Shimmer #21 – Crossover (Part 1)
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I hate fighting speedsters. Sure, I can chase after them at the speed of light, but can I react that fast? No way.
Her name was Super Sonic Woman and her taste for nostalgia was just as obvious in her costume: v-striped silver one piece, large collar, winged boots and so much glitter even I had to turn away from the glare. She was also covering a lot of ground and the next thing I knew we were three counties away leaving local sheriffs with impossible numbers on their radars.
Something else you also find in the d-grade villain pile: a lot of them are in it for the chase. Victory? Dominion? That’s for the big baddies. Super Sonic Woman, she just liked to stir the pot. Hell, she wasn’t even close to winning and couldn’t keep from bragging.
“Hey hey! Can’t stop me! Can’t stop m-!”
What was I saying? Oh, right. D-grade villains: sometimes they like to get so drunk on their own sense of excitement that they don’t see when holographic heroines shift light spectrums and block the road with invisible fists. At that velocity you better believe it put her out cold. Also, thank the gods for her ability to redirect kinetic energy or else we’d have made street pizza.
Okay, that was the first thing out of the way. All I had to do was fly her back to Milestone then take care of her partner: a fierce mustachioed pyrokinetic laid out in a smoldering crater that was once the corner of 3rd and Crown.
“That was a close one,” Starbolt bounced. “You should have seen it! Burning through the sky then right through the asphalt!”
I shrugged before unloading my heavier-than-she-looked human cargo. “That’s why they call him Mr. Fahrenheit.”
You could tell from his grin that Starbolt was getting off on it. Gods, it was like his bones wanted to leap out of his skin and dance, like he’d never taken out a pair of low-level super-powered thrill-seekers before. Then again who was I to get in the way of his victory?
“So,” he asked, “do we wait for the cops to show up?”
Not that we needed to wait long. I could already hear the sirens. “We should be good to go,” I told him.
He lingered a moment, shuffled from one foot to the other. “Listen… I know this is going weird, but there was this coffee shop I used to go to…”
“The Lovin’ Spoonful?”
His eyes lit up. “Yes! You have one too!? That is so friggin’ awesome! Unless… you know, you have school or whatever.”
“Suspended indefinitely,” I told him, “or at least until I decide to ditch the skirts and man the #&$% up.”
Even though he was trailing behind I could hear Starbolt smile. “I feel your pain, lady,” he said. “And that’s why you should follow my plan: so neither of us ever have to deal with that again.”
* * * *
Out of costume Starbolt, or that is to say Jason looked a lot younger than he was. That I’d heard was the trans man curse, and one which I knew to be a real sore point, but his child-like exuberance wasn’t helping his cause at all. Not that I could blame him: I’d probably be endlessly fascinated with a new universe as well.
It was eerie to look at him. At first I couldn’t see, but the more hours we spent together the more similarities between us were eventually uncovered until I really did believe: ‘this guy is me from another universe!’ Words cannot even begin to describe how bizarre and awkward that is.
My mind kept floating back to the night before. It was only minutes after we’d met that he was describing where he’d come from.
“I know this is going to sound weird,” a disclaimer he would use many times over again, “but I come from a universe almost exactly the opposite to yours. Not like as in good is evil or up is down or anything, we still seem to have a lot of the same laws and history and whatever, but men and women have been swapped around.”
“So women are the dominant class,” I mused, “and you’ve got matriarchy instead of patriarchy?”
Starbolt shook his head. “I’m not explaining it right. The guys still think they’re in charge, but it’s a different set of guys. It’s like… from what I can gather, anyone who was born a man on my world was born a woman on yours, and anyone who was born a woman on yours is a man on mine. Get it?”
“Uh.” I wanted to say yes, but it was just so stupid. What was this: a bad sci-fi novel?
He leaned closer. “Who are your mom and dad?”
It was a personal question, especially from another mask, but what the hell? He seemed to know a lot about me already. “Alan and Liz,” I told him.
“My parents are Ethan and Alana. Close enough?”
“Still not buying it.”
“Okay,” he pressed. “Best friend?”
