PRISONERS OF TIRESIAS
by Christopher Leeson
"Socialism for the 21st Century," Geoffrey Kroski, 2007,
I could see the white-coated technicians working on the other side of the gold-tinted glass shielding, their expressions intense, their movements economical. I could sense their excitement, still palpable though they must have done this operation many times before. It -- the big It -- would happen soon.
My breath shaky, I glanced down at the grating -- the high-conductivity mesh that any second now would carry a modulated burst of electromagnetic energy throughout our bodies. That burst would re-calibrate the vibratory rate of our molecular building blocks and reintergrate us out of this world and into another. Though intellectually prepared, I nonetheless shuddered, ruing the chain of events which had gotten me involved in this ludicrous project. A mutter to one side caused me to glance toward my equally-nervous neighbors.
Most of them were locked in manacles and leg irons, as befitted convicts in transit -- mostly street-gang members convicted of serious crimes. These were the bad ones, the violent two-legged sharks, the vicious fatherless sons of urban America, the rabid predators of America's crime-blasted inner cities. They were the random marauders that would kill a fourteen-year-old for a pair of Nike shoes or a sharkskin jacket, the gang-warriors who fought bloody battles over drug territory. They were the hijackers and burglars and stickup men who killed without remorse, they were the murderous pimps who knifed their own girls or cut the faces of streetwalkers who worked for rival hustlers.
This is a still from a television documentary. It shows a group of convicts in the TiresiasTransfer Chamber just before being "sent over." This wasn't our group, of course. I wasn't in the mood to take pictures that day, since I didn't think that I'd want to remember any part of it!
Misery loves company, but I could have done without company of their kind. One didn't get sent to Tiresias. for minor crimes -- crimes like grand theft auto, or assault and battery, crimes that the police no longer made arrests for, unless they were perpetrated right under their noses. The prison on Tiresias was reserved for a much more depraved sort of human debris.
Even though most of these convicts were still in their teens and twenties most of them would have long records of unpunished crime. The authorities couldn't be bothered with violent crime -- federal resources couldn't be diverted from the social revolution imposed from above which was ruining the lives of most honest people. Street crime didn't much daunt the thinkers and planners; the well-to-do elites of university and bureaucracy who were rarely touched by it. It was all a matter of priorities.
Albeit reluctantly, when public chaos grew too extreme it threatened the status quo, and America's harsh taskmasters had to take measures. The young men in the transfer chamber had been scooped up in the latest dragnet. But once one had them, what was one expected to do with them? Life meant nothing to the fifteen-to-twenty- year-olds -- not even their own; put their sort into a traditional prison and watch them line themselves up into new gangs and start wasting other prisoners -- all to the end of lording over a few miserable acres of exercise ground. The old solution would have been to oil the revolting jail door, more use of the copped plea and the prison furlough when the feds thought no one was looking. But new times called for new measures.
To control prisoners never taught self-control in the "village" that had reared them, the facility on Tiresias. had been established. It was not that internment there was notably brutal -- but it surely was strange and shocking, something calculated to "scare straight" kids who hadn't yet sunk to the lowest level on the street -- especially young males with the exaggerated but brittle machismo of the gutter.
Was the policy succeeding? High-salaried criminologists with initials behind their names assured the Congress that their policies were overwhelmingly successful. A cynic -- and there were no cynics in the courtier press -- would have observed that the policy had been so successful that every year seemed to produce a bumper crop of new criminals even worse than the last.
I was still looking with consternation at the prisoners' youthful faces -- some savage, some just stupidly brutal, some dangerously cunning. They deserved their fate, I thought -- in fact, I couldn't think of a sweeter bunch of guys to turn into women.
Turn into women! Incredible. -- Twenty years ago the idea would have sounded like a demented fantasy; today it was not only scientific reality but judicial policy.
To think that the once-secret Philadelphia Experiment had come to this -- inter-dimensional transfer. The World War II files, locked up for sixty years, had been exhumed under the Gore administration. The technological advances in the course of six decades had allowed physicists to solve the baffling problems that had foiled government scientists in 1940's -- and had been so injurious to the U.S. servicemen they had experimented upon.
In the years since, the basic theory had been widely written-up, not only in scientific journals, but also in the popular press. It had always been difficult for me to grasp that different universes occupied the same space and time. Tiresias. was one of the "alternate dimensions," or "parallel worlds," of a type that fantasy literature had long speculated upon. But most of the science-fiction writers had gotten things wrong; going to a parallel world was not like going to another planet. In interplanetary travel the ground rules at least remained the same; inter-dimensional transference was another matter altogether. Each world had its own logic, and it accepted intruders only on its own unique terms. Some indefinable "world mind" seemed to operate in each universe -- and these did very, very strange things to visitors originating in a different "reality."
On Acteon, for example, human beings were transformed into antelope-like creatures suitable for feeding on grass and breeding in great numbers, but not much else. That made Acteon almost useless for any purpose of colonization or exploitation. With hooves instead of hands one couldn't even mine its mineral deposits. (Interestingly, some law-and-order types on the extreme Left suggested making it into another prison world for lifers without parole -- just turn them out to pasture for a bland existence of eating, sleeping, screwing, and butting heads).
On the other hand, people on Triton became a rather repulsive species of bipedal amphibian, suitable to the ecosystem of that watery world. On Nessus, Earthers remained human-looking, but gained a couple more bodily organs which helped them filter out environmental toxins that would have swiftly killed a normal person.
Likewise, native "people" taken from the parallel worlds to Earth changed into ordinary human beings -- ordinary for our world, that is. I saw on a television documentary how one of the intelligent antelopes born on Acteon had transformed into a pleasant-looking woman when abducted to Earth -- much to her shock.
Tiresias had its quirks, too, but those made even less sense than Acteon's. On Tiresias, Earth men became women, and vice versa. It was as simple as it was astonishing to contemplate. What purpose could this possibly serve in the Tiresian universe which couldn't be as equally well-served by leaving things as they were? Well, it was just one of those things that you had to accept as given; if one couldn't, he should stay home.
Some scientists and researchers volunteered to explore all the worlds, including Tiresias, but others were sent by fiat -- mostly soldiers who were needed to guard small, scattered research facilities, and, later, the construction men, guards, administration, and, finally, inmates of the U.S. Federal Penitentiary Tiresias.
I was accompanying the newest batch. Their anxiety showed in the way they looked at one another, or refused to look at anything except their own feet. For most of them courage had only amounted to false bravado anyway -- the attacks of the strong on the weak, of the many upon the few. The gang warrior was no real man because most of them had grown up without male supervision, and so modeled themselves upon the older pimps, pushers, and gunmen of their respective 'hoods. When you got right down to it, the young career criminal was just a messed-up child playing outlaw. Unfortunately, he played for keeps. Most older career criminals alive today had come from their scruffy ranks, of course, but there weren't a great many older criminals; the high death rate mandated early retirement.
There were practical reasons for using Tiresias as a prison for violent offenders. Besides the demoralizing aspects of a radical physical transformation, there was the accompanying loss of size, weight, and upper-body musculature, all of which made a prisoner a little less dangerous to his guards -- and which collectively tended to sap the criminal of his confidence. Also, studies had demonstrated that the Tiresian transformation brought with it a psychological change. Just as women changed to men tended to be more aggressive on Tiresias, males changed to women seemed to grow more passive. This fact was not very PC, but it represented the reality of sexual psychology and, fortunately, it made for more docile prisoners. There were no facilities for female malefactors on the parallel world; sending them there from Earth would have been counter-productive.
I wouldn't waste sympathy on the street criminal, but their punishment affected us, their guards, too: Correctional officers were needed to keep the rubbish in line, and consequently those us sent over to guard them were going to be transformed right along with them!
I regarded the other three custodians who were being "sent over" with me; two males, one female. The female, Rother, was big-boned and horse-faced; she seemed steely-nerved though, considering the incredible thing which was about to happen to her. I guessed that she was a volunteer; decades of feminist propagandizing had kept male-envy gnawing at the hearts of millions of women. On the other hand, despite political, social, and economic discrimination, upwards of 95% of American men still preferred to have women -- not be women.
So it was no wonder that my two male colleagues seemed much more dubious about our journey than did Ms. Rother. Very few men volunteered for a tour on Tiresias, and those sent over unwillingly were mostly the screw-ups working off charges; their Tiresian tour was looked upon as either discipline or atonement. Some few men did volunteer for Tiresias, naturally, but these were mostly gays, TV's, and TS's. But, when all was said and done, the Service did not have nearly enough willing men to staff Tiresias year after year, despite all sorts of recruitment inducements. Hence the arm-twisting.
I couldn't help but try to imagine what my brother officers would look like as women. I wagered that Brady, the smaller man, might translate into the average housewife type -- not much to look at, but I understood that it should at least cure his baldness. The other, Volsted, was a big Scandinavian-looking guy who must have lifted weights. Whatever he became, I was quite sure that he wouldn't be the sort I'd ever want to take to bed -- but of course that wouldn't be my option.
Just then the space around us hummed; I felt a low-voltage current coursing through my body, the fillings in my teeth hurt, and I suddenly felt hollow inside.
Holy shit, it's starting!
The power throbbed along the floor grid, vibrated through my skeleton and something tasted strange in my mouth. I cried out as every nerve in my body charged like a live wire, but the pain lasted only a few seconds before everything went white.
No wonder you had to pass a physical! Too bad you're as healthy as a horse.
My vision blurred, but I heard an intense ringing in my ears as I stood reeling, only dimly aware that the throbbing under my feet had already faded away. The room was coming back into view and only slowly did I realize that it wasn't the same room; it was a transfer chamber of about the same size as the first, but the walls were painted apple green instead of steely gray, and the fixtures were different -- or at least they were installed in different places.
Oh, my God! We're there!
#There was an obscene mutter around me and as my senses cleared, I realized that I was standing behind a crowd of a dozen women, most of them cuffed and ankle-chained, and just one guy -- a big, ugly-looking palooka in clothes much too tight for him; it was a good thing that Rother had been warned to loosen her tie and buttons before entering the chamber.
I thought I smelled something different hiding under the prevailing odor of ozone -- it wasn't bad, just different. I realized soon enough that it must be the air of Tiresias; we had reached another planet, or at least a parallel world of Earth! But whatever we were, the reality of leaving old Earth behind came as one hell of a shock.
Shifting slightly, I noted the looseness of my clothes. It had happened! I'd lost stature. I wrestled with the urge to look at myself, to see what I had become, successfully fighting off the impulse, just as a disfigured person will oftentimes refuse to look into a mirror. I didn't want to touch myself either, and so let my arms hang slackly at my sides. Even in that position I felt a kind of over-stuffing in my duty jacket, despite its large size and loose fit.
Oh, Lord, was it true? Did I have breasts? Sure I did! Intellectually I knew that I did; I only hoped that they would do no more than fill an A-cup. They felt heavy anyway; I suddenly remembered Aunt Millie and hoped that I hadn't inherited my female figure from her side of the family.
I glanced at my colleagues again. Brady had become a small woman, just as he had been a smallish man -- a Plain Jane really, but one who looked like she had been a woman from the day of her birth -- and that was the amazing part. She was still bald, but based on what I'd read I would have bet dollars to donuts that her hair follicles had been restored and would grow out; that was the way things usually worked on Tiresias.
Volsted, as it happened, was still a big person, but not so tall or broad-shouldered. "Miss" Volsted looked like a strong working class girl, or one of that small class of female body-builders. -- And damn! Was that a pair of muskmelons tucked into her jacket? Her face wasn't bad, actually; if she had been a little more fine-boned, I might have --
Volsted was returning my look of amazement --
Christ, what do I look like to her?
I could have laughed, if it all hadn't been so horrifying. The gorge rising to my throat burned like acid, but the worst thing was I didn't dare yell, rant, and rave to let my emotions out. I had to appear steady and unflappable, if I didn't want my job-performance rating to get worse.
Just then the doors slid open with a hiss. A man in a bleached lab coat stepped inside our chamber, regarding us with interest and, probably, with mild amusement. "Ladies, gentleman, welcome to the United States Federal Penitentiary, Tiresias," he greeted us. "Some of you are correctional officers, some of you are -- inmates. Don't be nervous. The type of transformation we undergo usually doesn't have any bad side effects. We haven't lost anyone in a long while.
"Prisoners will be taken to holding cells," he went on, "to begin orientation. And you new staff members shall be conducted to the infirmary and checked out for transfer-related stress. You won't be assigned to any regular duties until you have attended introductory classes and have made the basic adjustments. From long experience, we don't expect any serious problems."
He raised a hand and several guards, both male and female, came in prodding, and in some cases helping, the transformed prisoners from the chamber. As far as the inmates went, I spotted a couple of fantastically ugly cows among them, but two or three svelte foxes as well. I particularly noted a Latina girl of about twenty with curly black hair. Prisoner pants were tailored tight these days, but on this one they looked intriguing. I grinned sardonically as I watched her sashay away -- a pretty little senorita for sure!
Then I shook myself. Don't worry about that bum, guy; worry about yourself. What did I look like? I felt a little dizzy just then and looked around for something to hold onto -- until the white-coated man steadied me with a cradling arm. He towered over me like he was seven feet tall. Only then did I realize that I must have lost some inches. then I noticed that he was behaving a little too solicitously to suit me, while almost ignoring Brady and Volsted. I grimaced with annoyance, not liking to be singled out as some kind of weak sister in need of special help.
