EliteEric的沙盒

“……咱们下周再见。请在下周二来这儿之前阅读一下第三章和第四章。下课。Fang小姐,我能在你走前耽误你一点时间吗?”

Ara Fang停下捡起书的动作,抬头望向教室前面的教授。那个高大冷峻的男人正忙着收拾他的书和资料,那只和他形影不离的黑猫正在一旁的书架顶上直愣愣地看着她。教授有什么理由非要见我呢?她琢磨着,拿起包走向教室前面的红木讲台。

“请和我来一下,”教授说。“如果你不介意的话,我想和你去我的办公室单独谈谈。”

“……好。”Ara答道。她好奇地看着这位头发斑白的老人,脑海里突然想起了警钟:一个老男人想单独见我?还要远离其他人。想到这里她觉得后背一凉。

他们两个走进走廊,靠到了一边给来上下节课的学生让路,那只黑猫从书架上跃下,优雅地走在他们身边。她跟着老人上了一段楼梯,经过克劳利和亚里士多德的画作,走进了那间里面要比从外面看上去稍大一些的办公室。在ICSUT马萨诸塞校区,所有房间都是这样的。

教授的办公室非常整洁,和大学教师那种典型的乱糟糟风格完全不一样。书架上放满了或新或旧的书,书题从《宇宙简史》到《金树枝》再到《阿尔·阿吉夫附注译本》。角落里放着一个附有枕头的篮子,在那只猫歇在那里用爪子擦脸时,教授示意Ara坐下,然后关上了身后的门。

“我有一个敏感的问题想问,”他说着,找了个她对面的椅子坐下,弯下腰,把胳膊肘靠在了膝盖上。“要是我让你感到反感,你随时可以离开,Fang小姐。”

“……是什么问题?”Ara问。

“这是个敏感问题,所以如果你不想回答我也可以理解。我看过了你的学生档案,我发现你是作为由男至女的变性人注册的……”

哦操,Ara心里缩了一下。

“我还很好奇你有没有做过手术。”教授继续说道。

Ara深吸了一口气,试图平静下怦怦直跳的心脏并松开握紧的拳头。“我认为这是对我隐私的侵犯,”她说,“除非你现在能给我一个回答这个问题的理由,否则我就去报告行政部你骚扰我。”

教授缓缓侧了下头,重新靠在他的衬垫椅子上,恳求地举起手。“我道歉,Fang小姐,”他说“我并不是故意想惹你反感的,我的关注点是……非常学术性的。”他在面前把手摆了个尖塔式手势,顿了一会来整理语言。“让我换个角度说这个吧,Fang小姐,你对我的工作了解多少?”

“你是学校里一流的观测学研究者,”Ara说,“你研究知觉和智慧的性质,或者说,研究灵魂。”

“正确,”教授说,“但是学术这方面是我的副业。我另有工作是作为全球超自然联盟,特别是CAULATICA部门的顾问,以在俗世中保护超自然世界的秘密。我最近的一部分工作是优化他们的身份重置技术。物理部门的外勤特工经常需要重置身份以保护他们身后的朋友和所爱之人。这个复杂又困难的工作本质上和知觉与智慧方面的研究是相关联的。

“这和我变性有什么关系?”Ara不解。

教授笑了,那是种友善的,父亲般的笑,他的兴奋也一览无余。“你愿意做我的跨性别身份重置试验的试验品吗?”


“最简单的身份重置程序是整容手术,”教授解释道,“但是有时,情况会变得更复杂——这个人可能是个公众人物,或者可能曾参与了一次意义重大的事件。还有因为我们很多特工都在超自然环境下行动,所以我们会遇到似传1方面的问题:无论你如何改变外貌,一缕哪怕取自你入伍之前的头发都依然能和你存在联系。如今的DNA检测也让重置身份更困难了。所以我们当前的研究倾向于改变现实:从基因和EVE信号的层面彻底改变一个人的特性。”

