know this is a bit imposing, and Simon can leave if you wish him to, but could you please if not remove your pajama top, just unbutton it a little?" Tracy opened her eyes a little, then told herself that it was art. She undid the top button and, as when she first put it on, was a little disoriented by the reverse placement of the buttons.

But one wasn't enough to inspire Oliver. Simon went into the restroom and took a book with him without prompting. She undid two more buttons, enough to display the top of her chest, yet none of her cleavage.

Oliver looked a little red in the face, "I'm so sorry about all this, maybe we should just forget it. This is probably terribly embarrassing for you. I'm very sorry. Forget it." Tracy shook her head, "It's fine. I know it's art and know you're an artist. If it's better that I pose nude, then that's ok too. It's just us here, after all."

Oliver's eyes bulged out, "Do you really mean that?" Did she really mean that? How could she possibly pose nude for a man? Had she finally gone over the edge, was all this estrogen flowing through body finally melting her brain? Hey, she told herself, it's just a little innocent art. Besides, we probably won't even get to that point, she said to herself. Six buttons down, her bra came into view. Oliver appeared encouraged by this.

"What are you wearing underneath your pajamas?"

She told him just a bra and panties. Getting even redder, he nervously asked, "Would it be all right if you get down to just that? Perhaps then."

She smiled and said that would be fine. Would it? She was doing a striptease for a man! Her, the one absolutely appalled by her condition, stripping for a man! It was insane! It must be the hormones, she told herself. She slowly took off her top and laid it down next to her. Then off came her pajama pants. Standing there with just her underclothes on, she desperately hoped that she wouldn't have to make good on her promise.

Alas, Oliver didn't appear inspired even then. She reached behind herself and removed her bra.

Oliver looked down. "How are you going to paint me or draw me or whatever you're going to do to me if you're not looking at me?" She felt like grimacing at that little slip, but kept a straight face. She hiked her panties off and stood there in the buff. Immediately, it looked as though Oliver had been struck by lightning because he furiously rubbed against the canvas. She stood there, trying her best to keep still. When he was done with that one, he told her to sit in the chair. She did so and he started on another sheet of paper. She frowned and wondered when he was going to show his work to her. But once finished with that, she told her sit on the bed. She did so, hands in her lap, with a pleasant smile and thought to herself, how did I get into this?

This time he used the paints and when he was done, he told her to get dressed. She did so as she listened to him dab paint on the other two. This fast and furious session ended with Oliver panting, out of breath and gesturing her over to view his work. She did so and was astonished when she saw it. Who was that stunning and rather nude woman in the painting? That couldn't be her, she told herself. He touched her hands to her face wondered if it was possible that she was that beautiful woman. But then the painting was an image seen through the eyes of a man with his bias and hormones just like her. Oliver defended his objectivity though. "I can only paint what is there, I didn't add to your beauty, if anything, I dulled down what I saw."

She looked at them again, disbelieving. She noticed at the bottom of one, he had written the words, "I love you, Tracy." She paused a moment and kept her eyes locked on that. She looked at the pen, tempted to write an answer, but then she'd sully the perfection of the work.

Instead she simply asked, "What is this?" and gestured to the words. He didn't need to look at them to know what she was referring to. "You are a beautiful woman, Tracy and I can't deny the feelings I have for you. I love you. I loved you the moment I heard your sweet voice over the phone. I know that things have been rough for you lately, and that this is just another burden for you to carry. So if you so wish of me, I'll turn away from my feelings and I will never bother you again."

Tracy tried to take all this in. Her head was spinning in a hundred different directions. Why had she asked if she could come over in the first place? Darn it all! She didn't need this! She had so much to deal with anyway and Oliver didn't know about any of it. She should have told him. But then he would have condemned her as a loony. She couldn't have dealt with that.

No matter how much she wanted to deny it, she felt something for him as well. If not love, it was at the very least, the beginnings of love. Hormones, she told herself, mere hormones raging out of control at adolescence.

She looked up at him, her face welling up with emotion. She stifled a growl and uttered forcefully, as though expelling it from her throat, "Leave me alone!"

Oliver hunched over, absolutely devoid of energy, "Ok."

She edged over to door and opened it, sniffling, "I don't ever want to see you again!"

Oliver nodded and looked down with his weary eyes, "Of course." She felt a sharp pang of guilt take hold of her but opened the door and walked out. And out of Oliver's life, forever.


30

Tracy walked slowly back to the room, staring down at her hands. Had she done something wrong? No, it was wrong to go to his room in the first place. She wasn't ready to accept a relationship as a girl. And she was never gonna be, she reminded herself.

The lizard-man was back for more ice. She walked over to him and introduced himself. The lizard-man gestured to himself and said something that sounded like 'gorfa- gorf'.

"So where are you from?" Gorfa made a couple of distance gestures and bleating- like noises and then smacked his claws together. She wasn't able to follow his directions too well.

"So is it nice there this time of year?" Gorfa answered with a much easier to understand hand-wobble with his free claw which Tracy took to mean 'so-so'.

"Are you here on vacation?" Gorfa shrugged.

"Do you know why you're here?" Gorfa shrugged again.

"Did you suddenly arrive here for no reason or something?" Gorfa nodded slowly this time, after thinking a bit about her question.

"Interesting. So you like ice?" Gorfa rocked his head from left to right casually and held his claw up. The nearest thing to an interpretation that she could come up with was 'it's ok'.

"Is it cold where you come from?" Gorfa toyed with his scaly lips and nodded after a moment. "Where are you staying?"

Gorfa gestured to the sparsely-wooded area behind the Motel 6. That made sense. She doubted, in retrospect, that a lizard-man could just walk into the lobby and get himself a room without causing a stir.

"Well, Gorfa, it's been a pleasure talking to you, but I'm afraid I have to go. It's getting rather late." Gorfa waved goodbye to her and set off for the trees with the tub of ice under his arm.

Tracy pivoted on her heel to walk back to the room and her foot snagged on a pebble she'd failed to notice. Tumbling swiftly to the ground, shut her eyes, expecting to hit rather hard and felt a sudden jolt, a hand clinging to her. It was the lizard guy. He'd rushed over to her in time to prevent her fall.

She found that amazing, since he was about twenty feet away when she tripped. He sure could move fast when he needed to. She straightened her pajama top and smiled at him. "Thank you very much."

He showed a few incisors in an action that she hoped was smile and shrugged. Then he turned around and started back in the direction of the trees. She sighed and turned a little more carefully this time.

When she got back to the room everyone was asleep. She laid the key on the table and got into her bed. She pulled all the covers up close around her, hiding her entire body. Looking down, it almost seemed like things were normal again. Except that her legs didn't reach as far under the covers as they had for most of her life. She thought back to the last time she'd gotten under the covers. Last night.

It had been a lot like this. She'd slept alone, as she had since she was kid. She moved her legs back and forth nervously. She pulled the covers up even higher, all the way to her chin. Her slender, barren chin, which once wore a goatee she'd worked months to get just the way she wanted it.

Tracy sweated a little underneath her shield of covers. She reached a hand out to touch her long, blond hair. She ran her fingers through it. First the left side to the right and then the front to the back. It felt unfamiliar to the touch.

It had to be someone else's, she told herself, but each strand was firmly rooted to her scalp. Then she turned her attention to her hands themselves. With only the meager light the open bathroom door cast, she looked at them. Really looked at them. She'd spent much of the between time that the others were gone doing anything that took her mind off herself. First of all, she had to get comfortable, and those suit pants were just too tight even though Chris said that they 'made her look soo good', so she unbuttoned them. Then that terrible bra, though she did have to admit that walking was a bit less difficult with it on. Still it had to come off.

She read through the phone book, looked turned on her laptop and went through her files that Chris had since fouled up. She reorganized her clothes and finally laid back and watched some television. But with a mere seven choices, she soon got fed up and decided to rest up a little, not really expecting the others back so soon. They just startled her.

She rubbed her hands together. She used to know the positioning of every imperfection and the precise sensation of the two of them rubbing past one another. Now both of those things were unknown to her. She was hard pressed find imperfections and as for the rubbing sensation..that was now effortlessly, as though the two had been polished.

She decided to try something. Tracy bent her legs and lifted them around the top of the opening and into the air. She held them straight up in the air, lifting herself up with her arms and even though gravity and the yielding texture of the mattress worked against her, she held herself up for what turned out to be about four minutes. She pumped her fist. She was no cream puff! Especially as a man, she'd prided herself on her strength.

Looking at the floor, she wondered about that one thing it just wasn't natural for a man to do, the splits. Working her way down from a spread formation, she made it to the floor after a little bit and she discovered what it felt like. And also discovered a painful cramp in her thigh muscle. Bringing them back together, she put her hands down, lifted herself up and raised her legs. She mimicked a couple more gymnastic moves and then wondered what else she should do.

Where had she gotten all this energy from? She hadn't had a cup of coffee or anything like that. Perhaps it just stemmed from being younger and having a younger body. If only she could have that and give up the gender part then things would be just fine.

She picked up the keys and went out again. Why was she going out? Not to see Oliver. That was for sure, even though she did have a longing to go in that direction. But she quelled it and ran barefoot around the motel.

Picking up speed, she'd finished her tenth lap before she began to tire a little. She kept pushing, reaching sprinting speed. Her heart was pounding in her head, her breaths were rapid and didn't seem to fill her lungs. She went even faster though. On her twentieth lap though she hit the wall and nearly grazed a real wall as she ran out of steam and slowed to a stop.

She'd stopped over by the ice machine where Gorfa was back, filling his container again. Seeing her state of exhaustion, he handed her a couple of chips, which she put in her mouth. That quenched her thirst a little. She thanked him again and he nodded. Then he walked off over the trees.

After resting a little more, she matched her previous feat and even bested it by two laps. And she did the same twice more before the muscle cramps set in and she decided to go back to the room. Young body or not, she'd just run around this place at full speed nearly a hundred times and that was enough for anybody. She was drenched with sweat, so she took a quick shower and deodorized her clothes.

Checking the clock, she was surprised to discover that it was about a quarter after two. Still she took the time to look at her feet. They sure ached now because of her running but they were tiny, mere shadows of the large, manly feet she once had with a mini-mustache of hair on her toe knuckle.

She laid them flat against the mattress and pressed her legs together. Laying her head on her knees, she wrapped her arms around them and thought about Oliver, of all things. If only she could purge him from her mind, she thought to herself. After a few minutes of thinking, she realized again how late it was and how tired she was growing.

She got under the covers and wasn't nearly as restless as she had been before. She drifted off to sleep after just a few minutes.

31

"Tracy, honey, it's time to wake up" said a woman's voice. Tracy turned in the direction of the voice, a woman in her forties with short, strawberry blond hair. She recognized her immediately.

"Mom?" How could that be? Her mother had been dead for years. But now she was standing right before her. She rubbed Tracy's shoulder and smiled, "You better get dressed or you're gonna be late for school."

Tracy looked down at herself, she was wearing the same pajamas as before. Her mother left, closing the door behind her. She pulled aside the covers, noticing that they had teddy bears, like her pajamas, and a lacy edge. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she surveyed the whole room.

It kind reminded her of her room as a kid. But instead of stars and rocket ships, the wallpaper had fairies. And a lot more plush animals than before, about a hundred compared with just about one.

Even a Pikachu. It looked like a big fat, yellow rat with a bent tail to her. Ok, that meant that she was in the present, but her mother was alive. How could that be? A shelf of books, neatly arranged. Quite a few classics. A Hundred Years of Solitude, A Tale of Two Cities and The Good Earth. There were some magazines on the shelf as well. Stuff like Cosmo Girl, Teen and Seventeen.

Something hit her all of a sudden. This had to be a dream. She smiled and cheered her little revelation. Realizing this was a dream meant that she could change it. She thought to herself, ok, this room has to go and I'm getting my male body back. She told herself this and waited for everything to rearrange itself.

Zilch happened. A bird chirped outside though, probably a robin. Ok so this dream was cemented, no changing it. But at least she could terminate it. She pinched a chunk of her hand with her long fingernails.

"Ouch." A red, rather sore spot appeared when she pulled her nails away. She began hyperventilating. What was going on? She had absolutely no idea. Maybe it was something that Chris had done, maybe she'd made good on her offer to change reality to accommodate her.

She paced around a couple of times and looked over at her backpack. School!

If this turned out to be real, the last thing she needed was to be late. Wait a sec! How could she go to school as this? No way, absolutely out of the question! She'd have to climb back into bed, groan and complain of abdominal cramps or something that could get her off.

Her mother called again, "Aren't you gonna take a shower? Time's a wasting, get moving." She snatched up a paper bag from the table and began breathing into it. It calmed her a little.

She took off her clothes and laid them in the hamper by the door. She took a quick shower, as she had taken one what seemed like just a few minutes ago and toweled off quickly. Looking through her drawers, she felt like Kelly did, seeking out the least feminine thing she had.

After putting on the required undergarments, she definitely didn't want to attract attention for that, she found a green, cotton shirt that said, "Girls Rule" across the front and "Guys Drool" on the back. She looked at the end with a jolt but figured it was better than some of the things in her drawers. Sticking her head out the window and discovering it was blazingly hot and that her room was on the second floor as it had been in reality, she put on a pair of khaki shorts. They ended about mid-thigh. A little too short for her, but at least they weren't a skirt.

She finished her ensemble with a pair of flats and looked at herself in the mirror. Not bad. But her face looked a little bland. She couldn't quite put her finger on it at first, then she realized it. She wasn't wearing any makeup. Had she before? She hadn't really been looking at that. Perhaps Chris put a little on her.

And she firmly decided not to put any on.

Now fully dressed, she picked up her purse, reluctantly, figuring her mom would say something if she didn't take it since it was all set up.

