[Fenspace] The Melancholy of Mackie-chan

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[Fenspace] The Melancholy of Mackie-chan

Postby Dartz » Mon Dec 26, 2016 6:34 pm

Yeah.
Gender bender. Identity issues. Spacefighters. Combat Cyborgs. Conspiracies. A bit of a grab-bag really.

With some help from the fine people at the Fenspace Forum.

He remembered reaching for the eject handles.

And the Crunch of the impact.

“Mackie?”

Needless to say, his Sister's voice in his mind came as a surprise. Abruptly awakened in sparks-on-black grid of virtual space, he saw her there.

“Sis,” he managed to say.

“You had an accident,” she said, taking a moment to choose her wods.

“I crashed.” Had he a body, he might've felt himself go cold.

“You remembered?”

She almost seemed distracted, surprised. Like she’d seen a ghost.

“But we're in virtual space...”

“I…” he saw her mind switch gears. “I got your mind.”

Somewhere, something quailed, even without a body he thought he'd be sick. It couldn't be too serious. Not when he was still thinking. But still, that look on her face – even simulated – crawled up his spine.

“Um...”

“But not your body.”

“What...”

“I just have to load some new system drivers.”

Mackie saw who had signed the drivers – personally. A dreadful possibility loomed large in his mind. It died, replaced by one far more exciting...

He'd finally been allowed onto the Forge with all it's cool stuff and hot, busty women.

“We're about to bring you online. Promise you won't scream.”

“Scream?” he managed, before oblivion took hold.

Reality returned with a bang.

The scent of ozone tingled in his nostrils as he took his first breath, filling his lungs.

He recognised the room. The old engineer's office beside the power-plant, where Shinji'd been born. Hundreds of energy meters read out the power flowing through each and every circuit on the asteroid, filling the room with dim blue light. Numbers flickered as circuits switched on automatic. It gave the whole room a delicious Frankenstein ambience.

Above him, decade-old second hand scanners and spotlights that'd obviously been borrowed.

It all felt wrong. Every single muscle, every nerve out of place. The drivers didn't cover half of it.

Mackie pushed himself upright. The weight on his chest shifted. Sitting opposite him, his sister's puppet, naked. One the one hand, it was hard not to note just how much of an achingly hot body she had. Her wide, blue eyes. The soft, sleek curves of her athletic body. Her tanned skin stretched taught over toned muscles. Her breasts swelled on her chest with each breath – unnaturally symetrical and artificially perfect.

“Wow,” he breathed. She matched him.

He felt his heart race, his chest quivering in time. Lightning struck throughout his body, each breath quivering. It filled his whole body, alien and wrong, tracking inside when it should've been expanding, filling his chest with a jolt on every breath.

His mind finally caught up to the fact that the puppet reflected each and every single move he made... almost like a mirror.

“Oh,”

He looked down, placing two hands on his chest, inhaling. His breath shivered as he squeezed, confirming they really and truly were attached to him.

“He noticed,” a voice giggled, somewhere to herself. Mackie turned to face, hair brushing off his shoulders.

Kotono. Wearing her usual aerobic outfit, fresh from a run. He skin glistened with sweat.

“Noticed?” he said, hearing his sister's voice.

“I win” Daryl piped up. She stood against the far wall, still in her skintight flightsuit. “Breasts first. Pay up ladies”

“Damn.”

His Sister, standing behind him, flanked on both sides by some pretty funky looking hardware. Cables trailed from it to the headrest on the workbench.

The pieces began to assemble themselves in his mind. He groped some more, just confirm it.

“Wa.....Wa.......Whu...... Huh?” Frightened eyes looked for an explanation

“It was the only option,”

“You should've just left me in virtual space!”

“We couldn't. Not for much longer. It would've harmed your mental patterns.”

“The Knightwing, then....” Even being back inside that tin can would've felt better.

“We stripped all that hardware out. It would've taken a week...”

“Anything then!. Anything but this...” He poked himself in the chest. The breast bounced. The sensation traced like lightning through his body. “This is a sex toy!”

“I spoke to A.C. We had a few hours at most before decoherence set in.”

Not even a glimmer of humour, of hope that it'd been a cruel prank. His sister stared at him, her expression deadly serious.

Mackie started to shake. She stopped towards him. Cold ceramic pulled bare skin into a chilling embrace, every sensitive spot on the puppet sparking to life at once drawing a shivering gasp to Mackie's lips.

A shudder raced through his body.

She pushed back, her warm smile beaming back at him, formed from full, luscious lips. Glacier blue eyes shone with kindness,

“You'll be alright. You're still my brother. If I have to, I'll build you a new body myself.”

Reset. His thought process stopped, locking into the moment. Impact. Spinning. Ground.

“I thought I was dead.” He felt his voice shake. “I thought they killed me,”

“Who?”

Jet pushed back.

Mackie felt his throat go tight. “I was shot down.”

The look on his Sister's face terrified him.

----


Only one word came to his mind. Snug. A single-piece leotard hugged the puppet's body far tighter than anything he'd ever worn in his life – including the Kulbit flight suit. Even the stockings seemed to make for a second skin. At least it kept things from moving around.

Until the body asked for a breath.

Mackie stood up, ankles finding their natural balance point with heels perched centimetres above the floor. Toes curled on cold tiles. Mackie tried to relax his posture to rest both heels on the ground. His ankles pulled tight, stretching until artificial sinew threatened to snap. Heels met cold concrete for a moment before a yelp of pain escaped his lips

The moment he relaxed, they sprung back into place, still aching.

He sat back on the bed, fighting the urge to bend down and knead them with his fingers. No wonder his Sister always wore heels with the thing.

Only the boots remained. Red thighboots of the sort beloved by most senshi. Again, they fit the pattern so far, tight and snug. His foot slipped in, cybernetic senses gleefully reporting every miniscule detail of the sensation to an overloaded mind.

The body thrummed, traces of electricity drawing sharp gasps as he tried to take control. He tried to focus, panting. Cold sweat trickled across his brow, a hard desire building deep inside.

A small part of his mind had to laugh at the ironic hell of it all.

Punishment for being permnently fifteen.

And being turned on by the sight of the stunning woman staring back at him and the aching desire to both run his fingers over her body and feel her burning touch on his skin...

“This is so fucked up,” he breathed.

Mackie focused on getting his feet settled in both booths instead, dragging them up by their straps, grunting with the effort. Eventually, toes found their safe place at the bottom of the boot.

“Are you coming out?”

“Not yet!”

Hearing his sister's voice come back off the walls chilled. The second boot offered even more challenge than the first, creaking as he heaved at the straps.

Each tug shook his breasts.

“Having trouble?” Kotono called in.

“It's just hard to get everything on.”

A pair of leather straps fixed them onto a belt around his waist.

“If it's hard for you to put on, it's hard for a rapist to take off.”

He tried a few steps. The body's own software took the challenge out of walking in heels. It didn't kill the strangeness, the surreal feeling of being a passenger as its natural stride swayed from side-to-side.

He stopped.

Out of curiosity, he tried standing on a single leg.

The body maintained rock-solid balance. Automatic. Artificial. Even as he leant over past the point where he was certain he'd fall.

A few more steps. An alient stride. He tried a deep breath, feeling his chest swell.

“Come on Mackie, you can't stay in there forever.”

“Don't laugh,” he said.

“We won't,” said Kotono

“We promise,” Daryl added

They lied and he knew it.

“Why are you even here?”

“We're here to help,” Kotono answered.

“We're here to make sure you don't do anything that gets mentioned on Jezebel,” said Daryl “Again.”

“That wasn't my fault!”

Hearing his sister's voice get so unnaturally shrill made the puppet's blood go cold. Mackie stood there, closed his eyes and took one, two, three solid steps through the privacy curtain. Soft material carressed bare skin.

He breathed again, forcing it out of his mind.

“Is everything comfortable?” “Does it fit?”

He pressed both hands on a firm stomach.

“Uncomfortably comfortable.”

The only way he could really describe it. It came out with a strangled smile

“You mean?”

“I'm wearing high-heeled knee-boots, and a leotard.” The smile got worse. The body shivered.“It should feel worse.”

“But it doesn't?” said Daryl.

“It feels like it fits.”

Nothing pinching. Nothing tight. It reminded him exactly what was missing with each step. Each breath highlighted exactly what'd been added, cups squeezing firmly. He forced himself not to fidget with them in case anyone got the wrong idea.

The simple fact that he could look down Kotono's top for the first time in his life acted as icing on the cake. His Sister stood a head and shoulders taller than he did.

“It's okay to say it feels good,” said Kotono. “

He supposed she had a point. On it's own, without any of the body issues firing off in the back of his mind, whatever material it'd been made of really did feel kind of nice against bare skin.

“Look, Mackie, you're not the first guy to wake up after an accident with a little more up top, and a little less down below.”

Kotono giggled.

“It's been waved to make its wearer feel comfortable, no matter how they feel about their body. It helps people with body issues live their lives.”



“Don't take this the wrong way, but I really don't plan on spending the wrest of my life in your gender.”

Mackies hands found their way to his hips, software interpreting intent into action in a way that caused him to pause, then clench his fists.

“Well, I don't plan on allowing you to either, so we're in agreement.” Daryl smiled at him.

Mackie Breathed. The pair glanced at each other.

“So, Kotono, you were telling me about that guy you slept with last night,”

“Oh yeah. He had this awesome cock. Felt like it was longer than my arm, and probably as thick. He hit all my spots and then....mmmmm....I could feel him finish inside me.”

Both stared at him

“Oh look, you've made Miss Mackie blush.... could she still be innocent?”

“Oh my! We'll have to find someone to change that. I still have his number... ”

“SHUT UP!” It came out as a shriek, ringing back of the walls. “How would you like it if you woke up with a dick between your legs or something, huh?”

Kotono placed a slender finger to her lips. “Depends on who's it is....”

“Damn you.”

He shouldered her out of the way, taking one, two, three resolute steps towards the door. An arm blocked his path. He felt his fist clench, ready to put it through Daryl's face if she didn't move.

Her eyes dared him to try it.

“Mackie.” She placed a heavy hand on his shoulder, cooling him. “We're sorry. We thought you'd find it funny. We went too far”

He snarled through his teeth “There's nothing about this that's funny.”

“We know. That's why we thought you'd like a joke...” She offered him the weakest smile, cooling him off.

Her eyes still stared through him.

“I don't need a joke.” He breathed. Alien sensations fuelled a strangled frustration that burst through his lips. “I need my old body back!”

Daryl didn't move. She held him there with her hand.

Kotono opened her mouth. Two pairs of burning eyes encouraged her to swallow her words.

“Look, Mackie.” You have one advantage over everyone else in your situation.”