“There we go,” he grinned as though that were all the proof he needed. “My best friend is Tommy Truman. Real tough artsy type whose step-mom teaches karate? Has an awesome little brother you babysit all the time? Doesn’t sound remotely familiar?”
“It does and it doesn’t,” I told him. “Okay, if everyone here has the opposite sex on your world then why are you still a Cade? My mom, who I guess would now be your dad, should be a Sinclair. So unless you have different rules on how a traditional marriage works…”
Starbolt was dumbfounded. I had a point. Clearly he hated that I had a point. “$#&%!”
“Got anything else for me, chief?”
The boy sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. I was really putting him through the ringer. Then again in a world filled with clones, doppelgangers, shapeshifters and all sorts of other nastiness it was impossible to know who to trust: but he wanted me to believe him so very badly. It was almost sad to watch.
Pacing in front of me he searched for the right words. Finally he asked, “what happened to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I was thirteen when Regina and Adrianna Dempsey gathered up a group of jock boys,” he started shakily. Oh gods, I knew this story. “I used to do track and field back then. One day I rolled my ankle, and as I was limping home they chased me, called me a dyke, threw sharp rocks and sticks… and all because I had short hair and wore pants.”
It was the same. Gods help me…
“Next thing I know I’m running for my life. Only place I could think to run was into the reservoir… ha, and right before a storm. I fell, and got lost underground and…” He sat next to me, his eyes wide with mirrored horror, “and I nearly died. If that… I still don’t know what to call it: alien? If it didn’t come to make me a hero then I would be dead. Their hate would have killed me, and it would have killed you too. And that’s why we’re the same, Kaira.”
I had to admit I still had suspicions and wasn’t totally convinced until he took my hand. Liquid gold ran over his skin and his costume, soon spreading to our joined fingertips and then swallowing my entire body. It was that familiar sense of warm and numb that I’d been become all too used to, except it didn’t belong to me: it was his.
Gazing into my soul he asked “now do you believe me?” He knew my answer, even before I broke the connection and snapped back to human state.
“What do you want?”
Starbolt smiled. Ah, there was the rub. “You’ve run into your fair share of mad scientists, right?” he asked. “Well, there was one I ran into recently: Dr. Janus. He had this weird gun thing, see, and he was going to use it to switch bodies with one of the Vigil, except they found him out and locked him up before he had the chance.”
“Okay, so where are you-“
“I have the tech,” he explained. “I went and found it right after I found out about this world. We can make use of this, Kaira.”
Suddenly I found I couldn’t move, not because of anything he’d done but because I was too perplexed to process anything. It was a frightening plan, but even more frightening was the practical rationality behind it.
“So what you’re saying,” I said, “is that you want my body.”
“I don’t just want your body,” Starbolt explained. “I want it all. I want to be a regular guy: a cis guy with working organs who doesn’t have to argue with idiots just so he can use the right bathroom. And in exchange you get the life I don’t want which is suited perfectly for you. The real question is why would you say no?”
What an absolute mind bend. What’s a person supposed to say to that? Somehow it seemed like he was asking me for a lot: more than I could stand to part with even.
There was a coherent thought in there. “I just don’t know if I could give up…” Too bad it didn’t have an ending.
“Giving up what, Kaira?” he asked gently. “If you’re anything like me then you’ve only got one real friend. The rest of the people who say they care about you really want a guy like me around while my family… they want you, Kaira. They want the good daughter. You can do that, and you’d be loved and accepted and cherished. There is no downside to this.”
That was the part where he lost me. “I need to think about it.”
Starbolt blinked. It was the same kind of look I’d get when telling people that I didn’t eat chocolate. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“All I’m saying is that there’s maybe a few things worth considering that have been missed in your proposal. So give me some head room, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” he conceded, “but there’s only thirty nine hours until our realities drift apart and the bridge between them collapses.”
I shot him a deadly look. Funny, but that seemed like an important detail to leave out.
Since then I couldn’t get his offer out of my head. All night and all day I dwelled on the implications of it, about whether it was moral, whether it was kind to my family and friends, and about whether it was kind to myself. So many thoughts went spinning around, but I couldn’t grab hold of a single one. This was going to be a hard decision to make.
