“Yah need a carbon mod fer yer printer, but I dun’t think you’ll know how ta print one.”
First male I’ve talked to while I have breasts. He’s not attractive, thank god.
I’m on call with a Sector & Sector mechanic who knows nothing about me, or the mission, but is supposed to know a hell of a lot about this ship. Maybe he does, but I’m coming face to face with an attitude that should have died out last millennium.
“Look little lady, is the ship captain there, I think he’d better understand what I’m talking about.”
Right. “No, little man. you are talking to the captain. You have explained everything to the captain’s satisfaction, because the explanation was very simple. Simple enough that even a lady captain could understand it. Sector will pay your consulting fee. Don’t expect a tip.” I sign off before he can retort.
“You don’t see it much, but you still see it,” Susan was listening on the call.
My face is flaming. I can feel the heat of my heart through my chest. It doesn’t help that I’m terrified of what I have to do. Being talked down to doesn’t help.
Susan gives me a moment to compose myself before she says, “We can get you a tow, divert a Sector ship off one of the main routes. But it’s two weeks at least.”
Instead I tell her about the dark station. It’s the first time we’ve ever talked about them. I get ready to run down what a dark station is, and how I found it, when Susan pulls up a window and starts telling me about it.
“That’s Logan’s Fun, Sam Logan’s family runs it, unless someone has taken it over. We don’t have much on them, but I know they have a compressed hanger.”
“It doesn’t say. Bertha is a D-type, right? She should fit if you need to put a new tank in.”
“Crap. I didn’t ask Dick-Head-Todd if I had to remove the tank to flush it.”
“I think he would have wanted to talk to the—current owner—of a penis, in any case. He won’t be on the payroll much longer,” Susan is all business again, but I feel like the encounter with Todd has broken some kind of wall between us. “How far behind schedule will this put you?”
“I expected to go out of my way for a dark station.” There, we’re talking about it now. “But the set back really depends.”
On how well I deal with being in public. “On what they have to print. If it’s a filter it might take a couple of days. It I have to remove the tank, I don’t know how long it’ll take.”
“I’ll make contact with the resistance. Three week window?
“It’s as good a guess as any.”
“Shouldn’t set us off too much.” She switches gears again, “We found your doctor.” For some reason, the way she says it, I feel like we should be talking over a carton of ice cream. “He was on a comet mining station, trying to buy a ride out of system with someone’s cargo. My guess is that he assumed without the tank we wouldn’t have any evidence to prosecute.”
“My guess is that he was wrong?”
“Your father chose an extreme definition of ‘prosecute.’ Do you want to know how?”
“As long as it was painful, I don’t really care.”
“Lets just say that if they find him, they won’t even be sure the body was humanoid.”
I feel like that should make me feel better. Instead it triggers a wealth of emotions. Helplessness for a start. Some shock from something that never would have shocked me before. I think about what Dr. Jordan said—keeps saying. That changing back is a remote option, at best. But what I’m mostly feeling is just sadness. Overwhelming sadness.
It must show on my face because Susan keeps her professional facade down, “It’s okay Eleven, we’re going to fix this.”
All I can do is nod.
“Call me when you can,” and she goes dark.
“I think you should go,” Dr. Jordan is eating a kale salad.
Do I have to like salad now? Salad is alright, but I’ve eaten it as a main course. Maybe I’ll try to like yogurt too.
“You have a year in that body, at least, Eleven. You’ll have to talk to someone eventually.”
“Why do you keep saying, ‘at least?’ Can’t I take it off like a stained shirt?” I have noodles. A lot of noodles. Plus of Logan’s Fun: I can eat some real food.
“Eleven, in order to put your brain into a new body, we had to put it to sleep with some drugs we don’t even entirely understand. Reverting back to a 1.0 is unheard of. I don’t know a single reputable doctor that would write off on it.”
I don’t say anything, just noodle up and think about delicious station food for a bit.
“Have your hands stopped shaking?” Dr. Jordan looks at the hand, holding the chopsticks, holding the noodles, up to my face. There’s just enough of a tremor that you can see the noodles shimy like jello.
“Yeah,” I tell her. I know she can’t see the noodles on the monitor, no one could.
“Eleven, I can see the noodles.”
I jam them in my mouth. I forgot what she could see with those Gen-B eyes. “I’m fine,” through the noodles. “I can handle the transition, no problem.”
“We’ll have to run some tests,” Dr. Jordan says it in the same tone your nanny would say, of course your daddy misses you, sweetie. Or maybe that was just my nanny. “Are you going to wear that sun dress. Have you printed some cute sandals?”