She put down her purse a moment and attempted to pick up her backpack. Attempted. Rather than picking it up, it tipped her center of gravity, which was already out of whack because of her transformation, and caused her to fall face forward.

Groaning and getting to her feet, she shook her head and stared at it. And backpack stared, unmoving, back at her. How did those teachers expect her to carry something like that when she was five-foot-three and weighted only a little over a hundred pounds?

She huffed and gave lifting it another try. She got enough altitude to heave it onto the bed. Zipping it open, she found seven full-sized textbooks with a quickly-flattening notebook wedged between them.

Geez, she thought to herself.

Leaning backwards, she pulled one strap over one shoulder and then the other. Taking a slow, deep breath, she shifted forward and tried to stand up as straight as she could. Once she got her balance worked out with this leviathan hanging on her, she found she could walk rather well. Opening the door to the hall, she looked around and saw her older sister, Amber, walking down the wall.

She smiled at her, a rare occurrence back at this age. They'd since been on better terms than they were in their adolescence. But this Amber was an entirely different person. Amber's load was a great deal lighter than hers was, just a trapper keeper in one hand. Lucky senior, she thought to herself. "You ok, Trace? You look like you're about to fall over."

Tracy put on the best impersonation of a grin that she could muster. "I'll manage." She leaned forward a little, which did absolutely nothing to lessen the strain on her back. They walked over to the stairs that led down to the living room. Amber pushed her dirty blond hair back over her ears and asked Tracy, "So is your boyfriend giving you a ride again today or are your riding with me?"

Tracy nearly missed the first step when she heard this, which could have resulted in quite few broken bones if she hadn't caught herself. She had to think of something to say back to her sister, "What did you say?"

Amber arched her eyebrows, "I think you heard me."

"Yeah."

"So?"

If only she had a clue to work with, "As it stands, I'm with you."

Tracy started walking down the steps, taking them slow because of her *cough* chest, purse and pack. Amber though didn't move from her place at the top. Tracy turned around to look at her, "What's wrong?"

"What's with the 'as it stands' stuff? You sound like mom with her lawyer-speak sometimes." Amber walked down past Tracy. She sighed. That was more like the old Amber.

They went into the kitchen and set their stuff down in one corner. She remembered breakfast in the Kingston household. Dad typing away on his word processor, having gotten, at most, two hours of sleep. Things hadn't changed much, just an upgrade to a laptop.

Mom organized her papers in her briefcase, now rather more organized and also partly on a laptop.

One thing that hadn't changed though was that they still had to make breakfast for themselves. She remembered what her mom used to say to Amber. "It's good practice for marriage," even though mom only cooked dinner, as she remembered. All the other meals were the responsibility of each member of the family to cook for themselves.

To her, when she had been Taylor, she had said, "It'll be good practice for when you become a master chef."

Yeah, whatever.

She skipped breakfast and picked up her pack. Amber made a quiet, slightly frustrated sound. "Where are you going?"

"To school, where else?"

Amber called to her, "Aren't you gonna eat?"

"I ate last night." Actually, she just wanted to get out of here before her 'boyfriend' showed up. Amber shook her head, "You're thin enough already, you don't have to go on a diet."

She turned around sharply, remembering her pack. "I'm not on a diet. I'm just not hungry right now." She heaved the backpack over her shoulders and waved goodbye to Amber, who waved her hand back at her in disgust.

She opened the door and was startled to see a man standing there, poised to knock on the door. It was Oliver.

"Oh, hi Tracy. Are you ready to go..already?"

She literally yelped and fell back, falling more on the pack than on her tush. Oliver rushed to her side, "What's wrong?"

She edged away from him, flailing at the stairs and pulled herself up them. "You just stay away from me!"

Oliver looked startled, "Did I do something wrong?"

"Don't touch me!"

Oliver sighed and looked like he understood, "Listen..I'm sorry. It's all my fault." What was all his fault? She gulped and hoped it wasn't what she was worried about. He continued, "Nothing happened between me and her, it was just a movie date, a harmless movie date."

"Huh?"

"This isn't about me dating Carol?" Tracy sat down on the step she'd climbed to and put her hands on her forehead, "No."

"Then what is this about?" Tracy shook her head and sighed, "Never mind. Let's just go." Amber pointed out that she hadn't eaten breakfast. Seeing as her 'boyfriend' was here, her excuse for not eating no longer seemed valid, so she had a little something.

"So what is it, Tracy? What's got you all riled up?"

She finished off her juice, flung her pack on and went out the front door after saying a quick goodbye to Amber. Oliver raced after her, "Whoa, wait up. What's the matter with you?"

She looked up at him and breathed a sigh, a rather exasperated sigh. Then she calmed down a little and smiled with half her lip, "It's nothing. Never mind. So how have things been for you?"

"Umm, not bad. Are you sure you're all right?"

"As good as can be expected", especially in this body, she thought to herself. He smiled as he looked down at her shirt. She gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was focusing on the shirt and nothing more.

"I like that one. You wore it on our first date. I thought you were a real feminist or something when I saw you wearing it, then I realized the meaning."

"Oh I'm a feminist, I'm just not an anal feminist."

He grinned and said, "I know." He leaned down towards her, his lips slightly apart. She realized immediately what his intention was. "Please, no right now", she told him.

He pulled away, muttered 'sorry' and looked down for a second. She felt a pang guilt. They got in his car, one of those with a retractable top, the kind that rich people own yet never like.

As he drove along, she could feel the wind whipping at her hair, pulling it out of its rather neat style and into a jumble. They pulled into and parked in the student parking lot of Kennedy High, where she went to high school and apparently did now too.

She thought about the wind and how it felt just like the real thing. Could all this be a dream? Since she'd been thus far unable to wake herself, it looked like this wasn't just any old dreamscape. But then, if it wasn't, what was it?

She'd slept for a while before the others came. Did she have some dreams then? She just couldn't remember. Maybe she hadn't entered REM sleep yet. Could the vivid and coherent nature of this be due to her transformation?

She didn't have any of the answers to any of those questions, not yet at least. She was about to get out when Oliver rushed around and opened the door for her. She looked up at him wearily and stepped out. She put on her pack. She was beginning to adjust to its rather heavy presence.

Oliver walked away without saying anything. She looked after him and began walking to the school. As she walked along, she noticed that quite a few students were giving her looks of surprise, a couple were even laughing at her.

She looked down at herself. She was clothed, so it couldn't be that. Still, people she passed by broke into hearty laughter. Turning red in the face, she couldn't stand much more of this. What could they possibly find funny about her? She rushed into a room, any room that seemed familiar, but they all looked the same. She dashed into one and the instructor pointed at her and smiled. "Look at that bitch, students."

All the students, most of them younger than her started laughing hysterically. She trembled, meandered around, her back weak and strained as everyone that came close to her gawked and guffawed in her face.

Not only her back felt weak after a minute. Her bladder felt like a dam on the edge of busting. She tried to hold it in, scream, anything but, it just let loose. Now the people were laughing louder since she'd peed her shorts. A stream of urine spilled down her leg. Her shorts were dark and soaked. Her social life was over.

32

Tracy bolted up in bed, glad that had all been a dream, but feeling lingering after- effects. Like a wetness.

She sobbed as she could smell the urine. Damn it all! She'd peed the bed like she had when she was eight. Rolling off the bed and taking the soiled covers with her, she hoped with all her heart that the others wouldn't find out. As she looked up, Kelly and Chris were each looking down at her from the side of the bed. She sobbed loudly into her hands.

Chris knelt by her side, "Let me help you up." She grasped onto Chris' hand and got to her feet. She wobbled and looked down at her wet pajama pants. Chris waved her hand to clean up the mess and Tracy got rid of the wet spot on the bed. Tracy shook with fear. She wrapped her arms around Chris.

"It'll be ok." Tracy bawled loud enough to wake Patrick. "I'm so sorry, Chris. I'm sorry for everything I did. I take back every mean thing I said about you, about Kelly, about anybody. Please forgive me, I beg you. Please don't hate me. I beg you. I don't want to be alone. I want a friend. I don't want people to laugh at me. I'm sorry I got you upset and everything I did, everything. I apologize for being such a bigot, a goddamn bigot, and a chauvinist and a ladies man and.." Chris halted her and shook her head. Tracy gasped for breath, losing the last bit of hope she had. "Please..please..I'll do anything I can.." She pressed her head against the floor, bowing at Chris' feet. She kissed her feet, that was when Chris sat her up and told her, "I forgive you for what you did. For what you said. I know you'll probably never change, but I appreciate that you told me this. Now don't worry. I don't hate you. I was just a little angry at you."

Chris embraced her.

Tracy sobbed quietly, sniffled and thanked her with more genuine emotion than she'd probably had in years. "And you're not alone. We are your friends. I am your friend. Don't cry."

Slowly Tracy regained her composure, and instead of her look of superiority or often a scowl of contempt, she wore an innocent smile of relief. "What's this about everyone laughing at you?" asked Chris, that part of Tracy's emotional plea sticking out in her mind.

"In my dream, everyone at this high school I was at laughed at me. It was terrible. It felt as though everything was falling apart."

"What was the dream about?" Tracy struggled to remember, but her emotional psyche was still only just coming back together, so it was difficult to recall all the facts. "I remember I was a high school girl. It was like when I was a kid, but updated to today. I know that sounds weird, but that's what it was. I carried around a heavy backpack and Oliver was my boyfriend."

"Oliver?", asked Chris. Kelly explained that Oliver had called for Simon on the phone. She smiled faintly as she spoke of Simon.

Tracy filled Chris in what she did and saw last night. Chris contemplated it. "I'd have to ask Tangerine about this Gorfa Gorf, but I think, after you get dressed, you should go over there and talk to him, explain a few things and be honest. No matter what the consequences."

"You want me to tell him I'm really a guy?!"

"No, I want you to tell him how you feel about him."

"Oh. I don't think I can do that. Maybe I should just tell him that I'm really a guy, that'd be much easier." Chris patted her on the shoulder lightly.

"Sometimes the better road is also the most difficult."

"What is that? Budda, Robert Frost?"

Chris shook her head, "Naw, I just made it up. But I think I've heard it before. And it holds true in quite a few cases, particularly yours. While telling Oliver how you really feel will be extraordinarily difficult, it will save you much mental anguish in the long run."

Tracy knew she was right, "Ok. I'll tell him in the morning."

Chris looked at her watch. "It is morning. It's about quarter till eight."

"Oh. Well, I guess I better get dressed."

Tracy could feel a lump growing in her throat as she dressed. She wore an outfit similar to what she had on in her dream, minus the text. By the time she slipped her sandals on, her resolve had waned. "I can't do this. I'm not even sure I like him. How can I like him? I'm a guy! I'm not supposed to like other guys. I know what you're gonna say. I'm a girl right now, so things are different. It's not weird. But it feels weird."

Chris ran a hand through her hair, "Ok. Don't go then."

"But I feel like I screwed his life up by telling him to never come near me again."

Chris shrugged, "I doubt it. If you screwed him up at all, it was by posing naked for him."

"Oh hush. It was art."

"Art, my ass."

Kelly yawned and scratched her head. Tracy paced around a little, "Maybe if I just went over there and gave him my phone number and got his, then said something along the lines of 'we'll talk about things, I hope we can be friends'. How that?"

Kelly shook her head with a sneer on face, "Fine. How about you stab him in the heart a couple of times while you're at it too."

Tracy nibbled her nails. "I'm seriously frightened here. My heart is pounding, I can't think straight, and I feel faint."

Chris looked at Kelly with a hint of a smile, "Looks like a chronic case of 'in love'."

Tracy stomped her feet and told them, "I am not in love with him. I scarcely even know him and I don't want to know him. Besides, I'm gonna turn back into a guy today anyway when this Tangerine fixes me. Right?"

Chris shrugged, "I have absolutely no idea. Tangerine is just a sorcerer. If he can't change you back and he doesn't know who can, then you could be a girl for the rest of your life."

Tracy had heard something along the lines of this from Gray. She sat down on the floor, leaning against her bed. She looked down at her nails and said to herself, "I suppose I can live with this then."

"Of course you can live with it. It's not like being a girl is going kill you. It's not some terminal disease. Half of the world makes do every single day."

Tracy crept back onto the edge of the bed and folded her legs. She frowned and then crossed her legs tightly. "You know what I was just thinking?"

Chris looked at Kelly. Tracy waved her handed frantically, "I didn't mean that in a literal sense. Don't go reading my mind. Anyway, what I was thinking was how many things I didn't do because I didn't have the guts to seize the opportunity and throw caution and better judgment into the wind. Well, I'll tell you. I'm a girl! I'm not gonna deny it any more. It's a fact I can't change, at the moment! And as a girl, I am in love with Oliver Mills, whether it's some kinda side effect of my change or plain old hormones. I want to spend as much time as possible around him. I love him!"

The walls echoed with her little speech. Patrick sat up and massaged his head. There were sounds on the other side of the door. After a moment, someone knocked on the door. Tracy scrambled to her feet and pulled open the door. Oliver stood there, a little surprised, "Umm, Tracy. I'm sorry to bother you, but I was just passing by."

"You heard me?"

He turned red, "Yeah, sorta."

"It was all true. I love you too Oliver, but I was too afraid of..everything of my situation, of the changes. I denied it to myself."

"Changes?" He sure did pay attention well. "I'm not really a girl, or at least I wasn't. But I am now because a certain someone who will remain nameless..in our midst." She glared at Chris, but not too harshly, she didn't want to alienate her again.

"Huh?" was all Oliver said in response. Kelly asked Tracy if she should give a little demonstration. Tracy turned to shield Oliver, "Just leave him alone."

"Sure, whatever." She turned the television into a penguin and changed in back. Oliver's mouth nearly dropped to the floor. The now-wide awake Patrick coughed and lifted himself out his 'bed'. "Are you saying you were transformed into a girl?"

