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。其实在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。“要是我让你感到不舒服,你随时可以离开,Fang小姐。”

“……是什么问题?”Ara问。

“这是个敏感问题,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。

“我还很好奇你是个新任的行动员还是曾经就当过。”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不舒服的,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,或者是,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实验的实验品吗?”


“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2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3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想吐还是想大笑。“……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。你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,你就能成为一个真正意义上的女人,直至基因层面都是女人。你有兴趣吗?”


Ara Fang lay on her cot in her dorm room and stared up through the skylight at the night sky.

"There are risks," the professor had told her. "Very great ones."

"More so than possibly dying on an operating table?"

"Yes," the professor said, very frankly. "Quite simply, from a safety consideration, the traditional route of lifelong hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery would be preferable. For instance, the working required would have a high energy requirement. We would, after all, be performing a working heavily Hued towards Ebony, with an extremely Tight Weave, bordering on Locked. That amount of EVE, allowed to get loose, could be catastrophic. Not to mention that the backlash would be severe. And there is the possibility that the working would be incomplete. Your body could end up… severely altered."

"How badly?"

"… extra arms. Double legs. Body parts in the wrong places. Partial sexual alteration in some body parts… others not so. Other, more severe teratogenic effects… many of them would be unsurvivable. In other cases, you may wish that you had not survived. And then there are the more esoteric risks. We are attempting to convince the universe that you are and always have been female. The universe may reject the paradox by ejecting you from its reality. Or, instead of turning you into a female, we may end up creating a new 'you' that was always female, and in so doing, destroy the person you are now. Quite frankly, my dear, considering what could happen if you undergo the working, the dangers of a slipped knife or a bad reaction under anesthesia are preferable."

"So greater risk equals greater reward?"

"That depends on how highly you value the 'reward,' as you so put it. Whether you feel it is worth the significantly greater risk."

Ara rolled off of her bed and turned on the lights. She slowly removed her clothing, pulled on her favorite pink-and-white bathrobe, and walked out the door and into the hallway.

The bathrooms were down the hall from her room, and she stepped through the one with the circular symbol of a stick figure that had broad shoulders and didn't wear a stylized skirt. At this hour, as she had hoped, there was no one else in the bathroom. She walked in front of the sinks, removed her robe, and looked at herself in the mirror.

She didn't like mirrors… didn't have any in her room. And looking at herself, she was reminded why. The person she saw in the mirror looked… wrong. Despite the small, budding breasts, in the process of forming after three long years on medicines that made her constantly sick and tired. Despite the long hair and the smooth, hairless face with the fuzz lasered off. Because there was still the narrow hips and the broader shoulders and the Adam's apple she hid under turtlenecks and tight scarves, and most of all, that thing between her legs.

She reached up and touched her own face and the stranger in the mirror touched his.

She reached out and touched the mirror, and the stranger extended his hand to touch his fingertips to hers.

She picked up the bathrobe and put it back on and walked back to her dorm.

She lay on the bed and stared up at the night sky until it turned into twilight, and then, at last, into the morning blue.


"Your first step will be halting the hormonal therapy," the Professor explained. "We need to have your body as close to its original male form as possible."

"That seems backwards," Ara said. "Shouldn't it be as close to female as possible?"

"Boiled water freezes fastest," the Professor replied.

"That isn't an answer."

"No, but it's a decent analogy. What we need to do is hold your male and female possibilities together at once, then transfer the possibility from one to the other. And the more distinct your original male possibility is, the easier it will be to differentiate you from the new possibility being formed. This is important to maintain your sense of self during the transfer. To prevent loss of self-distinction."

"How long?"

"Until the procedure is ready to be performed," the Professor said. "One year and a day from now."

And so Ara stopped taking the pills, and her breasts stopped growing, and her body hair got thicker, and she felt herself slipping backwards down the hill she'd spent so long climbing.

Meanwhile, she and the Professor began going over the various components they would need for the working. "The most important thing," he said, "is a solid image of your desired form. Photos would work. Three-dimensional figures would be best."

They went to the imaging laboratory and had photographs of her male body taken from every possible angle, and then they found someone who could Photoshop it into the body she'd always wanted to be.

Ara immediately rejected the first set of images the artist sent back. "It's too perfect," she complained.

"It looks fine to me," the Professor said.

"Of course it does. This girl is gorgeous. She could be a model… a supermodel… an actress," Ara said. She held up the image of the thin-waisted, slender beauty with flawless, smooth skin, and shook her head. "This doesn't look like me at all. It doesn't feel… right."