“What's that?” He scowled. “And don't tell me it's experience.”

“No,” she shook her head. “You know it's going to end some day soon and you'll get your own body back, or one like it. Most biomodded people don't get that.”

And that carried the weight of experience behind it.

“So maybe, think of it like a Holiday from being Mackie and all the stress of being yourself. A chance to try new things and find answers to questions you wouldn't dare ask.”

Mackie took another breath, closing his eyes to gather his nerves. He shrugged Daryl's hand off his shoulder.

“You know.” he said, finding it hard to look up. “I really don't want anyone to think I'm doing anything creepy. I know what people expect of me,”

“Well,” she smirked at him. “You kinda earned that.”

-----

Driving in heels took a little more dexterity than normal, but he managed. At least the Warthog's suspension kept things from jiggling too much. Not enough to feel normal. But manageable.

It gave his mind something to focus on, keeping his thoughts off the little niggles like how he constantly hit the wrong buttons thanks to too-long fingers, or the way the puppet's knee kept hitting the bottom of the dash, or his arms brushing against his chst each time he turned the wheel.

He raced through the old tunnels, leaving behind the usual public areas. An emergency door opened to the Warthog's transponder, giving access to a part of Frigga nobody else supposedly knew about.

He drove forward again, until not even Exocomps where there to watch him as he dismounted from the idling Warthog.

Mackie screamed.

He kicked, punched and battered his frustrations out against the tyres of the Warthog, steel bootheel gouging a scratch in the wheel's blue paint.

He screamed until his lungs burned and punching until the puppet's knuckles wore raw, before collapsing to his knees, panting.

“Damn it...” he panted. “Damn it all.”

He sat on cold stone, chips biting a the bare skin of his hips.

He placed his hands on his chest, taking a full, deep breath, trying to ignore a dozen crackling sensations that demanded a finger caress. An empty space between his legs demanded something. He closed his eyes, waiting for the clamour to die down.

Just a few weeks.

He could manage.

At least, he thought, they hadn't put him back in that bloody jet. Two legs. Two hands. Two eyes. He could put up with all the rest for a short while if he didn't have to put up with that.

A dozen trains of thought at once inside a mind large enough to monitor thousands of datastreams simultaneously making miniscule adjustments a thousand times every operating second. Sensors capable of seeing the universe in lurid gamma-ray detail, spotting houses and cars from planetary orbit.

And no fingers to grasp, hands to build, mouth to eat or face to smile. Able to race across the sky, but forced to live in a cold, empty hanger with no human contact for weeks at a time.

With four beautiful women aboard, visible on thermal, ultaviolet and visual cameras designed for fire-protection and crew-monitoring, but perpetually out of reach of a body with no sense of touch. Forced to watch in minute, gigapixel detail, unable to act.

At least he could spend the next couple of weeks in a quiet workshop – it'd give him an excuse to get his head down on things that needed to be finished. And maybe take advantage of being head, shoulders and chest taller.

The doorway to the Silky Doll acted almost as a portal to another world, a small bubble of Megatokyo transported to a chamber deep in the centre of Frigga. He opened what he remembered as the penthouse lift door, stepping through into the top floor of the Lady 633.

Heeled feet sank into lush carpet as he strode across the living area floor. The sweet scent of lavender perfume mixed with fresh-roast coffee and a faint thingle of cigarette smoke. Outside, the noise of the city street far below filtered through open ceiling height windows, a cool evening breeze carrying the sound of a distant chopper.

The city of Megatokyo. In hologram. It felt more like home.

He dropped onto his favourite couch, letting his body sink into soft foam. He lay there, grasping at the sensations drifting back from his body, trying to tamp them down.

A cold shadow crossed over him.

“Sis,”

He jumped upright, half startled and half wondering how she'd just snuck up on him like that. Jet dropped herself into the reinforced chair opposite, metal frame creaking out a protest.

“So. How're you finding your first time wearing high heels?”

A big Sister smile on her face took the sting out of it. Down here, he could say anything. He sat up, placing both feet on the ground, looking down at them as he scrunched his toes inside his boots. “Easier than I thought...”

“Just remember, that body's built for it,” she said. “It's not really a woman's body, but an imitation of one.”

He looked up. “It's still weird.” His legs crossed themselves over their own accord. A moment's conscious resistance undid it, letting him plant both feet on the ground again, before eventually he allowed the body to do what felt comfortable for itself.

“How?”

“Well, I keep bumping these things everytime I try and reach for something,” he poked a finger into the bare side of one of his breasts, drawing an involuntary shudder. “They're kind of annoying.”

“They can be.” A soft chuckle rose from her throat. “They can be a lot of fun too, in the right pair of hands.”

He growled, shaking his head. “Not you too..”

“Hmm?”

He looked up. “The other two gave me hell with teasing.”

“I didn't mean it that way.”

“Then how?”

“Call it a suggestion,” she said, with a straight face. “That's your body for at least the next few weeks. Whatever you want to do with yourself is your own perogative.”

More like she was telling him how to get the best out of a new pair of runners, than giving him permission to indulge every single teenage fantasy she was certain he had to be having.

Every muscle in his body screwed itself tight at the idea. “But I don't really want to.”

“I understand,” she said, softly.

He got the feeling she didn't. Not really. He sat there, not really sure how to follow it up. Why? That'd just open up avenues for her to try and convince him it'd be fun, or it'd take the edge off the weirdness.

“I've been talking in the back channels. There's been four other crashes in the same area. All fatal. You're the first survivor. But that hasn't been reported yet.”

His Jaw hinged slowly open. “But...”

“If someone shot you down, the only reason you're still alive is because they thought you were dead – they didn't realise you weren't human.”

Mackies mouth went bone dry. His Sister's glacier eyes seemed to stare right through him.

“If you want. I will put the order in with either A.C., of VF – whoever's got the shortest lead time – and get you out of that body as soon as we can.” His sister spoke like was speaking to glass rather than a person. He braced himself. This could only be going one direction. “Or, for the time being, you go missing. We let them think they killed you....”

Her eyes sparked with mischief.

“....and you go get them,” he finished. His fist clenched.

“I do that anyway,” she said, firmly. “But it might give me a better chance, if they don't know I'm looking for them.”

And now began the snowball process of making it permanent, in spite of himself and everything he wanted. That's how it worked. He glared, ready to snap it back at her even as he struggled to find the right words beyond 'Fuck off'.

“I can't ask you. And I won't try and convince you. It's your decision Mackie, and yours alone.”

That stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Can I think about it?”

She smiled at him. “Tell me tomorrow, if you want. I've worked to do tonight.”

“Right,” he breathed. “Tomorrow.”

“I left a few things in your room,” Jet said. “If you want to try them, it's OK. If not, it's up to you. In case you get curious, but're too afraid to ask.”

Not afraid, he thought. Another heavy hand fell on his shoulder, cold fingers soaking the heat out of him.

“Like I said, for the next few weeks, that's your body, not mine. Whatever you do yourself and how far you go, it's your call.”

He breathed, holding his tongue. Waiting for her to get it over with.

“There's just one rule. Try enjoy yourself. Very few people get the chance to spend some time in someone else's shoes.”

He frowned. “High Heels?

She smirked. “I bet it feels good to stand a little taller?”

He knew the answer expected of him.

“I can look down so many cleavages!”

It came out just a little bit hollow, but his Sister still smiled. Maybe she thought he was just being himself, or maybe she just understood the effort. It still made him feel better.

“Night Mackie.”

Jet left him alone with his thoughts. An attempt to pretend nothing had happened was dashed the moment his Sister's reflection in the glass windows startled him. A meal of ramen and a few hours gaming beneath the anonymity of an Xbox tag helped take the edge off, his mind losing itself in the hunt for Boskone fighters.

It lasted until he accidentally switched on voice chat.

“Holy shit, you're a chick,”

The fun ended soon after.

His favourite manga had lost it's sheen. All it achieved was to remind him of his situation.

He tried some of the guides that'd been produced by the Millenium, but quickly concluded that none of them really applied to his particular situation.

Mackie decided to sleep instead. One day over, meant one day closer to being himself again.

Sitting on his bed, folded in neat piles, a collection of his Sister's clothes. Ranging from the racy, to the saucy, to a few items from Sylia's own wardrobe. Most of them flagged with handwritten notes telling him how to put them on, why he'd want to wear them, and the sort of reactions people might have. Some Cosplya items offered an amusing alternative – Dirty Pair's Kei, and Cutey Honey. A suggestion to try on someone else's identity for size, offering a break from his own.

The colourful selection of toys left beside them were quickly dumped in a box under his bed.

--

“Flaps. Flaps”

Servo's whined, fighting against jammed metal.

Less than a hundred meters. Too low to eject. Over 500kph relative velocity. The moon's surface ripped past beneath, magnificent desolation blurred into a monochrome smear by raw speed. Mackie jostled the flaps, trying to keep the light fighter flying, trying to pitch the nose up.

He struggled to breath, fighting against the dying fighter as it tried to auger itself into one last death spiral. High Alpha and top-rudder kept it on the razor's edge of stable. Fuel sprayed from broken tanks, leaving a pale vapour trail behind. Another orange annunciator flashed up on his visor.

LOW FUEL.

Bastards.

GPWS came alive.

CAUTION TERRAIN

CAUTION TERRAIN

A mountain flashed by, a column of dust chasing after. He fired the nose thrusters, hoping to push it level enough to eject. One failed with a red light and a hollow Bong Bong in his ear.

PULL UP

PULL UP.

The fighter snapped against itself, the moon's horizon turning past vertical, filling the monitor. A stomp on the rudder pedal held the nose level just long enough to let him hope he might get it back.

A sharp boulder tore the remains of the right wing clean off, shattering it.

The window filled with a smeared view of regolith, frozen for a microsecond.

PULL UP, advised the GPWS in it's disinterested monotone. Chimes sounded.

“No...” he managed to say. I'm dead, he thought. Death reached up and his whole world shattered, cockpit, body, then mind.

A heartbeat later, he sat upright in his bed, drenched in sweat, lightweight sheets pooled around his waist. His hands shot to his chest, a quick squeeze confirming the worst. Around him, darkness, only a few cracks of sunlight through the blackout curtains.

His room. It still smelled of him – a sort of lingering body odour like the inside of a gym bag, mingling with old glue, machine oils and the lavender perfume his Sister liked.

Alive.

At least.

The ringing in his dream still sounded in the back of his mind. It took a moment for him to find the source - the PC monitor beside his bed that'd been turned into something resembling a videofax. One of these days they'd get it to display proper caller I.D. Sighing, he pushed a key to accept the call.

The channel opened. A.C. gazed out of the screen.

“Hey. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I was already up.” Mackie verbally waved off, consciously not shrugging.