"Yes. And that I love you, Oliver."

"What?"

"Don't you love me?"

"Well, you're cute and all and sexy as hell naked. But love?"

Tracy blinked a couple of times before saying, "But you wrote it on the drawing?"

"I just did that get you into bed."

"You averted your eyes... said it would be fine if I refused."

"Ah, reverse psychology and I'm a mighty fine actor, if I don't say so myself."

"You lied!"

Tracy was, any way you sliced it, a woman scorned. She stood aside, offering Chris and Kelly clean and open shots at him. "Hit me!", she yelled at them. Girl Oliver screamed and ran out the open door.

Kelly had done the duty. She explained to Chris that the spell she'd cast would make him looked like a regular guy to any other guy, but a girl to any other girl. An inventive but not horribly punishing spell. Besides, she told Tracy, she'd made it so it would wear off after a month. Just enough to teach him/her not to toy with a woman's emotions. Especially a woman as emotionally fragile as Tracy.

Tracy sat down on the bed next to Kelly and Chris, head drooping, her eyes tearing up. "Men are pigs."

Chris rolled her eyes "And this is something you didn't know? You were, after all, an oinker yourself." Tracy shook her head, "That's it, I'm not getting involved with men anymore. From now on, it's just women."

Chris and Kelly each took a big scoot in the other direction, away from Tracy. Tracy explained herself, "I mean in a benign sense. I just don't feel attached to woman in that way anymore. I don't know. It's weird." Still, the two of them remained a distance away.

Patrick yawned, "Shouldn't we be going? It is a bit after eight. We might not even be able to have breakfast until we land."

"It's ok. We can eat at the Secret Society meeting place."

"It's still an IHOP..hmm, I remember it well. Well, let's get going."

As they packed up their things, Chris noticed that Tracy looked a little distant. She gave her a reassuring hug and pondered something Kelly had said last night and what Gray had told her before.

Kelly wondered why she wasn't screaming about her current state and Gray had said that the loss of your identity is second only to death, trauma-wise. It was just like death, though, she thought to herself. Nothing you can do about it. People don't usually scream about death even though it's something everyone had to face. All you have are phases of acceptance. What were they on? She thought to herself, they weren't even on the scale yet, none of them, come to think of it.

There were just too many things to get past right now. If anything, they were all in denial of the reality of what had happened to them. All of them, even her. But did realizing you were in denial bring you out of it? She shook her head and went back to comfortable denial and forgetting. She told herself that she had stuff to do. She had to get back to Stockdale. She had to get this Selanek business taken care of first.

33

None of them talked much to one another. Kelly read Chris' romance novel while Chris finished her thriller. Patrick was driving and Tracy was left with no one to talk to. The changed Oliver was nowhere to be seen when they left, nor was Simon.

So Tracy used Chris' compact to look at her hair and fix it in places where it needed fixing. Chris looked at her and sighed. Oddly enough, Tracy was probably the only one of them making any advancement in coping with her situation. Maybe she was just flipping out.

Chris decided not to dwell on. But she did anyway. She couldn't help it and that brought her to a rather stunning conclusion. "We're enjoying this."

The Tracy and Kelly looked at her with confusion. She explained, "We're enjoying being girls, that's why we're not panicking. Well, actually enjoying is a bit strong."

Tracy shook her head, "How's that possible?! I'm not enjoying this."

"Oh yeah! Then why are you fixing your hair?"

"No need to look like something the dog dragged in. Besides, I've always been a bit of a perfectionist." Chris nodded, she remembered his meticulously kept beard. "But you're not obsessed with emulating your male self and on looking like a guy. Right now, you're more concerned with looking girlish. You're proud of your looks, to some degree, and you're going with it because it's not something terrible, like being change into a frog or a cat. You're still human and the whole experience is a bit exhilarating. Like walking around in someone else's skin. You get megalomaniacal urges."

Tracy shook her head, "Not that last thing, not me." Kelly nodded faintly, "I do, because of the powers."

"Well Tracy, there's the plus of being around sorcerers and you don't even have to work right now. It's like having a holiday from yourself. From your own, rather bland life."

"My life was fine as it was, bland or not. What about you?"

"I didn't know about the future before. Now I'm with the Secret Society and we're defending the world from dark sorcerers. It's like a fantasy story, except I get to be both the hero and heroine in the story."

"At least you have that luxury. I don't."

"Not yet at least."

Tracy thought about that a second and went back to looking at her hair. Chris decided not to press the issue.


The airport was rather more crowded than it had been when they were there before. Well, rationalized Chris, it was Friday, so you had those weekend travelers. They made sure their luggage was accounted for at baggage check in and waited for their plane in the lobby.

Chris looked casually out the glass window. She noticed a yellow streak moving through the sky. Her heart stopped. A rocket. The streak collided with the earth, sending up immense flames that were enveloped by a debris cloud. "Umm, guys?"

But they already knew. The windows rattled violently, getting the attention of everyone who hadn't noticed up to that point. Screams of terror filled the air. Another yellow streak, this one slowly arcing toward the terminal. Chris backed up unnecessarily. She turned to say something to them then felt a rush of air.

They were outside. She recognized the area, it was home. More than that, it was the right behind the stadium where the inter-dimensional doorway stood. She looked around and discovered the reason that they were suddenly here. Magenta Rose lay collapsed on the ground.

Chris rushed over to her side, checking for a pulse. She could feel a faint one. She held Magenta in her hands. She told her to wake up. But she was unresponsive. She looked at the doorway. She had to get her through it. She entered the code for the IHOP and opened it up.

The others went through the door with them. Patrick helped Chris carry the unconscious Magenta. The IHOP was crowded with people in sorcerer garb milling about. They all gave her space though as she looked around for Tangerine. She called to him by name and he immediately burst through the thick of people and stood by her side.

"Gray has briefed me on most of what's happened. Magenta?"

Tangerine knew that Magenta had helped them to alter history and remove the Siki book from Guy's possession. Tangerine gathered together some of the most wizen sorcerers and they performed what he explained was a stasis incant on Magenta, because she was dying.

"While the two of us may have our differences, Magenta is a noble woman, I acknowledge that. If only we could undo all this, change things. And Gray too, terrible thing. Sounds like psychic lensing, aggressive hostile psychic energy purposely focused through an assisting incantation into weapon that attacks the mind and body. An almost always fatal assault."

Chris had to catch to breath. She asked him about the creature Tracy saw. He nodded briefly, "It all fits in with what Gray thinks is happening. Guy is taking the Earth. Gorfa-Forf as they are called, are the 'cousins', so to speak, of the universe killer which Guy is trying to summon by bring the seven worlds together. Whenever a summoning is close at hand, they show up, for some darn reason."

"Wait, Guy is taking the Earth, how? Why now?"

"I have no idea, by she must have a good reason for why she hadn't yet. She may be getting desperate to bring out the universe killer. Is this Kelly Lendridge?" Chris nodded and Kelly stepped a little closer. "Lovely girl... child you have, Patrick. Gray already told me about her mother. That might have something to do with it."

Patrick smiled faintly, "Yes. That does have something to do with it. Would you like to know why Guyanna, my dear, beloved wife, chose this precise moment to take Earth?"

Everyone backed away from him. Kelly stared at her father, in shock. "She's been displeased with the universe since she was little girl. So long ago, she set out to wipe clean the slate of reality and build a new one in its place. Now she could summon the killer, as she has tried to do a few times and others have done for a limited amount of time, but that's not good enough for her. She wants a new reality made in her image and I will be the one by her side. In precisely one minute, relative time in this universe, she will seize Earth and complete her set. Now I know you're thinking of Corvalis, but she's got a replacement for it, so no big deal. Oh one other thing, she wants a lackey of her's who goes by the name Christine Leyson, trapped in an amulet or something. She wishes to torture her when she is the ruler of her new universe."

Patrick's smile at these words took on a malignancy none of them had ever seen from him before.

It seemed like Tangerine was expecting this and said, "I destroyed the amulet which contained her, she's dead. Saved her the trouble." Chris looked Tangerine nervously in the eye. Looking into his eyes, she had no idea if he was telling the truth, or merely bluffing Patrick. Patrick stared back at him, emotionless. He tilted his head back slightly and pursed his lips while keeping his eyes firmly locked on Tangerine's.

After a moment of silence, he grinned and chuckled, "Give it to me."

Tangerine didn't move. He uttered a haughty chuckle and shook his head, "No matter. Then I supposed she'll have to live with knowing she'll die a terrible death along with the rest of you all. Oh and finally, she'd like to see her daughter, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."

Kelly shook her head. She was looking at the man who'd raised her, her father, the only man she trusted, who was betraying her to her mother. She lifted up her hands and brought them down. A light cut through the ceiling and tore through the air like gossamer, finding its target with ease.

Patrick stumbled backwards, and grinned. He pulled his hand away to show that the places the light had touched had been unaffected. He cackled and beckoned to Kelly. "If you don't come with me now, then I'll have to cause you immense pain. I have the ability. Dark magic flows through me, thanks to Guyanna, that I can command in any way I please."

Chris cast a force field around Patrick. "I have an idea. Splint her now."

Not really an idea, but then now wasn't the time for nitpicking. Patrick began cackling again, stepping right through the barrier of force field as though it didn't exist and imploded through a tear in space. Now no one had seen that come, except for Barbi, who, yet again appeared from just around the corner and pumped his fist. "Score one for the pseudo-good guy!"

Tangerine appeared suspicious of Barbi, "Where did you send him?"

"Well, let's just say its hotels don't have Jacuzzis." He grinned and flashed Chris a confident smile. She turned away. He turned his charm in Kelly's direction, "And who would be this lovely lady?"

"Don't mess with me buster! I'm a guy!" Barbi frowned, "Like her?"

Kelly nodded. Barbi proceeded to, suprisingly, beat his head against the wall. Then he rubbed it a little bit and smiled at Tracy. "And I know you missy. Lovely lady Chris made of you. And I decided to make it a little more permanent."

Tracy lunged at him, "You bastard!" Barbi floated into the air to avoid her, "Did you know you're quite beautiful when you're enraged beyond all logical reason?"

Tracy tried to hop up into the air to grab him, but he floated just out of her reach. "Oh, deary, it's not as though I changed you, Chris did that. I merely made a little adjustment that made things permanent.forever, my dear..so don't worry your pretty little head about things and do try to calm down. You look like you're about to burst a vessel!"

Tracy crumpled. Barbi hovered down a little, "That's much better."

Tracy sobbed into her hands, "I can't live like this..I'm a guy..I'm not meant to be this... I had a life as a guy that I was comfortable in.."

"Ahh, well, tell you what. I did stretch the truth a tad. It's not exactly permanent. But it could be, unless you go on a date with me, now you don't need to put out or anything like that, just a simple, lovely like candlelit dinner, say a week from tomorrow, that's when my calendar's open. What will I offer you for your company is a deal similar to the Selanek one, but it'll go one week as a guy, followed by a girl week, back and forth. You'll end up, as a year goes by, with just a month or so over Chris and Kelly's arrangements. Simple. None of this worry and fretting over conjoinment and buring off girl days. Nope. One week on, one off, easy to remember. As an added plus, you get an altered reality to go with it quite similar to the one you're familiar with. So, do we have deal?"

Tracy thought about it, asked Tangerine if he could change her back, but he couldn't when he attempted it. Since she had no other choice, she accepted Barbi's offer. Immediately, Tracy sprouted outwards, her clothes, thankfully altering with her. Soon she was back to being a he.

Taylor hugged himself and wept. Barbi moved over to Tang. "Feels like Christmas Day and I'm Santa. Guy's replacement world is gone, so Corvalis is her only option. Get over there and stabilize it. Or use the Sheer of Corvalis..notice an odd naming trend with their magical items?..to face Guy in a no holds barred fight for the fate of the Universe... makes me wish they sold tickets to things like that. Oh well."

Barbi waved goodbye to everyone and promptly vanished around a corner. Tangerine sighed to himself, "I thought I'd never see the day that Barbi actually helped the Secret Society." A couple of the other members were similarly flabbergasted.

Taylor walked over to the others and smiled, "All guy again and boy do I love it. How about a kiss for the restored man, ladies?"

And both of them proceeded to slap him on a different side of his face. He clutched his cheeks and stumbled backwards. Chris shook her head. He hadn't changed one bit.

Tangerine gathered together a couple of sorcerers. One, a woman, introduced herself as Avandraina. Tangerine explained to Chris that while only seven Secret Society members sat on the IHOP board, there were about two dozen in total and since Earth, where most of them were from was in danger he'd summoned them all here just in case.

He asked Kelly if she knew about splints. She told them she did and her choices. Tangerine frowned at her Dark Magic choice and told her that she would have to exercise extreme mental discipline at all times because of the overpowering nature of dark magic. She nodded slowly and told him that she would be vigilant at all times.

The sorcerers around Kelly focused, Tangerine asked Chris to come over and assist. Kelly hadn't taken Transformations. But that only meant that she would no longer be able to change people, her ability to shift back and forth between her male form and girl form, nonexistent now, was unrelated to that. She held up her hands moment as the sorcerers were beginning to bow. "Umm, why do I need to be splinted?"

Tangerine frowned, "For one it allows you to switch back and forth between a guy and a girl when you have the ability to. Additionally, we have no idea what would happen if we left you unsplinted."

"Then let me be a test case. Don't splint me. Leave me as I am. I think I can handle the form I'm in. Maybe. Well, let's just see what happens for now. If things go south later on then splint me." Tangerine sighed, but acknowledged she did have a point. "All right, but you have to stay as far away as possible from Guyanna, otherwise she could still swap with you, even though she doesn't have the Siki text, as far as we know."