“解决方法之一是求助于一个现实扭曲者……但是联盟……自然不愿意这样做。我在过去二十年里一直在借助巅峰级技术2研究现实改变手段。我们已经取得了一些进展,但是这个程序……应该说……还不成熟。我们能改变一个人的面貌,有时候体格和身高也能改,但是种族之类的方面,尤其是性别,就困难的多了。”

“我过去几年间一直在找一个合适的试验品,”教授解释说,“我想建议你当一名候选人。你会得到报酬以补偿为此付出的时间和承担的风险,当然,你的身份会保密,除非是你自己打算公开。至于我为什么想知道你做没做过手术是因为有……可能会根据你的当前状态而引起的……阻碍。”

“阻碍?”Ara问道。

“你是否认为自己已经完全变成了异性,”教授说,“在进行程序时你的这一思想状态对试验影响很大。我的研究表明对一个没做过手术的对象进行试验成功率最高。你对改变的渴望能有助于程序顺利进行。”

“等一下,”Ara举起手说。她的脑海里天旋地转,视野模糊起来……她不清楚自己到底是反胃还是狂喜。“……让我问清楚。你是想用魔法把我从……现在这个样子……变成女人?”

“就是这样。”教授说。

“……那你解释一下我为什么要选择你这个方法?我已经准备好了完成变性的钱。这学期结束我就要休一段时间假去开刀。然后你让我在最后放弃这一切而去试一种没测试过的魔法程序?”

“啊,”教授说,“让我们说说这种手术方法。它将移除你的外生殖器,再利用你现在的男性器官的结构和神经末梢组建一个人工阴道。然后……根据你现在是否在进行激素疗法……”

“我过去三年都在使用抗雄激素和雌激素/孕激素的混合疗法。”Ara说。

“……啊,很好。”教授兴奋地点了点头。“无论如何,你可能已经开始了乳腺发育和睾丸功能停止的过程。但是有些东西是这些过程不能改变的。你的骨骼结构依然是男性。在你的变性过程的最后,你也许会变得足够接近生理上的女性从而不再有性别焦虑感。但这都不能让你和那些生来便是女性的人一样。这些手段不能赋予你那个人类中唯属于女性的特征:孕育孩子的能力。”

“那么你说的是?”Ara感到她的世界仿佛正在消逝,声音颤抖起来。

“我是说,”教授说,“如果我的理论是正确的,如果我研发的这个程序能起作用,你就能成为一个货真价实的女人,直至基因层面都是女人。你有兴趣吗?”


Ara Fang躺在她寝室的小床上,透过天窗凝望着夜空。

“这会有风险,”教授曾告诫她。“非常大的风险。”

“比可能死在手术台上更大的风险?”

“是的。”教授非常坦率地说道。“坦白来说,从安全方面考量的话,传统的终身激素法配合变性手术的方案要更好。这个魔法进程需要非常高的能量。毕竟我们这个进程的色调3很深,几近黑檀级,它的织法也十分致密,接近锁固级。这个量级左右的EVE能量会是毁灭性的,更不用说由此引发的回火会多严重了。并且有可能这个进程没法彻底完成,你的身体最终会……严重变形。

“多严重?”

“……额外的手臂,双倍的腿,身体部分错位,某些部位部分变性而另一些却没变。别的还有些更严重的畸形,这些里很多可能致命……如果不是这些的话,你大概也宁愿死掉。还有一些更涉及神秘学的风险:我们要试图说服宇宙你一直都是女性,而宇宙可能会通过将你逐出这个现实来解决矛盾。或者,我们可能最后没有把你变成女人,而是创造了一个一直都是女人的新的“你”,这样的话,也就毁掉了如今的这个你。说真的亲爱的,考虑到你参与这个进程后可能发生的事情,手术刀打滑或是麻醉时的不良反应导致的危险都算是好事了。

“就是说高风险高回报?”