“Jet’s filled me in and, well,” here A.C. shrugged in a surprisingly barely distracting fashion give the neckline on the top Mackie could see, “I figured I’d be a little more qualified to offer advice that she is.” There was only a slightly mischievous twinkle in her emerald eyes. “For one thing, don’t sleep naked the first few nights. That just makes it worse.”

“The ventilation system broke.” Mackie said grumpily. “It’s thirty degrees in here.”

“At least it isn’t because your clothes got stolen.” A.C. said semi-philosophically.

Mackie stared at the screen. Green eyes stared back, penetrating.

“Quirk blowback.” A.C. told the nude redhead. “I’ve got plenty of space if you need a quiet place to pass the time in privacy, I'll have Libbie and Kasumi prepare some quarters. Eddie has read over some of the work you've done, and he'd be happy to spend some time working with you while we design your new body.” The quirked smile on the cyberneticist’s face was wry. “Could even wrangle you some extra credit.”

A nervous quiver rolled up his spine. As much as he ached to get a chance to use tools and equipment a decade ahead of anything Nekomi had, something made him scramble for a polite way to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime His Sister'd given him one already.

“Thanks, but I’m going to help my sister with the investigation.” Mackie folded his arms with a scowl.

“Under, not over.” A.C. interjected, freezing the android. “More comfortable in general.”

Mackie carefully refolded his arms.

“Ah well.” The raven haired woman on the screen said. “Shame, you would have loved the cheesecake. So,” She went on brightly, once again distracting Mackie from her thoughts on her brush with mortality, “that leave two topics. First off, clothes.”
Mackie wondered what she meant, then tried to suppress a shudder. A.C. noticed.

“Given your sister’s tastes, you probably want something a bit more…O.K., not plain with that figure, but ordinary. That’ll arrive shortly, what with the noise over things. No, what will be the tricky thing for you is expectations. Don’t try to ‘slob-out’, it’ll bug you even if it’s comfortable, due to how your body moves now.” A.C. cocked her head slightly, thinking. “Jeans, straight cut. Simple pullovers. That’ll be better for you while everything else gets sorted. And Jet’ll be comfortable in them later.”

“OK, point.” Mackie said after a few moments thought. “Not what I’d expect sis to wear, but it fits.”

“Second,” A.C.’s voice hardened, “how are your acting skills?”

“What?” Mackie asked, confused.

“You’ll be backstopping then.” A.C. decided. “Better that way.”

Mackie blinked his eyes, trying to figure out how that was decided for her.

“Mackie,” A.C.’s tone was matter-of-fact, “that body is known as Jet’s. If you could act like her you’d have already have considered it as a method of distraction. And no, you can’t just add drivers to help for this, I can tell you’re having problems with what that body’s speced too. That also means you’re not jumping into a hardsuit. Muse support and skillsofts may cover a multitude of sins, but you need to work with them and you won’t learn to do that so fast. DON’T even think about it.” The cyborgs voice changed to what Mackie’d heard called her 'Mars' voice by the senshi for that last, a combination of command, wisdom, and warning at a low tone that seemed to bypass your ears and got directly to the brain. Now that he experienced it for herself, Mackie easily called it a Leader voice. Not just command, but like Optimus Prime was disappointed in you for something he knew you'd think and knew you knew would be bad.

“You don’t want to go there Mackie.” A.C. added, voice lighter and more caring.

Mackie sat there, aware that he might've just dodged a bullet, but not quite sure what sort of bullet he'd just dodged. It started the gears turning in the back of his mind, mingling with the uneasy feeling that maybe she knew him better than he knew himself.

The image of of AC on the monitor took a breath. Mackie's eyes dropped slowly from her face, lingering a moment until he felt his own breasts swell in response.

An Alto chuckle warned him that he'd been caught, the mischievous smile on her face reminding him that she wasn't the only one showing a little skin.

He swallowed the lump.

“Thanks for calling. I really need to get some sleep before tomorrow,”

An excuse, really. She probably knew, but didn't call him on it.

“If you need to talk, or change your mind if it gets too much, you know how to get in touch.”

“Thanks,” he said again, forcing a smile.

The monitor went dark, leaving the lingering ghost of A.C's smile to quicken Mackie's heart. At least, like that, he was still himself. He flopped back down, the bounce of his chest making him squirm a little inside.

“Just a few weeks,” he whispered, turning over onto his side. His toes kneaded on the silken bedsheet he'd been given, wrapping it around his legs.

This. This feels good.

---


Morning time arrived with the artificial sun high above the Horizon.

Mackie tried to ignore it.

His body insisted otherwise.

The bathroom offered no relief, only an unwelcome reminder. He dithered on whether or not to have a shower, before finally succumbing to the inevitable. Best not to slob around. Take it from someone who knew better.

Hot water found it's own natural course, as much as he didn't want to, slithering along parts of his body he tried to ignore.

His sister's naked body confronted him in the mirror again as he stepped out.

After few attempts at dressing himself, he settled on the combination he found most comfortable, and left it at that. They didn't match, but they kept everything in it's right place and didn't try to climb into any nooks and crannies. A light bathrobe kept the cold air off.

He took his usual place at his computer, looking for a quick escape from the reality of his situation. Bubblegum Pink had suddenly become a lot less amusing.

Even the simple act of sitting at his computer and browsing the internet was proving to be an exercise in frustration. He'd browse game sites and twitter, delicate fingers constantly mistyping, starting to relax into his chair. Then he'd make a mistake that reminded him of his situation and snap back to reality. He'd click on one of his bookmarks without thinking, presenting him with images he'd normally welcome and drawing unexpected reactions from his body. Leaning back would shift his weight, breasts rubbing against his blouse. The programmed instincts that would make him cross his shapely legs, the tight pants sliding over sensitive skin...

The urge to scream returned with a vengeance.

Just before Mackie could give into that temptation, a feminine giggle cut through his anger. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so determined to resist the urge for a little self-exploration.” Mackie jumped slightly in his chair, emitting a girlish squeak of surprise, then turned towards the door. Despite the fact he was sure it had been closed and locked, it was now open wide, a small and very curvy Orion woman leaning against the frame and grinning playfully at him.

“You do realize,” Chris Wood said, after waiting for Mackie to get over the burst of libido he always suffered from when he saw her, “that I am passing up a magnificent opportunity for revenge here.” Blinking, Mackie managed to stop staring at her body and looked up at her face, confusion on his own. "Camera drones. On my ship. In my shower," she reminded him, smirking slightly as Mackie winced. That hadn't been one of his brightest ideas. "Luckily for you, I can be merciful."

Mackie Jaguar was hardly a fool. Eyes darting down to the womans very generous chest again, which was straining the t-shirt she was wearing to its limits, he realized at least part of what her revenge would have been. His libido and this body were already an unpleasant combination. He didn't want to imagine what the Orion could do to him if she actually put some effort into it. "I... I certainly appreciate that," he replied, managing to pull his gaze back up to her face. "So if you're not here for that...?"

Grinning, Chris stepped out into the hallway, returning a moment later with a large duffel bag. "Clothes," she explained, tossing the bag onto the teens lap. "Everything's pretty simple. Pants, shirts, underwear that wasn't purchased for the sole purpose of cooking Ford's brain," she said dryly. Mackie's cheeks reddened as he remembered the bra and panties he currently had on. “None of it’s ‘waved, except for the shoes,” she added. “They’ll compensate for your need for heels. The rest is all normal, so it might not feel as comfortable as that Senshi gear, but I get the feeling you’d prefer that.” At his raised eyebrow, she shrugged. “Disturbingly comfortable clothes messed with my head early on too.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding in agreement. Unzipping the duffel bag, he considered the collection of clothes for a moment. “I thought A.C. was taking care of this.”

“She called me in,” Chris replied. “I was on Earth anyway. And she’s no fool. She knows that her definition of ‘casual clothing’ is a little… off by everyone else's standards.” She giggled as Mackie considered that. “If you’d ever gone shopping with her, you’d know what I mean.” The teenager froze, his mind clearly imagining A.C. Peters in such a situation. Giving him a moment to imagine the woman in all sorts of revealing outfits and non-existent underwear, Chris rolled her eyes. “Yo, Mackie!” she said, snapping her fingers and making him jump. “Daydream later. For now, you need to get changed.”

“... I do?”

Nodding, she brushed a loose strand of long green hair back over her ear. “Void Eagles engines are due for a service, remember?”

Frowning, Mackie checked his mental calendar. “That’s not until next month,” he pointed out.

“Yes, but I’m here now, it needs to be done, and really, can you think of a better distraction than pulling some engines apart?”

Laughing, and trying to ignore the way it sounded, even to him, Mackie stood up and dropped the duffel bag on his bed. “Okay, I’m sold. Just give me a minute to get changed…” he paused, glancing over at Chris, and gave her a smile that, unknown to him, his body translated to sultry and inviting. “Unless you’d like to help me undress?”

Giggling, the small woman walked back into the hall. “Sorry kid, you’ve got nothing there I’m interested in,” she said, closing the door behind her. Mackie pouted, then started getting out of the nightgown

***
Work lifted his mood.

It took his mind off things, for the most part. Even though his arms caught on his chest and he noticed he could reach machinery that would've needed a stepladder before, just the act of getting focused on something helped.

It ended far too quickly, despite his best efforts to extend the work with some extra calibration. The engines roared to life, finding their voice in a tight hangar. A few tight collimator adustments eked another quantum of efficiency out of the thruster..

“I'm just glad I'm not paying you hourly.”

A sour little voice dragged him out of it, putting him back into a pair of heeled boots.

“Just a little more. I think I can get ninety.”

A sympathethic look passed across her face, before she took a breath.“I've an appointment to make on Ganymede,”

His shoulders fell. He closed the panel. “Alright. She's good to fly”

Mackie jumped down off the hull, landing with more grace that he'd even thought possible. Chris blinked, caught by surprise.

“Ah, What do I owe you?”

“Call it a fair trade for the clothes,” Makie forced himself to smile, tugging on a t-shirt that still clung a little tighter than he would've liked.

“Well, those are a slightly different size and shape to natural ones.” She cupped her own to demonstrate for a second.

“Slightly.” Mackie's whole body pulled itself taught. The word 'sexaroid' fluttered through his mind again. An idealised creation, rather than anything at all attainable in nature.

“I've a crew spot available. Could use a good man for a few short trips, to keep everything running.”

Mackie winced. Definitely not. “I told someone I'd help my sister investigate.”

“Oh...”

“Fastest way back to normal,” he forced a smile.

They walked together, Mackie's heels clicking on the concrete. He'd hang around until she left, just to make sure nothing had been overlooked. He hoped he'd overlooked something, just enough to get back to work again.