I look down at what I’m wearing, tank top and panties. Panties still feel less like underwear and more like sex, but most of the time I put that out of my mind. I think about crossing for a dark station full deviant sexual alien smugglers, and glower at Dr. Jordan.
Then a terrible realization strikes me, “Oh god,” I might have spit a little bit. “I have to deal with the wackos in hunter camo.”
“Like you wear in the woods? Not like the camo that they use in the forces. It’s all covered in trees. Deer can’t tell the fucking difference. Two thirds of the humans will be wearing it.”
“And they wear this on a space station?”
“They wear it all the time. You can buy a wedding dress made of the stuff. It’s like a uniform for these anti-government nut jobs.”
“Maybe you should try to blend in. I’ll be there are mods for a cute sun dress with trees on it.”
“Fuck you.” Oh shit, have I crossed a line?
Doctor Jordan just laughs, “I’m not going to risk a visit from the ethics board.”
She totally left that open. My fantasies intrude into my malaise without warning.
But the libertarian wackos stick in my mind. “I think I’ll just wear some coveralls.” Excuse: “Gotta look like I know how to flush a water tank.”
“You should smear some grease on your face to complete the image.”
Now that I know I can, I flip her off.
She smiles when she says, “Step out of your shell, it might make you happy.”
She might be right, and that’s terrifying.
Logan’s Fun is as modular as a space station can get. Pressurized shipping containers have been adapted, and locked together in a ring, sticking out like the teeth of a gear. There are seven rings stacked on top of each other, around a central core.
Each container is a little shop, or hotel, or brothel, paying rent to the Logan family. When “theyt dern gumment” comes to get them, the can disassemble the station in a week at most. An F-type hauler can carry between 25 and 50 containers, depending on the mass. They’ll just pack up and move.
I have to see all this from the wire frame that the scanner picks up, because the damn thing is painted black. Painting something black, in space, is pretty useless in a system. Out in deep space, where the closest illumination is 40 light years away? It’s very effective.
To the naked eye that is. Of course no one would be out here without a sensor array, so being difficult to see by eye is as useless as wearing hunter camo inside a place with big metal walls, and no trees.
On the plus side, they love to buy guns.
But in this case, guns.
They’ve known about Bertha since half a parsec away of course. They haven’t told me to fuck off, which is a pretty warm welcome from these people. I’ve been broadcasting a distress signal for a couple of days, over low band. Nut jobs they may be, but they’re not heartless.
“Flight control, this is Big Bertha requesting approach vectors.” I’m sitting in the flight seat in panties and tank top still. No thinking about what’s coming.
“Big Bertha this is Logan’s Fun, ya hear to buy or sell?”
“A little of both, and I need some repairs.”
“Cleared. We’re transmitting vectors, you’re landing in bay three.” Coms tells me.
I download them, punch them in, and keep my hands on the sticks (like regulation). I almost forget to turn the gravity off. If I have it on when I enter the station, the combination would break most of my bones. My butterfly is good up to 1.5 g. Two would mangle me like a garbage compactor.
I strap in, so I’ll stay in the seat with the I-Def off. Then find out I don’t like five point restraints while I’m wearing breasts. There is no way to get these things comfortable.
Five hangers on the bottom of the core, three on the top. Hanger 3 is the largest, and it’s got room for a couple of Berthas. She finds her way inside, and I feel my blood swish around. They’re using transitive circuit I-Def. It’s more even, and more cost effective for a large station. It’s still nothing like real gravity, but it’s more real than Big Bertha’s got. My heart spends a minute adapting, and then figures out how to pump my blood right.
Hanger management asks if I want umbilicals, rudely. When I answer him with my girl voice he gets a lot nicer. I explain what I need, and add that I have money. When you tell people you can pay for things in advance, they like to help you more.
“The bot will wave you in. Meet you at the hatch?” He asks.
“Hang on, I gotta put on pants,” I tell him, and I don’t know how to feel about the way his audible swallow makes me feel.
Nah, it feels pretty nice.
I’m in the bunk house staring at clothes, while Dr. Jordan sticks in my mind.
You’re going to meet a man for the first time, Eleven. You’re going to be cool. He doesn’t know you used to have testicles. He doesn’t know you have no experience with womanhood. All he knows is that you’re pretty. He’s just going to see you as a pretty girl.
I pick up the sun dress, on the hanger, and feel the cotton in my fingers. Look at the roses.