“你要这么说,得看你把这回报看的多重要。看你是否觉得值得为此去冒如此大的风险。”

Ara翻身下床,打开了灯。她慢慢脱下衣服,套上了她最喜欢的粉白相间的浴袍,出门来到走廊。

几间浴室和她的房间在同一层,她走进了一间圆圈标志里画的是宽肩膀又没有穿裙子的火柴人的浴室。如她所想,这个时间浴室里没有其他人。她走到水池前面,脱下来袍子,看着镜中的自己。

她不喜欢镜子……她的房间里也一面镜子都没有。看着她自己,她想起了那是为什么。她在镜中看到的那个人看起来……不对劲。尽管用了三年那让她时常痛苦又疲惫的药物后,她有了小小的,正在发育成型的乳房。尽管她有长发和用过激光脱毛后光滑又没有毛发的脸。但她依旧还有着狭窄的臀部和宽阔的肩膀,还有着她藏在高领衣服和厚围巾下面的喉结,最重要的,还有着那腿间的东西。

她伸出手触碰她的脸,镜中的陌生人触碰他的脸。

她伸出手触碰镜子,陌生人伸出他的手和她指尖相对。

她捡起浴袍,穿上了它走回房间。

她躺在床上凝望着夜空,直至它变成黎明,然后最终,变成清晨的碧蓝。


“你要做的第一步是停止激素疗法,”教授解释说。“我们需要你的身体尽可能接近它原始的男性形态。”

“这听起来像逆行倒施,”Ara说。“不应该尽可能接近女性吗?”

“烧开的水结冰更快。”教授答道。

“这算不上什么回答。”

“但这是个合理的比喻。我们要做的是同时获得你身为男性和女性的可能性,并将其中一种的可能性向另一种转移。你原本身为男性的可能性越明显,越容易把你和新形成的可能性区分开。这对于在转移时保持你的自我意识十分重要,能防止自我差异丧失。”

“这要多久?”

“直到程序准备好进行,”教授说,“从现在起一年零一天。”

于是Ara不再吃药了,她的乳房停止了增长,她的体毛浓密了起来,并且她感到自己正从花费许久攀上的高峰上滑落而下。

同时,她和教授开始核对魔法进程中将要用到的各种要素,“最重要的东西是,”他说,“你所希望的形象的一份可靠图像,照片应该就可以,三维模型最好。”

他们去了图像实验室,从每一个可能的角度为她的男性身体拍摄了照片,然后找了一位能把这PS成她想要的身体的人。

Ara一口否决了那位艺术家发回来的第一套图片。“这太完美了。”她抱怨说。

“我觉得这挺不错。”教授说。

“那当然是。这个女孩很迷人。她应该是个模特……一个超模……或者女演员,”Ara说。她举着那腰身纤细,皮肤光滑无暇的苗条美人图片,摇了摇头。“可这看起来一点都不像我。这感觉……不对。”

他们把建议发回给了艺术家,然后花上整个下午坐在一起尝试一种又一种组合,在这儿添些不完美的地方,在那儿再修改上一处。尝试了一种又一种脸一种又一种身体一种又一种可能性后,终于,在他们第一次寄出请求后的一个月,Ara在图片中的人身上看到了她自己。

同时,她接受了各种各样的医疗程序。她当前身体上的每一细微之处都接受了研究和记录。做完了内窥镜成像是CAT扫描,然后是核磁共振,接着还有COLLICULUS成像,再之后是基因扫描。这些从每一个可能的角度获得的成百上千张关于她的图片,描绘出了一个人体每一个可能的方面。

之后的某天,一位雕刻家送来了展现她新面貌的雕塑。她坐在那雕塑前想着她的新形象,坐了整整一晚。她伸出手抚摸那硅胶和金属组成的闭着眼睛的家伙的脸,这就是某一天我将成为的样子。,她心想着。

然后有一天,教授和她说要去向一位侏儒问问一把剑的事情。


“一把剑,哈?”那个留着大胡子的矮壮男人说。“这年头可没什么人找这东西了。”

“也没什么人找铁匠了。”教授说。“我猜我们都晚生了几千年。”

“也就你这么想。我倒是可怜那些贫苦的中世纪铸剑匠,他们连铬钢和高碳钢的区别都不知道。”铁匠大笑着,向Ara比了个手势,后者正站在铁匠铺门口,紧张地到处张望着。“这萌新是谁?你的新娈童?”