All looked annoyingly well, up until Chris spoke.

“What's that?”

His hopes collapsed when she pointed right at the half finished remains of a Mig fighter, still missing most of it's outer skin.

“That's the Rebecca Brown,” he said, feeling that spark of pride fill his chest. “We built three for SHIELD. They took Taylor Hebert and Theresa Richter, but pulled the money before we finished building Becky.”

Chris giggled “That was cruel.”

“Yeah.,” Mackie frowned, giving the frame a forelorn look. “And I did something really special with the engines too.”

“No. Pulling names from that serial for a JLI jet?”

“Their own fault.” he shrugged. His hands twitched as he snapped back on the urger to stop his chest from bouncing. Chris struggled to hide her giggle. Mackie forced himself to keep speaking. “Had someone along to inspect the first one and they just had to comment that it didn't look like a hero's jet.” He looked at Chris, who hadn't stopped looking at him. “She'll have to be cut up in a few weeks if nobody buys her.”

“Shame,” she sighed. She stopped at the portside hatch, putting one foot on the deck. “Last chance Mackie.”

“Nah,” He breathed. “I'm good.”

Mackie watched the Void Eagle leave from a cabin on the old crane gantry, not sure whether he'd dodged a bullet or missed an opportunity.

It could be both.

The comm-link in his pocket buzzed. He snatched it out, fumbling with it before it made things too ucomfortable. It sclipped from his fingers. He caught it before it hit the ground.

Jet had returned.

----


Mackie decided to ignore the sign on the door banning men from this part of the Silky Doll. Whether it counted as a liberty or not, he didn't care. He knew the password. The door opened and he stepped inside a plush apartment, transplanted from another world.The scent of coffee crawled inside his nostrils, tugging at his stomach.

The pot sat empty on the table, beside an idle desktop. A plate glass window looked out over a holographic Megatokyo, living in a simulation. His feet soaked into the carpet.

The right combination of keys on the computer keyboard unlocked the doorway hidden in the glass, a single pane thinking, then hinging open. The sounds of the city filtered in, filling the room.

Mackie strode like a high-heeled Godzilla through the display, buildings folding like fog around his legs. Another hatch unlocked with hard tug, pulling him into a world smelling of ozone and machine oil.

The door closed itself with a hard clunk behind him. A short staircase carried him down to the core of the Doll – the hardsuit room. Fixed to a rack along one wall, trailing cables, four hardsuits stood looking at him. For the fist time, he met them at eye level, his sister's reflection distorting across the polished paintwork.

Something A.C. had said filtered into his mind

It would fit.

If there was one item of women's clothing he didn't mind trying on, it'd be his sister's hardsuit. Just to see...

“Mackie,”

A guilty thrill ran up his spin as she spun on a heel to face a bright smile on a familiar face. It almost felt for a moment like he'd been caught doing something illicity. He stopped a moment before his breasts did, cringing as they bounced.

“Hey sis,” he said, before noting the grey scuffs across her armour. Fine dust gathered in the gaps in her armour, on her hips, under her breasts and on her neck. “Where did you go?”

“Moon. Left a few things near the wrecksite, to see if anybody showed up or did anything noisy. ”

He tried to read her expression. Something about her eyes unsettled him in a way he couldn't quite place.

“Now, let's chat in the break room. We have to get ready.”

Mackie nodded and followed. He couldn't help but notice how they almost walked in lockstep with each other. His sister's hips swung to the same rhythm as his own, back and forth with each step. He forced himself to take smaller steps, stumbled, then forced himself to look at the machinery around him to avoid noticing. Cutting tools, armour press, hanging frames for prototype hardsuits. Spare parts on a workbench. His reflection washed over all of them.

“A.C. contacted me last night,”he said, clasping his hands shut.

“She told me,” Jet answered

“She scared me,”

“She can be a little intense at times.” And he got the sense that she chose that word very carefully. “But she'd never do anything – or let you agree to do anything – that you didn't really want to do.”

Mackie shivered, cold fingers running through his legs and up his spine.

“It's not that...”

“What?” she pushed.

“I was afraid I wouldn't want to leave,” he said. “I'd get so wrapped up in it, and that'd mean staying like this rather than just getting out as soon as possible.”

She stopped, standing in the doorway. Both their postures mirrored each other for a heartbeat. Mackie raised his arms limply in front of himself, slowly crossing them over his stomach. Her eyes pinned him in place again.

“Don't be a martyr for yourself,” said Jet. “You don't have to make yourself miserable now just to prove a point. All you do is hurt yourself in the long run. ”

He looked away, “I don't want people to think I wanted this....”

“Nobody does.” her voice softened. But those glacier eyes still froze. He knew her well enough to know what thet meant.

Mackie followed her into the break room, sitting himself in a succulent leather sofa hat tried to absorb his body. Hi sister dropped her full weight onto another, the chair cracking in protest.

“I read some of the Senshi stuff, last night,” Mackie said, choosing to ignore how his legs had crossed themselves again.“It started talking about the rest of my life and how to remain positive and find things to build a foundation on, and I really don't want to do that. It feels like everyone's trying to convince me it's wrong to want to be myself.”

Maybe she'd get it. He looked up at her, silently pleading.

“That stuff's for people who don't have a choice,” said Jet, shooting him down. “None of us are the ever same person we were yesterday. Don't be afraid of becoming someone new tomorrow.”

“But I like who I am.”

It came out as more of a whine than statement.

“Well. It's not too late to hop a shuttle to the Forge to hide out there,” she offered. “But if you want to stay here and find who shot you down, we need to sit down and talk about your cover.”

Both ideas warred with themselves in his mind. His mind warred against them both. Something screwed itself tight inside him

“Alright...”

He gave in. She wouldn't get it. But Mackie decided to trust his sister. She wouldn't hurt him.

“So, who do you want to be?”

“Me...”

She frowned. “If you really want to do this, we need to build a cover identity.”

“I've never created a person before.”

“You ever write a fenfic?”

“No.”

Nothing he'd admit to publicly. Certainly not in his current condition.

“The mark of a good female protagonist in any sort of media, is that even the men are thinking, I want to be her, when she does something awesome.” She paused, leaning forward. “Is there anyone that makes you feel like that?”

He settled back. “Not like that.”

“Any game characters you like play?”

I already know a Xiao Lin, he thought.

“I like playing Gaige in Borderlands.”

“Right. That's your name. Gaige.” Just like that, a new name for a new person. “We need a Surname, and since you have the red hair and the body for it, how about Kisaragi?”

“Gaige Kisaragi?” he tried it. Something felt wrong, but he coudn't wrap his mind around it. He thought about asking his Sister to stop, but she seemed so certain. He had agreed to this?

“It's an obvious alias, but then, you're obviously not a born woman.” A pause, he opened his mouth. “You don't be a troubleshooter for ten years without learning a thing or two about building a person.”

“Gaige Kisaragi,” he tried again. His body rebelled against the idea. A deep breath brought it under control.

“Nice to meet you, I'm Jet Jaguar,” she grinned. He ground his face into an approximation of a smile. “Now, Gaige. Where do you come from, and what do you do?” She paused. “What do you want to do?

“Be a man?” Mackie answered with a snort. Jet didn't laugh.

“That's you. Gaige isn't you. What does Gaige want to do?”

That hurt. He thought anyway. What would he want to do?

“I want to get back in a jet.”

“Great. Asagiri needs a new test-pilot, our last one went missing on the moon.”

That stung. He swallowed. She seemed so certain, staring right through him. He trusted her. He tried it on.

“I'm Gaige Kisaragi, Asagiri's new test Pilot.”

Jet nodded and smiled with her approval. It still felt wrong.

“Where're you from?”

“Tokyo, Japan?” At least, that's what his mind told him.

“Tokyo isn't MegaTokyo.”

“Damn,” he breathed.

“Maybe a Fenspace settlement?” she suggested.

“Crystal Kyoto,” he tried, hoping that maybe going along with it would make the sick feeling go away. “I'm Gaige Kisaragi, Asagiri's new test pilot, from Crystal Kyoto,”

It felt worse. She nodded, dragging him along, pulling him through. Again, he thought about asking her to stop, sitting there, looking down at his feet in the carpet

“All Pilot's have callsigns. And since no pilot gets to choose to their own callsign, how do you like being Rabbit?”

“Rabbit?”

“As in, Jessica Rabbit. Or Rampant Rabbit, it depends on the story that comes with it.”

Her eyes sparked in amusement. He winced, the mental image making his insides clench. His mind worked, coming up with something better, something tolerable.

“I had trouble with something, because of my body. Someone said it was my fault. I answered with, I can't help it, I'm built that way.”

“That works. How about, you had trouble buckling the harness on your jet tight enough. For two obvious reasons?”

His arms covered his chest as he crunched his body up in the chair “I didn't think that'd be a problem”

“Conventional harnesses hurt when you're that busty.”

Mackie took a breath, forcing the sick feeling through to his feet.

“I'm Gaige 'Rabbit' Kisaragi, Asagiri's new test pilot, from Crystal Kyoto.”

“And that's all we need to make a person,” she sat back into her chair. He knew she'd already done it through the interwave as she sat there. Gaige now existed on the system. “That's the great thing about the Crystal Millenium. It's not unusual for a Senshi to have no pre-fen background. That's all you need. Wherever you learned to fly, who your parents were, or what bathroom you used growing up, all of that's your own personal business. So long as you tell no-one anything, nobody will question it.”

And she seemed satisfied with that. Pleased even, smiling warmly at him as if to welcome into the club, as if she hadn't even noticed how he felt about it all. Or maybe she did and was trying to reassure him

“I'm Gaige 'Rabbit' Kisaragi, Asagiri's new test pilot, from Crystal Kyoto.” It still didn't fit. He hunched forwards. “I feel like a traitor.”

To himself. To everything he had been.

“When we're done, We'll know who Gaige is. What she likes, what she doesn't like,” said Jet, dragging him onwards. “Because outside this apartment, that's who you have to be. At least for the next few weeks.”

Mackie sat there, leaning with his elbows on his knees as they moved forward, unable to shake the feeling that he was being slowly murdered.
--

Two hours ago, she'd never existed.

Now, Gaige Kisaragi had an old apartment in Crystal Kyoto, two bank accounts with enough money to furnish a single-person apartment on 77 Frigga, and a pilot's license issued last year by Crystal Hiroshima. Her new ID card had been freshly printed.

Name: Gaige Kisaragi.
G: F-A
DOB: 08/09/2003.
Residence. Eleanor City. 77 Frigga.
Privilege code: 1D2

Surprisingly high, considering. But then, she'd been told the algorithm also took account of physical attractiveness, whether the person wanted it on their side, or not. Gaige's annual dues had still halved. It seemed unfair, somehow.