They sent the suggestions back to the artist, and they sat together for an entire afternoon going through permutation after permutation, adding an imperfection here, correcting one there, going through face after face after body after body after possibility after possibility until, one day, a month after they'd first sent the request out, Ara looked at the person in the images and saw herself.

Meanwhile, she underwent medical procedures of every kind. Every single millimeter of her current body was studied and recorded. After the photographs came the endoscope, then came the CAT scan, then came the MRIs, then the COLLICULUS imaging, then the genetic scans. Hundreds of thousands of images of herself from every possible angle, mapping every possible facet of a human body.

And then came the day that the sculptor delivered the statue of what her new self would look like, and she sat down across from it for an entire night, just studying her new self. She reached out and touched the face of the closed-eyed thing of silicone and steel. One day, this is what I will be, she thought to herself.

And then the day came that the Professor told her that it was time to go see a dwarf about a sword.


"A sword, huh?" the short, stocky man with the giant beard said. "Not much call for one of those in this day and age."

"Not much call for a blacksmith, either," the Professor pointed out. "I guess we were both born a few thousand years too late."

"Speak for yourself. I pity those poor medieval swordsmiths who didn't know the difference between chromium steel and high carbon." The blacksmith laughed out loud and gestured to Ara, who stood in the entrance of the smithy, nervously looking around. "Who's the twink? Your new catamite?"

"My test subject," the Professor said. "For the identity reassignment."

"So that's the tranny, huh? Come over here, let me get a look at you."

Ara felt the rage rise in her blood, but she walked over nonetheless and stared directly into the dwarf's eyes, cold and hard. The short man laughed out loud at that. "Yeah, I can see I've pissed you off a bit, huh? Good. I like a bit of spirit in my women."

"The proper term," Ara said curtly, "is trans, or trans-woman, if you wish. If you wish to continue this business transaction, you will refer to me as such and apologize for the slur."

"My apologies," the short man said, bowing his head politely. "I'll remember that for the future. I've been… apart from civilization."

"Heinrich's been living in these woods for the past… fifty years, now?"

"Fifty-five," the short man said. "People freak me out. I don't understand how the hell you guys can stand living in a fucking city surrounded by millions of the things." The short, bearded man spit into the hot coals.

"In any case, can you do it? Make the sword for us?"

"I can. But I'm not going to. She's going to do it."

"Me?" Ara squeaked, surprised.

"Yeah, you. And you're also going to make the chalice, too." He gestured to the swords hanging from pegs on the walls of his stone smithy. "Sword. Symbolically male. Oriented towards fire. Chalice. Symbolically female. Oriented towards water. Do you get what's going on here?"

"I think so. The sword and chalice are meant as symbols of my feminine and masculine aspects," Ara said, brows furrowing. "And I have to make them in order to create a strong sense of Sympathy between them for symbolic purposes."

"Got it in one," the short man said.

"Can she do it? Learn to make a sword in time for the ritual?"

"It doesn't need to be a great sword," the short man pointed out. "It only needs to be enough of a sword to serve as a symbol. And I'll help her with it. But she has to be here and help with the creation process."

"If you can afford to take the time off of classes…" the Professor said dubiously.

"One week. No longer. She comes back during Spring Break and pounds steel with me rather than partying down in Cancun or whatever."

"All right," Ara said. "I'll see you in April, then."

"Sounds good. There is, however, the matter of payment."

"How much do you want?" the Professor asked.

"Money's not an issue. I don't spend much out here, except for raw materials, and I've got a deal with the Coalition for ritual gear and such. What I want…" He turned to Ara and grinned lewdly. "Well, when Freya bargained with the dwarves for Brisingamen, she offered…"

"HEINRICH!" the Professor shouted.

"Fine! It was just a joke!" the short man said defensively.

"It wasn't a very funny one!"

"Fine, I'm sorry… but if you really want to make a deal…" The man stroked his beard and sighed. "Look, I'm generally happy living away from people. They kinda piss me off for the most part. But there are some things that I miss from the days when I lived in civilization…"


And so, when Ara returned to the cabin in the woods that following Spring, she brought with her two bottles of Laphroaig Islay Single-Malt, and one of Balvenie 40.

"Yeah, that's the stuff," Heinrich Guggenheim said, as he held the bottles up to the light, smiling. "Human beings are fucking assholes but sometimes they make something worth keeping."

He put the bottles into his cabinet reverently, like a priest handling the consecrated Hosts, and then rolled out a sheet of butcher paper on his table made of roughly hewn logs, and began sketching out a design using a charcoal pencil.

"Isn't this supposed to be my sword?" Ara asked.

"Sure," Guggenheim said.

"Then let me design it."

She thought she saw him smile as he passed her the pencil and stepped back from the table.