The room suddenly rattled. "Oh drat!" said Tang as he dropped to the ground and said to the others, "Hit the deck!" The two dozen or so sorcerers fell to the ground, none too soon, as the roof blasted away. Chris looked at the wall and thought she could see grassy hills and forested landscapes with jutting peaks in the distance. She recognized it.

"That's Corvalis!"

Tangerine pounded his fist, "She's trying to reopen it using this universe. She might have the Earth already." He looked over at Chris and Kelly. Taylor appeared flabbergasted, as though he might pull a repeat of this morning at any moment. Chris' heart beat in her chest. The Earth was gone, the world that she knew had been taken, her mother, everyone probably in the quantum buffer now, or whatever it was. How long did they have until the buffer was dumped? She had no idea. The walls burst away from them, revealing the shimmering Corvalis. Tangerine helped them to their feet.

"I suggest that a minimal amount of people go through, myself, Christine, Avandraina and Devers." Taylor agreed with this, but Kelly took objection.

"I have to go. I need to face my mother."

Tangerine foamed at the mouth, "It cannot be risked. You must stay here, not just for your own life, but for the future of the universe.."

"I hardly believe that it's safe for me here. In fact, I expect it to be quite the opposite. I'd be safer with the four of you than here where she probably knows that I am." Tangerine wasn't buckling, but Chris waved him off. "I think she will be safer with us."

He groaned and shook his head in negation. "I cannot allow that."

"Listen, while we're here bickering, Guy is getting that much closer to accomplishing her goal. Take her or do not, then let's go", said Avandraina. She stared into Tangerine's questioning eyes, her own, muddy brown ones unblinking and focused. It took no more to convince him that Kelly was safer with them, even though he probably wished to himself that he had gotten her to agree to a splint.

The five of them locked hands and stepped to the disturbance in the wall simultaneously. Of their number, Kelly appeared to be the most surprised by what had happened and the sudden shift between one environment and the other. Chris thought the clearing they emerged in seemed rather familiar. Perhaps it was close to the beach where she'd first arrived.

"Does time move slower here?"

"It used to, compared to our world when it was latched onto our universe, but since it's been freed time has resumed a more normal relative pace. Still, between the time in took for Gray to free it back on our world, several weeks must have passed."

She wondered momentarily about Grenn. Would they run into him? Well, yes they would, it turned out. Because a man riding blindfolded on a white horse approached them and dismounted.

He smiled, "Are you travelers from afar?"

Tangerine answered, "You could say that. We've come to save Corvalis from destruction."

"And who would be this destructor?" Chris couldn't understand why the blindfold was still on his eyes.

"A powerful sorceress, the one who leveled Molehill."

"I know of her."

"The sorceress who defeated her is among our number." Grenn brightened at this and moved a few steps closer. "Madame Sorcerer Wren?"

"I'm here Grenn." He walked in the direction of her voice and wrapped his arms around her tenderly. Kelly grinned slightly. Chris reached out to touch his blindfold.

For the first time in the all the time that she'd known him, he shied away when her hands made contact with the cloth.

"What's wrong?"

Grenn walked away from her, disturbed and panting, "Why are you here?"

"The sorceress, Guyanna, who leveled Molehill is trying to take this continent again. So what are we doing here anyway, Tangerine, how can we stop this?"

Tangerine looked at the hills in the distance and told her, "The Kaveran."

Grenn jerked up, "Why do you seek them?"

"They possess the only way we have of getting to where Guyanna is."

"The Sheer?"

What Barbi had said. Tangerine cleared things up for her, "The Sheer, is a transparent cloth with can take anyone who steps through it to any place in all of reality that they seek to go. With it we'll be able to get to Guyanna and, hopefully, have the element of surprise working for us by dropping in on her. Besides, what other choice do we have? If we don't go and at least confront her, then she'll summon the universe killer and destroy everything."

"I doubt very much though that Kaveran will allow you and your party easy access to the Sheer."

Tangerine shrugged, "Then I suppose we'll have to convince them that it's in their best interests, especially since this continent is her next target."

"Then we better get going." Grenn carefully got on Endelton and led them through a rather sparse section of forest. Devers walked up beside Grenn, "Do you have a, how do I say this..familiarity with Christine?" Chris growled and pushed Devers forcibly to the ground. He glared up at her, "Just curious."

Chris opened her mouth to say something back but Tangerine told her to keep her mind on what was important, saving the universe. Yeah, best to keep your mind on the critical issues..still she couldn't help but glare at Devers and loath him, nearly as much as she loathed Taylor, even though he hadn't done much against her. In fact he even helped her along when she had that injury yesterday. So what did she have to be angry with him about.

She walked up to him and padded him on the shoulder, "Sorry about that. It was just a reflex."

"Some reflex. You're a stalwart little lady, Christine, same goes for your amiga."

Kelly added him to her stare list as well. Devers straightened his trench coat, tossed his head up and smirked, "You know Christine, you're a rather nice girl..now no need to go on with the whole, 'not-really' bit, I know. I saw you as a chap. But I must say at times you do things that are rather unkind. I'm not gonna hold that against you though. I just want you to know that you're adjusting better than I ever expected you would. By this time I thought you'd be cavorting insanely into a pot of black coffee while you wrestled with sleepless nights and watched hallucinations of flying rabbits spin around the room. I know, from personal experience, that changes can be quite traumatizing."

"Huh?" He'd lost her at cavorting.

He wrapped his arms around her and planted a wet one on her. "A spent five weeks as toddler. By the fourth week, I was darn near loony."

Christine looked lazily into his eyes, pursed her lips unconsciously and shook her head. She followed this bit with a funny grimace. "You kissed me."

"Oh dear, I guess I did. Let me reassure you though that I do not have any venereal diseases. You may not even get a hickey."

"You kissed me." She spoke a little louder this time. The others were passing by. Grenn didn't react at all to this current development. He just led them through the forest. And Devers led her by the hand. "No need to go 'broken record' about it. Was I your first kiss?"

She shook her head and muttered, "No."

"So what's the big deal?"

"I had some weird dreams about you the other day." Devers nodded slowly.

"That explains your queasiness when you're around me. You feel embarrassed about those dreams you've had. Were they rather explicit?"

"No", she said firmly. He believed her and asked, "Did you kiss me in it?"

She nodded quickly.

"In both of them."

"Oh my, I'm rather popular in your dreams."

"Please shut up."

"Oh now don't be bitter. It doesn't suit you."

Chris pushed him away, "Hey, you jerk! I'll decided what suits me and what doesn't and I have absolutely no physical attraction to you or any other man!" She slapped him harder than she'd slapped anybody before, even Tangerine. Devers fell backwards and smashed his head against the tree. She looked down at him angrily and waited for him to get up. When she didn't, she turned him around and looked down. She suppressed a scream and crouched beside him. She checked for breathing. That was fine, but his head was slowly oozing blood. She tried to pick him up, but strained herself in doing this and fell backwards.

She was able to avoid the same as Devers by stretching out her hand to stop her fall. At first, she reached out her fingers, but the scratching tore at her nail roots, so she pressed her hand against the rough bark. A blistering pain shot through her hand. She was able to stop her fall, but at what price? She could scarcely move it without receiving a jolt. The flesh on her palm was curled back in places, revealing the red, raw dermal layers beneath. Blood dribbled down her fingertips or at least it should have been blood. But the yellow, shimmering fluid that slowly flowed down her hand was not blood in the normal sense. In fact, it bore a closer resemblance to molten gold. She knew what it was from Christof's story. It was the blood of a Selanek approaching emergence. She hadn't told Tangerine about the return of her thought-casting at times. That was because she knew exactly what he would say about it. He'd say she was becoming a Selanek, just as things were supposed to be.

But she wanted to live! She didn't want to be the damn restorer of the world! She just wanted to a normal person again with normal person problems, normal hopes, normal fears, and normal expectations. And a normal, natural lifespan.

"What's wrong?" She looked up. Kelly stood a few feet away, looking down at her. Chris showed her hand and its golden blemish. She shut her eyes and hoped with all her heart that Tangerine couldn't see, wouldn't see. But he closely followed Kelly. He gasped, "The fifth sign."

"SHUT UP!" Roared Chris from the depths of her chest in a voice that nearly carried to the far away hills. "I'm sick and tired of it. All of it! I quit! I'm staying here. I'm not fighting Guyanna. I can't fight her! You go on without me! I've paid my dues! I saved the world twice. I nearly got killed more times than I can count and I'm not gonna be your stupid sacrificial lamb! I give..UP!"

Tangerine took in a slight breath, tilted his head back and nodded, "Ok."

She jerked up and stared at him, "Huh?"

"Stay here then, we'll go on without you if you'd rather not go. But remember this. What we do, we do not only for those living and as yet unborn, but we do for our own survival as well. Crazed sorcerers like Guyanna cannot be allowed to follow through with their madness. And she is not even the worst foe out there. But she has ideas of ambitious destruction. She's willing to annihilate everything to build a universe in her own image. She seeks godhood. That cannot be allowed. I'm sorry if it means you have to do things that put your life in jeopardy. I can't change that. Whenever I go out, I have no idea if I'll come back alive. But I hope and pray each time that I'll be protected. None of us can do any more than that. We fight the good fight and hope we can overcome evil. And some of us have been fighting for a long time."

Chris leaned against the tree, "But you're not facing what I'm facing."

"And what exactly are you facing?"

"You know what I mean! I might be a Selanek and that means I'm going to die in a year."

Tangerine smiled, "It also means that you'll be struck down and rise back up the most powerful sorcerer this universe has ever seen."

"I don't want to be in the history books. I just wanta be normal again."

Tangerine crouched beside her, "That may not be possible, but then, what will you do with normal?"

"I don't understand.."

Tangerine gestured with his hands, "Let me put like this..if you were still Chris Wren, an average chap, what would you do with that? I suspect you'd strive for something greater than just average, am I right?"

She stood up and glared at him, "No, I'd only want happiness, which I can never have now."

She pushed him aside and walked through the forest in the direction of the others. Tangerine admitted that she had a point. Happiness did supersede grandeur and fame. Could she find happiness as she was? He didn't know.

Kelly and Tangerine helped the groggy Devers to his feet and rejoined the others.

34

"I'm not going to leave you alone until you explain that blindfold." Grenn looked over at Chris. "You don't want to know."

"Yes I do. Because I have an idea of what it is that you're covering up."

Grenn turned away again and asked rather quietly, "And what is that?"

"You gouged out your eyes." She said it simply, with no emotion. Avandraina flinched and look up at him. Kelly appeared unprepared for these words. Devers flinched due the pain of his injury and waited for Kelly to use a curative on the oozing gash in his forehead. Tangerine was the only one present besides Chris who seemed didn't seem surprised by this development.

Grenn signed again when she said this, "You're right."

"Why?" He stopped Endelton, "Because if I can't see you, then what's the point of seeing at all." Tangerine blinked at couple of times, "Dear me, he's really enamored by you, Christine."

"Ok. I'm here now. Allow me to restore your eyesight."

"Glories upon the heavens! The lady of my heart is to be the one to bring sight to me again. How poetic it is! I only wish that your face be the first thing I see when I open my eyes again." Chris agreed to this and tapped his forehead. She took off his blindfold. His eyes were sealed, but restored. He looked straight at her.

"I do say that you've grown lovelier since last we were together." Chris smirked nervously and nodded, "Ok, fine. But the Kaveran."

"Oh yes, about a mile from here. Anyone need to stop and rest for a while?" No one had to, but Kelly wanted to ride Endelton. Grenn's reaction to Kelly was much like his reaction to Christine before. Natural attraction, but nothing close to what she received. He inquired her as to her association with Chris.

"I'm a friend and a Selanek, like her."

"Selanek?"

Chris had forgotten that Grenn no knowledge of Selaneks. She filled him in as they walked. He seemed worried about the whole dying in one-year part. But then, so was Chris.


The village they finally came to was desolate and decaying. There were few signs of recent habitation. Tangerine explored a little, trying to find the Sheer, but with no success. They seemed ready to give up when the door to one of the huts, made of birch like the rest of the construction, opened. A teenage boy, who seemed a few years younger than Chris stepped forward. He wore a glossy, indigo robe with a feathered headpiece. He leaned his head to one side and asked them, "What brings you to the Kaveran?"

Chris approached him and immediately, the teenage boy's form shifted to one more like a blend of hers and his, with hers dominant. She smiled up at Chris, "Do no be alarmed. I am an empathic. I mimic the form of the being that is addressing me. Please, tell me what you and these others seek."

Chris, still rather unnerved by the empathic, asked a few questions that she knew were probably on Tangerine's mind as well, "Where is everyone else? Are you the only one here? How come everything looks so deteriorated?"

The empathic's form shifted slightly again and now she looked undeniably like Chris. No mixing of the two anymore. The empathic took a breath and responded, "The Kaveran, long fearful of an apocalypse since the fragmentation of Tristainia, used the Sheer nearly a decade ago to escape their dying world."

Chris realized that was probably warped time, maybe a day or two Earth time. As well, she figured Tristainia was the name for the planet Corvalis used to be a part of.

"Then why are you still here?"

"I am the history-keeper for the Kaveran people, as well as the caretaker of the Sheer."

Tangerine stepped forward since Chris was taking a while. It took a moment for the empathic to shift over to his form. "Umm, sorry about being blunt about this, but we need to use the Sheer. It's an issue of life and death. The once who fragmented Tristainia is attempting to annihilate all of reality."

The empathic shut his eyes and, Chris could only assume, given his name, listened to their minds. After a moment of this, he seemed satisfied. "You speak truthfully. I will assist you in any way that I can."


The empathic led them to a small pool of water a little ways away from the village. He reached into the pool and pulled out a sheet of transparent material. It looked rather like plastic wrap, but thinner.