She took a breath.

“I'm Gaige Kisaragi.”

A hollow silence answered. Every spark in her mind said otherwise. She placed the card back in it's pocket in her wallet, then slipped the wallet in her jeans pocket.

Only for a few weeks.

She took a few steps, the movements of her body no longer completely unfamiliar, but still not yet right. Things moved where she expected them to move. Her bra compressed down on every breath, constricting down. Her underwear hugged tight. The belt on her jeans pressed against her hips.

She walked right up to the window which made for the far wall

Her sister's face gazed back at her from the sun-blasted wastela

No, not anymore. Gaige could see the differences. Subtle, but there. A sharper chin, more bite to the eyes. Almost a twin, but not quite. A coarser hair style completed the differences. Maybe related, maybe cut from the same memetic cloth, but different people. Drawn by a different artist.

“I'm Gaige Kisaragi,” she said. “Test Pilot for Asagiri. I'm from Crystal Kyoto.”

Her guts twisted an answer

“I'm Gaige Kisaragi,” she tried again. “Test Pilot for Asagiri racing. I'm from Crystal Kyoto.” She took a breath. “Anything else is none of your damn business.”

The pose the reflection struck completed the image. Arms folded at the stomach, glaring down, daring to challenge. Red hair burned. Gaige Kisaragi stood outside on the asteroid surface.

Something sparked in response. Not who she wanted to be, but maybe a glimpse of someone she could've idolised on screen. An image that could be tolerated. What was it someone once said about Fenspace – you have the chance to be your own hero.

A small smile came to her lips for the first time since she'd woken up. At least for a few weeks

A mischievous spark flickered in her mind. Both hands pressed against her breasts, drawing lucious tingles throughout her body,

“I want you Mackie,” she said, drawing heavy breaths. “Truly,” she breathed, “Deeply,” she husked, “Lovingly” She rolled her tongue around the word, licking her lips as she drew an electric finger along her stomach. A giddy thrill shuddered through her body. “And you are hot, aren't you sweetling?”

Mind and body burst into war, leaving her standing there trying to make sense of it all. She stood there shivering, cold thrills crawling from her thighs up her spine, gazing at the woman she desperately wanted to embrace in that moment, mind longing for the warmth of her body against her own

Three simple words came to mind out from the fog.

Go fuck yourself.

And she burst out laughing, filling the room and ringing back at her.

“I'm Gaige Kisaragi,” she gave herself a rueful smile. “For a few weeks at least.”

Satisfied as much as possible, she stepped away from the window, pacing around the apartment. The living area furniture had been salvaged from Serenity, with only low-end monitor, barely capable of 4k output and a few cheap couches. Nothing to write home about. The kitchen had an electric cooker, a microwave and a fridge. The tap on the kitchen sink rattled when opened, a stuttering flow of water gurgling down a black-hole sink. She let it run to clean out the pipework.

The bedroom up on the mezzanine had a single bed covered in worn sheets, two empty closets and not much else.

No different from anyone else's apartment before they had the chance to make it their own. Old, recycled, just enough to live in. By the end of the year, the whole accommodation block would be fitted out and ready.

Gaige had her own apartment, a motoroid, a shipment of personal possessions on the next midget from Kyoto, a wardrobe that varied from nosebleed to normal, a history, even a Facebook account that'd been created, backdated, then sparsely populated with mindless inanities that'd look real but never actually said anything..

Parachuted into a new life. Another person's shoes. Conjoured into being out of vapour but still hers. She glanced around the empty apartment. This was her space. The idea entered her mind that not even Jet could open that door without her permission.

Maybe afterwards, she could keep it.

She lay back on her bed and stared up at the concrete ceiling.

But isn't that how it starts? And then by the end, this becomes the new normal to the point where the struggle of going back just doesn't seem worth it. A few too many showers. Maybe finally working up the courage to go a little deeper on the self investigation....

Maybe Mackie did die in the crash, and this new person gets built out of the wreckage? Already, software patched the gaps, helping her walk and sit and relax in peace. Had anything else been patched?

And what of the wave when it got involved?

She knew what it'd done to her Sister's mind. That's why she had a Sister and not whatever Jet had identified herself as before.

Isn't this all part of of the railroad? Horror. Discomfort. Tolerance. Acceptance. Enjoyment. And then, Mackie's finally allowed to die and be mourned when Gaige Kisaragi usurps his place because she can't bear the thought of ever being him again because she's built her life back up and enjoys it so much.

A terrible thought rang in his mind.

Had her Sister planned this? Something didn't seem right about her earlier. But she wouldn't be like that about it, would she?



Gaige stared, holding her hand in front of her face,

Objectively – judged purely as a machine – it was the better body. Stronger. Faster. Better senses. More efficient on energy and probably capable of running longer if she pushed it. An athlete's body, rather than a teenager's.

Another lure to tempt.

Gaige decided to spend the day in her apartment rather than face the public.

Time to settle in, she told herself. Time to build up the courage to step outside in public again and put on the mask. Time to enjoy a little peace and quiet and just think things through.

The locked door ensured her privacy.

A quick shower washed away Frigga's grime. Already, the mind had begun to adapt, sensations no longer alien, even if they were still wrong. A can of deoderant still taught a painful lesson. She wondered as she dried herself if she'd have to go through the same thing in reverse.

So, that's how it starts another part of her mind whispered. When you get to the point where going through all this discomfort and strangeness again to go back seems worse than just carrying on being Gaige?

She'd never admit to anyone that she tried on a pair of shorts with an extra bundle of socks in the crotch, just to see if it'd feel the same. If anything, it made her feel worse, accentuating the differences while reminding of what wasn't there anymore.

She paced around in the cold air, before finally slipping into a silken nightgown that'd once been her Sister's.

Nothing else. Bare feet crossed the concrete floor.

Sheer silk caressed her skin, cool and soothing as she settled a seat to watch some streams. Her legs crossed, then recrossed themselves, the body finding it's own point of comfort. Gaige couldn't help but admit that she agreed with it on this occasion. A hot cup of coffee, Schwarzmarken on the stream and no bra compressing her chest.

If she had to be like this, she could gladly spend the next few weeks exactly like this.

--

War is just a form of politics by other means. It's an old saying. In the last few months Jet's come to understand the opposite is also true. Once you understand that, being Baron gets a lot easier

She'd still give anything to be anywhere but a stuffy office deep inside Crystal Tokyo, explaining exactly how search engine optimisation worked and the value of being top of the heap come election time.

Square peg meets round hole. She wishes to be somewhere else, for any excuse. Her wish is granted

Koimura, deputy for west Hiroshima, sees the change in her face and offers his best Pan-Am smile.

“Wow, no need to react like I ran over your dog,”

A twitch rolls through the cyber's body and her gets the feeling that maybe he's just touched a raw nerve.

“I need to leave. It's personal.”

Jet doesn't even wait for the formalities, she's gone and out of the city. A ping reminder for a 3-whip sounds in the back of her mind, but she ignores it. By the time the message from Kusadasi gets to gets to her wondering where she is with the Independent Alliance trying to push a no-confidence through she's left the city.

By the time she bothers to respond, she's left the planet.

“My brother's shuttle has gone missing.”

That's the only explanation she offers. A message from Koimura reaches her, letting her know he's stepped out of the vote, out of respect. Well-wishes follow from the entire parliament, but she doesn't read them. The Tokyo parliament might as well be a weber-block for all it matters to her and getting to the moon.

For the first time in years she feels the vast gulf of space – the void between worlds yawning open to swallow her body. It gives her time to think, time to entertain the worst possibilities and fears. Time to despair. Time to hope.

She's twenty minutes out when they find the wreck.

No sign of life.

Stellvia passes a moment before she starts her landing, streaking to the moon. The difference between a crater and a deft landing is an instant in time, but she's mastered it. Made it instinct.

Shards of carbon sit splashed across the surface of the moon, deep scars carved in the dust where the harder parts land. One ofthe three spacesuits there finally notices her arrival, putting itself between her and the wreck.

“Hey! Stop!”

No force in the universe could stop her. Eventually, the suit relents.

“We found parts of the cockpit. Over there.”

Nothing recogniseable. Splintered carbon. Cable. What might be a finger. A piece of instrument. A chunk of the canopy. A boot burst on impact. Dessicated rags, crumbling to the touch. Remnants of a seat. A control column with flakes of something pressed into it. A shattered helmet, and the remains still inside.

Something tears inside, a little death deep inside her heart. She feels the magnificent desolation engulf her soul, alone in the galaxy.

She can't even cry.

“How?”

The suit holds up its hands, taking a step back. “We haven't even found the recorder yet”

There isn't one. They stripped everything out of those lightweights – even the black boxes. She asks herself how.

Her muse answers with a way to find out. A paper dating backdated

She launches with the skull in hand. Ruined, but the hardware seems intact. RAM chips can still hold residual charge. Jet pings a message to A.C., hiding her reason for now. Confirmed. She has maybe five hours with that model – 1 hour already gone. Six to the Forge. Four Home.

Already, she knows her brother is dead. Fine. She resigns herself to it. But she has to know how. Or who?

For her own sanity.

She has four hours to figure out what to do.

“Hey Jet, What's....”

Anika throws up when she sees what inside the helmet. Jet doesn't care – she just needs somewhere to put the chips – something that'd let her get access to what was inside.

The last few moments of memory, right before the impact.

The Galatea project is nowhere near complete. But her puppet might do.

Jet cuts through the remains with a saw. This isn't Mackie. This is just a thing. A remnant. Mackie's gone, she reminds herself.

Parts of the mainboard are gone, but the core chip and memory stacks seem to be intact. Most of the control and I/O interface has broken off along with something she can't identify. It doesn't matter – she knows a dirty way around.

It'd work through her puppet's interface if she tied the core through it.

To buy time, she powers the chips, locking them into a continuous self-refresh mode. The last few seconds are burned in.

After thirteen years, you pick up a few tricks. Amuse helps, filling in the blanks before she knows they're there.

She has to know. What killed her brother.

It drives her forward, feeding into inspiration.

The puppet's interface isn't supposed to be used like this, and neither is the mainboard and memory controller but it works. It'll work long enough for her to dive in. Jet checks signal paths. All looks well. Battered hardware is holding up. The shock gel inside the skull did its job. One last check. An alarm.

A ghost. A consciousness.

She hates whomever decided on that term.

She sickens at the idea of what she's done. She's seen broken AI minds before. Sometimes dead is better and she knows it. She wouldn't have even tried this if she thought there was a chance....

But there it is. An echo. A ghost. A mind broken on impact.

Frankenstein's compulsion takes hold. She has to know. To see for sure.

She dives through the connection.