Jason turned to me before pressing open the doors of the Lovin’ Spoonful. “So who do you have instead of Glen and John?” he asked.
“Who are Glen and John?”
“The cute gay couple who run this place,” he explained.
“Oh. Uh, we have Gloria and Jean. Gloria is the Norse goddess of the bean.”
He nodded along as if he were not unfamiliar with the concept. “Are they gay too?”
“You know I’ve gotten vibes but never thought to ask.” Desperate for my usual chai latte I pushed him inside. The need for caffeine > the need to know the sexuality of whoever was serving.
Jason stood amazed, at what I didn’t exactly know. There didn’t seem to be anything special about chalk signs, sofas, coffee tables, pot plants and bookshelves, or maybe that was just me.
The boy shook himself back to reality. “Yeah. Yeah, fine. Just different to what I’m used to is all.”
Oh well. I could leave him to his wide eyed wonderment for the moment. In the meantime Gloria was waiting for me at the counter, but she too seemed just as fascinated by the young man as he was his surroundings.
“He’s a wild boy from the Yukon,” I told her. “Never seen a coffee house in his life.”
“You dragged in a second chai latte, extra sweet,” she mused. “This is very, very unusual.”
I had to laugh. Lady, you’ve got no idea.
“KC!” That was all the warning I got before the creature pounced and damn near took me off my feet. Not that I could blame her or anything: she was probably worried sick. “Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, woman! Where the hell have you been!?”
Without even thinking about it my head collapsed onto her chest. Once upon a time when boobs were supposed to be alien and the wrath of women terrifying I might have thought twice, but given the circumstances I was as happy to accept the refuge as she was to offer.
“Tanya, the last few days, just… I don’t even know where to begin.”
She wrapped her arms around me gingerly, ‘like any big sister would’ apparently. “Here, let me pay for your drink and… why are there two?”
Oh, right. Funny thing, I was so preoccupied with finally letting myself be exhausted that I forgot all about Jason. My head turned, my arm pointed at the idle confused boy, and Tanya was no more enlightened for the experience.
She boggled at him. “And he is…?”
A silent conversation communicated entirely through eyebrow signals took place between Jason and I revealing that yes, I had buried a good portion of my face into the shirted cleavage of who he suspected it might be. “You’re Tanya,” he said: a simple statement that again did nothing to help the poor girl out of her pit of sad ignorance.
“KC, who is this guy and why does he know my name?”
I smiled, probably out of delirium, and told her “you’re going to love this.”
* * * *
Minutes later saw me being thrust into a bathroom with the door being locked behind me and a near hysterical Tanya standing between. It quickly turned into one of those times I wish I hadn’t told her my secret identity because everything that went with it caused her mind to blow a gasket.
Her back to the door she slid down onto the tiles, staring seemingly into nothingness. She’d gone from disbelief to shock in a very short time. Sometimes it was hard to remember that some people weren’t as used to the impossible as I was. Crap, it was really beginning to feel like I’d screwed up.
“Let me get this straight,” she began. “That guy sitting out there: he’s you, as in a boy you, as in a trans boy you from another universe.”
I joined her on the floor and nodded along. “Yep.”
“And he’s come along because he wants to trade bodies with you.”
“So he can be a cis guy on this Earth and you can be a cis girl on his Earth.”
“Well it becomes my Earth,” I laughed weakly, “but yeah, that pretty much covers it.”
Her glare was painted with desperation. She didn’t understand how I could laugh at a time like this. “KC, you need to jump on this,” she gasped, then crawled over and began yanking my arm. “Seriously, you need to do this or you will regret it for the rest of your life!”
“Are you saying that because you mean it or are you saying it because you think asking me to stay is selfish?”
Even after I leaned forward to hold her steady her eyes were still trembling. “Maybe,” she croaked, then injected her tone with some rage flavored courage. “And stop reading my mind!”
“Hey! You started it,” I teased, which then bought me a punch in the arm. I don’t know why, but it seemed deserved.
She was quiet for a while, maybe because angry bravado wouldn’t cover what she had to say next. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she admitted shamefully. For so long she’d been so sure of herself as my protector that something this big with no certain answers blew her completely out of the water.