He shook it once and the material lingered in the air, stretching out until it covered an eight-foot by eight-foot area. The empathic instructed Chris to reach out and touch the material, then state her destination and temporal position. As well, since there were five of them, she would have to also state such.

She opened her mouth to speak when Grenn hopped off Endelton and told her he was coming too.

She tried to object, but he would have none of that. "I can't bear the thought of losing you again. My heart would just break. I must assist in any way I can."

Reluctantly, she let him come. Tangerine suggested, "The throne room, the Guy family tower, Lucet City, Dervin, in the Present. " Chris had question about this. Why go to the present if they could go back a little and prevent the Earth from being taken. He considered this and agreed on one hour previous to now. She touched the Sheer, said all this and gave the travelers number as six.

The Sheer vibrated vigorously and displayed a horribly dystopian landscape, a planet dark as burned charcoal orbiting around a blood red sun. Swooping in closer, she realized Dervin had changed quite a bit since she'd last been to it in the past.

No streets, as far as she could see. No large bodies of water existed on the planet. Probably all collected in the storm clouds that were present in every section of the zoom in. Immense towers dotted the landscape, as well as burning ruins in the areas they shadowed. The image focused on a single tower. The image flew through a gothic-styled window, one of many. The hall seemed more like a nerve cells network rather than a passageway. Another odd thing. The hallway seemed wider than it was tall and it was only about four feet tall.

Soon though it widened into a grand room with slimy, curved columns upon which were balanced six worlds, one of them incomplete. A beast rested in the leaf- shaped throne high above the floor, nearly as tall as the columns. Chris could only assume this was Guyanna's true form. It reminded her of an amoeba, of all things, and had what appeared to be flagella all along its skin. It also had the appearance of a wolf spider and with a crab-like exoskeleton in places decorated with gooey growths on its..shoulders? She took a deep breath and walked through the Sheer, figuring it would be absolute hell on the other side. And she was right.

35

The air felt like flames against her skin and nearly scorched her lungs as she tried to breathe it in. The beast sitting above them roared with fury.

"Guyanna, dear. Who does your vegros? They're so..springy!" Barbi, who'd suddenly appeared, grinned a bit at Chris and walked over to the throne. "Now, Guyanna, lovely, don't you have a little something that belongs to me."

Guyanna shook her head. Barbi showed his teeth slightly, "Oh, come on now, you remember..back at the hospital..a little package of mine in a silk baggie."

The beast refused to acknowledge him. Barbi growled and stepped back. "I'm with them then! We'll fight you to the death or at least until you give me... my item back." Guyanna got to her feet and shift to her human form. "You should have known better than to flaunt such a priceless pair."

Barbi grimaced, "Can I please have them back?"

"I incinerated them."

"Come on, you're not the type, besides..umm, I'd know if you did."

Guyanna cackled, "Well done, my friend. Yes, your item is safe, but only if you leave now.." Barbi vanished.

She cackled some more. "Some friend you have there."

Raising her hands, the ceiling glowed and a fissure appeared in it. Through that fissure emerged a planet, the Earth.

"Your world, my dear friends. Your world. And now you all are the last of your species, for the time being. Ahh, Kelly, darling, come to me."

Kelly backed away. Guyanna intoned, "Meot abbe dorno seti ati allvi corsibli.."

Chris kicked Kelly, sending her to the floor, but she'd already been captured by Guyanna's Siki spell. Kelly slowly got to her feet and addressed Guy, "Yes, mistress."

"Walk toward me, child."

Kelly plodded mechanically to the foot of the throne and up a set of steps that suddenly appeared. The Earth gradually reduced in size, still hovering just below the ceiling.

Chris tried to walk forward, but found her feet cemented to the floor. The same happened to the others. Grenn pulled out a dagger and tried to wedge it between their shoes and the floor. But the two were too tightly bonded.

Tangerine tried to a solvent incant while Avadraina made it rain. Nothing seemed to work and Kelly was getting ever closer to Guy. Chris had to distract her, "So how'd you figure out the spell, Guy?!"

Guy glared at her for using her proper name, the one she loathed. "You really should take more care with your possessions, Christine. Just leaving them around, it's easy for anyone to take them." Chris remembered. She'd left the Siki books in her house. Oh why oh why had she done that? Magenta should have known better too.

At least she still had the dragon pendant. She slipped it around her neck. Guyanna gasped and uttered a guttural growl. "Give it to me."

Chris shook her head and wondered about the powers of the pendant. She tried to walk and felt the adhesive on her shoes dissolve. She touched the others on the shoulder and the adhesive on their shoes vanished away too. She then turned her attention to Guyanna, who now had her arms around Kelly. "It's too late."

Chris leapt into the air at Guy, floating toward her. She kicked her and sent her spinning back against her throne seat. A slight tap on Kelly's shoulder brought her back. Guy took a deep breath and got to her feet. She raised her hands and prepared to incant a Siki death spell but Chris lunged at her, using an electrical attack. She punched, kicked and shocked her.

Guy defended with a bubble shield and launched fire at her. Chris side-stepped and told Kelly to run, but she wasn't listening. Guy used a vortex spell which Chris deflected against the wall. The chamber vibrated violently. The Earth, finally the same size as the other collected worlds, shifted towards the only open pedestal. Kelly told her she would hold off Guyanna. Chris hovered into the air and over to the Earth. Guyanna ignored Kelly's attacks and went after Chris.

With Guy lashing at her feet with astral attacks, Chris spun and climbed through the air toward the pedestal. She forced the Earth to one side, one of line with the column. The planet hung motionless, then corrected its displacement. Chris tried to clutch it, but the field encompassing it was too much even for her pendant-enhanced abilities.

Avadraina hovered up among the two of them, wrapped her arms around Guy, and sent voltage through them. A figure wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Speedos, sandals and a pair of Ray-Bans walked around slowly, "Dude, cous' what did you do to your place? You need to call an interior decorator and quick!"

Evil lifted his sunglasses, "Whoa, what a hot chick!" He peered at Kelly. He grinned, "My name's Evil, but you can call me Larry."

Kelly appeared nonplused by this fellow, "Umm, Kelly Lendridge."

Evil's eyes widened, "Hey cous' is this your daughter or something like that? She's a major babe! I was just hanging out in Huntington Beach, man is that a rockin' place, and suddenly the whole world up and vanished. Anyway, I gotta say she bests all the chicks I saw. Not to say they were ugly or something like this, but she puts them in a whole new category. Hey, there's that the other major babe! Yo Christine Wren! I even remembered your name. Cool. So what's up?"

"Your cousin is about to destroy reality!"

"No way! I've been kinda thinking of doing that, but it's been like a moral kinda choice, you know, thinking, man this place could use a whole lot more chicks. Only fifty- fifty now. Maybe more like 90-10 just so I've got some fellow dudes to hang out with and stuff. Make a whole bunch of worlds like that. But as I said, it's been like a moral thing I've been wrestling with. Get more babes but lose the ones there are now. So I put it off for a while and stuff. But you're gonna go through with it, cous'? Why?"

"Because, you dunderhead, the world is imperfect and when it is gone I'll be able to create a new one in my own image!"

"Shit, cous', you're turning into one of those flipped out extremist types. Well, I've got to go, just got word that Tigus has some really gnarly waves 'cause of it's got eight moons. See you dudes later! Oh, major babes, rock on!.cool, you know, uh, Kelly, awesome name. But your threads are kinda drab. Want me to spiffy them up?"

Kelly shook her head, "No, I'm fine with them."

"That's cool. Hang tight. Later."

Evil spun up a little whirlwind and vanished. The Earth settled on its pedestal. Since Evil's appearance had distracted Guy, Chris used this time to try every incant and idea that she could think of to prevent the world from getting to the column. Even when it was in place, she tried her best to get it off there, but even with the pendant working for her she had no success.

She should have at least some success! Guy was worried enough to go after her when she tried to halt its advance. Maybe she had to destroy it. But then she couldn't do that. Maybe one of the others. But what about the people of that world. Their buffer had probably been dumped. She focused on moving one of the other worlds, also to no avail. Guy wrapped around her after breaking from Avadraina's electrical clutches. "You can't win, my dear. If I can't have unlimited powers from Kelly, then I'll have to find some other way of enduring the rebirth of the universe. While you'll die." She cackled and released her. She brought down her hands, "Now, the alignment is perfect."

The fissure in the ceiling opened again. Through it descended a section of land.

Corvalis.

The last part required to summon the universe killer. Chris flung herself at the continent, intent on shattering it. Guy reverted to her beastly form and wrapped her flagella around Chris her fangs ready to consume her. The building shook with raw energy. Kelly launched death attacks at her mother that Guy barely avoided. Avadraina, weakened by Guy's counterattack to her electric hold, attempted a whirlwind spell. Tangerine worked on weakening the columns. Grenn used his dagger on them as well when Tangerine's attempts didn't seem to be working. Devers, still a bit groggy, summoned terror sprites.

Corvalis began shrinking. Devers raised his arms together high and threw an energy ball at the continent. Guy moved between it and Devers and neutralized it. Chris used this distraction to slip from her clutches. She cast a fire spell on her. Guy's back burned for a couple of seconds, incinerating a few flagella, and prompting a high-pitched screech from her mouth. Kelly came around as Guy moved to return Chris' attack. She used a frost spell on her mother.

Guy's flagella froze and chipped off. She flailed about and used a blast wave that knocked everyone to the ground and nullified Chris' flight ability. She tumbled end over end to the floor, where Grenn grabbed her in his arms, sending both of them to the ground. The worst of the impact hit Grenn. He cringed and got her to her feet while he had a little trouble getting up. Might have broken his coccyx.

Chris gave him a magical pain killer spell and he thanked her for it. Kelly smashed against the opposite end of the room, hitting against one of the worlds. It shook vigorously and she quivered, the field surrounding and protecting it coursing painfully through her body.

Chris hovered over to her and used another curative to heal her. The room rumbled. Guy cackled, "It's in place!"

She stared in horror at the restored Tristainia. She lowered herself to the ground with Kelly, who was unconscious. Guy cackled continuously and settled back on her throne. "Now the end begins!"

The worlds lifted off their pedestals and began turning in a clockwise direction. Tangerine tried incanting energy at them to disrupt the process, but nothing seemed to work. They spun faster and faster, the space around them warping. The growing tear lensed toward the center of the ceiling. The tear illuminated as it grew. Then they heard the sound of the killer. Like billowing stream through a narrow pipe. Inhale and then out. An appendage reached through and widened the tear. Its tapered head pushed through the fissure. Whole sections collapsed in its grip, some falling near the six of them.

"It looks like a drakolo..." muttered Grenn. Then the rest of it came through transparent appendages stemming from its neck completed the body of the monster. One reacted out to touched an unaffected piece of wall. When it pulled away, not only had the section vanished but void occupied the space left behind, an impermeable, impossible space that defied all logical physics. It grumbled and looked straight at Guy, who folded her arms and said confidently, "Universe Killer, I am master. I brought you out of limbo and into reality. You shall obey my every command."

The killer looked lazily at her and turned its attention to scanning the wall and seeking out the best sections. "Bow to me, Killer. Swear loyalty to me."

The Killer snorted and glared at her with an annoyed look. It examined her throne and absorbed a couple of steps. She shot electricity at it and it looked at her. It hovered closer, inspecting her. Patrick emerged through another fissure, rather disheveled. He looked up, screamed and ran back through the fissure.

"Damn coward", yelled Guyanna as the Killer advanced upon her. She used a blinding attack that made it pause a moment, but just a moment, then it hit her with an appendage, sending her spinning against her throne. She turned and a black void filled the place where half her face had been. She panted and shifted her hands. She vanished with a whirlwind. The Killer plunged its appendage through the throne, intent on eliminating this annoying creature. It grabbed hold of the fluctuation and tugged Guy back through the distortion, making two halves of the suffering Guyanna. She shrieked like a high- pitched birdcall and vanished into the Killer's transparent section. They could see her faint outline but it quickly dissolved away, leaving only blackness behind.

The Killer moaned a moment, then examined the six of them. Chris took a deep breath and walked away from the others. This was her fight. Grenn tried to call her back, but she would have none of that. She couldn't let this monster continue to exist, even if it meant her life.

Kelly opened her eyes and asked what happened to Guy. When Tangerine told her she stumbled backwards. Rage welled up inside of her, "You fucking piece of shit! You crawl back up whatever goddamn hole you came from." She launched an astral at the Killer that just about fractured the very walls around them. Her pure, mad rage hit the Killer blow after blow. Fire, lightning, death spells, they all wove together into a maelstrom of hatred. Finally, she turned to a dark spell that Chris recognized immediately. The demon spell, was the best name she could come up with to describe it.

The evil spirit, taller than the Killer by more than a half, cracked portions of the ceiling and wrapped its claws around it. The Killer appeared unaffected by all this and lashed its appendages into the demon, consuming it after a minute's effort. Kelly panted rapidly and upon seeing this, collapsed.

The Killer returned its attention to Chris and seemed intrigued by her. She walked closer. It cocked its head and gave her a critical look. It edged closer. She laid her palm out and said, "Did you know you're going to die and that I'm going to kill you?" The Killer lowered its head, almost as though it was acknowledging her words. "But you have to kill me first."

And the Killer did. It hit her with an appendage, voiding a section of her stomach that almost reached to her spinal column. She rolled on the floor, lifeless. Tangerine looked down at her, wide-open eyes and covered his mouth with his hand. The Killer cocked its head again and stared at him. Using its appendages, it reached down to consume Chris, but Chris lashed out first. The Killer stared at her, shocked. Chris, covering by an aura as bright as a desk lamp, reached into its stomach and pulled out an organ. The Killer writhed around it pain and hover upwards. She spread her arms and a gleaming light projected from her fingertips. The Killer squealed in pain and rose into the air. The worlds spun fast and the fissure expanded. The light enveloped its slender head and split it open like a smashed watermelon.