"It's a little shocking at first, I know," the man reassured me, "but don't worry. You've made a fine transformation, Mr. -- " he read my name tag "-- Carter -- Miss Carter, I should say. It takes a little getting used to, but you'll be fine."
What in hell does he think is so fine?
#Dr. Trent was a good-looking female of thirty-something, with light red-brown hair and striking eyes that, depending on the light, sometimes seemed yellow-brown and sometimes green. Anyway they were keen, intelligent. An even more outstanding particular about Dr. Trent was the fact that she was pregnant. Very, very pregnant.
This is Doctor Trent in a picture taken shortly before the "big day."That bowled me over, seeing as she must have been a man just a few months before -- at least seven months before, I guessed. Normally, people's tours were one year long; to have bloomed that much suggested that she'd gotten knocked up "just off the boat." I couldn't understand why anyone would let a condition like that go, especially since she was a doctor. She smiled, no doubt realizing that I was trying hard not to stare at, but otherwise didn't react while examining me.
Trent's condition shouldn't have thrown me so much; I'd read that pregnancy was possible on Tiresias and, in fact, it was one of those sensational aspects that had caught the imagination of the supermarket tabloids. But to be confronted with it this early. . . .
Finally, Trent touched her gravid belly and said wryly: "Don't worry, Mr. Carter; it won't happen to you -- unless you happen to get careless."
"Were -- were you careless?" I asked with a stumble -- and, I now realize, with a voice that had been raised an octave.
"Only in my choice of wives," she replied with a shrug.
"Your wife?" Despite all I knew, I was pre-programmed to suppose she meant the conventional lesbian marriage, but it took me only seconds to grasp that she really did mean wife, as in "man and wife."
"It's a long story," Trent grimaced, as if she had led the conversation out into a field where she didn't want to pick the daisies. "Maybe we'll have a chance to talk later over a glass of prune juice."
"Prune juice?" I scowled. "Is that what people drink here?"
"No," she brightened, "it's just me; I've had a craving for prune juice lately. -- It's crazy what pregnancy does to a person, but it's wonderful."
Wonderful? I couldn't believe she'd said that; the subject had been on my short list of worst-case disasters from the minute I'd gotten my transfer orders to Tiresias. I was glad when the doctor abandoned the subject to turn her attention to the settings of her diagnostic scanner.
"Don't move," Trent told me as the device's lights went on and the scanning bar advanced on a track over the length of my body -- a strange woman's body currently draped in a simple examination pullover. I still hadn't had the stomach to gaze into a mirror and couldn't help but shudder when I'd had to take my clothes off. But even a brief, loathing glance had confirmed that I had sizable mammae -- and all the specific plumbing that went with the sex. As distraught as I was, I wondered how the physician expected to get a valid blood pressure reading or heart sounding.
While the examination progressed Dr. Trent didn't discourage me from talking.
"Is your -- wife -- happy about the baby?" I asked carefully.
She shook her head. "She doesn't give a damn. I'm divorced."
I almost asked "Then who did it?" but the question seemed a bit too personal.
Over all, though, the doctor maintained a frank manner, probably in an effort to reassure and encourage her patients. "What did you do to get here?" she asked me suddenly.
That subject brought back a lot of grief and indignation, so I just shrugged. "Maybe I volunteered."
Trent chuckled. "We don't get many male volunteers and, anyway, volunteers never look quite so hangdog. You must have screwed up pretty badly, young lady, to get posted to Tiresias."
"I'm not a young lady!" I flared.
"You're under thirty. And I'm willing to assume that you're a lady until you prove otherwise."
I glanced annoyedly into her handsome face, but the doctor's evident good nature disarmed me. "Okay," I said, cooling it, "I was on report for -- sexual tiresias-pt1.html."
She whistled sympathetically. "Nasty; the feds consider that only one step short of murder."
"Tell me about it!"
"Did you have a female EEOC officer?"
"How did you guess?" I asked sarcastically.
"I've got an idea how things operate in the federal loony bin."
"It was a bum rap!' I protested. "Is asking the same woman for a date twice tiresias-pt1.html?"
"Of course it is, if she decides to make it so. If the Founding Fathers wanted a free country, they'd never have come up with the Commerce Clause."
I decided I liked Dr. Trent; after all; it wasn't every university graduate who had heard of the Commerce Clause.
********"Let us make no mistake; the vices which will inevitably disintegrate any group -- be it military, political or social -- do not change. Nations fall because of (1) Bad leadership; (2) Lack of team spirit; (3) A lack of virtue; (4) Lack of initiative and drive; and (5) Lack of self-discipline. Given time, fifty years to a century usually, any one of these can lay civilization itself in the dust. Modern America is afflicted with all five, like a terminal patient riddled with multiple disease.
"When Civilizations Implode," Norman Corveland, 2017
So I sized up the doctor anew. Did she feel like I did? There were times when I churned with so much rage that I wanted to leap out of my skin -- but though I usually got through such moments by unburdening my grief to a sympathetic ear, I didn't dare say much to a stranger. Trent could be a provocateur who would report me -- and that could mean reprisals. I could end up doing an extended tour as a female officer, or worse, I could be fired and packed home as an unemployable.
Uncle Sam needed unemployables; spreading destitution made the powerful more secure; that was why the Third World had so long managed to slouch along as a crazy quilt of tyrannies.
Anyway, even if the doctor wasn't an informer how could I trust her? There had to be something wrong with a man who would come to Tiresias, get instantly pregnant, and then think it was wonderful.
At that moment Dr. Trent pivoted the scanner away. "Get up, Miss Carter, and get dressed. You're as fit as a Missouri mule."
I'd rather be called a mule than a "miss," but I supposed that noun gender was only one of the indignities that I would have to get used to. Resigned, I sat up and rubbed my thighs, but the slimness and smoothness I felt there took me aback.
"What happens next, Doctor?"
"Oh, you'll be taken to your quarters to rest. Relaxing is a good way to start your period of adjustment. You'll be meeting your roommate before long."
"Roommate?" The thought made me queasy. The very thought of being penned in with a weird Tiresias misfit. . . .
"She'll be more of a counselor, actually," Dr. Trent continued. "She'll help you to get oriented." The physician then gave me an ironic grin. "She'll even help you to get ready for your ingenue party."
"Your initiation. All the new Sallys and Charlies get an ingenue party. It's hardest on the Charlies."
She mistook my "I don't want to believe it" look for a misunderstanding of her terms, which was not the case at all. I had done enough preparatory reading to pick up on the slang.
"Charlie and Sally were characters in a couple of classic movies who suddenly got sex-changed against their will," Dr. Trent explained. "If you don't want to lose your mind on Tiresias, don't lose your sense of humor."
"What's this initiation like?"
"Sometimes it gets pretty heavy, like the Equator-crossing ceremonies back home. You'll have to wear a party dress, dance with all the men who want to dance with you, receive a welcoming gift calculated to embarrass you all to hell, and then you'll get to watch a porn movie or two."
"That sounds humiliating! Does the whole staff come to gawk?"
"No, it's mostly just the rats who want to give the new people a hard time."
"Shit! Do I have to go through with this?"
"I'd advise that you do, Miss Carter. We have a lot of bad asses on the staff, especially among our `men.' If you come off as a good sport your tour probably won't be a bad one. But if some of the bad ones get the idea that you're a jerk or just a scared little rabbit, the hazing could go on for months."
"Hazing? I thought the feds were going to protect me from that now that I'm a -- a -- " I couldn't say the word.
"You were a second class citizen at home, my dear, and you're a second class citizen here. That's the federal system."
There it was again -- the sense of anger beneath a surface geniality. I looked squarely into the doctor's eyes and somehow I suspected that I had just made a friend.
#After my examination, I was escorted to the dormitory by a uniformed woman -- a "Charlie" in the local vernacular -- who didn't bother to give her name, and her morose attitude conveyed the idea that life here would was going to be pretty bad.
I was shuffling along in my now over-sized shoes -- which added to the awkwardness that would have been bad enough due to my unaccustomed new size and weight. Arriving at the room, my silent usher left me with nothing but a nod, and I noted that my assigned quarters were simple but comfortable enough -- including two queen-sized beds that reminded me that I would have a roommate. Fortunately, my new quarters had a window, which I hadn't had in my last barracks room back home, though it only overlooked a series of walls and the main exercise yard. There was a phone on one of the two dressers, and a TV/audio unit on the other. Obviously they could provide only local service; we were on a different planet after all.
I peered into one of the two the closets, large metal cabinets, really, and noted that it contained very little except linens and my luggage neatly arranged upon on its floor, delivered beforehand by some porter. The other closet had no luggage; my roommate, whoever she (he?} was, apparently hadn't moved in yet either. I certainly didn't want company in my current misery, and therefore wasn't at all eager to meet her (him?) -- all the more so because anyone in a place like this had to be a mental case, as Dr. Trent had to be, despite her genial manner.
Standing there contemplating a year spent in bedlam, I glimpsed my hand on the cabinet frame -- a woman's hand, naturally, and a stranger's hand. Maybe my original numbness was wearing off, because the sight of my new hand shook me up considerably; I bit my lip and steadied myself.
A woman! I still couldn't believe it. Changing sex is not like changing clothes; not until one has lost his identity so completely as I had can he understand what it's like. Even so, it wouldn't do to go to pieces the first day and so I steeled myself to behave like nothing was wrong, I turned around -- only to come face to face with a wall mirror.
I quickly glanced away. I wished that I were invisible; I wanted to blend into the background and go unnoticed for the entire year of my tour.
How could I get through one day of this, much less an entire year? But I wouldn't let it beat me. Changing would be a kind of a defeat; I didn't want to become anything different than I was. While I couldn't do a thing about the physical change, my mind was my own, wasn't it? I tried to focus as I stood there, to emotionally dig in. What I had to do, I'd decided previously, was to set my persona in concrete, to prepare myself to resist anything that would threaten my immutable inner man. I'd promised myself that I would leave Tiresias thinking, acting, and feeling like the exact same person I'd been when I arrived.
Grimly resolved, I took a deep breath and slipped off my jacket, tossing it at the hook on the closet door, which I missed because my hand was shaking, then flopped down on the bed, dead tired. -- DCE, Dimension-Crossing-Enervation, the books called it. It would pass, or so Dr. Trent had assured me, but it as sure as hell had left me as weak as a kitten just then.
I think I napped for a while, don't ask me how, but at last a rattling sound woke me up. A young woman was backing through the door loaded down with suitcases; when she saw me blinking at her she smiled over her shoulder. I smiled back mechanically, assuming this chick had to be my new roommate.
Not too shabby.
This is me as I was just a few months before my transfer to Tiresias. What a fox!She set her gear down and gave a hard exhale of relief. I estimated that the newcomer was in her mid-twenties. Her amber hair was pinned up and she was wearing the standard duty uniform -- dark gray jacket, jet slacks, and underneath (I knew) a blue shirt with black piping with and simple cloth epaulets. Her insignia told me that we were of equal rank, U.S.C.S.O. First Class.
The girl sat down upon her mattress, to take my measure, I supposed. Her eyes, I noted, were widely-set, and rich blue. She had a pretty mouth whose smile brightened her whole face.
"Hi," she said. "You've got to be Officer Carter, right?"
I nodded sullenly.
"My name is Milholland -- Alice. That comes from Alex -- Alexander. Most people call me Allie." She stretched out her hand and waited for me to take it.
Struggling up to a sitting position, I grasped it briefly. "I'm Aaron," I said, making the effort to be cordial. "-- Christ, will I have to use a girl's name around here, too?"
"It's the custom," she grinned. "Don't worry. You won't have to think of one yourself; they'll lay one on you next Friday night, at your ingenue party."
"Somebody else names us?" I asked, not liking the idea.
She nodded. "That's the privilege of the Sally with the longest service on Tiresias, and that'll be Mort Jamshidian these days. He's not so bad; he won't call you anything raunchy -- unless he catches you making fun of his name. Maybe he'll think up some feminine version of Aaron, or maybe just pick one out of thin air, like Melanie, or Laura. -- I think you'd make a good Laura," she added with an appraising glance..
I fell back upon the mattress to stare dismally at the ceiling. "I don't need this. Take me out of here, Lord! Take me out of here and I'll become a missionary in New Guinea!"
Allie stepped up and stood over me. "Aaron, you can't let this stuff get to you. You'll make it; I was in worse shape than you eight months ago."
I covered my eyes with my hands. "I don't want to be a girl! I don't want to be a girl! I don't want to be a girl!"
Allie settled down beside me and rested her hand on my forearm. "I know it's hard, Aaron; that's why I'm here, to help you. I hope we can be friends, because I can really use a new one. I just lost my best bud, Jodie, a few days ago when she went back to Earth. I hope you aren't missing anybody back home too much. That's always tough."
"No," I answered sourly. "I don't have anybody; I don't have anything. I'm nothing! Nobody will miss me. So turn me into a girl. Abuse me! Humiliate me! I don't care!"
She only laughed and smiled sorrowfully in reaction, despite my determination to be miserable. Then I looked her way again and saw that her features had grown sympathetic.