I drew close and let her rest on my shoulder in the vain hope that it would help keep her together. It did, kinda. That and the comfortable silence: nothing else would get broken while there were no more dangerous ideas being thrown around.
Only then did it occur to me it was only 1:15. “Hey, why aren’t you at school?”
Tanya grunted and propped herself up. She was looking a lot more stable, what with rage being the superglue that turns a stunned girl into a tank. “Assistant Principal Ferguson is why,” she hissed. “You know they called a special assembly?”
“To give us a special reminder about the dress code, specifically how boys are expected to dress, and how girls are expected to dress, that every day is not Halloween and that gender roles are there for a reason, blah blah blah.”
“You’re kidding,” I gaped. “He said all of that?”
“So what’d you do?”
Tanya furrowed her brow for a moment in thought. “Well, first I stood up. Then I told him to go and have sexual intercourse with himself. Then I extended my middle finger.”
“Even if you’re not around, KC, I’m not going to let people pour that kind of bull$#&% on you.” Gods, was I lucky to have a best friend like her or what?
“So then what happened?”
“Then,” she explained, “there was a lot of yelling, some cheering, and I walked to my car and left. Then they called my mom.”
“Damn. What’d she say?”
Tanya smiled infectiously. “She also told them to go and have sexual intercourse with themselves and hung up. Then she called me to say how proud she was, and to go see if you were okay.”
My grin stretched until it hurt. I must have done something right in a past life. “Gods, I love your mom,” I told her.
“I know, right? She’s a pretty kick-ass lady.”
“You’re pretty kick-ass too.”
“Shut up, baby. I know it.” We laughed at the stupid reference probably a little too hard. Maybe it was because deep down neither of us wanted to get up and unlock the door.
It was then with cold clarity that I realized that this was how we’d survived all of these years. Maybe Tanya did too. We’d been best friends through grade school and walked hand in hand through Hell: even if Jason could offer me everything I ever wanted it still meant sacrificing the few good things I had.
Her head propped back against my shoulder. “Any idea what you’re going to do?” she muttered. A sigh was all she got back. “Well you’ve only got a day and whatever to decide.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We lingered a while longer. Getting up really was the last thing we wanted to do, but there was little choice when someone came knocking on the door.
“There’s probably a line,” I told her while dragging my sorry carcass upright.
Tanya stood but she didn’t move. Even when I tried to prod her she remained firmly planted with a look of contemplation on her face. Something was wrong. Before I could even ask what it was she had her arms around me with her face buried in my collarbone.
“Just do me this one thing quickly while we’re alone, okay, Kaire-Bear?” she sighed.
I held her back uncertainly. “Dude, I’m not going anywhere yet.”
“But just in case, yeah?” She squeezed tight and looked up at me as if I was an idiot, or a liar, or both. You could see it like a rock on the bottom of a clear pond her knowing that my mind was already made up. Still she played along, and even though I thought I was just humoring her I didn’t want to let go either.
Gods, what was I going to do?
* * * *
When we finally returned to Jason there was a new addition. Andy turned his head, grinned and pulled down his glasses. “I was wondering what was taking you two so long,” he grinned.
Tanya didn’t miss a beat in informing him that “we were having wild lesbian sex of such ferocity and fervor that nuns for miles around were crying and didn’t know why.”
I flopped down beside Jason who was sporting far too enthusiastic a grin. “She didn’t mean that,” I told him. The idea that he would be putting the moves on Tanya the second I left the dimension wasn’t helping to sell me on his plan.
Shifting her gaze between the men Tanya pursed her lips suspiciously. “So, you two are getting to know each other?”
Andy nodded. “Yeah, we were just talking about-“
“College,” Jason interjected. “Since, you know, I’ll be graduating and… you know, stuff. I still don’t know what I want to do yet.”
The older guy smiled with puzzlement. Something was going on. “You don’t have to be embarrassed because the girls are here,” he said. “We’re all friends. We all wonder about this kind of thing, especially trans people.”
My gaze was focused directly was on my other self like a heat lamp in a windowless interrogation room. “What kind of thing?”