There he is, bewildered in virtual space. In a Daze.

“Mackie?” she tries. The ghost responds. It remembers. She doesn't dare hope it's intact – she knows that's beyond her skill.

There's no relief. It's not really him, her mind whispers and she longs to ignore it, forcing herself to answer. She wants it to be, forces it, pulling the puppet into a sisterly hug. A show, maybe.

The ghost tells her what she needs to know.

Mackie's dead. And someone killed him.

--
Another nightmare jolted him awake, leaving him sitting, panting, slick with sweat. It took a disorientating moment for his mind to recognise the sensations from her body, then place her square in her own darkened apartment.

Another night's sleep ruined.

No escaping it

That final spiral.

And certain death.

Gaige felt her mind crash, recalling the sensation of her thoughts shattering into thousand pieces as the cockpit imploded around her. Artificial synapses pieced together the wreckage of the moment, a slow motion death as her body tore itself apart, each new agony ripping through her body in one infinite instant, finishing with the sensation of her mind bursting open..

Gaige sat rigid, muscles locked, body frozen in sick terror.

Trying not to scream. Trying not to run. Trying to move before it hit again. Her heart raced in her chest, adrenaline pulsing through her body's veins. Muscles tore at their joints, bulging to run, hands clenching tight until the knuckles bleached.

Her body braced for impact.

Nothing happened.

Only a rattle from distant pipes and the thrumm of an engine broke the silence.

Slowly, her body settled, climbing down from the adrenaline peak. Her body flopped back onto the bed, drained of energy, barely able to breath.

What would Gaige do?

What would her sister do?

Not sleep. Gaige lay in bed,staring at the ceiling. She made another half-hearted attempt at the published 'Welcome to the New Woman' guide, but gave up halfway through the first chapter.

Gaige hated it even more, the second time around. Afraid to go back to sleep, her mind reached out for something to fill the night beyond the obvious.

When you fall of the bike, get right back on. It's what her Sister did, all the time. Right, if her Sister could fight a war, she could get back inside the cockpit.

She dressed herself, getting a little less clumsy with practice. Things found their natural places, even if her chest did struggle to escape from the vinyl jacket. Her feet found a comfortable place inside a pair of riding boots.

Gaige could tell herself it served a practical purpose being so tight. It kept the armour from moving in a crash.

At least, most people would be asleep. And she could avoid seeing herself in the mirror if she focused on the door.

She straddled the motoroid, finding the closest approximation of a comfortable seating position, then finding it even more uncomfortable because of it. A turn of a key activated the machine, a few quick self-checks confirming it to be new and, disappointingly, one of the first with a conventional battery. Less than a tenth of the energy storage.

Bloody federation. It still pulled like the specials when she pulled the throttle.

A few racers remained in the tunnels, pushing old gas-burners to their limits far away from anywhere they could hurt anyone. Gaige let the motoroid run free, loosing herself in the roar of the turbine.

She chased them, sliding the motoroid around the slower traffic. Only the moment remained, the laser concentration required to keep the speedometer pegged north of 400. Lights flicked overhead, merging into three bright streams.

Gaige's eyes focused on the point ahead where they merged into one bright point, and she tweaked the throttle, chasing the vanishing point. For a moment, she could almost feel like himself again, letting the last few days blow off the mind.

A hard bump that made it through the suspension, destroying the illusion.

They couldn't be escaped.

Not just the obvious, but the subtle, the quadrupling of the resolution of her world, the details her old body could never have sensed. The grain of the leather in the glove. The irridescent sheen from the tunnel walls. Even the whine of the motor's inverter drive. Like moving from old DvD to modern 12k streams

How had her sister managed to afford something like this?

Or why?

The fetishes of cybers were something she didn't want to understand.

She stopped the motoroid outside the Asagiri hangar, leaving it parked in the pressurised area away from the rest of motley assortment of shuttlecraft, fencar and light fighters. Standing waiting for the hatchway to cycle, she could feel every set of eyes in the bay gazing at her body. She pushed her mind to other things.

The gantry crane overhead fed a shuttle into one of Lun's missile.

A second glance chilled, showing her something Mackie's eyes never could.

“Why is she being armed?”

She didn't want to know the answer, hurrying inside. The scent of jet fuel and carbon enveloped her, the Kulbit racer waiting, it's wings reaching forward towards her like a black eagle, swooping down to it's prey. It pinned her in place for a moment, forcing her to work up the nerve to move past to the locker room. It took less than a moment to push through, opening the door with the keypad. In her locker, her moulded seat and flight suit neatly folded. A spare pair of boxers a mummified sandwich and the discarded remains of a dozen minor curiosities took up the remaining space.

She peeled her leathers from her body, blushing at striptease she provided for herself in the mirror, before unfolding her flightsuit on the bench beside her. She tried to step into the legs, straining at a polymer that'd become far tighter than expected. She strained, grunting through gritted teeth try to slide her feet in.

It took a moment to realise the problem. It'd been formed for a smaller body.

She'd gone to Mackie's.

A frustrated scream burst from her throat chased by a hard punch that started somewhere deep in the pit of her stomach and finished halfway through a locker door with a hollow clatter. The shock reverberated through her body, leaving her standing there, panting, trying to grab a hold of her sanity.

She stepped back, cols chills crawling up through her feet

The damaged locker stared back at her, buckled inwards like a baseball bad had been driven through it. She gazed down at her fist, skin blushing pink across the knuckles. Gaige opened her hand, closed it again, squeezed until the muscles on her arm popped taught, before releasing.

Just to prove she'd done that.

“Holy shit,” she breathed.

What the hell had her sister been doing to order something like this? She took a breath, letting her mind clear. It all seemed part of the plan. Just stay, and get all these nice benefits....

Gaige stuffed the flightsuit back inside. The broken door refused to close. She left it swinging, struggling back into her clothes, half ready to find something else to fill the night. A glance in the mirror gave her a way out.

One option remained. One flightsuit she knew would fit.

All she had to do was go through the other door. Half-naked,

The similarity between the two rooms left her stunned.

Perfect mirror images. Both had once been used by New Birmingham's reactor engineers. Both had the same plain white tile walls with blue tile floors. Both had the same two rows of empty grey lockers. Both had a mirror on one wall, and a bank of steel-headed showers with a patchy patina of rust.

The scent of decade old machine oil lingered, mingled with old sweat, fresh shampoo and deodorant.

At least that was different - a fuitier scent.

Her sister's locker waited, Jet printed on the door.

Gaige knew the combination for the lock. At least nobody had access to that camera feed, she thought. Nobody could watch her struggle against a flightsuit that seemed even tighter than the one she couldn't put on. Nobody saw her contorted expression as the sanitary connections were made inside. Nobody caught her admiring the reflection in the mirror, wearing a lustful smile for a heartbeat, before her mind caught up with the fact that she'd been enjoying self-service fanservice.

The last thing she did was clasp the polymer armour around her hips, ankles and shoulders, locking them into place.

It almost felt normal – the same constricting pressure compressing her body, forcing her to work hard just to breath. Nothing moved, only a few fading sparks reminding her of the differences between her old body and this one.

Obvious differences aside, it almost felt familiar. As close as she could get to being himself again. From a flightsuit cut to be the incarnation of fanservice, tinted panels accentuating the curves of the wearer. Her hands found her stomach, pushing against taught polymer stretched over firm muscle.

A smile from the woman in the mirror drew thrilling chills through her body, she swallowed a husky breath, grabbed Jet's moulded seat and left, focusing on the Kulbit.

It sat waiting for her, black wings reaching forward to smother. She stopped, staring at it, a mouse staring up at a swooping eagle, a predator ready to hear her apart. It loomed towards her, composite hull shimmering under the harsh hanger lights, shining like dark feathers broken only by scorched and worn sponsor-stickers.

Maybe taking her first flight since the crash in a knife-edge racecraft wasn't such a good idea. She clenched her fists, forcing herself to move forward. One foot in front of the other. One step forwards. One rung up the ladder

Just get in the plane, Mackie. If Shinji could get in the damn robot....

Her heart drummed in her chest, resonating through her body. Her skin prickled inside the flightsuit, ever micron of her body willing her to go back to bed, to leave it for another day. She pushed through.

The seat locked into place.

One deep breath. One leg over the cockpit edge, then another. Two hands on the canopy rails. She eased herself down into the seat, the sensation reminding her of that pair of boots she'd worn a day earlier. Most spacecraft you climbed into, but the Kulbit you strapped on, wearing it like leather jacket.

Clamps on her suit snapped home into the seat, fixing her rigidly in place, traping her in the cockpit. Her hand grasped around the quick-release lever, fingers clenching tight. Pull the lever and she could jump free.

It was that easy.

She sat there, drawing calming breaths. If she gave up now, it'd only be harder the next time. That's how it worked. That's how it got you. It made you give in once, and it got stronger. Each time you gave in, it built itself up, getting stronger and stronger – becoming harder and harder to overcome until eventually, you gave up trying and it beat you down.

The earlier you beat it, the better.

She couldn't beat her body, but she could still beat her mind. She pulled the canopy shut, hard carbon locking into place. Her muscles strained in place, begging her to run. She braced herself in place, letting her body settle in finding its natural place in the cockpit.

Engine Start.

Turbines shrieked to life, a nail of terror driving through her body. The sidestick and throttle creaked under her grip, body screaming for release. She felt it spiral, twisting around her body, auguring in towards the moon.

Her breath came ragged and fast, fighting back.

Slowly, she mastered it as the jet settled itself down to a steady murmur far behind. A direct feed from the life support tanks filled her lungs with oxygen through the pressure breathing mouthpiece. She lowered her helmet visor, lime-green wire-graphics taking a moment to shimmer into view. A few tweaks on the throttles, a few light touches on the pedals, and the jet responded, eager for another race it would never see.

Being a championship winner damned the thing to an easy retirement. A run around the neighbourhood would be an easy jog.

After that, flying came easy.

--

On the one hand, she had far too many things to do for an inspection run. On the other, a priority-one communication couldn't be ignored. She paced through the Ultima's operation's decks to where a secure booth had been set aside in a sound-proofed area.


It set her on edge, a prickle along the back of her neck that refused to go away as the door sighed shut behind her.


The design was straight out of '2001' - a simple chair waited in front of an equally sterile telescreen monitor. Only the Ultima patch gazed back at her, a single flickering icon onscreen pointing to a connection request.


She brushed it with her finger. The logo dissolved into a familiar face, viewing her from behind a desk, hands placed carefully in front of him.


“Mr. Scott.”


“Miyuri.”


“I take it this isn't a social call.”


The expression on his faced said as much as the encryption level. SQUID-44 wasn't used for chit-chat. “No,” the image shook its head. “You're familiar with the Mackie situation?”