The Killer immediately stopped fighting and went through the fissure, back to the place where it had come from. Chris' aura faded and she took a deep sigh. She tried to turn and look at the others but she collapsed from exhaustion before she was able to finish turning.

36

Chris awoke a great deal later. Her joints ached, her feet arched, her eyes ached. Everything she had ached. She got to her knees and looked around. The meeting room of the IHOP. That could only be a good sign, she hoped. She leaned back against the stucco wall and muttered a quick 'oww' when she made contact, then a 'fhhh' when the reactionary wave of pain hit. Now don't take that the wrong way, I'm not saying that the pain was conservative or that it's gonna give George W. a run for his money. Although some pain on Plavis Island can get rather right-wing without warning.

The door swung open and Tangerine stepped through. "Ahh, you're conscious. Wonderful."

Chris sighed, "I'm a Selanek..right?"

"It sure looks that way. All the criteria fit. There's no other explanation."

"Is there any way to un-be a Selanek?"

"Yes, just the one you've been told though. Trios. But let's set that aside for right now. There's plenty of time. Really Bad Guy is defeated, the Universe Killer has been killed and the Earth has a protector in you."

"What about the damage done in Salem? What about Gray? What about Kelly? What about Magenta? Taylor? Barbi?"

Barbi appeared in one corner, "You called?"

"The thing you used on Patrick Lendridge didn't work", responded Tang.

"Darn! So what happened with the whole showdown? Give me the details. Don't omit any of the gore."

Tangerine shook his head, "What do you want?"

"Miss Guy had an item of mine that I hold quite close to me."

"She had your testes?"

Barbi jerked up and said 'shhhhh', "Man, the whole world will know I can't have kids if you say that again!"

Tangerine cupped his mouth to shout, but held back at the last moment. Barbi sighed, "I suppose I'll have to get a replacement pair. I think the Dorazni Swap Meet has some. Don't they?"

"What are you gonna swap with?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe my pancreas..oh wait, I don't have one.well, I'll think of something." With that, he vanished. "Kinda odd he didn't appear and disappear around a corner", muttered Chris. "Well there aren't any corners around here."

"True."

Tangerine cleared his throat, "Well, that gets Barbi out of the way. Let's see, Taylor hanging around, pestering Kelly who is not really in the mood for such things. She turned him into a tomcat for a while but he was even more of a pain as that. She's been taking the death of her mother rather tough. Even though she was a wicked sorceress, she was still her mother and she hadn't seen her for several years and she scarcely remembered her. Sure she hated her, but she wanted to have a mother even if she was insane and power hungry. Now she doesn't have one any more. And it's difficult for her to accept that. The mother she's been angry at all her life for deserting her is dead and... well, it'll take time for her to come to grips with that. Which is why she'll be needing you more than ever."

Chris hung her head, "Everyone seems to need me, the world, Kelly, the Secret Society. Why? I don't want to be needed. I just want to be a regular guy living a regular life. Is that too much to ask?"

"I'm sorry.."

"No, it's not your fault. It's Johnson's. And it's mine."

Tangerine lowered his head in respect and continued, "And Magenta's dying. Looks like it's been that way for quite some time. She just picked the way she wanted to go." Chris took this in emotionlessly.

"We put Gray in a fist-size crystal. I know that sounds futile, but there is hope. We have to find Patrick to be able to undo what he did. It won't bring his body back, but..well, it's rather complicated..it'll make things better."

Chris accepted this, despite the vagueness of his statement. "Grenn returned through the doorway to..Tristainia, I guess it is now. I asked him if he wanted to stay until you woke up, but he was quite persistent about leaving. He wrote you a note though."

He handed her a folded slip of paper. She laid it beside her and asked, "How is Tristainia?"

Tangerine frowned. "Unfortunately, it's been too long since its buffer got dumped so all the lands aside from Corvalis are devoid of human life as are the other five worlds."

"Salem?"

"Salem is an incident that will be in all tommorrow's papers, except for the missile attacks. We were able to prevent that by going back an hour when we went to Dervin."

"What about Dervin?"

"Probably still a mortal hell."

"How are the others?"

He ticked off on his hand. "I'm peachy, Avadraina's a little bruised, but okay. Same goes so Devers, his scar is all fixed up and he sends his sincere apologies about his actions back on Corvalis." Chris smiled faintly. "So now what?"

"I don't know..I really don't know. You're Selanek, the sky is no longer a limit, it's a stepping stone to infinity... now I know that sounds like a mixed metaphor, but it's the most interesting mixed metaphor I could come up with."

"How's Gray doing?"

"Oh as annoying as ever, even though he's just a talking crystal."

"You didn't tell me the crystal allowed him to speak."

"It does..and he sure gives you an ear full *chuckle*."

They looked at one another a moment. "We were thinking of ordering up a short stack, you know, tradition. How about you?"

"I'll be fine, just bring me a glass of water please." Tangerine nodded, "All right, are you sure you're okay?"

She folded her hands and nodded. He returned the nod and walked off to go get a glass of water for her. She leaned back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling.

A Selanek.

Where did she go from here? Accept it and help the world or reject the whole thing and seek out a 'cure'? She'd take things slow and hope things worked out. A year is a long time, after all. But not that long, she realized. Tangerine returned with a glass of water, half-full. Or is it half-empty? She preferred half-full.

He asked her again if she was all right and she gave him the same answer. When he was gone, she read the note from Grenn. It was only about half a page long, written in lovely script.


"Dear Love of My Heart and Soul. O how I felt enraptured by your return. I'll love you forever. But with the restoration of Tristainia a great duty falls on me. For the longest time, I have kept a secret from you. I am not a hero for hire, but rather the eldest son of King William Grenn of Hyrusia just north of Corvalis. Many years ago when my homeland was suddenly taken by this Guyanna, I was visiting an outpost just inside Corvalis. I saw the land vanish as I looked. Several others nearby saw it as well, but didn't seem to have the same reaction I did. I knew then that I was different. Remember my dream, well that was not a lie. I apologize for having deceived you. Things will probably be highly unstable back home but I feel I am finally prepared. It will be much the same for you, I have heard from your friends, but do not let that get you down. Always stay true to yourself and know who you are. I give you my love and hope that one day we will be together again. A Sea of Love, Prince Julian Bartholomew Grenn."


She resealed it and set it aside. For a moment, she imagined herself his queen. Perhaps in another life, one without restrictions. It all seemed like a fairy tale, but maybe that's what it was. Maybe life was not a bleak and terrifying reality filled with death and hate and destruction and worries but rather a fairy tale filled with Prince-Charmings and happily ever after and magic and hope. But she knew that wasn't the world she lived in.

She looked at the glass in her hand, the one half-full, and smiled. She tossed it against the wall and it shattered into a dozen pieces. Then she lifted her head. She thought-cast.

Back

The water oozed back into the fragments of glass, sucking the pieces into one, repaired container. Then it hovered through the air, sailing into her hand. Tangerine rushed in and asked what happened. She smiled broadly and said, "Nothing, I'm just fine."

He looked around a little and sighed, closing the door behind him.

It may not be the world she lived in, but that didn't mean things had to stay that way.


The End

* * *



Well, that sure was a monster of a story. This completes the First Quartet, as I call it. I know this particular section was rather coherent compared with the others..sorry about that. *smirk* Now I think I'll rest for a while. Expect Episode 5 sometime in January, which will be the first story of the Second Quartet. There'll, hopefully, be a Third too, and a conclusion story to wrap it all up. As well, be on lookout for a Secret Society-type sci-fi story entitled "Out of Contact" which will do to sci-fi what Secret Society did to fantasy. Due out shortly before Episode 5. And now for something complete different.

Post-Story Unused Scenes and Outtakes

The ones with *'s I actually considered using and the rest were just defunct plot ideas

SPOILERS WARNING!

* Prolog: "Long ago, a group of sorcerers and regular people came together to prevent evil from destroying the universe. Needless to say, they succeeded. They are known as the Secret Society. But their job is not done yet. Evil still exists and his older cousin has a plan that could destroy reality as we know it. And really ruin our afternoon as well." * Alternate Scene: Gray plays an imaginary basketball game with the wadded up, unimportant mail before reading Lendridge's letter.

* Gray phones Tangerine to tell him about Lendridge's letter. Tangerine's talking cat Melvin picks it up and tells him that Tangerine is in the swimming pool-size Jacuzzi out back and that he'll be out in a minute. Gray, obviously jealous, says he'll hold.

Chris has a rather odd, yet stimulating conversation in a previous dream with a backwards-talking tortoise who graduated from Harvard with high honors.

* The bizarre lead up to the beginning of Chapter 2. Devers runs into Chris' mailbox and she accidentally takes a woman's libido pill.

* Kevin's "Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me" pillow grows bright red, curly hair and sharp teeth but reverts back when Chris wakes up all of a sudden from her second nightmare.

* Gray, before Tangerine arrives, looks about nervously, checks to see no one is watching and takes a single sip of a Pepsi! He then tosses it out and resumes drinking his usual Spite.

* Chris opens the door in her second dream and it's a wand salesman. She closes the door in his face, and then Devers knocks. Alternate scene: Devers steps in and does a music dance act instead of just talking, immediately sealing the fact that it's a dream so Chris goes to sleep in her dream, forcing herself to wake up in the real world.

* Alternate scene: Judy Wren finds her son/daughter kissing Devers in Chris' dream and completely ignores what they're doing, telling them about her day so far and complaining about the lines at supermarkets. She then offhandedly comments, "Oh yeah, there are some condoms in the medicine drawer. And do be dears and clean up afterwards. Well, I must be off. So long." Then she leaves.

Alternate Scene: When Chris is running, she collides with someone who turns out to be a truant office. She yelps and quickly turns him into a frog. The officer cites her for being out of school and then hops away.

* Alternate Scene: Devers tells Chris about his painful childhood memories of the planet Rek-tum. She giggles all throughout this touching scene as he mentions Suppozitory Hill and The King of the Crack competition.

* Alternate scene: Chris kicks Devers in the crotch when he grabs her injured leg, adding to the eventually enormous number of shots to the groin.

* The sub-story of the society of ants which is entering a golden age because of the graham cracker door.

Flashback of the rent-a-room party that Chris' counterpart refers to.

* Alternate scene: Chris searches under the couch for the place that the mirror came from and finds a trapdoor leading to a mysterious underworld filled with short, green skinned fellas in pinks suits and top hats like the one she saw in Corvalis who make mirrors.

Alternate scene: Male Chris talks about not being able to dream and imagining what it would be like if he could.

* Alternate scene: A helium balloon pops out of Chris' mouth and her voice lowers to a male tone.

* Alternate scene: Both Chrises try to stand against the wall to try and touch their toes and they both fall flat on their faces at the same time.

* Alternate scene: The ants around the door put up a defensive barrier to prevent Chris from leaving, but she just steps over it without any trouble.

Alternate scene: Gray and Tangerine file a missing person's report. "The person's name?" "Christine Wren..right now, at least." "What do you mean?" "Well, she shifts between female and male, three days as a girl, then four as a guy." "Transvestite?" "God no! Magic." "Riiight, have either of you had your heads examined lately?"

* Alternate scene: Ronald Bernson pins Chris to the floor of the bus and begins making passionate love to her.

* Alternate scene: Two kids ask Chris about Dragonball Z and she tells them about it. The mother likes how well Chris gets along with the two of them and she asks her if she could babysit next week. * Alternate scene: Chris asks Bernson why he's so nervous around her. She, after all, is "just a girl." He tells her that he has extreme gynophobia. (Side note: I wrote quite a bit leading up to this, which is why it works in the story without creating inconsistencies, but then changed my mind at the last moment)

Alternate scene: Chris straightens her Goku shirt and Bernson reaches over and touches Goku's hair, which, by coincidence, is where her nipple is. He jumps back a little and apologizes repeatedly.

After Chris gets off, Ronald Bernson pulls out his diary and begins writing a love sonnet about Chris (We might hear about this in Episode 5. I haven't decided yet.)

A kid falls into the marble fountain in front of the mall and comes out a girl.

Alternate scene: Chris buys a leather body suit from the clothing store as well. (Aside from the strangeness of this choice, the money problem also figured in)

* Alternate scene: Chris tries to sell the anime drawing of her to the guy at the games shop. (Both going to the shop and getting the drawing, in my opinion, were unnecessary parts.)

Alternate scene: Chris tells the salonist she wants to look like a porn star, which prompts a strange look from her. She then quickly says she's just kidding.

Tangerine gives his opinion of several recent books and magazines as he looks through them, much to the ire of the other people in the bookstore.

Tangerine changes the kid that fell in the pool back to a boy. (This conflicts with his listing of his powers though)

* Cut line: "Yes! 'Moonseed'!" says Gray just before he tells Tangerine to get him a taco.

* Alternate scene: Chris settles on getting a benign pair of stud earrings.

Alternate line: ""Why don't you look up, soon-to-be man of the hills?"

Alternate scene: A tiny, but sharp-tongued middle-aged woman chews Gray out for saying "on the rag."

That's about it as alternate scenes go, after a point there's little you can change or insert without radical story surgery. Gray was originally supposed to be Kelly's real father, and Patrick would turn out to be the mother (don't ask), the universe killer a giant happy face and the lizard guy gets adopted, as well as several possible, but uncontemplated scenes: Kelly has sex, her dreams resembles Chris'.(giving a reason for their existence), Oliver her 'boyfriend' in her dream says they had sex and Chris goes crazy with her power for a few minutes. Oh yeah, and they adopt Gorfa Gorf. Christine Leyson's amulet vanishes too. I haven't decided on that yet. Gray is put in an artificial head and Grenn's note is simply "I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!"