Jason shuffled and glared back so that I knew he wasn’t going to be intimidated, not that I cared. “If you really must know,” he replied sharply, “I asked him what he’d do if he could just switch bodies with a cis guy.”
Gods, I just had to ask. Was I really reading too much into it? Because those kinds of questions felt like a personal assault. As if I wasn’t stressed enough about the situation already.
Tanya broke the silence out of discomfort or even boredom and asked Andy what he’d said. The eldest of our group kicked his foot onto the coffee table and took a contemplative sip at his drink. “Honestly? I think I’d feel too bad for the guy. As much as I’d love to swing some pipe around I’ve also had a lifetime of getting used to being trans. It’d kinda suck having to throw some poor schmuck in the deep end like that.”
“What if it was some douchebag who really had it coming?” Jason laughed.
“What, like Charlie Sheen?”
“How about Seth?” Tanya murmured.
Andy nearly spit all over the table. “Okay, you want me to switch bodies with my ex. That is totally not the creepiest thing I have ever heard in my life!”
“At least you’d have an intimate working knowledge,” she jabbed. Of all the times for them to have a moment.
“What about a trans woman’s body?” I leaned in and asked. They could tell I was being serious: more than I should have been.
“I don’t want a trans woman’s body,” Andy said plainly, “and honestly she probably wouldn’t want mine either. I mean I’ve got bad skin, I’m hairy, have an epic goatee… which isn’t so bad for me, but it’s probably the worst thing in the world for a good portion of women.”
“What if neither of you had transitioned yet? No hormones, nothing.”
Suddenly he stopped, and as he leaned back into the sofa all jokes vanished because Andy had something to say: something he appeared to be very conflicted about.
“Honestly?” he started. “I would in a heartbeat. No question. In that ideal situation I would make the switch.”
Nobody dared speak, but I had to know: “why?”
Andy just shrugged. “You know I’m only saying this because it’s you guys, and Jason, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m trying to get at too, but… Jesus. We’re not normal people. I mean, being trans is normal for us, but somehow we were forgotten by the status quo, so we have to run, and yell, and fight to say ‘hey, I exist, damn it, and I am a man.’ And they make us jump through hoops and run their tests so they can justify to themselves that we are who we say we are. Meanwhile, every other man on the planet doesn’t get question one about whether they’re in the right bathroom or if sleeping with someone makes them bi-curious.
“And I’m not saying that to be cruel,” he continued, “and I’m not saying it because I think that trans people are inherently brave or broken or deserving of pity or pride. I say that because I’m selfish and because in a world as cracked as ours it’s the only way to escape. I just want to be a guy, no questions asked. If trading off would get me that then yeah, I totally would.”
A part of me wanted to argue, but nothing came. For a moment I wasn’t sure if I was uncomfortable because his words hurt or if it was because I didn’t want to believe him. Jason on the other hand gave me a knowing glance and a sympathetic smile: his point had been made.
* * * *
Later I flew home as Glimmer Girl. Usually it was a solitary trip, one which would let me gather my thoughts, but since Starbolt didn’t seem to have anywhere else to go I let him follow me. At least he was quiet save the tentative attempts at “I’m sorry” I pretended not to hear over the wind.
Silently I found myself hating him. His proposition had me questioning everything I had in the world. It made me want to cling tighter to the precious things while at the same time shoving in my face that I was one of the have nots. Just by virtue of being born, growing and wanting the things I wanted I was less than the rest of the world, and I couldn’t stand it. Gods help me, I might have been just as selfish as Andy thought he was.
We landed, looked away as we changed into our civvies, and walked the last block to my door. “You really sure this is okay?” he asked.
I shrugged. Where else was he going to go?
“I could always crash in an empty hotel room,” he offered. “Raid the mini-bar, steal the little soaps. The only thing I won’t have is cable.”
“Dude, you’re not breaking into a hotel. It’s wrong,” I told him sharply. “Besides, they’re keeping my mom in hospital another night for observation. My dad’s going to be stuck by her side. We have the place to ourselves.”
At least that was the plan. The car sitting in the driveway told a completely different story. Crap.