"That's better," Allie said with a nod. "I think you're going to be all right. If it gets too rough, if you really need to get your head readjusted, we have a couple psychs on the medical staff who specialize in identity problems. Most new Charlies don't need them, actually; it's usually the new Sallys who get the worst reaction."
I got up on one elbow. "Why's that?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "Maybe so many of them actually want to be men, and so when it actually happens it's a letdown. Us Charlies set our expectations kind of low. -- Or maybe girls just have more fun!"
"Then I know I'm not a girl," I exclaimed, "because I'm not having any fun!"
"That's what they all say," she nodded, grinning, her hand remaining in place upon my arm. I wondered just briefly whether Allie might actually be as weird as I had feared and that her gesture amounted to a sexual come-on, but the good-natured glitter in her eyes struck me as uncalculating. Normally I'd have welcomed a pass from any girl as attractive as Allie, but not here!
"Aaron, it's all a matter of attitude," the amber-haired officer coaxed with apparent sincerity. "Believe me; I've been through it."
Unconvinced, I rolled away and lay on my left side.
Allie stood up with a sigh. "You could always resign and go back right away, but you'll probably never get a decent job again. It's like a punishment to be sent here, I know, but it's also an experience that might be valuable later on."
"How?" I grumbled, my face still averted.
"Like, I think I'm going to be a lot smarter about getting into a woman's pants after being one myself for a year. I mean being a woman, not a pair of women's pants."
I almost cracked up; apparently this Allie didn't have a philosophical bone in her body. I looked her way again and fired back: "I'd think you'd have had enough of women's pants after a year of wearing them yourself!"
Allie laughed again. "That's good! I think I like you already."
I thought I could like her, too -- if only she didn't turn weird on me.
Allie sidled toward her luggage, scooped up a suitcase, flung it on her bed, and started unpacking. "Whenever any new people come, a lot of us get juggled around. My old roommate was Dori; I can't wait to introduce the two of you. She does tricks."
"She does what?!"
"It's not like that -- Oh, you'll see!" she said with a puckish grin.
I let the subject of tricky Dori rest, but still didn't feel like unpacking, so instead I just lay there and watched my new roommate fill the closet and the dresser drawers with her things. The sight of feminine apparel among the luggage of such a girl so fetching would have seemed very normal back on Earth, but in the context of Tiresias it disturbed me no little bit.
How much of a man was Allie? She had a light, free-wheeling stride, not like a mle at all; had she troubled to learn to sashay that way, or did it come natural here? I closed my eyes. "If it looks like at duck, talks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it still might not be a duck," I told myself.
I'm sure not a duck either!
After a while, Allie paused in her work and mopped her beaded brow with the back of her hand. "Like I said, Aaron," she said, "getting along is all a matter of attitude. You're going to be a woman for a year -- just accept it and don't let it get you down. After all, it's been the experience of half the human race since the Garden of Eden, so it can't be so hard -- and it isn't. Treating the whole business like a joke is a good way to handle it at first."
"I've never felt less like laughing."
She put her hands on her hips, like a runway model. "But you can have loads of fun with the idea, Aaron! Play act. Enjoy yourself! Be the sexiest thing on two legs!
"Is that what you are?" I asked with just a little more sarcasm than I had wanted to inject into this initial exchange.
"When I came here I was bummed out like you wouldn't believe," Allie declared undimmed, "but being a girl hasn't killed me and it's not going to kill you either. We have some assholes on staff, but there's a lot of good people here, too, and I bet you'll come away with friendships that'll last a lifetime."
"I'm all for friends," I murmured without much spirit, then a nagging question reoccured to me. "Allie," I asked, "is Dr. Trent all what she seems?"
The blonde shot me a wry glance. "Pregnant? Of course she is!"
"I don't mean tha!. It's just that she was kind of outspoken; she's not a shill for the warden, is she?"
"Oh, no. Dr. Trent's great! Nobody ever got into trouble by confiding in Dr. Trent."
I looked at her, really hoping I could take Allie herself at face value. I expected to have a hard time on Tiresias and getting through the next twelve, hard months could be made much easier if I had a real chum, and not just an impersonal counselor, or a company spy.
"Why is she pregnant?" I pressed. "What sort of man would do that to himself?"
Allie leaned back against one of the dressers, her moue grown suddenly serious. "Well, that's her personal business, Aaron. I just don't like to gossip about people I like; she'll explain everything once she takes to you. It's sort of -- " Allie checked herself and the set of her lips suggested to me that Trent's story wouldn't be all fun and games.
I changed the subject. "Allie, sometimes I get confused about how people use nouns and pronouns around here. Sometimes I'm not sure who's meant when I hear the words 'girls' and 'guys' and 'he' and 'she.'"
Allie grinned again. "Tiresias is a crazy place, all right! Well, we always look at things from the Tiresian perspective. You and I are girls, or women, hers and shes. The people with the cocks and balls are always the guys, or men, the hims and hes. Keep that in mind and everybody will understand you."
"For Pete's sake, I'm a 'she,'" I moaned, sinking into my pillow, closing my eyes, and trying to shut out the whole cruel world.
This is a snapshot of Allie Milholland. One could do worse for a roommate.
#After Allie had unpacked, she left me alone to continue resting. From Allie's exuberance I had managed to draw at least a slim hope that a person could learn to handle this sex-change business. Anyway, whatever her experiences, she didn't seem to have been hurt too badly by them.
I slowly gathered enough willpower to roll out of bed and walked to the full-length mirror, this time confronting my reflection with grim determination.
If I had had a sister, that would have been her looking back at me. All I recognized was my hair, very light brown blonded by the sun, then I noticed that I had a nose like my mother's -- like I always had, of course -- but the rest of my body was strictly from fantasy land!
I blenched away for a moment, sorting out a grab bag of feelings -- which ran the gamut from deadly shock to sheer panic. All at once I had a terrible thought.
People will think that I'm a woman!
Well, duh! Of course they will, you idiot! Get used to it!
I had recovered my equanimity enough to face up to the glass a second time. I had been sporting my hair longish, in the current male fashion, and now its length added to the reflection's general impression of femininity. I'd always had a rather full lower lip, but it now looked positively bee-stung and pouty -- in fact, it was just about the sexiest mouth I had ever seen on a girl! I just couldn't believe it. Some guy might even look at me twice. Thrice. Damn it, a babe like me would have to beat the studs off with a hammer!
All right, all right, chin up. You're a tougher bastard than that, Aaron Carter.
I steadied myself and subjected myself to a third look, unable to tell much about my build with my oversized shirt and pants on. I pulled up a sleeve and bared a slender arm, noting that the muscles that I had carefully built up through many a game of tennis were still there, but reduced to their feminine equivalents, statistically 30% weaker than an equivalent male. I touched my rib cage. Bony. I probed lower. My waist was small -- but my hips weren't. I had already caught a couple horrified glimpses of my breasts when changing clothes at the medical department; I didn't know their size at this point, but they looked like whoppers. Would I have to start wearing a bra? Jut then I remembered that Allie had stuffed several examples of that damnable garment into her dresser.
Speak of the devil! A key clicked in the lock and I jolted, as if surprised in a naughty act. My roommate had returned, carrying a brown paper bag with handles.
"Oh, good, you're up and around," said the young officer cheerily. "It's time we took you to Supply and get you some new clothes. Here's something you can wear to keep you from looking like an unmade bed until then." She pressed the bag into my hands; I saw that it contained a pair of unisex coveralls and sandals.
"Thanks," I said. "Better this than a bikini."
"Don't be so sour, Aaron. Pretty soon you'll be wanting a bikini of your own so you can strut your stuff."
"That'll be the day!"
That'll be the day that I die!
#So, we went to Supply and got my basic measurements taken. Uncle Sam (or was that Aunt Samantha here on Tiresias?) paid for two uniforms, a pair of shoes, a pack of several underpants (which were only sort-of sexy), a couple bras (that answered one of my questions), a pair of off-duty slacks, and two print shirts for lounging. I was also issued a pack of three women's tank-top t-shirts, three pairs of socks, and a grooming kit containing a comb, some hair pins, soap, lotions, and hair-care products. I understood that everything else I thought I needed would be paid for out of my pocket for the rest of the quarter. In the interest of economy I decided to put off any additional purchases until I saw a distinct need, though I already knew I'd soon need another pair of leisure pants, a couple more shirts, and some sneakers for knocking around. I didn't notice any lingerie or skirts dislayed on the shelves -- which came as a relief.
"Do we get all our things here?" I asked Allie.
She shook her head. "No, just official issue and the settling-in stuff. There's a store for us staff, and even the prisoners can order from it --- of course, everything is expensive and the inmates earn next to nothing."
I donned my uniform in the changing room, only to be startled at the sight of the sharp-looking female officer who looked back at me from the mirror at the end of the process.
Afterwards, Allie and I made a brief stop at Administration to get my new badge (with a new photo ID, snapped and assembled in five minutes), a key-card, and insignias. Then Allie showed me to the cafeteria, though I still didn't have much appetite. I immediately observed that they were serving the same gut-bomb stuff that every staff cafeteria had been dishing out since time began -- only this junk smelled even more preserved than usual.
I crossed the dimensional barriers just to dine on Spam?!
"Over at the salad bar they have some fresh fruit and vegetables," suggested Allie. I nodded absently and we went with her to load up.
"We grow some stuff here," my roommate remarked casually. "Tending the gardens is one of the things that we have the prisoners do."
"I hope it's washed thoroughly," I remarked, imagining the scatological vengeance the prisoners were apt to take upon the guards' food.
"We also buy produce from the barbarians," Allie went on. "It's tricky doing that, though; only specially-trained people like Dr. Donnalyn are allowed any direct contact with natives. It's what they call the 'Prime Directive,' after that old Star Trek series, I guess. We're told that we have to do everything we can to avoid `contaminating their indigenous culture'. The Tiresians must know practically nothing about us and I've heard that some of them think that we're gods."
"What do you actually know about the native cultures here, Goddess?"
"You probably know more than I do, if you've done the usual prepatory reading," she shrugged. "I was kind of out of it when they told me I had to come here, and so I didn't do any of the orientation that I could avoid."
"Isn't there anything in the prison library?"
"Well, sure," she said, "but I never seem to find time to go there. Anyway, the people outside are human, just like us; we can even breed together."
"Breed? What poor Charlie had to get knocked up to find that out?"
"I don't know how the experiments were conducted," she responded wryly, "but it probably would make a good docu-drama."
Or an erotic movie! Actually, pregnancy was part of the plot of a Tiresias adventure movie that I saw a year earlier and staring ex-super-model Kathleen Randall as Capt. Lester Pierson.
Here's a publicity shot of Kathleen Randall as "Lester Pierson" in her movie "Tiresias: No Way Hom.." The bodacious Kathy plays one of several World War II airmen who accidently discover Tiresias by way of the Bermuda Triangle. In this scene"Lester" is looking a little blue because she's just found out that she's been knocked up, that her Tiresian lover is (supposedly) dead, and she's been captured by a libidinous local tyrant.
Eating both strengthened me physically and improved my morale. Looking around the cafeteria I could, if only for a moment, imagine that the people I saw were just ordinary folks. There seemed to be more women than men, though -- which was reasonable, considering that this was a women's prison -- in at least one sense. Anyway, there were many more men in the Correctional Service than women back home; the discrepancy would likely have been worse except that, as Allie informed me, Sallys were more likely to volunteer for multiple tours.
My roommate kept up a cheery conversation the whole time. It turned out that we had practically been neighbors while growing up in the Midwest; she was from around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
On Tiresias she worked in the Properties office. In fact, she practically ran it, her supervisor being a goof-off who had first come to the U.S. illegally, which for some reason guaranteed an Ivy League education at public expense and preferential hiring afterwards. Wonderful things accrued to one if he could be classifiied as "underpriviledged" or a "victim.". (How could an illegal alien be anything but an underpriviledged victim?) He spent most of his time drinking coffee with his Sally friends.
Fortunately, there wasn't much to do at Properties since the prisoners had been allowed to bring very little with them. Also, the expense of inter-dimensional transport precluded that many gifts and parcels would be sent from home -- that is assuming that anyone there even cared about any of the bums we had caged.
In her down time, Allie did a lot of odd jobs around the prison, such as relieving the medical staff by watching sick prisoners, or being drafted to prevent one or more Sallys from being left alone with an inmate. The latter precaution was necessary, since it was so easy for a prisoner to get a contingency-fee lawyer to start a sexual-tiresias-pt1.html suit. (On the other hand, it seemed to be very hard for a Charlie guard to start one; prisoners were considered "victims," guards weren't.)
The better I got to know Allie, the better I liked her. If my roommate turned out to be a company rat underneath all the camaraderie, I was going to be very disappointed.
******"Laws are like cobwebs which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through."
Jonathan Swift, 1734
A dark-haired man in a guard uniform approached while my companion and I were chomping down our greens. "Hello, Allie," he said. "I don't think I know your friend."
The blonde nodded pleasantly to the newcomer, saying, "This is Aaron Carter. She's my new roommie. Aaron, this is Bob."
It was the first time I had been referred to as a "she" in public, and I didn't much care for the novelty.
The man extended his hand. "Hello, Aaron. I'd heard that a foxy new Charlie had just come across, but rumor didn't do you justice."
"Foxy? Me?" I echoed incredulously.
"Haven't you looked in a mirror yet?"