I’m not ready to be a pretty girl. I let my dress fall out of my hands and climb into the coveralls. Zip them up really high. Safe.
And on the way out the door, I start a cute pair of sandals printing.
Lock the bunk house. Lock down the hold. Lock down the flight systems, but leave the flight deck unlocked. They might need to get inside and… do something. Leave the head unlocked. That’s just being polite.
Then I’m out in the hanger and meeting Mitch, who appears to have his shit handled. He’s young, but grizzled. Dirty but doesn’t smell bad. Strong, but dumpy in his own yellow coveralls. He has a tool box on mags, because the thing is larger than my body, and weighs at least 200 pounds.
He has a rag stuffed in his back pocket, and I totally lied, because he smells like axle grease. Only that manly smell doesn’t smell bad at all.
I should be taller than him. Eleven the first was tall, I had good genes. Well… tall genes. When I step off the stairs and find that I only come up to his shoulder, I’m caught off balance.
We shake hands. I hold his hand longer than I should, because I can’t stop thinking about how his rough palm would feel on my nipple.
“Ma’am,” he says, “If you show me where the tank is, I can get to work.” Ma’am? What is he… oh. That feels uncomfortably nice.
I’m still holding his hand, and I drop it, and pull some hair out of my eyes.
I’m not flirting. There was hair in my eyes. “You need a DX-Series 7 to run the diagnostic, do you have that?”
“Ma’am? Series 9 is considered old.”
“So’s my ship,” I give Bertha a pat on the hull so she knows I meant it as a joke.
“Big BerthaI love her nose art.” He might be cool.
I show him up the stairs and through the corridor next to the mess. I kick a can full of bolts, so that he knows it’s there, then lean against the wall. My hair is in my eyes again. Stop touching it! “I had to take apart half the ship to get to the damn thing.”
Mitch chuckles, “Regulations. You can’t just put the tank in a closet where anyone could get inside it.”
Actually, I think the tank is behind a bulkhead because there shouldn’t be a reason* to get inside it. The ship has pipes for that. But I don’t want to have that conversation, so I shrug and say, “Whatcha gonna do?”
Mitch gets on his knees and puts his body through the hole, and looks at things a bit. Then he pops back out and grabs a bulky tablet that I assume is the DX, and goes back in. Then he pops out again and grabs some kind of wire thing, and calls to me in a I’m-inside-a-machine-and-want-you-to-be-able-to-hear-me volume, “What we do is run the diagnostic on the tank and see what’s in there.” He worms his way out, tablet in hand, wires sticking into the hole. “But of course, you knew that.”
I nod. Yeah, this is how you get treated by a professional.
“The we get a filter in the system and flush the tank through it. Easy fix. Unless..” He puts the tablet down and lays a wrist on his knee, “… unless you have something really solid in there. Then you need a new tank.”
“How much is that?”
“Well I don’t want to quote you before I know, but the filter is only gonna be a couple hundred, depending on the cartridge I need. A knew tank though?” Mitch rubs his fingers, signaling an assload of money. Mitch seems like a nice guy.
With rough palms.
“The scanner is gonna test some specific gravity crap. That’ll take about twelve hours. Then we gotta get you a new filter, that’s about a week to print. Flush it a couple of times, then get you full? That’s another day, I’d guess.”
I didn’t think it would be quick, but I wanted to just catch something to eat, unload some hot ordinance and be gone. I bite my bottom lip, a gesture that seems foreign to me, and see sympathy for a moment in Mitch’s eyes.
“If you’re sick of the bunk, D’neesha has a place in 109. There’s a hostel on the second level too. It’s bigger, but… ”
He’s right, I need something other than a bunk bed, if I’m trying to get away from my bunk bed.
“… a pretty girl like you, prolly doesn’t want to sleep in a hostel.” He finishes on a point I never thought of. Right. I’m pretty, small, and now a good molestation candidate. I’ve stayed at hostels in the worst places. Finding a naked, passed out, junkie on my bed was a high point.
He continues, “There’s two z-levels up above five, but I’ve never been up there.” He gestures between our two bodies. Then his eyes slip off my face, onto my genetically perfect breasts. It’s just a second, but getting checked out is a very weird feeling.
I can go into the z-levels now. I can eat things I’ve never eaten before. Meet people I never could have met. Suddenly I feel like a new person, and the feeling lasts longer than it has before, and I say to Mitch, “Okay. I’m gonna go change while you work here.”
The sandals have finished printing, they have little buckles. When I look at myself in the mirror, I can see that Dr. Jordan was right.
You can’t wear a sun dress without sandals.
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