Jason laughed facetiously. “So, empty hotel room?”
“You stay here,” I told him. “I’ll get you some snackage, some towels, my GameBox if you’re desperate for entertainment… and stuff for the shower because you are not going to steal mini-soaps you didn’t pay for.”
Could you tell I was in a bad mood? It didn’t help to know that time was running out. The night before he’d given me thirty-nine hours, suddenly it was less than twenty-four. I was pretty sure it wasn’t healthy to make life altering decisions this big in under a day.
I’d just made it to the front stair when I heard voices. It was my parents and they were loud: not quite bloody murder loud, but they were definitely in a heated debate, and with mom being fresh out of hospital. Wow, it must have been serious.
After slipping off my clunky shoes and turning the knob gently I crept inside with all the stealth naturally afforded me. The argument was coming from the kitchen so they definitely hadn’t seen me come in. Finding a spot behind the bookshelf I listened to their back and forth.
“No way will a new school accept him this late in the year,” Mom argued. “We’ve got to make do.”
Dad was trying to be Zen about it, but you could hear him struggling. “After everything the current school has done to us? Come on, Liz. You of all people aren’t interesting in bending over backward for them.”
“Maybe not, but we’ve got to be practical here! Justin needs an education, so we ask him to wait until graduation to do whatever it is he wants to do. That way he at least has the basics to function in an adult world.”
“We could always just put him in another school,” he pleaded. “One that accepts him for-“
“Alan, you put him in another school and he’ll have to repeat junior year!”
“So what? He repeats! You say that like it’s such a bad thing! At least this time around he’ll be better prepared!”
Oh gods, they were fighting over me. Another waking nightmare to come home to. Suddenly I felt like I was twelve again standing by helplessly the first time they separated, and now they were at it again, why? Was it so hard to accept me as I was?
I could hear Andy again in my head. Just to exist we had to challenge the status quo: just to have integrity we had to hurt the ones we loved. It wasn’t fair, but at the same time…
“It’s all my fault.”
The fighting stopped. The two adults dashed into the living room but found nothing. Just this once I’d violated my own rule of ‘no powers in the house.’ I couldn’t stand for them to see me so ashamed, especially when it was my life that was causing them so much friction. Gods, what was wrong with me?
Seconds later I was back on the street. Jason was there waiting patiently. I think he’d heard some of what was going on: or he was seeing me cry again… damn it! Why couldn’t I keep it together?
“You okay?” was all he managed, as if it weren’t obvious.
I forced a smile. That it was just as transparent as my poker face didn’t matter. “Let me ask you something. How long have you been out as a guy?”
“About a year. Why?”
My hands were trembling so hard that I could only safely hold them under my arms. “How did Ethan and Alana take it?”
His jaw dropped. He didn’t answer and kicked the pavement instead.
“Kaira, it…” Say it. Don’t say it. Even before he opened his mouth again I knew what was coming. “It destroyed their marriage,” he reported bitterly. “Apparently having a son was so bad that… you know what? Screw it. My parents aren’t your parents, or else they would have fallen apart years ago, right?”
If only he knew.
Then at that moment I decided. There was plan and purpose. Suddenly there was a right thing to do. My nerves steeled I turned to my doppelganger. “Jason,” I told him. “I want to go through with your plan.”
He nodded with complete understanding then turned to lead the way. Nobody could fail to argue that what we were doing was selfish, but what mattered more than anything else was having a right reason to do it.
* * * *
8:45 and we were on the road. I decided to drive, not fly: that is to say that Tanya was driving me. If it was going to be my last day on (this) Earth then there was no question that she was going to be there. The journey was silent: no music, no jokes, just the two of us dreading the inevitable.
My baggy jeans and X-Men tee were almost like a ceremonial garb. They didn’t belong to me: just the entity that would be inhabiting this body and taking my place in the world. That was the real Justin Cade, this guy who called himself Jason: and I was going to be Caroline, just like my mom had always wanted. The irony was not lost on me.
“Stop that,” she said.
I knew what she was talking about. It had been cycling between us all evening. “Stop what?”
“No,” I replied flatly.