"Oh, I have. I nearly lost my cookies!"
"Well, take it from me, you're a -- "
"Nice piece?" I suggested with a tight smile over gritted teeth.
"Well, let's just say that I wouldn't miss your ingenue party for anything!"
"Lucky me. See you there, Bob."
He grinned cockily and left; I looked to Allie, asking, "What should I make of that?"
She shrugged. "Bob's sort of okay. He's not as bad as Jake or Hank, but -- "
"You know, Aaron, it's probably too early to bring it up, but I should anyway -- just to be on the safe side."
I frowned. She had suddenly become intense, serious, and a little sheepish. "What exactly are you driving at?"
She swallowed hard. "Aaron, almost every girl here -- well, I mean, a girl sort of likes to experiment a little before she goes home. That's to be expected, I suppose."
I regarded her suspiciously. "Where's this thread leading, Alexander?"
"I'm just saying that if you ever begin to get curious about trying out -- the equipment -- you should first buy some birth-control pills at the medical office."
I sank back in my chair and replied in a chilly tone: "Thanks for the advice!"
"I mean it! Things are different now. We're not just men in women's bodies; we really are women!"
"I don't feel like a woman," I informed her archly. "Hell, I don't even know what it means to be a woman."
"It's not something that rings in your head like a bell, Aaron; it's much more subtle. You're going to be feeling more good and bad emotions than you ever have before, and it's going to be harder for you to keep from showing them. That's not so bad, actually. You'll be surprised how good you feel after letting it all out. The men have it worse; they're always complaining to the psychs that their emotions feel locked up."
"Okay, so I'll have crying jags and laughing jags and love it, but what about -- "
"I'm just saying that you might be very vulnerable for a while. Don't let yourself get emotionally involved with any of the guys -- not until you can handle yourself -- and a year is hardly long enough to learn to do that."
"Handle myself? Do you mean I'm going to be tempted to paw those gorillas?"
"No, but you might start feeling an attraction for somebody, and he might not feel the same way about you. Real women are taught how to hold back, but us guys are used to following our feelings. If you like a person more than he likes you, you could be taken advantage of."
"Check, no love affairs." My tone was absolutely condescending.
"This is serious, Aaron!" Allie pressed. "A lot of the Sallys come here with some really bad ideas about men. Some of them think that when they do us in, they're getting back at Men with a capital M. They don't realize that they're only hurting their friends and co-workers. So watch yourself."
"How do they hurt us?"
Allie leaned over the table, her tone lowered: "There are people who'll take you up, then let you down -- hard -- just for spite. There's even the kind of sleaze who'll sabotage his condom and try to get you pregnant. That's why contraceptives are so important."
Jeez! Can't I go ten minutes anymore without the subject of pregnancy coming up?!
"What happens when you get knocked up?" I asked tersely.
"What do you think?! You either have a baby or you have an abortion! -- And don't think that there's any easy answer! I knew a Charlie who got in a fix, got scared, and terminated. Afterwards she was sorry that she didn't have the baby instead and fretting about it broke her. They sent her home on a medical order."
"I understand basic biology," I explained stiffly. "I was just asking about the official rules and responsibilities of everyone involved."
Allie bit her lip. "Listen --- it's just like back home where a woman can cut off your dick when you're asleep and then charge you with being abusive! The Sallys get away with pretty much whatever they want and it's always your fault. So, I'm warning you: don't trust the wrong person."
Her voice had begun to waver and she drew back a little. I realized then that Allie must have had some personal experience in the way of trusting the "wrong person." She suddenly seemed so forlorn that I lay my left hand on hers and pressed it encouragingly. She looked up and smiled; if we hadn't been best buds before, we were from that point on.
Allie and I discovered that we both liked checkers, so we signed out a set at the dormitory recreation desk and as my bombshell roommate studied the red-and-black board, I studied her.
I had to keep reminding myself that this personable young woman used to be a man -- and would be a man again in just a few months. She did seem a pretty usual girl though, in her movements, expressions, and even in her patterns of speech. Yet nothing she said suggested that she had started out effeminate before she reached Tiresias. If the planet had done this to Allie I wondered what sort of person I'd be by the time I'd finished my own tour. And if I did start thinking and behaving like a woman, what would the experience mean for the rest of my life?
"Have you ever had sex -- with a man?" I asked suddenly.
The blonde looked up, more uneasy than startled, I thought. "Yeah. That was a no-brainer," she admitted after a just moment's reluctance. "I guess I really learned what it feels like to be a woman the hard way."
"I'll tell you about it sometime."
"Okay, I didn't mean to pry. We just met, I know."
Allie forced a smile. "Hey, come on, Aaron! In a few days we'll be chatting together like old school chums! There's just so many better things to talk about than my boneheaded mistakes."
Not long after I was assigned a desk, they took this picture of me for the employees' newspaper. I think the picture makes my face look kind of blowzy and so I don't like it much.
The rest of my week was filled with orientation classes and tours around the facility. The classes focused not only on staff procedures, but also on topics that were intended to help us fit in on Tiresias. The most insufferable subject to come up was feminine hygiene; the body which I now occupied seemed to require a lot more maintenance than I was used to. The worst of it all was menstruation -- which we were assured would come tapping on the chamber door in some three or four weeks' time.
The classes were small -- just us new Charlies -- Brady, Volsted, and me -- sometimes with our roommates sitting in. Allie almost always found time to monitor my classes, and she probably did so only because we had hit it off so well. Had my roommate actually been the young woman that she appeared to be, her presence would have registered as a distinct embarrassment, considering the subject matter, but I knew that Allie had occupied the hot seat before me -- a fact that created an additional bond of shared experience.
#I passed the greater part of my first day off surveying the grounds beyond the prison walls by means of a telescope mounted upon a high terrace. The facility occupied a river island overlooking an emerald countryside, which I thought resembled rural Kentucky with its succession of rolling hills and patchy forests as far as the eye could see. It occurred to me how hard it must have been to build the prison complex with all the material and construction equipment needing to be phase-shifted from Earth. Even with prefabrication and local gravel for concrete, construction must have amounted to a Herculean feat.
I wondered whether the transformed construction men whistled at one another while they worked? Possibly. They would only have risked a fist in the jaw from the offended co-worker. Back home, a construction man's wolf whistle at a passing woman would almost certainly result in his summary unemployment. (It wasn't really the dreaded "lookism;" was it "whistle-ism?") This was attempted mind-control, of course. A small number of big-shot lawyers turned politicians and bureaucrats believed in individual license, of course, because unbridled self-indulgence usually made people dependent -- and the more people who depended on them more voters to side with them against the people who actually built the nation's wealth and were expected to pay the tab for all the government-created drones.
When I finally came home Friday night I found Allie waiting for me. "I'm glad you're back," she piped excitedly. "I started to get worried."
"That I committed suicide?"
"That you'd be late for your ingenue party!"
Damn! I almost had forgotten that subject -- or at least had forced the ordeal out of my consciousness.
Allie bustled to my bed and picked up the frock which lay on the coverlets. "How do you like it?" the blonde asked, holding it up with a crooked grin.
"Fuck!" I said. "That's a dress? I thought it was a large handkerchief."
Well, maybe not so large after all. . . .
"I guarantee it fits!" Allie assured me. "I took your measurements when we first went to Supply. I didn't pick out the style, though."
I was glad to hear that; otherwise I would have had to murder my best friend! Was I really expected to wear that little white party dress with its bare-shoulders and low cut? The thing didn't look large enough to clothe a woman half my size.
"No way, Jose!"
"All the girls are going to be dressed up," Allie coaxed. "You can't go to an ingenue party in your uniform! It's just not done!"
"Then I won't go!"
"Be a good sport, Aaron! I'm going to go in my ingenue duds. Are you saying that I've got more nerve?"
"You can lap dance naked if you want! -- I'm just saying that not all the browbeating in the world is going to get me into that bimbo outfit!"
Just fifteen minutes later I was straining for breath against the anaconda hug of spandex while Allie stood behind my chair fixing my coiffeur.
"You've got wonderful hair, Aaron; you shouldn't keep on combing as if you were still a guy. I hope you'll let it grow out."
"I was planning to get a Marine buzz cut!"
"Don't be so cranky! All of us girls had parties and we lived through them. Are you a wimp?!"
"We're not girls!"
"Sure we are, at least until our year is up. Remember what I said about attitude?"
She started to sing: "I'm a girl and by me that's only great! I am proud that my silhouette is curvy -- that I walk with a sweet and girlish gait, with my hips kind of swively and swervy -- "
I glanced back over my shoulder. "Alexander, are you trying to be funny, or are you seriously sick?"
She pulled my hair just then. "Ow!" I yelled. "Do you actually know what you're doing?"
"Trust me. I have a knack for this. If I ever get thrown out of the correctional service, I can fall back on cosmetology. Come to think of it, wouldn't that be a great way to meet more women?"
"You'd starve," I told her bluntly. "I've read that the government job-training programs just want warm bodies, not results. They produce twice the number of new cosmologists than the market can employ in a year. Most people never get to work at the job they'd trained for"
Allie sighed. "I guess I heard that, too. Say, do you want me to do your makeup, while we're at it? And you could use some perfume, too!"
"I can't smell that bad. I took a shower," I groused.
"I'm just saying, if you've got it, flaunt it!".
Rather than plumb the apparently-bottomless mental illness of my roommate, I merely inquired, "Why did you come here, Alex? You don't seem like the sort of congenital screw-up of the kind they usually ship off to Tiresias"
I heard her swallow and I knew at once I had touched a nerve. "I guess I was one. I was AWOL a lot."
I couldn't resist asking, "Why?"
She hesitated for a few seconds, then decided to answer straight. "My sister had cancer. We didn't have any money and there was no one else to take care of her."
I hadn't expected anything like that -- at least nothing so horrible. "I'm sorry."
"She needed an expensive treatment," my friend went on, "but the family farm was estate-taxed to death when our parents were killed by housebreakers. We had to sell it off to pay the assessment; there wasn't much left."
I felt a knot in my stomach. "Did -- did they catch the -- killers?"
"Yeah," she sighed, "they were caught robbing another house, but you know how it goes -- they plead guilty on one count of burglary to get off on the murder charge. They were in jail for six months -- with work release after the first two months."
I didn't question that; I knew that was how things were done.
Allie continued, her tone more bitter than I had ever head it before. "When people like you or me do the least little thing wrong, we're always caught and they throw the book at us. But if some strangers walk into your home, rob it, turn it into a slaughterhouse, there's always a plea bargain."
I'd gotten in deep with my simple question; now my eyes were burning sympathy and I was trying to keep from shuddering. The government only cared about troublemakers; ordinary people like Alexander and his sister were routinely taxed into poverty and then left in the lurch when they got into trouble. Although National Health Care still supported thousands of wage-drawing bureaucrats, it had effectively gone bankrupt years earlier and now existed only in name.
I reached back and touched Allie's hand. "I'm so sorry," I said. "Did your sister -- "
"Yeah." she nodded, her voice beginning to break. "I stayed with her as much as I could those last months, but I couldn't get any family leave from the U.S.C.S. though I filled out about a thousand forms applying for it. I almost lost my job, but the union arbitrated to get the offense reduced. After my sister -- passed on -- and I was able to go back to work, they cut a deal that I had to accept a year on Tiresias. It didn't matter at that point. I didn't have anything left back home anyhow. . . ."
"Allie," I whispered, "if this is too hard to talk about. . . ." But she went on, now with forced jollity:
"You'd have liked my sister Gladys, Aaron. She looked a lot like I do now. Sometimes it makes it hard to look into the mirror. . . ." Suddenly Allie withdrew to her bed, her breathing ragged.
Now all my grumbling about clothes and some ridiculous initiation party seemed peevish and trivial. I left my chair with a lump in my throat and sat down beside a person whom I hadn't even known existed a week before, but who had since become my best and only friend in a strange new world. And whether her name was Alice or Alexander, it didn't seem wrong to wrap my arms around her, holding her close until her breathing lost its shakiness. Then I kissed her on the cheek and tasted the salt of her tears.
"Can you help me finish putting myself together?" I asked cajolingly. "I'll look a sight tonight without you."
She returned a woebegone smile and nodded.
This is a picture of me in my notorious "little white dress." 'Nuff said; one pin-up picture is worth a thousand words!
The administration building had a pair of large connecting rooms sometimes used for social gatherings; all the better, it opened onto a wide balcony terrace. A night breeze wafting in from a pair of open doors reminded me of the sparing way in which I was dressed; despite myself I flashed back to that bad dream I'd occasionally had of coming to a party naked. My dress was so short that I thanked God for pantyhose; worse, it was so low-cut that I couldn't help looking down at myself every ten seconds, just to make sure that my jugs hadn't made a break for it.
We found a bar and a large table set with appetizers, sandwiches, nectar, and snacks. The Sallys were all in dapper suits, while the Charlies wore a variety of party dresses -- some as daring as mine.
"You'll be able to keep the outfit, Aaron," Allie had said. "It's a kind of welcoming gift from the management. If you pay half, they'll pick up the rest of the tab."
"Pay good money for something that wouldn't make a decent-sized scarf?!" I exclaimed. "Who picked it out anyway?"
"The recreation committee chairman, Mort Jamshidian."
Mort. I'd heard that name before -- he was the one who gave people their nicknames. I thought I could develop a real grudge against the randy old bastard!