She sketched out a short sword, double-edged, slender and elegant, the lines evoking that of a Chinese jian, and then sketched in the ornate hilt and long tassel as well. "That part you'll have to find someone else to do," Guggenheim said. "I only do blades and sometimes hilts."

"That's fine," Ara said. "I'll find a jeweler to do the rest."

"Then let's get started."

He began by showing her how to work the bellows to heat the coals on the forge, then had her working the big hammer to pound the ingot out into a long, narrow sword blank. Her first swing missed the anvil entirely and nearly smashed into her foot. "Careful there," Heinrich warned. "You break your foot and you're going to waste the entire weekend."

"This thing is too heavy. I can't swing it."

"Then don't," Guggenheim said. "Just lift it up and let the weight do the rest."

She lifted up the heavy steel tool and let it fall onto the anvil, hard. Guggenheim grinned as he struck the steel with his own hammer. Between the two of them, and a long, backbreaking day of hard labor, they eventually managed to form the steel into a long, bladelike shape.

The week passed in much the same manner, with Guggenheim showing her how to heat the metal to the proper temperature. How to let the hammer do all the work of striking the steel. When to return the steel to the heat. He did most of the work, but made sure that she was involved in every step of the process.

The week passed, and on the second-to-last day, Ara pricked her finger and let the blood droplets fall into the two casks of oil and water laid next to the forge, as Guggenheim heated the final sword to a red heat and plunged it first into the oil, then, as the flames rose around the blade, into the water, to quench the blade.

The last day was spent polishing and sharpening the sword, and by the time the sun set at the end of the week, Ara had the blade of her sword wrapped in a silk blanket to carry back to the world.

She lay on her cot, looking up at the thatched roof that last night, as Guggenheim turned over in his bed, and asked, with a bit of trepidation, "Heinrich?"

"Yeah?"

"That first time we met. You mentioned Brisingamen."

"Yeah," Guggenheim said.

"Freyja offered gold and silver to the dwarves who made that necklace. But in the end, she paid them by spending one night with each of them."

There was silence.

Guggenheim turned over in his bed and snorted derisively. "Go to sleep, girl," he growled.

"Yes, sir," Ara said.

She pulled the blanket up over her shoulders and stared at the wall for a good, long time.

"The point of that story," Guggenheim said, after a few minutes, "isn't that Freyja slept with the dwarves. The point is that there are some things in life you'd give anything to have… and sometimes, you pay too much to get them."

"It was still an unfair thing to ask for in payment," Ara said.

"Sorry about that. In case you haven't figured it out already, I'm not a very nice man." Guggenheim yawned. "Anyway, a shitty sword like this… you'd be overpaying me."

Ara chuckled a bit and, after a few more minutes, finally drifted off to sleep.


"Glass," the woman in the leather apron said.

"Are you sure? Maybe pewter would work better," the professor said dubiously.

"Glass," the woman repeated firmly. "It has to be glass, and it has to have a silver stand. You want it to have as many feminine attributes as possible. Silver evokes the moon, glass evokes water. Glass and silver is the best choice."

"I'm not sure that we have time for her to learn both glassblowing and silversmithing," the Professor pointed out. "We're coming up on the end of that year and a day."

"She doesn't have to," the woman said. "She had to make the sword, because it represents a part of herself that's being taken away. But the chalice needs to be made by another, because it represents a new aspect of herself being added on."

"I guess that makes some sense," the Professor said dubiously. "But on the other hand, there's also a strong resonance in having her make the chalice herself."

"Why don't we ask her what she thinks?" the woman in the leather apron said, and they both turned to face Ara, who was sitting on a ratty old chair listening to the entire conversation.

"Me?"

"The chalice will be an integral part of your own transformation. It needs to have resonance to you," the Professor pointed out.

Ara scratched her head and looked across the workshop at the apprentices and workers hammering out silver and tin over small anvils and stakes. "… actually," she said, "I think I might have a different idea."


"So what exactly is this," Lydia asked, when Ara had returned from her dorm room. She held the cheap-looking glass tumbler up to the light. "Romancing the Future? What the hell does that mean?"

"… it's a prom glass," Ara said softly.

Lydia and the Professor fell silent.

"… my father didn't approve of my nature," Ara said. "He… was angry all the time. Emotionally abusive, even. Only the fact that he didn't want it getting out that his son was a 'freak' kept him from sending me off to some kind of camp or something. Maybe my mother would have understood better, but she died when I was young… and he was always afraid that he'd screwed up on raising me. Their only son. Because I wasn't happy with being a son. Because I wanted to be a daughter, like my older sisters. He used to scream at them so much. Blamed them for me being what I was. It wasn't their fault. It wasn't anyone's fault."

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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