“我的实验对象,”教授说。“身份重置实验。”

“所以这就是那个娘娘腔了哈?过来,让我看看你。”

Ara感到怒气涌上了她的血液,但她还是走了过去,冷眼盯着那侏儒的眼睛。那矮个子男人又大声笑了出来。“耶,我能看出来我惹毛你了哈?不错,我喜欢有脾气的女人。”

“恰当的词,”Ara怒气冲冲地说道,“是跨性别者,或者跨性别女性。你要是想,你要是想继续这桩生意,你得这么描述我,并且为你的侮辱向我道歉。”

“我向你道歉。”矮个子男人说,礼貌地垂下头。“我以后会记得这一点的。毕竟我已经……和社会隔绝了。”

“Heinrich到现在已经在这林子里住了……五十年?”

“五十五,”矮个子男人说。“人们真是吓到我了。我不理解你们这帮家伙到底是怎么忍得了住在一个被上百万那种东西包围的操蛋城市里的。”这个矮个大胡子一下炸了毛。

“无论如何,你能做吗?为我们做一把剑?”

“我能。但我不会去做,是她要去做。”

“我?”Ara惊讶地叫出声。

“对,你。然后你还得去做个圣餐杯。”他指了指那把挂在他锻炉石壁的挂钉上的剑。“剑,象征男性,以火为本。圣餐杯,象征女性,以水为本。你现在弄清楚这是怎么回事了吗?”

“我明白了。剑和圣餐杯是用作我女性和男性部分的象征。”Ara说,皱着眉头。“而且为了这象征目的,我需要去制作它们从而在它们之间建立牢固的相似律。”

“一点没错。”矮个子男人说。

“她能做吗?赶在仪式之前学会铸剑?”

“这不需要做一把好剑,”矮个子男人解释道,“只要是足以作为象征的剑就够了。我也会帮她做。但是她必须留在这里帮忙进行铸造。”

“要是担负得起旷课的责任的话……”教授怀疑地说。

“顶多一星期。她春假的时候就别去坎昆旅游什么的了,回这里跟我打铁就行。”

“好吧,”Ara说。“那咱们四月份再见。”

“没问题。不过,关于酬劳的事情嘛。”

“想要多少钱?”教授问。

“不是钱的问题。我在这里除了买金属原料也花不了什么钱,况且这些还有仪式设备我都已经和超自然联盟谈好生意了。我想要的是……”他看向Ara,猥琐地笑着。“嗯,当芙蕾雅向矮人们求购布里希嘉曼项链的时候,她支付的是……”

“Heinrich!” 教授吼道。

“好了好了!我就是开个玩笑!”矮个子男人提防地说着。

“这一点都不好笑!”

“好吧,我道歉……但是你要真想成交的话……”男人捋着胡子叹了口气。“一般来说,能像这样远离人群生活我还是挺开心的,那些人大多时候真是让我受不了。但是在那文明社会生活时的某些东西,让我很怀念……”


在这之后,当Ara在下一个春天回到那个林中小屋时,她带了两瓶拉弗格牌的单一麦芽威士忌,还有一瓶是百富40年的。

“耶!就是这些。”Heinrich Guggenheim说着,笑着举起酒瓶迎向光。“虽然人类都是傻逼,但有时候还是能做出些值得收藏的东西。”

他像个端着圣餐面包的祭司那样恭恭敬敬地把酒放进柜子里,然后在他那张用草草砍下的木头制成的桌上铺开了一沓屠夫纸,开始用炭笔画设计图。

“这就是我那把剑吧?”Ara问。

“没错。”Guggenheim说。

“那让我来设计。”

他笑着把炭笔递给她,从桌子旁退开。

她设计了一把纤细而优雅的双刃短剑,线条如同汉语中的“剑”字,配着华丽的剑柄和长长的流苏。“这部分你得找别人去做,”Guggenheim说。“我只会做剑刃,很少做剑柄。”

“没问题,”Ara说,“我会找个珠宝匠做剩下的部分。”

“那我们开始吧。”