Allie accompanied me into the party room wearing a tangerine-colored, slitted sheath, and balancing upon three-inch heels. She had mentioned earlier that only one girl on the present staff, Billie Walters, had learned to walk with ease on four-inch spikes. My two-inchers were already putting enough pressure on the ball of my foot to become a fun-killer and I dreaded dancing in them. When I asked Allie why the Tiresias females insisted on torturing themselves just like the women did back home, the amber-haired correctional officer suggested that it was just the challenge of the thing -- like climbing Mount Everest, or swimming the English Channel. "And, besides," she said, "high heels make our legs look great!"
Sometimes I didn't know whether Allie wasn't just hamming it up or if there was a genetic coding that compelled women to go around half-dressed and walking on their toes. Every day and in every way I wanted to be a man again!
A look-around told me that Brady and Volsted were already there, both wearing party frocks, but neither of them as outrageous as the dress that Mort had foisted upon me. I guessed that I had been singled out because of the way I look. Anyway, both of my erstwhile traveling companions looked rather doubtful of the proceedings, but seemed as determined as I to get through them without embarrassing themselves. I also saw the fourth member of our quartet, Officer Rother, natty in a double-breasted suit and a bow tie. I hadn't liked his face as a woman, and still less as a male. When Rother turned my way I could tell from his delayed double-take that he had only belatedly recognized me as third man at the transference center.
At that moment Allie drew me over to the side where a group of chattering Charlies were congregating and introduced me to four girls whom, I gathered, were part of her own gang. Each seemed to be atypically pretty -- which caused me to wonder whether most of the foxiest Charlies had clustered into some sort of clique. Come to think of it, the flashiest femlins in high school always seemed to flock together -- but I had always supposed that they'd gotten to know each other group-dating the school's thick-as-thieves sports heroes.
"This is Aaron," Allie addressed the women in way of an introduction.
"She won't be Aaron for long," chimed a bosomy black girl sporting eye shadow and ruby lipstick. The black-and-red dress she had on was a stunner. "Put it there, guy," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Andrea -- Sergeant Leonard, C-Block. I was Andrew before," she added. "I wonder what handle Mort'll come up with for you."
"She looks like a Jennifer to me," suggested the brunette who was named Dori Gurtz, Allie's former roommate.
"No, I'd say she's a Penny," offered Jordana McNallen, an ash-blonde with lively gray eyes. She turned out to be an accountant from Colorado, one who played the guitar and had a penchant for writing songs in the bluegrass folk tradition. Men seemed to have all the really interesting hobbies.
Allie stood back a little after the introductions and let me chat with my new acquaintances. Dori, I soon learned, was an administrative clerk and the father of two back in Ohio. And she really did do tricks -- sleight of hand being her special hobby. Before the night was over I'd found out that she'd -- he'd -- even performed sometimes in community theater back home. Dori couldn't help showing me some impromptu prestidigitation with napkins and wrapped caramels. As she performed, I couldn't help but visualize her not as a magician in top hat and frock coat, but as such a man's sexy assistant in high-cut shorts, fishnet hose, and stiletto-heeled pumps.
As with Allie, I found it very hard to remember that all of these young women used to be males. -- And I guess I actually did forget on some level as we chatted, because they started exchanging glances and smothering laughter. I wasn't used to receiving that sort of reaction from women whom I was trying to charm, but then I realized that that attitude was all wrong. I was using the body language and voice tones of a man on the make -- and under the circumstances there was no surer way to make myself look ridiculous.
I instantly tried to cool it, only to find myself at a complete loss as to how I should act, smile, or even gesticulate. Some definite mode of behavior was expected of me, I now fathomed, but no one had bothered to cue me in as to exactly what it was. I began to feel awkward, uncomfortable, and generally out of my element. I looked yearningly at the clock on the wall, only to discover that just fifteen minutes had passed since I had entered the room. How was I going to tough out this fiasco for three hours more?
*******"Any perception of the world which is based on race, gender, and genetically-motivated behavior, is not conducive to morality, ethics, or social peace."
Arnold Butler, Washington Times, 2222
One of Mort's friends brought over a camera and we four new people had our pictures taken. It was hard for me to smile, uneasy with the prospect of a picture of me "in drag" getting back home and circulating among people I knew.
Just then the dance music started, ending the photo session; the crowd started clearing the dance floor and pairing up. Two couples demonstrated some dance steps for the benefit of us newcomers, emphasizing the art of leading and following -- and who should be doing what. Tiresias, it seems, rarely missed an opportunity to twist the knife. After their exhibition was done, people started dancing for the fun of it.
Us new "girls" were the first ones asked to the floor. There were both classic ballroom dances offered, as well as more current ones; as a woman I found the tango a very strange experience. Over all, I preferred the contemporary numbers, where the music was hot instead of cloyingly romantic and the sex roles were not in your face. I guess I did all right hoofing it, but be that as it may, my partners changed rapidly and I didn't have a chance to get acquainted with any of them -- not that I really wanted to.
I'd been dancing enough to make my feet sore when the music stopped and Mort stepped out to bestow our new Charlie and Sally names. Mortimer was a gray-haired senior administrator whose broad, smirky smile tended to deepen the creases of his face into crevasses. He brought each of us new people forward in turn and poured a dribble of tap water upon our heads to christen us -- liquor being too expensive on Tiresias to waste. Volsted became "Olga," Rother "Chester," and Brady "Dotty." Then it was my turn.
"The best for last," announced Mort with gusto. "This young lady has to have a name just as lovely as she is."
I cringed a little at the idea of getting any more "special treatment," Tiresian style and couldn't help but tug nervously at the hem of my dress, which was riding too high. I stopped when I realized that I was only calling attention to my nylon-sheathed legs -- the last thing in the world I wanted to do.
As I felt Mort's cold libation sinking through my hair to my scalp, I clenched my teeth, wondering what "Mort"-tifying moniker the duffer would saddle me with.
"I christen you Erin!" he proclaimed and the crowd seemed to like his choice, since it was greeted with applause and appreciative laughter.
Erin? That wasn't too bad, actually. It sounded so much like "Aaron" that I really couldn't tell the difference unless I listened very carefully.
"Now speeches," trumpeted Mort. "Tell the people something about yourselves."
Wanting to be good sports despite our misgivings, each of us spoke for about five minutes. The crowd was already getting a little loose and it wouldn't have held still for any longer oration. When my turn came, I mostly talked about where I had been posted, my hobbies, and other impersonal subjects.
"Why were you sent here?!" a Sally yelled.
"Maybe someone didn't like my face!" I answered with a forced grin.
"He'd sure like it now!"
"Presents! Presents!" bellowed Mort over the noise. The presents were swiftly conveyed from the closet and we ingenues were given gift-wrapped boxes as strange men and women crowded around us. I had been warned that our "gifts" would be a test of our intestinal fortitude and so I braced myself for the worst. Olga received a latex dildo; I patted her big shoulder commiseratively. "Mine must be even longer," I told her. "My box is bigger anyway."
Rother got a bundle of cigars, and Brady a home-pregnancy test that evoked her heavy sigh. I opened my parcel last of all -- to discover that somebody's fantasies must have been running wild since I'd made planet fall. It contained a skimpy, mint-green sleeping tunic, along with a matching hair ribbon. There was also a tiny bottle of perfume, "Passion in the Dark."
"Thanks, guys," I said with a tolerant smile, "but I'll have a gray beard a foot long before any of you degenerates get to see me wearing any of this crap!"
They laughed, and I laughed along with them.
Then the tone of the party relaxed somewhat and became more freeform. Ally explained that last scheduled event would be a vid and we were told that we new "girls" would be expected to watch the movie sitting on the lap of a gentleman of our choice. Chester Rother, for his part, would have his pick of any Charlie present. I anticipated my fate grimly and again glanced up at the clock; the hour it registered didn't give me much comfort.
Here's Allie in her ingenue party dress. It's got twice as much fabric as mine; maybe that's why it look so "hot" on her!
There was more dancing then and I tried to be gracious whenever I was asked to the floor. I also kept a lookout for any male congenial enough to serve as a comfortable chair, but without much luck.
By far the most agreeable part of the evening was getting to know Allie's friends, but a lot of other Charlies introduced themselves, too, and offered their handshake. The staff seemed to like welcoming new people into their little world of exile and I was asked repeatedly about current affairs from home. Political news through official channels all came from the Beltway press and thus was heavily sanitized and heavily slanted in favor of the Administration.
It turned out that they had heard nothing about the latest jailing of dissidents or the South American drug-smuggling operation that was charged against the current White House staff. In fact, I had only heard of this stuff myself through the Internet.
Besides a hunger for news, I sensed a good deal of friendliness from the Charlies. It was hard to put aside my reserve, though, since their weird society was one that I hardly wanted to identify with.
Dr. Trent came along to pay her courtesies and I would have liked to have talked longer to the physician, but she found it hard to stand around and we were continually interrupted by third parties greeting the new Charlie as well as the popular young doctor. In fact, the whole staff was extremely polite to Dr. Trent, even to the point of reverence. Very few children were born to Earth people on Tiresias, I gathered, and the arrival of the medic's baby seemed to be awaited with excitement and good will.
"What are you drinking, Doctor?" I asked when I managed to briefly break away from the others. "Can I freshen it for you?"
"Gabrielle," she corrected me. "-- From Gabriel, of course. It's just mineral water. I'm not about to put anything down my throat that I wouldn't put into a baby bottle."
I nodded. She was certainly being conscientious about this pregnancy, that was for sure. I wondered if she intended to write a pedology like no man had ever been prepared to write before. There were plenty of questions I would have asked her, but they seemed so personal that I hesitated.
Andrea arrived just then to make another introduction, this time to one Billie Walters, a twenty-something in a blue sequined minidress and the face and figure of a Playboy model. Billie impressed me as nice, funny, and enthusiastic person, but I nonetheless regretted losing my opportunity to talk longer with Dr. Trent.
Then Mickie Olson, a girl I'd met earlier, came up again and engaged me in a chat about personal computers. I learned that "she" lived in Pennsylvania and had a wife there.
As it turned out, promotion came slowly in her company, which provided computer maintenance service for the U.S.C.S. The Tiresian slots were hard to fill and so Mike had decided that accepting the assignment would look good in his file. Mickie's main regret seemed to be that there was no hookup to the WWW on the planet. Once I understood that communications technology was her obsession, it came as no surprise to learn that "she" and her wife didn't have any kids.
When Mickie got to talking technically about her equipment -- computer equipment that is -- I tried hard to keep my eyes from glazing over. Obviously used to this reaction, she nimbly changed the subject, asking me if I was married. When I had to admit that I wasn't, the redhead expressed a mild condolence. I gathered that her own marriage was a good one -- which much have been a rarity in this day and age.
I didn't care to go into it just then, but I actually had proposed to a woman once. Bedelia had been a rising star in a food wholesaling firm, earning a good deal more than I was. Naturally her parents started looking daggers at me once my aspirations were guessed at. I could sleep with their daughter all I wanted, but they'd let her marry a "fortune-hunter" over their dead bodies. It was all inferred very politely, of course, over white wine and Brie.
In the end, the love of my life yielded to the imperative which states, "Woman must marry up." She left me and soon conjoined with a senior executive of her company -- a man twice her age and a driven workaholic, or so people said. It always seemed that women were only attracted to males so preoccupied they had no time for them, and no energy to spare. There are plenty of men like that, I imagine, but when the female population suddenly decides that it wants to bear only the children of poets, you can bet we'll soon be up to our kazoo in poets.
As Mickie and I were chatting, I became sensible of some harsh male laughter and a simultaneous agitation among the Charlies. I looked around, wondering about the excitement, and I saw a distraught Allie holding something in a shaking hand. Mickie noticed it, too, and we both started toward her.
But my roommie saw us coming and dodged out onto the terrace balcony. Just then Jordana intercepted Mickie and me, asking excitedly, "Did you hear yet what Jake and his gang did?"
Mickie frowned. "No, what now?"
"They got some pornographic pictures made of Andrea and some other girls."
I felt a clutch in the pit of my stomach. "Allie, too?"
"I don't know," she said, surprised by my mention of Allie, "but Andrea's going off the deep end!"
The one thing I always liked about Andrea's dress was that it made her look more like a hooker than mine did me.
"Try to help her, you two," I said. "I have to see if Allie's all right."I hurried out onto the dark terrace and I saw my roommate sitting huddled against the parapet, half-hidden behind a potted tree. I padded over to her, as if approaching a wild bird so as to not frighten it into wild flight.
"Are you upset about Andrea?" I asked softly.
"Andrea? I'm sorry for her, sure, but -- oh, God, Aaron!"
"Allie -- Alex -- did Jake have pictures of you, too?"
She bit her lip and her tortured stare told all.
"But they're just fakes, right?" I asked hopefully.
"If they weren't," she sobbed, "would you hate me?"
"Hate you? For what?"
"Maybe you wouldn't want to room with a pervert!"
I knelt beside her and took her hands in mine. "Allie, you're not making sense. I don't know what's going on!"
She wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "I hate dresses -- no place for a handkerchief."
I didn't have one either, but I plucked a paper napkin from the all-weather table next to us and handed it to her. She blew her nose, then, shaking with sobs, told me the ghastly story.