Oh well, I'd say it turned out fine despite these left out ideas. Now onto the bloopers, I wrote one per chapter, forty in all.

Chapter 1 - The letter for Gray

Take 1 - Gray reads the letter, frowns and says, "Oh shit..oh, I'm not supposed say that.whoops."

Take 2 - Gray begins reading the letter, tries to frown, but bursts out laughing, "Oh gee golly..remember that, Chris said that, *chuckle*, oh, I messed it up didn't I?"

Take 3 *groan* - Smiles through the whole thing, "Hey, my stocks are up!"

Take 4 - "This is what is commonly known as a sheet of paper, there are many like it, and I am holding it!"

Take 5 - "Just reading my Oscar acceptance speech..'so I'd like to thank me and myself for all the hard work I've done, and myself again for just making me look so good'.

Take 6 - "Oh I have to go save the world again.. *Yawn*"

Take 7 *gnashing of teeth* - "Oh, boy... there, I did it.too excited?" Stands up and shouts, laughing about, "Oh boy!! Yee haw!"

Chapter 2 - Chris and Devers

Take 1 - Chris wraps her arms around Dever's neck. "Oh lover." Then slips and falls on her bum. "Oh yeah." snickers Devers.

Take 2 - "Oh lover... uh..shit..what oh, um, *sigh*. Start again please."

Take 3 - Devers asks before she's able to wrap her arms around him, "Do I make you horny baby? Do I? Do I make you randy?!" Chris tried to suppress a giggle, but can't.

Take 4 (Never put Devers in a love scene, even if it's in a dream) - Devers grabs Chris, forces her to ground and does some tongue hockey. She looks at him and asks, "Was that in the story?" Devers shrugs, "It's in my story."

Take 5 (No it wasn't) - Chris burps in Devers face and he snickers, "Man, I'm really turned on now."

Take 6 (An antacid later) - Devers slips away when Chris tries to wrap herself around him and she walks face-first against the chair. "I'm not ready for commitment."

Take 7 (But I'm ready to be committed) - They just sit and talk.

Chapter 3 - California (Side note: There's a pretty lady just outside)

Take 1 -"Rather impressive, don't you think, a school spread..spread..spread.dear me I'm a little hot under the collar, second go?"

Take 2 (sure) - "Rather impressive, don't you think, a school spread out like this on five acres? You get plenty of that good California ass..air..whoops."

Take 3 (take the hormones down a notch) - "Rather impressive, don't you think.uh, very impressive this place that is impressive is..sorry about that ."

Take 4 (no it's fine, we have alllll the time in the world) - "Rather impressive, don't you think, a school spread out like this on ground... I can't seem to think of the number..five acres..doesn't sound like much... all right, never mind."

Take 5 - "Rather impressive, don't you think? Don't you?" Gray shook his head, "I don't think, I just fire brain cells at random and by pure luck it gives the illusion of thinking."

Take 6 (that's a keeper) - "Rather impressive, don't you think, a school spread out like this on five acres? You get plenty of that good California air." Gray opens his mouth, "Sure..oh, it was, 'I suppose', sure works doesn't it? Oh, I forgot the chuckle."

Take 7 - Gray chuckles throughout Tangerine's statement for absolutely no reason.

. Chapter 4 - Devers walks in

Take 1 - "I'm sorry to bother you like this, were you sleeping?", asked Devers. "Yes, I was... oh, I'm supposed to say I wasn't? Wouldn't that be lying? ALL RIGHT! Sheesh!"

Take 2 - "I'm sorry to bother you like this, were you sleeping with someone?" Giggles all around.

Take 3 - "Hello, I'm Lieutenant Pecker, do you have any privates here?"

Take 4 - "I'm sorry to bother you like this. Would you like me to make you bothered and hot?"

Take 5 - "Hi, I'm from the IRS, this year you owe us two-thirds of an arm, an eye, and half your leg. You're due for a rebate though so you get a third of an arm back."

Take 6 -"I'm sorry to bother you like this, were you sleeping?" Chris looked him in the eye, "No.." Silence. "Uh, drat.." Kisses her, "Now that's a keeper.."

Take 7 - "I'm sorry to bother you like this, were you sleeping in a position?" "Missionary." "Take me on a mission then."

Chapter 5 - Real Devers Helping Chris

Take 1 -"Ahh, I see. That explains your running. Laid for class?" She stares at him. "What?" Giggles all around.

Take 2 - "Ahh, I see. That explains your running..for class..*thinking*... let's start over ."

Take 3 - "Hi, running for President... I'm glad I ran into you though." Chris smirks, "Oh yeah.." Stares at her, they both burst out laughing.

Take 4 - "Ahh, I see. That explains your runs? I mean..crap."

Take 5 - *In phony, exaggerated Texan accent* "Ahh, yeah, I see, you done gone and done a doggie wrong, right?" She puts on a strange grin, "Eh." Chuckles follow.

Take 6 -"Ahh, I see. That explains your running..*yaaaawwnn*" Chris smiled, "Am I boring you?" "Not at all, honey", answered Devers. "Ok, snookums", grinned Chris.

Take 7 - Passionate lip action. They break contact then remember there were supposed to be lines.

Chapter 6 - Chris and Chris

Take 1 - He arched his eyebrows and asked, "Oh yeah? Then what are you?" "A guy stuck with a goy's..girl's body." Chris asked, "What's a goy?" "Oh shut up."

Take 2 - He arched his eyebrows and asked, "Oh yeah? Then what are you?... Really what are you?" She looked at him and he burst out in chuckles. Take 3 - "Man, this whole thing is just Freudian." Guy Chris shook his head, "It's not Freudian.that's all about sex." Chris gestured at the two of them, "This is about sex, look at me." Narrator tried to remind them this is not in the story. Guy Chris ignored him and said, "I mean having sex. " The two of them took a step away from one another.

Take 4 - "Have you thought about it?" "Kinda." "I mean we're both virgins." "But only one of us can get pregnant", reminded girl Chris. Silence. "That's be kinda freaky though, you know, having sex with yourself... and not in the..usual way." Sigh.

Take 5 - They stared at one another for a while, almost without blinking. Devers moved closer to her and then stepped back. He had lines, after all. "Oh..yeah. What are... you?" "A guy..who's got a..girl's body, that wants you, how about that? Want to trap me?" He smiled, "More than you know." They breathed on one another for a while.

Take 6 - Chris fiddled with her Dragonball Z shirt, lifting it up to expose her midriff. Guy Chris reached his arms around her and held her close to him. She felt something and smiled, "I..gee it's.." Guy Chris raised a finger, "Don't you say anything! It'll be yours again in a two days!"

Take 7 - Having broken up, Chris and Chris turned their backs to one another and cast angry looks in each other's direction.

Ok, seven was a little ambitious, down to three unless I come up with something unique.

Chapter 7 - Tang and Gray

Take 1 - "Well, you're strange... I've mind-read my share of teenagers." Tangerine asked quickly, "Did you hear an echo?" "Ooooo, that's mean, my friend." "I know."

Take 2 - "Well, you're strange... I've mind-read my share of teenagers..take Joan of Arc for instance." "You knew her when you were a teenage?", Tang realized he'd flubbed that line too. "The real one?" "There was a fake Joan of Arc?"

Take 3 - "Well, you're strange... I've mind-read my share of teenagers..and fish..recommendation, never mind-read fish..or rats, really stupid creatures..and flies... I'm just rambling, aren't I?" "Yeah."

Chapter 8 - Guy on the bus

Take 1 - "You're a fan of Dragon balls?" She giggled. Bernson crackled his knuckles and tried again.but she stopped him, "Go to another take."

Take 2 - "Are you a fan of Dragonball Z?..what? It's correct grammar!"

Take 3 - "You're a fan of Dragonball Z?" Chris waved her hands and turned Ronald into a beautiful girl. He looked down at himself and since he had gynophobia, he ran around screaming, trying to get away from himself. (actually, I wanted to write that into the story, but it just wouldn't make sense)

Chapter 9 - Game Shop

Take 1 - "What's your newest Magic set?" The guy reached over to get one, but the whole display collapsed. "Huh?" Chris shook her head, "That's what happens when you use cardboard and tape."

Take 2 -"What's your newest Magic set?" The guy turned around and looked for the Nemesis set, "Darn.where is it?" He turned to look at Chris, who had her arms folded, leaning on the counter. She gestured for him to come closer. He did and she gave him a peck on the cheek, "You can do it. Just try again."

Take 3 - "What's your newest Magic set?" T he guy limped a little, picked up the Nemesis set and bent over forward slightly and moved slowly over to where she was. Chris looked down over the counter, "Whoa!..look at that..at all..the.the.comics.down there." They both appeared a little red in the face.

Chapter 10 - Taco

Take 1 - Gray whispered to Tang, "Listen, I'll say this once and only once..uh..ok maybe more than once."

Take 2 - Gray whispered to Tang, "Listen, I'll say this once and only once, get me a chicken..NO! Aghhh!"

Take 3 - Gray whispered to Tang, "Listen, I'll say this once and only once, get me a taco." Tang waited. "You have a line", reminded Gray. Tang slapped his head, "Oh darn!"

Ok, one unless I figure out something interesting.

Chapter 11 - The look

Take 1 - He made it to the end of page twenty and put the book aside, looking straight at Chris. He picked up a finger, pointed in at her and started laughing. "Oh shut up" said Chris.

Take 2 - He made it to the end of page twenty and put the book aside, looking straight at Chris. He then grimaced, "I have to urinate. Really, I do."

That's it. Ok, call me lazy, maybe I'll write and publish the rest some other time..or, here's an idea, come up with your own blooper or deleted scene, send it to me and the best ten (if there turns out to be the many) will be posted at the beginning of Episode 5. My e-mail is rocket3287@aol.com

Finis

PS - Ok there was little more, Gray's last hurrah his story, but since it seemed a tad out of place without Chris as the focus, I hacked it out, decide for yourself whether it's better off in or out. Starts right after chapter twenty, and chapter twenty-two, but pretty much disregard the chapter numbers in relation to the rest of the story.

* * *


21

Paul figured he had died. Hearing the sound of a heart monitor machine's 'eeeeee' flatline pretty much sealed it. But why had he died all of a sudden? Heart attack? Didn't seemly likely, he was reasonably well fit. Perhaps he'd had an aneurysm. He looked around the Emergency Room. The lingering nurses were shutting off the support machines. He moved forward, as though drifting through a vague haze. One of the nurses skirted his side. He anticipated pain, but rather he felt a sensation much like mind- reading. But stronger. Almost as though for that instant when he grazed her, he was her. She paused a moment, turned and looked him in the eye. The glance was fleeting, for a moment later she shook her head, sighed and continued about her business.

What of the afterlife? wondered Gray. Is this all that comes after death, just lingering and watching, perhaps interacting every once in a while? He decided not to make any firm decisions yet, after all, the Maker was probably watching. He stepped forward, only to be walked through by the nurse.

The only thing he could think of to describe what happened next was *wham*. All of a sudden, he was no longer lingering around a space that held no firmity for him, he was solidly attached to it.

*Gasp*

He bent over, swallowed air and looking at his hand. They were smaller and darker than he'd remembered his to be, and smelt faintly of lotion, a sweet, perfumey lotion. He walked over to the sink and looked into the mirror. The face that greeted him was that of the nurse that had grazed him on her last pass. She really had lovely hair, he thought to himself. Curly and black as night. He checked her identification badge, which read, "Maria Guvarra, RN." Gray sighed and shook her head, "Oh well, I hope she makes more than I did." She searched her mind, but it felt like pressing against an impermeable barrier to reach beyond her own thoughts and into Maria's memories. What does it take to get inside someone's head to know what they know?, she wondered. Hey!, she told herself, you're not gone yet, don't concede defeat! Your real body may be starting to rot, but that's no reason to be glum! Gray sobbed. The door pushed open and an orderly walked through holding onto a mop and bucket.

"They take that fella down already?" he asked her. Gray figured he meant her body, "Yeah." He tapped his mop a couple of times and sighed, "A lot of freaky shit goin' on around here."

"Yup."

"Ol' Reynolds'll clear things up, don't you worry, he'll figure out the cause of death."

Gray looked down at the floor, rubbing her hands against one another slowly, mouth opened slightly. She looked off to one side and contemplated everything. Most of all, her contemplated the sensations of her hands rubbing against one another.

The orderly set his mop down in the bucket and went to her side, "Is something wrong?" he asked her. She looked him in the eye, "Where do you think the soul goes when you die?"

The orderly smiled faintly, "To God."

"What about those that have been bad? Do you think they go to hell?"

"Probably."

Gray pressed her upper teeth against her lip a moment, then asked, "Do you think that some, might, umm, just get left behind, lost souls so to speak?"

The orderly frowned, "I'm not sure what you mean."

"What if someone gets stuck here on Earth? And even gets put back in a body, but it's not their own?"

"What are you trying to say?"

Gray took a deep breath, "I'm not really Maria Guvarra, I'm the guy who died in this room, Paul Gray, and I need you help."

He stared at her a moment, examining her expression carefully, "You better get some rest, Maria. Your next shift comes up in a few hours." She stared at him crestfallen, "You don't believe me?" He didn't say anything else to her and she decided it was best for her not to say anything else. She just needed to find Chris and soon.


22

Halfway out the door though it felt like she'd slammed into a wall. She clutched her stomach, pain arcing through her body. She collapsed on the ground and panted. A surged of memories swarmed her mind in no particular order. She had children but not a husband. Not anymore at least. A pilot killed in a plane crash. Tara, Julio, and Martin. They were all in their young teens. Tara'd just had a cavity filled at the dentist. The front wheel on Julio's bike had gone flat two days ago and Martin was dating a nice girl named Jessica Corrubias.