“You’re… being all noble,” she explained, “like this isn’t the saddest thing in the world for me right now. I can’t, I just…”
I could almost hear the arguments screaming out of her head: ‘you don’t have to do this. Parents break up all the time. Some people just aren’t meant to be together. I mean, what if it doesn’t work out anyway?’ She thought it, but she would never ever say it. Besides, my answer would have still been the same: inevitable or not I couldn’t let it be my fault, not if there was a chance I could save them.
Tanya shook her head and tried to laugh it off. “Sorry,” she said. “I keep forgetting that this is also an amazing opportunity for you. A chance at a normal life… you are going to shine, missy.”
She called me ‘missy’, I thought. It never failed to make me smile, not just because it was my best friend recognizing me for who it was but because it was so familiar, like the way an older sibling would talk to her little sister. She’d protected me since grade school and seen me grow up into someone who protected the world: it only made sense that we’d get attached.
The glare of the headlights against her glasses made it hard to tell if she was crying. Probably not: Tanya was a sympathetic crier and her dam wasn’t going to break until mine did. Not that there was any chance of that happening soon: my nerves had to be steeled for what was coming next.
“You know I’ll never forget you, right?”
The hi-beams glinted off her toothy smile. “Yeah, you will,” she said. “Hundred to one odds say that this Tommy guy will be an even better best friend.”
“You think so?”
“Well, yeah,” she laughed. “He’s me with a schlong. It’s like everything you ever wanted in a soul mate!”
Gods help me, she won a smile. In any other company such a thing might have been impossible, but for her it was like a gods-damn super-power. Maybe next time the Carbon Man popped up I could call her and make him laugh himself into custody.
Nah. Those guys were Starbolt’s enemies now. There was probably a Carbon Woman waiting for me in my new home.
The car stopped on a grassy hill overlooking the city. We had arrived. Jason stood in the path of the headlights looking extremely uncomfortable in a skirt, denim jacket and pink sneakers. Combined with the short trim hair he looked like G. I. Jane after a night with Barbie. It suited him even less than me with a ponytail and Justin’s usual geek un-chic.
“Note to self,” I called stepping out of the beetle. “The second I get to my new home I’m buying a whole new wardrobe.”
“I haven’t worn girl’s clothes in three years,” he explained. “This was all I had. I thought you’d appreciate the effort.”
It’s a weird thing being a jerk to yourself, but for some reason I was utterly compelled. There was just something about Jason that rubbed me the wrong way, maybe because the universe didn’t like being invaded, or maybe it was just because he was a little too much like me. Still, that didn’t stop me from trusting him. I mean, if you can’t trust yourself then who can you trust, right?
He held in his right hand a small blue plastic laser pistol so ridiculous that it could have easily been mistaken for a child’s toy. For a moment I even though about calling him on it, but miraculously held my tongue.
“So that’s Dr. Janus’…”
“Yep,” said Jason as he cradled it uncertainly. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’ll make me you and you me. After that we send you back to my world.”
Tanya sprung up from where she was perched on the hood of her car. “You mean right away? We don’t get to hang out or anything before the clock runs out?”
“Every passing second makes the return journey even more dangerous,” he continued. Not that he couldn’t have told us before or anything. Tanya fumed, but I signaled her to cool down. It was business time between myself and I.
I looked again at Dr. Janus’ gun remembering the advice I’d been given once before: never look a toy gun in the mouth. “So what do we do?” I asked.
Jason grinned. “Easy. You stare right into the barrel here, I pull the trigger and insto-presto, we switch bodies.”
Somehow I imagined a more pleasant experience than that. “Why do you have to shoot me? Why can’t I shoot you?”
The boy in drag huffed and offered me the weapon by the handle. “Do you want to do it?”
I thought about it for a moment, but decided I didn’t trust myself enough. Sure, I’d held a gun before, but I’d never shot one. What if I missed and switched brains with a squirrel or a stray cat or something? “No, I think I’ll let you handle this one.”