After being on Tiresias for a few months, Allie had gotten friendly with one of Jake's friends, Buck Channey. His gang had a bad reputation, but she and Buck seemed to get on pretty well. The trouble was that Buck kept nagging her about having sex, and since Allie had actually been getting curious about that subject, she let herself be persuaded. But the next day Allie learned that Buck had had a hidden camera working during their lovemaking and he had printed out some very explicit images. Now Allie realized how much she had been played for a fool. Buck told her that some of his friends were interested in her, too, and that if she'd treat them right, no one would ever have to see the pictures.
I don't know how many real women could have been blackmailed that way, but Allie had been a guy and the cruel trick had left her feeling guilty and humiliated. She went along with Buck's demand, but never guessed the lengths that Jake's gang was willing to go to. She found herself being passed back and forth between four different guys -- Buck, Jake, Hank, and Rock -- a bad bunch all around, power-trippers who liked to bully women, all of them on their second or third Tiresian tours. Back home they'd all been militant feminists, hated men, and had done dirt to a quite a few of the Charlies before Allie's turn came.
"The more I did, the more pictures they took," said the blonde miserably, "then I was really hooked. They would always talk down to me, like I was -- well, you can guess. I had to do all sorts of disgusting things that I never would have wanted to do with men, especially not with men I hated so much. They even made me take a little money from them now and then, just to rub it in. I guess they were pulling the same thing to some of the other girls, too. We could have stopped them if only we weren't too ashamed to talk.
"After about a month," she went on, "they just let me go. I suppose they got tired of the game, there was such hate in their voices when they threw me out." She looked up at me appealingly. "But I never treated any woman like that, so what was the deal? What, Aaron?" Large tears were rolling down her face.
"I don't know," I answered, stroking my roommate's shampoo-scented hair and drawing her in close.
Allie finished her story then; she seemed to be off the hook, but was always afraid that the gang would start blackmailing her again sometime; they didn't, but tonight the other shoe had dropped. They had made up this set of pornographic "trading cards" with "Collectable Hookers" printed on the back and the names of the girls whom they had abused captioned in scarlet letters. The men had blacked-out faces, which made the pictures look as impersonal and vulgar as possible to imagine.
I simply couldn't believe what I had been told -- or I should say that I believed it, but couldn't understand how people could sink so low. An innocent person had been blackmailed and passed around like a domestic animal, and if that wasn't enough, they let her think the worst was over before finally humiliating her in front of all her friends and coworkers. And Allie was just one of several!
"They'll all get fired! Maybe even indicted for -- for whatever!" I tried to reassure her.
"No they won't," choked Allie. "Warden Gershom likes them. It'll be covered up, and maybe us girls will even be charged with being prostitutes or something. All the Sallys here have an old-girl network, but we'd get fired if we started discriminating like they do. We've just got to take it. Oh, Aaron, I wish I could die!"
My cheeks were wet, too. I didn't know what to do, except to hold Allie and whisper stupid things in her ear -- like that it wasn't so bad, that people would understand, and that no one would blame her for making one little mistake, that it would blow over.
Then Mickie found us. "Andrea went back to her room" she jabbered excitedly. "Those rats got Frankie and Jean mixed up in their dirty business, too." The redhead bent her head. "Frankie's a little wild, I know, but Jean's an angel -- "
"Don't blame Frankie," I cut her off angrily, "and don't blame any of the others, either!" I'd spoken harshly, but my anger wasn't really directed at Mickie. "Watch after Allie for me; I've got to do something."
So what are you going to do?
I'll decide that when I catch up with Jake!
#I found the smug bastards who were responsible in the second party room where most of the men had congregated. Jake was a big guy with a narrow beard and large ears whom I knew was a senior sergeant in Cell Block D, where he was reputedly a tough customer.
I stomped up in front of the creep and stared venom up into his face, demanding, "They say you made those pornographic pictures, Jake. Do you deny it?"
"What if I did?" he leered with amusement. "What's a pussy like you doing to do about it?"
"Listen, shit head, I don't know the other girls very well, but I know Alexander Milholland and he'd never do anything to deserve the way you treated him! -- And I just bet it's the same for all the other guys, too!"
He grinned and shook his close-cropped head. "You women really stick together." At that point he reached out to touch my face and I slapped his hand away. "Your mascara's running, Sweet Cheeks. Been bawling?"
I clenched my fists, wanting to punch him out, but I thought that force wasn't the way to handle the situation when he had about eighty pounds on me. But if not force, what?
"You're beautiful when you're angry," Jake teased, giving a broad leer to his cronies who were gathering around us -- the guards Hank, Buck, and Rocky.
"Don't mind her, Jake," laughed Rocky. "It's PMS. You know what that does to a woman!"
I had a temper all right, and it was getting hotter by the second. If any man back home ever made a PMS joke in front of witnesses he was dead meat as far as his job was concerned. But there was no versa in the vice on Tiresias, no symmetry in the system, no fairness, no peaceable recourse. I was on my own -- and so was every other Earth female on the planet.
I jabbed my index finger into Jake's rock-hard chest. "You bottom-crawling scum-sucking piece of slime!" I growled. "You've got no sane grudge against anyone on this planet, but you still lay awake at night thinking of ways to make other peoples' lives a living hell!"
There was laughter behind me. "I think we've got an angry white male, here," Hank taunted, "only she doesn't seem so male anymore. -- Hey, Love Lips, you act like you still have balls there under that little white dress? Check it out, babe; you've been castrated."
I couldn't let that kind of oral diarrhea get to me; it was hard enough trying to talk tough dressed the way I was, standing on my tip-toes to look my enemy in the eye, with all the outward symbols of power and virility on his side. I ignored Hank for the pet dog that he was and concentrated my ire on the ring leader:
"You haven't got the guts to tell a person you hate him so you defame, you demonize and dehumanize! You use the system like a lynch mob -- and that's about all there is to that sickness you call feminism!"
That got a rise. "You can call me anything you want, Toots, but watch what you say about feminism!"
"Don't call me Toots, Fuck-Face!!" I gnashed back.
I was blistering his ego, and he reached for me; I stepped back but Rocky and Hank were Johnny on the spot, like a pair of backstops keeping me penned in. No one else in the room was saying "boo," so Jake figured he had the advantage and touched my cheeks impudently, and brought the back of his hand across my nose and lips.
"I like your skin, Baby, and that sexy mouth. Everything about you gives me a hard-on and I keep thinking about what those lips would feel like tugging on my sausage." He moved his hand lower to stoke my cleavage.
"If you keep touching me, I'm going to get really mad," I warned.
"And what does a little piece do when she gets really mad?" he asked with a dirty chuckle, beginning to fondle my breasts in earnest.
I lifted my hands, as if to remove his, but at the last instant I made them into fists and snarled: "This!"
I swung my balled fists down, hitting Hank and Rocky, who stood behind me, each precisely in the nuts. They crumpled like men made of Reynolds Wrap, and while Jake was still gaping, I took a half step back and kicked him in the crotch with all my strength.
He didn't curse, he didn't yell. He just went down, grasping himself and wheezing like an asthmatic.
"You dames wanted to have cajones," I trumpeted above their sprawling forms, "so now enjoy them."
Just then I spotted Buck out of the corner of my eye and swung around, just in case he was coming to blind side me; my face must have been positively witch-like. The pseudo-man returned my stare for just a couple seconds, then walked briskly away, not having lifted a finger to avenge his stricken cronies.
In the face of such cowardice I just threw up my hands and stormed disgustedly back to the balcony. I wanted to see how Allie was coming, but the terrace was empty when I got there, and so I stood wondering where Mickie had taken my despairing roommate.
Suddenly somebody stepped up behind me, blocking the light. I wheeled and found myself squared off against a man's broad-shouldered silhouette.
Did Jake have another friend with a taste for vengeance, one with more spine than the pathetic Buck Channey?
I gritted my teeth, ready for the worst.
*****"The fanatic finds it easy to package his personal inner demons and dark passion as a morality superior to the wisdom of ages; the reasoning man who tries to see both sides fairly inevitably appears devious and calculating in the eyes of the ignorant."
"The Psychology of Extremism," Dr. Benjamin Evers, 2019
"Take it easy, Erin; I just want to talk."
When I didn't answer, the man stepped closer and in the moonlight I could see that he was about my age, tall, dark-haired. And I recognized him, too; he was one of my dance partners. In fact, he had been the only person to dance with me twice -- once before we opened the presents, and once after.
"Talk about what?" I asked brusquely. "I said what I wanted to say inside."
"I heard. I was wondering if you were all right."
"You mean all right in the head?"
"No; you made perfect sense."
He strode closer then, inducing me to step back in the interest of maintaining a comfortable --- and safe -- distance.
"Just what is it you want?" I asked, every nerve in my diminuative body on alert.
"I'd only like to say that I thought Jake and the others had it coming."
I snorted. "Okay, so now you've said it! So what are you hovering around for?"
"You might not believe this, but what those idiots did made me just as angry as it made you."
"Oh, so you're Sir Galahad? I didn't see you around when I had to bust their balls!"
He shrugged. "I haven't been a man long enough to realize it's my job to rescue damsels in distress now." He extended his hand. "My name's Rod. It used to be 'Rhoda Ganners.' In a couple months, I guess it'll be Rhoda again."
"Unless you've got a yearning to homestead in a prison colony." I replied sourly as I regarded the man. He was a good-looking male, I grudgingly had to admit, and so must have been an attractive woman. "Despite your muscles, something tells me you're not a guard. Maybe it's because you're able to use two-syllable words, unlike most of the Sallys. Are you in administration? The real scum rises to the top."
He showed more good humor than umbrage at that nasty crack. "No. I'm a journalist."
"A journalist? In a place like this?"
"Tsk, tsk. That wasn't nice. Now I'm tempted to ask `What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this."
"If you try it, I'd lose all respect for you," I warned.
He stepped around me carefully and rested his arm upon the parapet. "People are interested in all these parallel worlds," he said, "but most of all in Tiresias."
"Figures. People are hooked on anything that has to do with sex, especially the kinky kind. So what are you writing about -- the prisoners, the system -- ?"
"This sex-change business mostly, and how people cope. I thought that coming over here to interview first-hand sources would be the best approach. I'm glad that I did. Nobody could possibly understand this experience until he's lived it himself."
"Why is it always the women who come voluntarily?"
"Tell me why you think that is, Erin."
I was still on guard, but his attitude hadn't been obnoxious so I decided to give him a straight answer.
"I think its because a woman defines herself by the simple fact that she can make a baby -- she can do this, so she's that. A man's identity is only a set of ideas, hard to string together, even harder to keep straight. A man doesn't want to tamper with it, because if he lets it blow away, he's not a man anymore. He's not a woman. A man without manhood is nothing at all, except pathetic"
"I think I understand you."
"Is that all that brought you here, Miss Ganners? The story?"
He looked back into the big lighted room. "Not quite. I've always had trouble trusting men. Besides winning a Pulitzer Prize, I hoped I could finally catch on to where men are coming from. It should help a writer knowing where people of all kinds are coming from. Maybe what I'm finding out can improve my social life."
"What?" he asked.
"Allie and me were just talking about that."
"But that's not the reason you came here, obviously."
"We came here because we had to. If we get to understand women along the way, it's all gravy."
"Are you beginning to understand anything?"
"What's there to understand?"
I was glib enough, but he wasn't buying my ingenuousness. "I think you've got better insights than that, Erin. I wish you'd open up; what my book needs is the point of view of someone other than myself. I can do pretty well with the woman-as-man perspective, especially after interviewing so many Sallys, but I need to get into the head of an intelligent man looking at a woman's life for the first time. -- You, for example."
"You want me to help you with your book?"
"You might as well; you're going to be in it regardless, after what you did tonight."
"Don't I get a choice?"
"I can report what anyone does in a public place. But why do you ask? Have you a problem with giving me a hand?"
"Why me? Why not one of the guys that have been here longer?"
"It's because you're new that you're a good source. I'd like to follow your experiences the whole rest of the time I'm here. I want to see you react from day to day, to learn, and to change."
"I don't plan to change."
He shrugged. "And maybe there's another reason, too."
"You're so damned pretty. --- Maybe I shouldn't have said that. I don't want to scare you off."
"What gives you the idea that I scare easy?"
"Nothing. What do you say?"
I gave him a searching glance. "Thanks for warning me that I turn you on," I said. "I suppose that while we work on your book, we'll be seeing a lot of each other -- lots of private interviews, lots of time to win my trust, to get my guard down. Maybe what you really want is a story about a Charlie who gets fucked and then dumped. Or would it be the one about how a man reacts to choosing between abortion or motherhood? That would be good copy -- a grown man going through hell, trying to decide whether he should hold on to a shred of his own identity, or save the life of his child! Charlies are just a dirty joke, right?"
Maybe I was getting a little shrill, but how could I be entirely civil to any Sally after what happened to Allie and the others?
"So, you're one of those women who think that men are only after one thing?" His lively eyes were challenging me with irony.
"Don't make me sound like some stereotyped female! I'm being logical."
"Don't you think that those stereotyped females can sometimes be logical, too?"
"No, not as long as they let dykes sitting in university chairs do their thinking for them. The world they're always whining about doesn't exist anymore -- and I read history, and I don't think it ever did."