他首先教她怎样用风箱加热熔炉里的煤块,然后让她用大锤把铁锭打成又长又细的剑坯。她一开始没能抡到铁砧上,差点砸了自己的脚。“小心点,”Heinrich警告她,“你要是砸坏了自己的脚这整个周末就白搭了。”

“这太重了,我没法挥动它啊。”

“那就不要挥,”Guggenheim说,“就把它举起来,剩下的交给它的重量。”

于是她举起那沉重的铁器,让它自己重重落到铁砧上。Guggenheim一边咧嘴笑着一边也开始用自己的锤子打铁。两人辛苦劳动了一天,终于把铁锭打成了像细长剑刃的形状。

这周的日子就在几乎相同的工序中度过了:Guggenheim教她怎样把金属加热到合适的温度,以及怎样用锤子把铁锭打好。烧热金属的操作大部分由Guggenheim完成,不过他确保了每一步她都有参与。

这周的倒数第二天,Ara刺破手指,把血滴到了熔炉边装着油和水的桶里。Guggenheim把最终打成的剑烧得红热,然后先把它浸到了油里,当火苗窜上剑刃时再放进水里淬火。

这周的最后一天花在了抛光和打磨这把剑上,当周末的日落来临时,Ara把她的剑刃用丝毯包好以便带走。

她躺在她的小床上,最后一次望着茅草屋顶。Guggenheim在床上翻了个身时,她有点害怕地问道:“Heinrich?”

“嗯?”

“咱们第一次见的时候,你提到了布里希嘉曼项链。”

“对。”Guggenheim说。

“芙蕾雅给了制作项链的矮人们金子银子,但是最后,她给予的报酬是陪他们每人睡一晚。”

沉默。

Guggenheim在床上翻了个身,嘲弄似的哼了一声:“睡觉吧,丫头。”他喊道,

“好的,先生。”Ara说。

她把毯子盖过肩头,久久凝视着墙壁。

“那个故事的重点,”几分钟后,Guggenheim说道:“不是芙蕾雅和矮人们睡了。重点是生活中有些东西,让你会不惜代价来获取,有时候,代价会特别大。”

“那把那种事当作报酬还是不公平。”Ara说。

“那件事我很抱歉。要是你还没看出来,我得直说,我不算什么好男人,”Guggenheim打了个哈欠。“不管怎样,就这样一把劣质剑……你要那样报答我,你就亏大了。”

Ara轻笑了几声。几分钟后,她还是坠入了梦乡。


“用玻璃。”穿着皮革围裙的女人说。

“你确定?用锡可能效果更好。”教授疑问道。

“用玻璃。”女人确切地重复了一遍。“必须用玻璃,还必须要用银制的台座。你想让它有尽可能多的女性属性吧。银可以联系到月亮,玻璃可以联系到水,这二者是最佳选择。”

“我不确定我们有足够的时间学习制作玻璃器和银器。”教授说,“我们一年零一天的期限已经要到了。”

“她不用学。”女人说,“她必须做一把剑,因为那代表要从她身上取走的部分。但是圣餐杯需要别人来做,因为这代表着要增添到她身上的部分。”

“我想这有道理,”教授怀疑地说,“但是另一方面而言,让她自己做圣餐杯也会有很好的关联效果。”

“为什么不问问她自己怎么想呢?”皮围裙女人说着,和教授转身看向坐在破旧椅子上旁听的Ara。

“我?”

“圣餐杯将是你的转变过程中的不可或缺的一部分,它有必要和你自身有所关联。”教授说。

Ara挠了挠头,目光越过工作台,落在那些忙着在小木桩和小铁砧上锤制银器和锡器的学徒和工人身上。“……实际上,”她说,“我想我大概有个新主意了。”


“所以这究竟是什么?”Lydia拿起Ara从她寝室带来的那个看起来很廉价的玻璃杯问道。“‘渲染未来’?这到底是什么意思?”