Gray could feel them hitting her at high speed. What had triggered them? A smell? A sensation? As each one came, they were vivid and powerful, but as they pilled up, one on top of the other, the precise details were difficult to take in as they hit her. She could remember the sensation of lying on a peaceful Tijuana beach as the waves rushed in and receded wearing a skimpy thong bikini that she wouldn't dare wear now but that looked great on her in those days. The salty, ocean air toyed with her hair and slowly, a hand reached over and caressed her shoulder.

While it naturally startled her, the hand did not worry her, rather it comforted her. She turned to face her husband, Ferdinand. He'd let his beard grow abnormally long for this trip. He wanted to look like an island castaway. She smiled and moved closer to him. Wondrous sensations filled her body. He reached a hand over to touch her bikini strap. A feeling of great anticipation coursed through her. He ran his hand along the strap, tracing it slowly to the right cup. He teased her nipples through the fabric. He always had a casual way about him. Who should be in a hurry when it came to sex?

Gray pulled away from this memory, it wasn't his and it was improper to see the personal things people experienced as an outsider. But he couldn't help it, the memory kept going.

With his other hand, he repeated his action, slower this time. He laid his hands on her nipples and tweaked them slowly back and forth. She panted and reached back to undo her bikini, but he said, "Allow me."

Quite politely, quite gentlemanly. He reached behind her and undid the clasp. She desperately wanted to take it off, but true to form, Ferdinand did not rush. He ran his hands along her back, pulling aside the straps. She enjoyed this even more than the nipple teasing. Gingerly, slowly, like an artist unveiling a masterpiece, he pulled away the bikini top to reveal her dainty, but lovely, breasts topped with erect dusty brown nipples.

Gray could feel herself reaching a hand up to touch her breasts. But they didn't respond how they had then. They didn't feel like they did back then, as though someone had chopped them over, leaving behind only the faint, ghostly afterimage.

The memory flowed through her. She laid back against the moist sand, put her hands to her breasts and cupped them. She rolled the nipples around with her fingers. Thank goodness, they'd rented a section of beach along with a small cabana. What if someone saw them? But they had a bit of breathing room and put her mind at rest. This was private territory and they had all to themselves.

She reached her hands up to stroke his hard, firm chest. She giggled as he bent over to kiss her. The feel of his unshaven whiskers on her lips was erotic in its own little way. He moved along slowly, working his way from her lips, down her neck, to her chest. He kissed playfully around her nipples. Then he kissed them and rubbed his face against them. She gasped and pulled him closer. To hell with going slow! She wanted him now.

"Fuck me!" she whispered breathlessly in his ear. Half desperate, half sensual, and all horny, she repeated this several times until he finally gave into her wishes and trailed his hands down to her skimpy panties, soaked from her arousal, that barely covered her womanhood. Ferdinand looked her in the eye and told her, removing his swim trunks and her panties one after the other, "I love you."

She wandered into a desolate corner of the hospital and sobbed at the memory. She beat her fists against the wall. That'd been the one that made her pregnant. Such a lovely child, Martin. But the labor, oh what agony. 18 hours. She prayed to God at least a dozen times. Sure that those were her final hours. Oh the agony, the utter pain. But Ferdinand was with her through every bit of it. There to listen to her prayers, curses, screams and finally tears of joy and relief when they handed Martin to her.

Oh how she loved him.

That night three years ago next month had been their last together. She'd never forget what he'd told her. "I'm gonna have to fly quite a few before they give me any more leave. It could be a month before we see each other again. I just want to tell you, even though we may be separated for a long time, I want you to know that I love you and that you're all I ever think about when I'm away." She'd responded wittily, "You'd better keep your mind on your planes though, fly boy."

"Yes, nurse." Those were their playful names for each other. That was the last he'd spoken to her. His next flight was his last. They called it pilot error, but she'd never believed that for a second, Ferdinand was the best damn pilot to ever fly.

For quite a while after he died, men would come up to her and shyly ask if she wanted to go out for coffee or dinner. But she refused them each and every time. She wasn't ready to move on, she still wasn't. Three years isn't enough time for something like that to fade away.

As time passed, they became fewer and fewer and eventually they knew enough to leave her alone.

Glancing left and right, Maria looked to make sure that no one was watching her cry and occasionally play with her nipples. That would sure be a terrible embarrassment. She pulled her hands away from her chest and walked down the hall to the nurse's station. She had work to do after all.

She picked up a chart. "Maria?"

She turned to look at Carol Hunter, a fellow nurse and friend of hers, "Yeah?"

"You all right?"

She smiled, "I'm fine." What? Had she seen her crying? That poor man. Wait a minute..he was her. No, that was absurd. Huh? My name is Paul Gray, not Maria Guevarra. She shook her head. She'd gotten so caught up in Maria and intertwined with her memories that she'd thought that she was her.

She put aside the patient chart. She had to get out of here and a moment later, she did. It hit her like a bolt of lightning. Her body fell away like a dropped coat. Maria lay splayed on the floor, disoriented and panting. How had he done that? Will, he figured. By will alone.

The nurses gathered around Maria and helped her to her feet. She looked absolutely perplexed as to what was going and how she had gotten here. They seated her down and gave her something to drink. Gray walked away from them. Their matters weren't concerns of his anymore.

"So how'd life get you?" asked a voice. He looked around. Had someone just addressed him? How could that be? He was dead after all. Unless..

"Unless you'd been addressed by a fellow spirit." A shimmering young woman stood beside the wall. She smiled faintly at him. Instantly, Gray came to the firm conclusion that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. She chuckled, her light shifting, moving slowly toward him, "No way. If anyone's beautiful, it's you."

Gray looked taken aback by her comment, "How can that be?"

"Your face, it's pure, glowing and simply perfect. I've never seen anything like it before. Your whole body is just perfect. Well technically it's not a body anymore." She was right next to him. Did he really look like that to her?

"You do."

"You can hear my thoughts?"

She smiled, the only thing that could possibly make her face look more beautiful, "Yeah, it's not like hearing though, it's like a sudden hit of thought." She shook her head, her hair trailing after her like a fine mist, then settling back on her shoulder. "Then you know what I'm thinking when I see you". She eyes closed slightly and she moved closer. She moistened her lips, even though there was no real moisture there. "Yes, but how can that be? My body was ugly."

"I don't know. But you're undeniable the loveliest women that eyes have ever seen." She reached out her hand to take his, "I wonder if it's like this for everyone?"

"I hope so." When they touched, a current ran through the two of them and then another sensation of oneness and completeness. They jumped backward and panted despite the fact neither of them required air. "That was..great."

He looked down at his ghostly hand in astonishment, "Yeah."

"Kinda like we were no longer two, but rather one. As though..it's difficult to define."

"Yeah." Gray himself struggled with describing that state. She reached over to touch him again, but he moved away. She looked hurt, "Didn't you like it?"

He looked down at himself, "That was the greatest pleasure I've ever experienced."

She smiled faintly, "Then don't hold back." She laid into him and the two of them merged, becoming one being. Having been a woman for a while before, he anticipated some of the feelings that came rushing at him. But then they weren't hers, they were his. Two disparate experiences, a single joined soul. A merging of two entities, opposite sexes, two halves of a single puzzle and for a single fleeting moment, the mysteries of humanity seemed revealed to him and to her. But the moment quickly passed as they fell away. She looked exhausted, but still gathered the strength to float next him and whisper in her thoughts, "Was it as good for you as it was for me?"

To which he answered a resounding, "Yes!" He knew everything about her and she knew everything about him. He knew her name and identity and she knew his. Diana Setter. They floated together through the hallway. "So what do you think happens now?"

"I was kinda hoping you would know" said Gray glancing around at people who were walking from one place to another with a destination, a purpose. What was their destination? What was their purpose now? Diana sighed, "I don't know. I just died a few minutes ago. Do you think we were bad? Or do you think we weren't supposed to leave yet?" Gray shrugged slowly, "We'll have to just wait and see."

She reached over and held his hand. A conduit of energy flowed between them, "And in the meantime?"

He smiled faintly, "In the meantime.."


24

Paul and Diana floated along through the halls of the hospital. Diana brushed by an intern and felt something similar to what he had felt when he brushed by Maria. Fortunately, Diana didn't close enough to Merge with the intern, as Gray referred to as even though he couldn't sense her presence when he was inside Maria. They skirted along slowly, being careful not to come in contact with anyone. Eventually they came upon another spirit. Next to them, he appeared downright ragged. He looked up at them casually and asked, "Are you guys going to the meeting? I hear all of the recently deceased will be there. Kind of a little get together."

The two of them looked at each other and flashed him a look of surprise, "What do you mean? Is that what happens now? We just hang around and have parties?"

He shook his head vigorously, "No, we're just biding time. Most of us have unresolved issues, I didn't get to say goodbye to my grandson and I'm still waiting. That was about twenty years ago. He's still among the living. Don't worry he'll get his comeupance when it's his time, then finally I'll be able to see what the afterlife is like."

"This isn't the afterlife?", asked Gray, confused. The man grimaced, "Gosh no! This is merely the waiting room for the afterlife. The longer you have to wait, the older you get though, kinda like a second life, but one in the spiritual realm. I don't think everyone goes through it, but then what do I know. I never really leave this hospital, after all, I am 'haunting' it, so to speak."

"Umm, ok, let me see. You said something about a meeting?"

He suddenly perked up, "Ahh yes, don't want to be late for that, terrible thing to miss the weekly meetings, it's about all the excitement we get these days."

They glanced at each other once again and decided that it couldn't hurt to check out this meeting.

He took them to the entrance to the board of directors meeting room and gestured for them to walk through the door, which they did. On the other side of the doors stood a massive assortment of ghosts and apparitions. A particularly ill-looking ghost coughed, stood behind a podium and yelled, "Order, we need order here, hear?!" He sniffled and sighed, "You all know I can't pound the gavel." He looked longingly at it. "I'm just too weak, been several years since I've had the astral strength to do that. So just all settle down, all right?"

Evidently listening, but possibly just gonna do it anyway, they settled down and waited for his next words. He looked back at the three of them, "Carl?"

"Yes, sir?"

The elder ghost gestured to the two of them, "Who're the newbies? Did you just pick them up or something?"

Carl nodded and prompted Diana and Paul to introduce themselves. Diana went first. The assembly answered her words with a "Hello, Diana" and another hello for Paul's words.

The elder ghost cleared his throat and asked pleasantly, "Who are your sponsors?" Diana and Paul looked at each other again. They'd done that enough in the last couple of minutes to memorize each other's astral faces perfectly. "What do you mean 'sponsors'?", asked Diana.

"Are you telling me you don't have a sponsor? How about the fellow next to you?"

Gray shook his head. "Nope." The elder ghost tossed up his hands and moaned plaintively. Diana and Paul looked around the room, frowned to each other and then at the shocked looks the others in attendance were given them. "What? Did we say something wrong?"

"There's always a couple that come along every few months that don't have any sponsors. Well, let me fill you in."

"Please do", responded Gray, tightening his energy link with Diana. The elder ghost cleared his throat and began, "Sponsors are for fundraising, as simple as that."

"Ok. So why do the deceased need a sponsor?" Gray didn't see the logic in it. "Fundraising! Is there something wrong with your ears, boy?"

Gray tapped his lobes, "They're fine."

"It was a rhetorical question!"

Gray grimaced at Diana and she looked similarly surprised.


26

"Ok, tell me just one more time." The elder ghost attempted to rap his fingers on the podium, but alas, his hand passed right the wood. He opened his mouth to sigh and respond, "Well, it's like this. Every recently deceased person has a sponsor set up, you know, for various reasons."

"What reasons?" The elder ghost reached behind the podium and picked up a ethereal book that look about as big as him. Straining a bit, he set it in front of Gray and told him to read it. "It's all in there. Why and how the recently deceased set up sponsors. Read it cover to cover."

Gray flipped through it, "This has got to be at least ten thousand pages. It'd take a lifetime to read."

"Well you're dead, so no sweat." Gray shook his head, "How did you even know about all this before you died?"

"Someone slipped me a copy quite a few years ago." Gray turned it over and turned it back, frowning harshly at the conflicting titles. One side had "Death Manual" written on a white sheet of paper taped to the cover, while the other side had, "Sponsorship Rules and Regulations: US Government Edition 21-F-3", embroidered on it. He showed it to the elder ghost and he put on his misty spectacles. The elder ghost squinted and shook his head, "You must be mistaken."

Gray tossed up his hands and said, "I don't have time for this. I need to find someone who might be able to help me out of this."

The elder ghost laughed heartily, "Ahh, they all try to get out of it the first week, then they come to their senses, get back to fundraising and accept their destiny."

Diana and Paul walked out, enveloped by the chuckles of the other deceased inhabitants of the boardroom.

Paul tried to pound his fist against the wall. She held his arms, which calmed him slightly, but it wasn't enough to keep him from yelling at the top of his lungs. Diana took a step back, afraid of him. He looked her in the eye and apologized. She said it was nothing, but he knew better than that. He could read her mind after all. He realized that he couldn't do that to anyone else, even the elder ghost. Did they share a special bond, a different connection?

Diana leaned into him, "I don't know." They comforted each other. "Perhaps we're soul mates or something to that effect?" Diana teared up, "Paul, I don't think we're meant for each other. I know it kinda looks that way, but you've read my mind. I've lived a good life. My body died of old age. Something abnormal happened to you though something that should not have happened. Now I'll help you and follow you as far as I can, but I can't go with you, I don't even know if it's possible for either of us to go back."

Paul kissed her on the lips. Even though just their astral matrices were touching, it felt like an actual kiss. Paul clutched her energy close one last time. Then he let go of her. She walked a few steps behind him as he went down the hall in search of Christine.

Finis



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