"Look, Erin, I just want to understand your experiences. I certainly don't want to seduce you. In fact, I'd advise you against trying sex for a long time yet. It's a brew too strong for kids."
"I'm twenty-seven. Don't I look it?"
"You look about twenty-two," he smiled. "But from what I've heard, you were born just a few days ago; you've got a lot of growing up to do, young lady. And, to your credit, you've done a lot of that tonight."
I looked at him hard, not quite sure what to think.
He extended his hand. "Friends and collaborators?"
I hesitated. I knew how low a Sally could sink -- but I also didn't want to condemn half the human race just because of Jake and his buddies. After a moment's reflection, I took the proffered hand. "I don't trust you," I warned him, "but until you double-cross me, or I hear that you've hurt somebody innocent, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I'm going to be watching you every second."
"I'm going to be watching you, too, Erin -- and I bet I'll have a lot more fun than you will."
I tossed my head. "That's lookism! It's a federal rap."
"Not on Tiresias."
Here's a daytime photo of Rod Ganners standing at the guard rail of the same balcony where we met.A charming bastard, I thought, but bad things had happened to Allie and Andrea because they trusted liars and I wasn't about to walk the same walk.
"Can I take your picture?" he asked with a suddenness that made me blink. "-- For my book."
I eyed him suspiciously. "Maybe for your wall, too?"
"What of it? You're decent."
"Please, I'd really like to."
I wondered if I should go along. I'd already been photographed in my party getup and, considering the standards, no one could blackmail me just for wearing my ingenue dress. What I had to avoid was getting myself compromised in more serious ways.
"All right, shoot!" I decided.
"Thank you, Erin. Could you stand over by the parapet? I'd like the light on the river for a backdrop." I did as asked. "Rest your arm on top of it. ...That's pretty good, except don't look so angry; when people read about you, I want them to be sympathetic."
"You're running a big risk," I cautioned. "I'm a ball-buster, don't you know?"
He looked up from his view-finder. "I don't think that you really want to bust anybody's balls. I think that you're the kind who just get worked up when she sees innocent people being pushed around."
"You could be wrong."
"Then I'll wear a box in your company until I'm sure I'm not."
I laughed. Damn, but this guy was disarming.
"I like that grin," he nodded. "Keep it steady, one-two-three!"
He snapped the picture and then, the ice broken, he directed me in several more poses. Before realizing it, I was practically doing cheesecake for him!
"Just a little more leg! Drop a strap over your shoulder! Great! Lean forward -- gorgeous!"
Belatedly, I told me I had to be careful around this character; he could "handle" me much too easily.
Just then I noticed that the light from the balcony doorway had been blocked. In fact, the exit was crowded with women -- Allie, her friends, and some others. Seeing that I was talking to someone, they held off and waited. Rod, reading their intention to speak to me, backed away saying, "I'll look you up later. -- You can count on that."
His withdrawal was the sign that a crowd of Charlies had been waiting for. I hadn't been alone more than five seconds before they closed in on me en masse.
"You were incredible!" chimed Dori.
"Did you see Buck run?" laughed Mickie. "Those scum-suckers are cowards! What have we been afraid of all this time?"
Allie stepped up front and put her arms around my neck. "Thanks," she said, "you're the best friend a guy ever had." When she finally let go, Mickie hugged me, then passed me to Jordana.
"Hey, come on, people, don't get mushy on me!"
"You've given us a new motto, Erin," suggested a grinning Billie: "If thy guy offends thee, kick him in the nuts!"
"They might kick back," I warned.
"Not if we kick first and hard enough!" someone suggested.
Suddenly everyone was squeezing me or shaking my hand.
"Thanks, Erin," Jordana said solemnly. "Tonight you taught a few of those bums that they're not so tough after all, but I'm afraid that by tomorrow everything will be back the way it was."
I shook my head. "Look, we've got to stop being so passive about this rotten stuff. If we play the ostrich, it's only a matter of time before the lions bite us in the ass."
"We know that," said a woman. "But what can we do?"
"Organize! That's what the women back home did fifty years ago -- raise hell until the people running things have to give us what we want just for some peace and quiet."
"Women had it easy last century," Jordana said. "The feminazis just had to hijack the good will that men already had. Chivalry ruled back then. We've got real enemies these days."
"Maybe, but we still must have some kind of leverage," I insisted. "Some of these Sallys act as horny as wart hogs; why don't we try cutting off their sex until they shape up?" A little Lysistrate never hurt anyone.
"Cut off their dicks?! Gross!" exclaimed a girl who I later learned was named Davida. I suspected she had had too much to drink.
"No," I explained patiently, "we just won't sleep with them. That old stunt's been paying women good dividends for a million years."
"I can't help you there," apologized Davida, "I've never slept with a man."
"Then start sleeping with somebody -- and then push him out of bed the second he steps out of line!" suggested someone in the back of the bunch.
They all laughed. I lifted my hands to quiet them, saying, "We've got to do some serious thinking about our situation, girls -- uh, people."
"No justice, no piece!" suggested a wag.
I had more or less offered my recommendation as a joke, but the way the Charlies were taking to it suggested that there was a lot more sexual activity on Tiresias than I had thought likely.
"Well said! If we can just hold on to our sense of humor," I told them, "we've got the battle half-won already. But the bottom line is that we're decent people and we deserve respect. --- Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to go about getting it; we can't beat up all those guys because they're bigger than us. We can't sue them because the courts are on their side. We need a few ideas. Get together, talk things over, try to pin down what might work here and now. Once that's done, we'll be able to draw up a plan of action!"
The Charlies seemed to like my idea because I got some more kisses and hugs. "Cut it out, guys; you're acting like a lot of women!" It was then that I realized that my emotional distance from these officers had evaporated during the crisis of the night and the camaraderie of the moment. These people had become my tribe, my comrades. It was suddenly the most important thing in the world not to let them down.
#Back inside, the excitement had already died away. Mort, passing along the word that the movie was about to begin, stepped up to me and said, "If you haven't picked out anyone for the evening yet, Erin, don't sweat it. I'm not so old that I can't hold a little thing like you on my knee."
I had decided that the codger was harmless, and so I just smiled and shook my finger at him. But tradition was tradition, and so I weighed my options; Bob hadn't offended me since I'd arrived, but I didn't like him so much that I wanted to sit on him. I had danced with a good many Sallys, but they had all come off as anonymous pressed suits, those who weren't actually obnoxious. So far only one man had treated me with the least little respect.
I looked up Rod and took hold of his sleeve. "Come on, guy, you're the lesser of fifty evils."
"I'm flattered," he said with a broad grin.
"Just don't try anything clever when the lights go out -- you don't have your box on yet!"
Dotty and Olga had found their seats, too. Olga's was a small man and the Scandinavian looked heavy enough to break his thigh bones. There might have been a story there, but I never inquired. Chester, logically enough, chose pretty Billie Walters to join him for the showing.
Us new "girls" were granted seats of honor up front. Once we'd settled down on a comfortable settee, his hands finger-walked up to my waist.
'"Hey, what are you -- some kind of octopus?" I chided, pushing his mitts away. Then, steeling myself not to be more combative than necessary, I leaned back against his sturdy shoulder and made myself cozy, noticing for the first time that he was fragrant with spicy cologne.
The movie began with a dance number under title credits which read, The Love-Slave of the Warlord. Because the actresses were wearing skimpy Hollywood-style barbarian slave girl outfits, I expected that the movie would be erotic. The title didn't jive with the opening scenes, though, which were set in modern America. I quickly grasped what was going on. It was a movie about an archaeologist on his way to Tiresias.
Long before the scene changed to Tiresias, I picked out which character was going to be the "love-slave" of the "warlord." He was a swaggering chauvinist who apparently spent the greater part of every day doing things that would have gotten him instantly kicked out of any real-world university. He was a coarse stereotype of a man -- nothing but brag and bad manners -- Hollywood up to its old stereotyping habits again.
Just as I expected, the hero went to Tiresias, turned into a knockout girl (played by a popular porn actress, Tina Rae), and then, on "her" first night out with her party of scientists disguised as native travelers, catches the eye of a barbarian chief. The sly rogue steals to her tent that night, binds her hand and foot, gags her, cuts off her pajamas with a hunting knife, then takes her away to his village. All the rest was unimaginative porn.
This is another movie still, this one featuring Tina Rae in "Love Slave of the Warlord." I'd have to give this stinker a big "thumbs-down."The movie fascinated me because there were so many things wrong with it. The "warlord" seemed more like the lazy and voluptuous chief of a second-rate village, but he was hung like a gorilla. The big pie-faced actor who had played the archeologist as a male could never have morphed into a fine-boned beauty like Tina Rae. -- And while the story might have been interesting if done well, all plot development stopped twenty minutes into it. It took only about thirty seconds for the warlord to spank the rebellion out of his new slave girl, reducing her to a model of boring passivity for the rest of the movie with hardly a line of dialogue to reveal her thoughts or emotions -- probably because the character possessed neither. After an initial banging by the warlord, the "slave" had to engage in a threesome with the warlord's "blood brothers." The dauntless duo ordered her to begin their "pleasuring" by blowing them both at the same time. Merchant traders next show up at the village right afterwards, and the hospitable warlord loaned them his love-slave. The archaeologist-turned-sex-bomb had to dance nude to the beating of the drums (at least Tina Rae was a competent erotic dancer) and then she was gang-banged by the traders, which experience, for all I could tell, she didn't seem to mind.
After such a busy day, the archaeologist still has enough energy to initiate a lesbian scene with one of the warlord's kept women at bedtime. Through it all, the heroine never manages to form a relationship with any of the other characters.
Why had the committee picked this particular vid for us ingenues to see? I supposed that the joke was to remind us about the dangers of this planet, but if so it didn't give me an anxiety attack. The story had been just too unreal, the characters too unlifelike. Anyway, it was anthropologists and their teams who had to out exploring Tiresias, not prison guards.
At the end of the film the girl gets rescued and taken home, where she becomes a guy again. But his strange experience has wiped out his self-confidence and he becomes a wimp who can't get it up anymore. With the dull, inappropriate ending, the script writer proved himself every bit as inept in character psychology as he was in plot development. Pretty weak stuff.
While the vid progressed, Rod's hands were like a pair of swallows coming back to Capistrano. The third time his birds roosted at their favorite perch I ceased to shoo them away. Part of the reason was that Rod was as much a "kid" as I was --- and I remembered being sixteen on my first date. Also, one of the Charlies had been assiduously serving drinks to us movie-watchers all along, and I'd over-estimated how much my current body weight could absorb and had gotten drunk enough to become sleepy and tolerant as I nestled down cozily against Rod. I barely noticed at that point that one of his hands had slipped down to my thigh.
Boys will be boys.
After the vid ended, people started leaving the party. Allie had not even stayed for the vid and I wanted to get back quick to our room and check on her. I picked up my gifts, said goodnight to such new friends as were still hanging around and then, a little unsteady on my sore feet, made my good-byes to Rod. When he offered to escort me to my quarters I didn't see any harm; I could use someone to lean on just then.
*******"It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood."
Thomas Jefferson, 1801
Things moved rapidly on Sunday with some of us from the party getting together and organizing ourselves as charter members of something we called the "Tiresian Women's Rights Association." Before I knew it, I was elected chairperson.
"Why me? I just got here!" I complained.
"Because you've got the balls for it, Erin," explained Andrea.
"I only wish I did!"
"Listen, Erin," said Mickie, "the rest of us can gripe all we want to, but the Sallys just shrug it off. But the way you stood up at the party has given you special credibility. You faced off with four goons and when the smoked cleared you were the only one left standing."
"There's got to be more to leadership than kicking an asshole like Jake in the nuts!"
"Like what?" asked Dori. "-- Anyway, this is just for now. Once we get rolling, all the officers will be up for election by the full membership -- and I bet everybody will want to join."
Being stuck as chairperson, I decided the first order of business had to be appointing a temporary committee of officers. I asked Jordana to be treasurer, which would be a snap for her since we didn't have any money. I also invited Billie to be secretary.
"Do I have to take the minutes?" she asked.
"I can't do that."
"Why not?" I asked. Instead of answering she only sat there roiling in anguish for a minute, then got up and left.
I looked bemusedly to the others. "What did I say?"
"Billie can't read or write and she's sensitive about it," explained Jordana, looking down as if embarrassed for her friend.
"You mean -- ?"
Andrea nodded. "Our fucking public education system with its double-fucking teachers' union! I can hardly read myself thanks to them! Do you think I'd still be herding cows down in the exercise yard if I was good for anything else?"
The subject cast a pall over what had been an upbeat get-together. The system had been damaging innocent young lives for over thirty years, but whenever a candidate promised to be an "education president," it only meant that he was in the pocket of the central office of the American Education Association. The United States, which for a time had been placing behind civil-war- torn Indonesia in student performance, lately had fallen behind Congo where famine and tribal genocide prevailed. There had been a twenty-year brain drain toward America to make up for the scientists and technicians that our own schools were not training. I'd heard that this flow was only now slackening because U.S. companies were becoming unable to compete with the high wages paid in healthier economies with more open societies, such as Thailand's, or the Philippines'. America's students were taught mostly about sex and victim-group grievances.
Getting back to the business at hand, I asked Allie to take the job that Billie had turned down.
"Okay," she laughed, "if you don't try to make me sit on your lap."