“……这是毕业舞会的酒杯。”Ara轻声说。

Lydia和教授安静了下来。

“……我的父亲并不认同我的内心,”Ara说。“他……对我总是很生气,甚至是感情虐待。他不想让‘他儿子是个变态’这种事情外扬,所以从不让我参加任何夏令营之类的活动。大概我的母亲会更理解我吧,可是她在我小时候就去世了。父亲一直对抚养我这个独子这件事很苦恼,因为我并不乐意做一个儿子,而想成为一个女儿,就像我的姐姐们一样。父亲以前经常为此骂她们,责怪他们把我变成了这个样子。这不是她们的错,不是任何人的错。”

She had to sit down to steady herself… the memories were flowing faster and harsher than she'd thought they would. "I had a couple of high school friends who… were sympathetic to me. They helped me to plan it out. One of them, a girl… she was my date. She came over and I wore my tux and we left the house together. Then we went to her house, where she had the dress we'd picked out ready. She helped me put it on. Did my hair. Did my makeup. Put in the shapers and the bra and did my jewelry. And then we went to prom together."

Ara smiled bitterly as the memories came back. "A few of my old friends clapped when they saw me in my dress. Some others turned away. There were a few angry mutters, some weirded out looks. But there were a lot of happy smiles, too. I danced all night, and Shelly and I, we went out onto the beach with a bunch of our friends, and we sat on the sand and watched the sun rise, and one of my friends, a boy whom I'd had a crush on, told me he liked me no matter what I was, and he held my hand and kissed me."

"It was the best night of my life, but when I got home, after changing back into my tux and leaving my dress at Shelly's house, my father was up. Someone at the prom, I never found out who, called him and told him what I'd done. He screamed at me for hours, and hit me a lot with a rolled up newspaper. As if I were a dog. And he threw my prom glass at the wall and smashed it to bits."

"This is Shelly's," Ara said, running a finger along the rim of the cheap drinking glass that Lydia held. "She gave it to me after she heard what my father had done. So I'd have something to remember that night by." She gave the Professor and Lydia a sick smile. "She's one of the few people I regret leaving behind when I came to ICSUT."

There was a long moment of silence, and Ara realized the entire workshop had halted their work. Everyone was watching her, their hammers and snips stopped by her story.

"… yeah," Lydia said thoughtfully, holding the bowl-shaped glass up to the light. "I think if we put a silver base on this, it should do just fine."


"How do you feel?" the Professor asked.

"Tired. Hungry. Excited. Exhausted." Ara laughed nervously as she swung her feet back and forth. "Scared."

"Understandable," the Professor said. "Let's go over the particulars of the Working."

He went over the various particulars of the systems and spells and elements that would be used in the Working. Ara barely heard him. They'd gone over this many times before. But this would be the last time that they would talk each other through the procedure.

"… are you certain that you wish to continue with the procedure?" the Professor asked.

"Yes," Ara said firmly.

"Then please sign here."

He passed her what seemed like dozens of clipboards, each one with a neat "X" written near the bottom in blue ink, and Ara signed, in dozens of places, various documents relating to the fact that she knew what she was getting into and would not sue anyone ever if anything went wrong.

She signed her name with a flourish on the final sheet, and the Professor stood up to go into the next room. A very nice young lady with short hair came by next and led Ara into the next room. It looked like bride's room at a church, with a couple of couches, a table, a mirror, and a closet.

"You can change into the gown here," she said. "We'll let you know when it's time to begin."

The lady then walked over to the other door in the room, opened it, and stood in the open doorway for a moment. Ara could see that it led outside, to a cool spring day in Massachusetts.

The door closed behind her, and Ara was left alone in the room.

This was insane. She was about to undergo an extremely dangerous magical working that could backlash and kill a bunch of people. She was about to alter the very fabric of the universe itself.

And why? Because she couldn't bear to live another day without a vag? What kind of logic was that?

She should leave. She should go. She should pick up her bag and walk right out that other door and just run across the campus as fast as she could and leave this whole thing behind.

Her head spun, her vision blurred, her heart pounded. She was clenching her fists so hard she could feel her fingernails dig into her palm.

She took another deep breath.

She took off her clothes, put them in the duffel bag she'd brought along with her, and stood in front of the mirror, looking into the eyes of the stranger she saw there.

His sad eyes looked back.