Staring down the sights and locking me in his gaze Jason took steady aim. “This might sting a bit,” he told me before counting down. “5… 4… 3… 2…”
“I can’t watch,” was the last think I heard Tanya whimper. And then…
* * * *
Things were a little hazy after that. What… what was happening? The ray must have had a side effect I wasn’t warned about. It was hard to think coherently: whatever that device had done seemed to have messed with my short term memory.
Gods, I was probably going to be having this conversation with myself again in five minutes, wasn’t I? I could only laugh. This, I imagined, must have been what getting drunk felt like: light-headed, nauseous, blurry and slow like watching a film with too few frames to keep it smoothly animated. The hangover was probably going to be even worse.
“KC,” I heard Tanya call, then realized she was holding me by the shoulders. “Can you hear me, KC? Come on. Don’t make me worry.”
“Is CC now,” I giggled. “Remember? Myyyy naaaame is Caaaaroline… not Kaira. Nope nope!”
Tanya turned suddenly to another figure still standing in the grass. He seemed in a lot better condition than I was, but even more surprising was that he was… me. Wasn’t he? I mean he had my face. He looked like me in dreary boy mode, but there was something different about him. Hard as I tried to think at him he wouldn’t move the way I wanted him to.
“The shock hits some people worse than others, especially the first time,” the me person said. Woah, that’s what I sounded like? It’s bad enough hearing yourself on tape, but when you’re having an out of body experience? Gods damn.
That’s when I realized that it wasn’t my body anymore. It was Jason in there! Well, Justin now. All these names sound the same but they’re different and… yeah, he had my old body which meant that I was someone else!
My first instinct was to look straight down, and lo I was amazed. In my drunken state I couldn’t keep my hands away and tweaked and prodded for sensation. “My gods,” I laughed, “they’re actually real!” Playtime went on like that for a while until the new Justin rolled his eyes and pulled it away.
“Come on, Kaira. Leave them alone,” he urged me. “They’re boobs. Not Nintendo.”
I shook my head. “Nope nope nope! I’m Caaaaaar-o-liiiiiiiiiiine.” Weird that I clung to it so tight. I didn’t even like the name.
Tanya remained close by. “You didn’t give her brain damage or anything, did you?” she asked. Her face was contorted with worry.
“It might take a few minutes before she’s fully cognizant, but yeah, she’s fine.”
He stepped away, probably to do whatever it was that… I don’t know. All I know is that he left me alone with Tanya and she was fretting and I couldn’t stop smiling, rolling my eyes and putting my hands everywhere. All of these new sensations: it was a lot to get used to.
With a heavy sigh and a forfeited smile she asked, “so how does it compare?”
I told her honestly, “I can’t feel my toes.” Luckily she thought it was as funny as I did and this time even showed off some teeth.
“My advice?” she said. “Stock up on aspirin.”
“When the time comes you’ll know.”
What did she mean by…? Ooh! Stupid me for not getting the hint, but then I could hardly be held to blame, could I? I’d just had my brain sucked out and placed into a new body while my otherworldly doppelganger wandered around with my unwanted boy parts. It had been an exhausting week and an even stranger day: I was starting to think nothing could surprise me anymore.
Deafening thunder and blinding lightning made the earth itself tremble as a bright thing appeared before us. It was a wall, probably the size of a small aircraft. Bolts arced from it, singing the grass from the heart of the swirling doorway born from reality torn asunder.
Before I could even ask what the hell it was a giant machine stepped out. It seemed entirely unconcerned by Tanya when she attempted to drag me from its three prong grasp. “SUBJECT RE-ACQUIRED,” it droned flatly.
In my condition I was helpless as she was and could only watch as she screamed. Justin on the other hand could do something, but instead he remained completely frozen. Why wasn’t he changing into Starbolt? He could still do that, right?
Tanya beat his arm trying her damndest to prompt him into action. Instead the otherworldly boy just said both to her and to me “I’m so sorry.”
Sorry. Sorry for what!? He knew this was coming!? I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him! Right from the start this whole deal had seemed seedy.
The machine turned and thrust me into the doorway. I watched my native world disappear before my very eyes. I truly had left my old life behind, but at what cost? What had Jason signed me up for? What special hell was awaiting me on the other side?
* * * *
TO BE CONTINUED…