"Please, I don't swing that way," I demurred.
"What about a vice-president?" Mickie asked.
I almost offered Billie's name for that, but instead of lapsing into tasteless whimsy I persuaded the others to leave the job open until the official election.
#The "hooker trading card" incident never developed into the terrible ordeal that its victims had expected. Maybe that followed from the fact that Jake and his gang had ended up with egg on their face and the rest of the Sallys seemed more embarrassed than amused by the trick.
That was all to the good, but the offense had been a serious one and it couldn't be allowed to lie forgotten. Because Jake's clique hadn't been called to account by the warden or even by the Guards supervisor, we submitted a written complaint to Gershom's office, demanding disciplinary action against the four men. When he stalled -- as we expected he would -- we did the paperwork and appealed directly to the Director of Prisons on Earth, and to the Washington office of the EEOC, alleging sexual tiresias-pt1.html. Finally, we filed a formal grievance with the officers union.
We were not very optimistic about being heard sympathetically in any of these official snake pits, the agencies all being part of the system, and therefore part of the problem. Although the law protected all people equally in theory, there was no mechanism to force equitable compliance. As long as illegal foreign money and contributions from the drug syndicates could buy presidential and Congressional elections, the overwhelming number of offices and judgeships were held by university-trained social radicals. And radicalism, whatever its publicly-professed goals, was always the bullying of the many by the few.
Fortunately, we knew how the system worked and so while doing all we could through channels, we also understood that any real progress would have to be made through group action on the ground. The first big step was the holding of a general meeting of Tiresian women.
Toward the end of the week we met with most of the staff on the lawn outside the dormitory and the turnout was huge -- which was to be expected since staff females decisively outnumbered the men. The assembly (alas) confirmed me and all of the temporary officers I'd appointed for one-year terms, and Mickie was elected vice-president (which served her right for opening her mouth). Then we settled down to discuss business and grievances.
For whatever reason, the group initially had trouble getting at the meat of our predicament and the first complaints seemed distressingly trivial. For example, somebody thought the nickname "Charlie" was demeaning and we should demonstrate to ban it.
"Listen, people," I said after a lot of pointless discussion, "these aren't important issues. Public education tells us that we should concern ourselves with semantics and let serious problems take care of themselves, but such silliness isn't for people like us -- its for -- pardon the insult -- intellectuals."
There came a lot of laughter and booing of the term "intellectuals," but even so my plea wasn't entirely understood because the discussion next careered into the subject of ingenue parties. Some people thought that initiations should be prohibited, while some thought they were a lot of fun. Finally a woman named Georgette threw the question directly onto my plate:
"Erin, you just had your own party, and it was one of the worst that I've ever seen. What did you think about the subject?"
I leaned back on the bench, surrounded by my associated officers. "Oh, that's a hard question!" I finally sighed. "I didn't want to go, that's for sure. But the fact is, all I was really willing to do was to crawl into a hole and hide for the next year. I hadn't met anyone except Allie up till then and didn't want to. I felt like a freak -- and, well, I guess that's what I thought the rest of you were, too. When I look back at it now, I can see that wasn't a good attitude.
"I think that having an ingenue party is like being a fledgling pushed out of the nest," I pressed on. "You've got to fly or you've got to die -- that's just the way it is. My party wasn't a total disaster by any means; I met a lot of you people there -- and I even met a decent Sally. I think the experience did a lot for my self-confidence and it also helped me to fit in a lot faster than I would have otherwise.
"-- And," I added with a sour grin, "after wearing that goddamned dress, I know that nothing else could ever scare me!"
There was some laughter and we were finally able to get on to the more important matters -- like fair job assignments, promotions -- and equal protection under the law.
#The next day I was introduced to my duties as a personnel clerk. It was the sort of work I was used to, having bid out of my entry-level jailer's job more than a year before. The dismal state of reading, writing, and arithmetic among the usual job recruits had made me a good candidate for office work and, anyway, guarding prisoners had always made me feel like a lion tamer -- all by my lonesome and surrounded by bloodthirsty predators. I can't emphasize how much I disliked the shadowy cell block corridors with their slamming doors, the echo of surly voices and wary footsteps, the feral hatred in the prisoners' eyes. My job was not where the real me was at; I had become a correctional officer only because I didn't place in the U.S. Labor Office quota lists for the better jobs.
Rod was after me every day to give him an interview. I had mixed feelings about seeing the Sally again, still not trusting him very deeply. I was getting used to the Charlies, but the Sallys still made me uneasy. Rod looked like a man, and outwardly acted like a man, but deep down I knew that he wasn't a man. Worst of all, he was a journalist.
To me journalism suggested cynical propaganda for the status quo and -- worst of all -- it made him one of the chattering class, which included not only reporters, but also academics, think-tanks, blue-ribbon committees, and special-interest pleaders. One could not underestimate the damage that such people had caused America. Without journalists especially to sugarcoat the poison pill, to attack people in the opposition while ignoring treason, rape, and drug-running among their favorites, the Establishment never would have become the Establishment.
But despite all these misgivings, I made an appointment to interview with Rod on my next day off.
Rod snapped this shot of me at our first interview. I deliberately dressed sloppy hoping to dim my luster, but if you ask me I looked good enough to eat!
We met up on the parapet, where he was waiting for me with a pitcher of lemonade, and I passed the next couple hours answering a series of probing questions. In particular I had to fill him in on my first days upon Tiresias and the impressions drawn from them. He was especially interested in our "rights association" and encouraged me to talk about it at great length. I did so, until my voice grew hoarse and the pink-marble bench I was sitting on started to hurt.
"We've got a lot of stuff down on CD," he said at last, clicking off the recorder and refilling my paper cup with lemonade. "Maybe we should knock it off for now. -- Just the interview I mean; I'd like to take you to lunch."
"You mean chow down on the cafeteria's barf?"
"For today. Maybe we can do something special later on. I'm not a bad cook."
"I'm not either."
"We'll have to trade recipes," he suggested. Suddenly he fired me an amused glance.
"What?" I said.
"You do look like a boy slouching in that chair that way," Rod explained.
"I am a boy -- a man, I mean!"
He changed the subject tactfully: "You said you were home-schooled. Didn't you ever get lonely lacking kids your own age?"
"I thought the interview was over."
"It's just a friendly question; I'd like to know more about you."
"No," I reminisced, settling back into my slouch. "I wasn't lonely; my folks pushed me into all sorts of community and church activities. Did I ever tell you that I was a Boy Scout? -- I went the distance to Eagle Scout! Anyway, I did go to a public high school. -- What a waste that was!"
"You're a Boy Scout! I should have known!"
"Would you recognize a Boy Scout if you met one? There can't have been many in journalism school."
He ignored my jibe, asking, "You've never been married?"
I shook my head and slurped more lemonade.
"Why not? You're such a beautiful woman that you must have been a handsome man."
"Looks don't cut it with women; it's never enough. You know what I mean."
"Suppose you tell me."
I shrugged. "Women select rich killer-males. What first class woman is going to marry a one-pay-check-from-homeless-downwardly-mobile prison officer?"
"You don't sound like you have much self-esteem."
"After all I've told you, can you blame me?"
"No, probably not."
I looked up into his eyes, and was glad to find no mockery there. "At least you're open-minded," I said.
"I'm a journalist."
I laughed. "Remember that movie where the villain says, 'I'm a lawyer; you can trust me.'?"
"I guess you think that everyone in the press corps is a paid propagandist."
"That about sums it up," I told him.
#A couple days after our first big association meeting, the "ship" hit the "sand" as Allie sometimes said with her accustomed coyness. A Sally, Jesse, had beaten his Charlie lover, Christy, to a pulp.
I guess the two of them were a disaster waiting to happen. They'd been into some weird stuff -- including a wacky French-maid bondage fetish. But, as we understood, Christy had been getting more and more unhappy about the nature of their arrangement and finally decided to call it quits after attending our first big meeting. Unfortunately, power-tripping Jesse liked things just the way they were and before their argument was over, Christy had been sent to the medical division with severe bruises and multiple cuts and abrasions.
I was with Rod when word came about the domestic-abuse case. I realized at once that I had to get on the stick and call an emergency meeting of the association; Rod asked me to let him monitor and I told him that it would be all right. Down deep I think I saw the crisis as a test case to see where Rod's loyalties and conscience really lay.
As the women gathered on the lawn ground, I could see that the news about Christy had come as a terrible shock; our association was little more than a week old and already we felt ourselves at the moment of truth. -- And none of us were particularly proud that Christy might have gotten hurt because she had acted on our rhetoric where we had been merely talking.
It wasn't easy to get the discussion rolling. People were too upset even to be angry, and Rod's presence only added to peoples' unease. While bringing the meeting to order I wondered whether I had done the right thing by letting him attend.
"Friends, I guess we all know about Christy," I began slowly. "The committee officers and I are going to go see her at the infirmary as soon as we finish here."
"Maybe we're finished already," suggested a Charlie whom I had only lately met -- Donna.
"No, we can't look at it that way!" I said firmly. "Maybe we thought that this was going to be a breeze, or a feel-good club. It's not. There may be more of us who'll get hurt -- we have to accept that because we're fighting a kind of war. But I will tell you that if it comes down to beating after beating after beating, we can't win because in an open fight they've got everything -- the muscles, the system, the rules that they wrote themselves. All we've got is justice, and it's been a long time since American justice has represented anything more than a statue wearing a blindfold."
"So what do we have?" asked a woman.
"We have a lot of disadvantages," I said. "If we can win at all, it's because our opponents -- most of them anyway -- are decent people. Decent people will let other decent people win; sometimes they even let people who don't deserve to win win, too, if you appeal to their emotions to flimflam their heads. Sometimes I think that that's how our society got so fucked up in the first place.
"But anyway, even if we lose we can expect just more of what we've already gotten used to; if we win, it should make things better for us, and especially for our kids. But when we get what we know we need today, then we've got to kill the insurgency dead --- stone cold dead. We all know what its like to live under a permanent revolution, like the one that started in the 1960's; nothing gets done; progress can't be made, the infrastructure rots. Men and women should be on the same side -- against people who are playing them against one another for ideological ends."
"Maybe we shouldn't be talking with a Sally listening," suggested another Charlie.
"What difference does it make?" I asked resignedly. "You can bet Gershom's got an electronic ear aimed at us, or a hidden mike under one of these bleachers. If you're worried about Rod, I'll tell you right now that he's my friend and I'm ready to vouch for him. If he's willing, maybe he can help us by writing about what's going on here."
Rod stood up. "Can I say something on my own behalf, Madame Chairman?"
Suppressing a grin at his form of address despite the seriousness of the moment, I replied with likewise: "The chair recognizes Rod Ganners,"
"I'm not here to spy on you folks, or to put anybody on the spot; it's just that I think that something important is happening and I want to understand it. -- As for Christy, the very idea of what happened to her makes me sick.
No one spoke up, but it was the kind of silence that encouraged Rod to say his piece.
"Listen," he went on, "you may think that the way you're treated is demeaning, but you don't realize how degrading it is for someone like me. Am I supposed to be grateful to a system that holds people back in the unspoken belief that I don't have what it takes to compete with groups I don't belong to? I'm good at what I do -- and I'd still be the best there is under any system that recognized freedom. I'm certainly not grateful for hiring quotas because they're an insult; I could beat any man or woman trying to do my job and I'm not scared to try -- so why are a lot of regulatory bureaucrats in Washington so worried about me?
"The answer is they're worried about themselves! They're scared to lose power. They sold the people some feel-good snake oil a couple generations back, talking the language of care and compassion freedom while turning Americans into dependent, ill-educated peons."
I was surprised by the vehemence of his vision -- talk about deep waters! At that point he drew a deep breath and concluded with: "I guess all I have left to say is that Erin doesn't have to worry about my wanting to help."
"Rod," I spoke up soberly, "the best way you can help us is just by doing your job the old fashioned way -- telling the truth. Truth lets everything else take care of itself."
He only nodded my way, apparently talked-out. The Charlies, too, were quiet for a moment, but then Dori stood up: "We sure can use all the help we can get -- but how do we keep more people from being beaten up like Christy?"
That put me back into the hot seat. "We have two choices," I observed, "We can be nice, tame little girls here, and then be nice tame, emasculated men back home. . . ."
"Those aren't much for choices," put in Davida suddenly.
"Davida, that was only the first choice!" I explained patiently. "The second choice is that we refuse to let Christy sacrifice in vain. She's our first fallen soldier and what's happened to her should mean something."
"So what does it mean?" asked Mickie.
Here's Mickie Olson with one of her "patients" in the background. Mickie had a good heart and was a all-around chum. Also, she was about the only person I knew on Tiresias who earned her living doing anything useful outside of government service!"I want to get some pictures of Christy, bruised and cut as she is now, and make up some posters. We've got to put the mirror up to the ugly face of limousine-socialism. We have to show the Sallys exactly what they're defending and what they've become because they've been defending it.
"In fact, I'd like to have Christy photographed in that maid cap of hers; it would speak volumes on what the status quo is all about. Unfortunately, I don't know how to get the cap; it's probably still in Jesse's quarters."
"I've got one you can use," volunteered Billie.
"You have a maid's cap?" I asked incredulously.
"Shucks," Billie said abashedly, "I've got the whole outfit!"
"William. . . " I sighed.