She reached a hand out to him, and touched his fingertips with hers.

She walked back to the closet, flung open the doors. It felt right to don the thin white garment by swirling it through the air, like the skirt of some magical fairy princess.

She cinched the belt of the robe around her waist. Precisely ten seconds later, the doors opened, and the Professor walked in.

"Were you watching me?" she asked.

"Through COLLICULUS," the Professor admitted.

"What would you have done if I walked out that door?"

"Watched you leave. And looked for another test subject."

He closed the door behind him and looked seriously into Ara's eyes. "I have one last request for you," he said. "I need your truename."

She'd known this was coming for a while. She nodded to him and cleared her throat nervously. It felt a bit closed and dry, so she swallowed before going on. "Arachne."

"Arachne. The Spider… if memory serves, she was a weaver. One of the greatest. So great, in fact, that the goddess Artemis challenged her to a contest. Artemis wove images of the Gods ruling humanity and defeating them time and time again… and Arachne responded by weaving images of the many abuses the Gods had heaped upon mankind. And when Artemis tore her weaving to pieces, she hanged herself."

"It was Athena, not Artemis," Ara said. "And she was angry because Arachne wouldn't admit that some of her talent might have come from the Goddess of Weaving."

"My mistake," the Professor said. "And how do you feel, Spider? Are you a plaything of the Gods, abused and mistreated? Or are you the rebellious, prideful child who refuses to acknowledge their gifts?"

"… I think," Ara said, smiling nervously, "that I'm a young woman about to undergo a huge change in my life, who's feeling freaking terrified right now and just want it to be over with."

"A good answer," the Professor said. "Come."

He opened the other door and led her into the next room: a massive cave, cool and damp, with a broad, flat floor of polished stone. A small army of masons had spent many days carving a precise shape into the granite floor: it hurt her eyes to look at, consisting as it did of circles within circles within loops and angles. It had to be nearly twenty meters in diameter.

Guggenheim stood at the edge of the circle, holding a small anvil under one arm as if it were a basketball. He wore his belt of tools around his waist, including the heavy hammer she remembered so well. Lydia stood next to him, holding the silver-and-glass chalice in her hands: it looked beautiful, the expertly crafted ivy and vines in pure silver wrapping around and embracing the cheap glass. There was a small parade of other assistants here too, carrying a ewer of water, a small basin, and a tray of small knives and other tools.

All of them were dressed in black robes with red cords around their waist. And as she watched, two assistants stepped forward with a set of robes for the Professor as well. He held out his arms as they helped him into the heavy black garments and tied the red cincture around his waist. One of them passed him a staff: it looked odd, carved in a strange shape, and she realized that it had been crafted from the stock of an old rifle, reshaped to form the upper half of an ornately decorated staff.

The Professor turned to the other end of the room, where a number of persons stood around a set of complicated equipment. Another small group sat on folding chairs in the shadows. "The Working," he said, "will take place in three phases. The first is medical. The subject will be examined medically, and some final preparations will be made. The second is symbolic. A series of rituals will be carried out symbolic of the change, in order to set the lines of the working in the minds of the participants. The final stage of the Working is the precise application of several bursts of carefully targeted Aspect Radiation. For the safety of all observers and participants, we request that you remain behind the yellow line marked on the floor. Any attempt to cross the yellow line will result in immediate physical restraint."

He turned to a couple of white-coated doctors and nodded to them. Ara was led behind a curtain, where a couple of doctors performed one last physical check, took one last blood sample, patted her on the shoulder and wished her luck.

Then someone handed her the sword, wrapped in silk cloth, and stood her in line just in front of the Professor, and the entire procession walked in very slowly, at a measured pace.


She would never again be able to remember exactly how it happened. It was taped, of course, and she would later be able to watch from an outsider's perspective exactly how it all took place. But personally… she didn't remember much of anything.

There was a slow procession around the entire circle, seven times clockwise. Water was poured into a basin and poured over her head. The sword was waved over her body in a series of precise movements. She was given the sword back and told to press it to her forehead and chest while the Professor said a lot of things in Latin. The staff was pressed against her back and someone said something very loudly in Greek before striking her once, sharply, across the shoulders.