“A little.” She had been busy, after all.


“Shinji's put in for leave to travel to Frigga.”


“He and Mackie were friends.”


Obviously. Even in the middle of an inspection run, some compassion was needed.


“Yes,” Noah nodded. “I'd like you to accompany him.”


She sat back. “He's quite capable of looking after himself.” Unsaid, 'I'm busy here with the inspection you wanted rushed.'.


“Jet is going to want to know why Mackie was shot down. Officially you're going to offer to help out, on an unofficial basis.”


“I understand,” she said, feeling vaguely uneasy in a way she couldn't place. Deep in the pit of a simulated stomach, a single butterfly rose up. “And unofficially”


“While you're out there, I need a report on Jet. Her psychology, her mentality. How's she actually handling things.”


Now it made sense.


“You think she might be about to do something... unsound?”


She dangled the reference.


“I think we need to be careful she doesn't go up river,” he chose his words carefully, enough to let her grasp his true mind, without betraying himself to anybody listening in. Things like this had dirty habits of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies if they got out and walls on space-stations had ears. “Her relationship with her brother was...”


When he didn't finish, she offered, “It is an unusual variant of the Moll Flanders glitch.” The only one of this type she knew of.


“It's more than that. I don't know the full details. But she took the oath of Venus shortly after he awakened.”


“Somehow, awakening him affected her self-identity.”


A statement, rather than a question. A hint at a far deeper connection. Something dangerous.


“It's more than that,” he said, again. “Ask Yayoi some time how I felt after we lost Yoriko. This is worse - this isn't wartime. If I were Jet, I'd want revenge. I can only imagine how she feels, if her relationship with him was as strong as I suspect...”


There was sympathy there, but also cruel necessity.


“The temptation might be to take it too far,” she finished. “Have you tried asking A.C.?”


“You know what she'll say.”


A small smile “That depends on how carefully she chooses her words.”


Being able to say everything important, while still saying nothing at all, was a true art form.


“Very...”


“But if you're that concerned?”


Maybe someone better equipped?


“Not... concerned. Not yet,” he shook his head. Something of a lie and she knew it. “Takami is... nervous. Maybe keeping a quiet eye on things now will keep us from having to be concerned in the future.”


She saw the tiredness in his eyes, the weight of the worst case scenario lurking in the back of his mind.


“I understand.”


“Thank you, Miyuri.” He reached for the switch that would end the call, then stopped. “Your friend Annika can't be taking this well.”


“We've already talked by email.” And she wasn't about to tell him what Annika had told her in confidence. “I promised to share a new cheesecake recipe with her.”


“Take some time and share it in person. Shinji is a better cook than any of us, except Yayoi. They'd probably both appreciate it.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “Do whatever you think is best while you're there. And... I love you, Miyuri.”


He'd never said that before.


“I love you too, father.”


The channel closed, leaving her alone with the dreadful feeling she might be laying the first flagstone on a long road to somebody's hell.


She'd wanted a serious mission, and she got one, all right. The sort that had the real risk of leaving her never wanting another one again.


The first thing she did, was grab some chocolate from her private supply. It didn't help.

--

She forgot herself.

She forgot her body.

She forgot everything except the moment.

She forgot it'd only been filled with half-tanks of fuel for an exhibition.

For the second time in its life, it coasted across the finish line on one engine and fumes. It finally ran dry in the landing bay, winding down to dead silence.

For the first time in days, he felt normal, back to his old self. One lever released the flightsuit and sprung the canopy. Standing on her seat, she stretched stiffened muscles feeling her mind fill out to the fingertips and toes.

The rush of energy carried her back to the locker room, a runner's high fading as she lay on her back, soaking in the depths of the cold. Sweat prickled across her skin as she lay there, arms draped to the floor, staring at the ceiling.

Her heartbeat pulsed through her chest, slow and heavy, feeling larger than her body.

One hand between the legs confirmed it.

“Shit,” she said.

She lay there, letting the body wind down, hands on her stomach, letting the heat soak out. Red hair splayed out behind her, tickling at the back of her neck. Sweat prickled across the inside of the suit. The powerpack on the suit's back pressed into her shoulders.

Her hands went to her breasts.

The door clattered open, footsteps tap-tapping on the floor towards

Daryl stood over her, wearing a flightsuit, a denim jacket, a grin on her face and not much else.

“Oh...”

Gaige felt her face turn the same colour as her hair, bolting upright. Dear God's, if Daryl got the wrong idea she'd never hear the end of it. Finally gave in? Finally proved everything everyone thought...

“You went out for a flight?” Daryl asked, not even giving her a second glance as she opened her own locker.

Gaige's mind jerked to a halt, the excuse in her mouth stopping death. She took a breath, her legs crossing themselves as

“Thought it'd be good to get right back in the saddle,” Gaige forced a smile.

“How'd it go?” Daryl slung her jacket into the locker, joining an old Senshi uniform.

“I checked my laptimes,” Gaige said, leaning forward, supporting her body on folded arms.

“And.”

“Five seconds a lap faster around the course.”

Just a fact. She tried not to take pride in it. The smile on her lips showed how she failed

“Really?” Daryl's eyebrows raised. “Any setup changes?”

“The difference is the flightsuits. It doesn't hurt to pull as much G. Which means carrying more speed through a maneuver.”

“I think the difference is something else then,”

“I didn't want to say that.” Her body screwed itself tight.

“What? Admit that women are better than men?” The grin on Daryl's face cut.

“I didn't realise how heavily the whole thing was optimised around women,” she re-crossed her legs, forcing her mind not to focus on it. “Maybe that's why nobody bought them.”

“I really didn't think it'd be that bad,” said Daryl. You should've said something, she didn't say.

“I thought it'd be as bad for women,” Gaige said, patting herself on the chest. “Especially up top.”

“Guess you just found your one little thing,” Daryl answer with a smirk.

“Don't talk to me about that damn book,” Gaige spat, glaring at her.

“It works.”

“It's ten chapters of fluff trying to convince me to hate myself.”

Daryl stepped back, caught on the back foot. “It's not supposed to be.”

“Well, It's what it feels like.”

Daryl looked down at her, Gaige struggling to gauge her expression. She didn't care either way if she'd hurt her or insulted her or anything at all like that. It didn't matter.

She watched Daryl's body move as the pilot readied her own flying gear, clipping survival p

Desire sparked inside, rising up the back of her through, setting little fires throughout her body. Muscles clenched, fighting back. Her breathing slowed, trying to cool her body off.

The idea that she wore the same sort of skin-tight suit gnawed in the back of her mind. Just as skintight. Just as figure-enhancing.

She stood up, thinking it better to get changed back at her own apartment.

A question flared in her mind and she vascillated on it, wondering if it was worth asking. It didn't matter, Daryl didn't really like her anyway. Nothing she said could make her think worse.

“Daryl,”

“Yeah.”

She took a calming breath.

“If you don't mind me asking, why did you keep the suit?”

The pilot drew in a deep breath, extending a hand to steady herself on the locker.

“There were delays in getting the culture done. By the time they would've been ready, the surgery would've run into the start of the season. And I couldn't afford to be out for three races just to get pink skin again.”

That simple. She didn't even look at Gaige as she spoke. Alright. Next question.

“You don't worry that it's just the Wave trying to make you think that it's okay?”

Gaige saw the shudder run up the pilot's spine.

“No. As much as I don't want to look like this for the rest of my life, I don't need to go through with it. It doesn't define who I am.” Red eyes pinned Gaige in place. Natural or not, they burned through the soul. “The person who did this to me doesn't have that Power over me.”

“You got used to it?”

“I'd rather win races right now than be normal.” Daryl said, her voice pulling tight.“That's my one little thing. Don't be afraid of finding something that you don't want to give up. Or you'll spend the next few weeks or months miserable. And,” she turned her head to look at Gaige over her should “,you don't know if it's not a permanent change?”

“What?”

“Well, your sister's not necessarily known as cybernetics genius. She might've fucked something up without realising it.”

Gaige steadied herself agains the wall with her hand. “Or maybe she did realise it...”

“That depends on how much you trust her.”

Why did everything Daryl said have to sound like an accusation.?

“Something seems wrong with her,” Gaige answered, hoping she'd drop it.

“Wrong...”

Those red eyes bored, demanding an answer.

“I didn't really want to do this,” she poked herself in the breast, drawing an electric shudder up through her body. “...but I went along with it because I thought she knew better. It seemed like the least-worst option.” She saw the expression on Daryl's face target, a flicker of tension running through the woman's body. “I suppose I did choose to go along with it.”

Daryl shrugged. “So long as it was your choice.”

Gaige answered with a sour look. “Nothing about this feels like my choice.”

“You might still go back to your old body, eventually,” slinging her own pilot's seat over her shoulder. “That's more than most people in your situation can say.”

Daryl stepped past, leaving Gaige standing there struggling to gather her thoughts together.

“One more thing.” Daryl stopped in the door, turning bak “Try to remember that you're getting the highlights of the female experience. You're playing womanhood on easy mode.”

“You should try being a guy, then” Gaige suggested, the edge of her lip turning up. “I'd bet you'd miss every time you were asked to aim.”

“I'd take that as a challenge,” a smirk crawled across Daryl's lips. “So, what name'd you pick anyway?”

“Gaige Kisaragi,”

“Nice to meet you Gaige. I'm Daryl.”

As Gaige watched her leave, it struck her like a brick. Daryl would never have been so candid with Mackie.

Or shook his hand.

--

In the battle between the War and the delta-inducer, there could be only one winner. She's awake with a yell and a clatter, equipment snapping from her back as she stumbled forwards. Warnings blare in her mind disorientating as scanners reach out.

She's ready to fight, braced for the attack, blood on fire cresting an adrenaline rush. A moment later it turns hollow, sensors confirming what she already suspected.

Another bloody nightmare.

Her body stood crackling like thundercloud charged up with energy, and no ground to dump it through. Every nerve screamed to fight, begging for action. They don't shut up. Her mind reaches out through the architecture of the house, fingering down through the rock itself, grounding in the familiar signals of home and her native network.

It's been ten years, she tried to tell herself.

The walls crush in, pinning her in place. Tracers flicker at the edge of her awareness, coded message darting through back of her mind, flickering all around, hunting.

A cold shower doesn't cool her mind. It leaves her staring at herself in the mirror, wet hair forming into streaks of dark blood down her face. The smile mutates. Sinister. Violent. Deep in a world of shit but glad to be alive. Shaded with a battlefield’s worth of dirt.

A dash of cold water can’t wash the shadows from the overhead lights away.

She trims her hair back. Toothpaste banishes the bloody taste of metal from her mouth. A vacuum syringe draws a vial of blood from her neck. A crimson galaxy of sparks swirls within. She feeds it to a modified taster.