There was a black cat, the Professor's familiar, who walked between her feet seven times, halting at the left foot. The sword was taken from her, and Guggenheim broke it over his anvil with one powerful swing of his hammer. The silicone model of her future self was brought out, and she was made to embrace it seven times. A small cut was made on her upper thigh. A drop of the blood was mixed with water in the chalice and she was made to drink it. Two more drops were smeared across her face and that of the doll.

Then the Professor took a small pot of silver paint and a stylus and drew a series of symbols all over her skin and that of the doll. Everyone else was led out of the circle as a small pump filled the channels with a liquid that made her eyes water.

And then she lay in the center of the circle, her right hand holding the cold, clammy hand of the silicone doll that they had made, while a black cat sat between the two of them, unblinkingly staring at the Professor's eyes.

There was a low whumph, and the gasoline that had filled the channels of the circle was ignited. Flames rose up all around her in a precise pattern, illuminating the chamber in a lurid red light.

Purple electricity leaped between the points of the stalactites overhead and she felt herself plummet into the heart of the world.


She opened her eyes again and looked up into the face of the Professor. He was smiling down at her.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"… I hurt," Ara whimpered. And she did. Her entire body felt like it was aching horribly. Her eyes were dry, her throat was dry, she was desperately hungry. She prised her left hand free of the grip of the silicone doll and rubbed her eyes.

She missed and touched her nose instead. It felt… odd. Strange.

She turned to her left… and she saw something there crumbling into ash and dust. Something that looked very much like the body of the man she used to see in the mirror.

Then the doctors came and swarmed over her, and one of them put a rubber breath mask over her face and she closed her eyes and passed out.


She awoke to find herself lying on soft sheets, wearing a thin hospital gown, in a darkened room that beeped.

She very much had to pee.

She crawled out of the bed, but was brought up short by something hooked up to her arm. She dragged the IV along with her into the bathroom, pulled up her gown, sat down on the seat.

It felt strange… like it was coming from the wrong places, and that this muscle felt wrong, and this place was off, and this entire thing…

The realization of what was going on hit her, and she felt the tears rise up in her eyes. She gingerly reached down with the toilet paper to wipe herself off, and felt her fingertips press against her body.

It was a good hour before she could finish sobbing, and when she did, she rose up on unsteady feet, flushed the toilet, and turned on the lights. She turned to the bathroom mirror, and saw herself looking back.

She reached out a hand and felt her fingertips press against the silvered glass, and smiled.


"Well, Spider," the Professor said, snapping the clipboard closed. "According to this, you're a completely healthy young woman."

"I knew that already. I could have told you that the first night."

"Yes," the Professor said. "But this was a medical report from an outside doctor. So I guess this means that our experiment was a success." He leaned back in his chair and gave her a wry smile. "How did you like your first period?"

"It fucking sucked," Ara laughed ruefully. "I admit there was a moment, in the middle of the cramps and bloating and having what felt like half my uterus flowing out of me, that I felt like a fucking idiot for agreeing to all this."

"And the other?"

"… well, it seems functional, if that's what you're asking," Ara said, blushing. "But I haven't tried it with anyone else yet. I didn't exactly have a great time the first time I lost my virginity. I think I'm going to use the weight of experience for my second time around."

"Good on you, then." The Professor snapped his clipboard shut and got to his feet. "Well, then, Spider. I'll be seeing you around."

He got up and helped her into her coat, and locked his office door behind him. "Oh, before I forget," he said, handing her a gift bag. "This is a memento. From two new friends."

Spider waited until she was back in her dorm room to open up the gift bag and take out the contents. One of them was a glass chalice with a silver stand. The other was a broken sword mounted on a wooden plaque.

She leaned the plaque up against the wall, behind her desk, and put the chalice on her nightstand. She'd have to find a case for them, she decided, when she had a moment.

Then she changed into her pajamas and lay down on her bed, looking up through the skylight into the stars. She stayed there for a long, long time, until the blackness turned into the grey of twilight, and finally into the morning blue.

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