The machine chirps back an answer, followed by a formula to re-centre her body’s mix.

She draws a small sample from each of a dozen vials of wave in her personal cabinet, letting it mingle with the blood before pressing the syringe to her neck.

It hits like bullet, rushing through her body, the hot lights of the stage on her face and the thrill of the crowd. City neon strobes by with the roar of the wind and the staccato bark of machinegun fire ricocheting in her body that stops her dead, standing in a cold tunnel.

It dies with a cold chill, answered by a stark, slack-jawed, extra-galactic stare back from the mirror.

The muse humms in the back of her mind, interpolating intent and desire into impulse. A thoughtless whim earns an answer. An old pack of broadleaf tea lurking in the back of a kitchen cabinet.

Nobody could ever understand how she liked the taste, but it doesn't matter. Warm ginger uncoils the springs in her mind, clearing her head.

The adrenaline fades. The edge comes off.

Fatigue remains. Reflecting in the kitchen window, the face that had been forever nineteen gained ten years in a blink. A body, hollowed out inside. The bars of the dome reach up, separating her from the black beyond.

She considers trying to get some rest, but her dayplanner resists, coming to life, ready to stuff. Now that you're awake, you might aswell tackle some of these.

There’s so much normal to be done.

A three hour training session awaits, followed by a sponsor call for the racing team, a promised sale's call to try get a Kulbit to another race team, followed by parliamentarian crap – a minister's question, a vote, Asagiri paperwork, all that PEPPER bollocks to keep the bureaurats with nothing better to do happy, and two open troubleshooter cases still simmering on the back burner waiting for results. On top of that, a Sylia-owned vulture fund needed to bankrupt a politician investigating some fen-deals a little too closely.

36 hours of tasks for a 24 hour day.

The price trying to shift up to something bigger. Grinding gears for three years.

A dozen or more well-wishers enquiring about her dead brother clutter her inbox. She can't bring herself to read them. Her muse punishes her with the salient points anyway. Others are rushing to help. Great. Gaige has a chance of becoming a decent person at least, one good thing.

Another comm request breaks her concentration.

“Hey, uh, Jet, we got a few sensors giving a high radiation reading in the power shaft,”

Only an extension number accompanies the man’s voice. No other identification.

“It's a probably bad sensor,” she answers. The artificial voice of her mind comes back sharp.

“Yeah, but that's 3.6 roentgen an hour.”

“3.6 is offscale high for those sensors. What’re the other two beside?”

“Zero.”

“Great. It’s a broken sensor. Schedule it in DCAMS.”

“Fine,”

Only after the line goes dead does she realise she might’ve snapped someone’s head off. So what? Bothering her over a sensor glitch when there’re more important things to worry about?

The first preliminary report from the KCPD filters into her personal inbox, by roundabout of Sylia and the Knight Sabers. Troubleshooter Jet had been cut out, for being too close. Those were the rules.

To hell with them.

The muse skims the details filtering out the salient points.

One launch point. One discarded SAM body.

Footprints. Two sets.

Vehicle tracks. Something tyred. 4-wheeled. Skid-steer – like an Electrocat. It's already comparing prints against records, offering up potential models of each. It searches out into the wider web, pulling the details on it's own.

Definitely an Electrocat. Short wheelbase model. 2 hour range – about 40km at most on the moon, just within range of Kandor. Hankook mesh-tyres. Probably a rental, she suggests to herself. The muse pings a request to some agencies, routing in through GJ channels, giving it the official stamp. It asks for surveillance footage of the Kandor city airlocks.

Responses are slow. She sets it to check registration, then follow back to the company, the date and hopefully to a driver or a photograph. With luck, it’d beat the KCPD who had to give a shit about warrants and due process.

In the meantime, the formality of training calmed. It gave her mind something else to focus on. Her mind vanishes into the forms, the world outside the moment receding away. Just the two of them – master and apprentice. Teacher and student.

“You did well today,”

The wave had already begun to knit the bloody split on her jaw shut, offering proof.

Maki could split an engine block, and still managed to look ashamed. “I think you were distracted.”

“Hmm?”

“Your ausbildung-stil felt different.”

“I got some bad news,” she says.

Like Noah Scott is a little fucking rich.

Maki smiles.

How someone who could split an engine block could look like the personification of Moe, Jet didn’t know. An artificially human face on an armoured body. Cybers did tend to exaggerate their humanistic qualities.

Together they clean up, repacking and re-oiling equipment, Jet waiting afterwards to work on her own.

Her blades live in a steel case, swaddled in oiled blankets, along with a bone-carved statue of Santa Muerte, and a few other Boskone artifacts. An original SS knife. A catgirl collar. A pair of glasses. Jesus Malverde with a bullet. Thionite vials. Rosebottom’s short-slide original-production CZ-75

The butterfly-blade that killed him hangs above the door with a brand new handle set and the original owner’s name on a brass plate.

She remembers, standing vacant. Her body traces the movements, dancing through the moment. Her comm interrupts the final strike. Priority One, from Command. A rescue signal?

“Hey yeah, we’ve a problem with that broken sensor.”
.
Mundane. From a moron.

“What is it?”

“Yeah, DCAMS stuck it at priority 1, but the exocomps won’t go in there."

“Fix it yourself!”

Snap. Channel closed. Her voice echoes back off the timber walls. A broken doorhandle hangs in her hand.

The next item on her dayplanner pinged up, begging for her attention. More shit to do.

Baron fucking Frigga.

4 Votes missed.
A few proposals, requests for support on various initiatives, gargoyle’s demanding comment on the crash. Letters to be written. Proposals. Comments. 4 questions to be asked of 4 ministers about 4 separate inane things.

The alternate means of war had nothing on the excitement of the real thing. A precession of paperwork, smiles, smoke and daggers.

The muse filters and cleans, simmering the order of business down to the salient points, parcelling out the things it thinks she needs to actually care about.

She works as she walks. Negotiating. Keeping her face up. Getting things done.

Just not bothering just wasn’t an option.

Life had to go on. Shit still needed to be done. it fell to her, want it or not. Nobody could see anything else but her getting on with it. Or the whispers would start. Everyone would talk.

Ford called.

Burned out from the investigation back home, half asleep already. Both of them needing support, both of them able to provide it.

Both of them ached to be with each other.

Life had other ideas.

Ford slept. Jet worked. Now down to the hangar, to meet her new pilot. She steeled herself. Gaige was a new person.

Waiting with Daryl, wearing Jet’s own face on top of her skintight flightsuit. Transparent panels and all. Jet saw the little differences that marked the face as one of AC’s, the sharped eyes and nose, the deeper blue. On the one hand, eyes darted, taking in every single eye glancing at her. A friendly, innocent blue.

Already, Gaige wore her hair differently. Rougher, more natural.

And she stood. Ignoring them all. Her chest swelled as she drew down a deep breath.

“I’m a pilot,” she declared, answering the unasked question.

Weird as it was to see her own face looking back at her, it still comforted. Already, Gaige felt. confident enough in herself to wear that skintight flightsuit in public. Soon she’d grow and become her own person, finding herself somewhere between the remains of Mackie and the person she wanted to be.

Jet slipped into the role, banishing the thoughts of her brother. Let the dead rest.

“That’s why I hired you,” she said.

Jet’s muse cut her off before she could say anymore.

It’d found her a name.

It’d found her a real mission. Her muse offers official papers, an address, an employer, a photograph, even a GJ service record from ten years ago. A man who’d been to Jusenkyou too.

Her mind falls back and she finds herself wearing a savage grin as she briefly considers bringing him back.

Time to go.

---

On my first day as a woman, I learned that I like:

A blank space in the workbook awaited her answer.

On my first day as a woman, I learned that I will not miss:

A second blank space awaited the same answer.

An entire roadmap had been laid out in the book's appendix, for the days, then weeks, then months and years that followed, the slow dismemberment of one identity followed by the rebuild of another. Nothing could be crueller than the militant kindness of a Senshi who thought she was doing the right thing. Turn that into a plural and you had a recipe for a nightmare.

Gaige lay on her couch, drumming it over in her mind, rapping her fingers on a plastic table.

On a whim, whether optimistic that she could go back, or pessimistic that she'd need it when she did, she searched for the book's distaff counterpart, a Guide for the New Man.

Nothing.

A few self-help groups clustered together in the corners of some websites, with the makings of something useful, but nothing published or lionised as the one true path to a happy unintentional manhood.

Daryl did have a point.

The words 'Jet' and 'Cybernetics expert' didn't usually appear in the same sentence. Not without ' required expensive repairs by a pre-eminent' somewhere in between.

Gaige spent the morning trialling her new clothes, trying to find something that fit mind and body – whatever was least uncomfortable to wear.

Looking at herself in the mirror sent alien shivers up her spine, but she didn't have to look at silk underwear beneath a denim jacket and a pair of jeans that took a few hard tugs and a bounce to get over her hips.

She padded around on the balls of her feet, refusing to bother with shoes despite the tension in her ankles. It felt natural – stable.

She trialled her balance again, cybernetic systems keeping her rock solid on one foot, almost imperceptible twitches of her muscles right up to the point where gravity would no longer be denied.

The body caught itself with automatic grace before Gaige had fully registered the toppling sensation.

She stood, breathing. Gaige stepped backwards. One last thing to try.

One. Two. Three running steps and she pitched forward. He fingers touched the cold concrete floor, pirhouetting her body through the air, to land deftly on the balls of her feet, ankles absorbing the shock.

Her chest bounced once as a reminder.

“Wow,” Gaige breathed, gazing down at her fingers.

Never let it be said that she couldn't at least appreciate the mechanics. The puppet operated on a level far above his own body.

A chime from the door snagged her attention.

She begged the real world to leave her alone with her body.

The door chime insisted once more.

A single breath steeled her will. The door stretched away as she strode towards it, giving her long seconds to reconsider, to feel the eyes beyond the door crawl across her skin.

Her hand grasped the latch, pulling the door open with a squawk.

Her body relaxed the moment she recognised the woman looking up at her,

“Kotono!”

“Have we met?” she grinned in return.

“Um....” Gaige’s mind backpedalled, grasping for an excuse. “I read about you,” her lips found one before her mind.

“Hopefully it was something good,”Kotono’s grin broadened into a vulpine smirk. “Well, I live down the next passage so I thought I'd drop by and welcome our newest arrival.”

A nudge of her head indicated in the direction. Her eyes remained fixed on a spot over Gaige’s shoulder, betraying her true desires

“Well, ah, come inside and I'll make tea,”

She stepped back. Kotono stepped forward, heels tock-tocking on the concrete floor. Gaige couldn’t help but steal a glance as the woman stepped past, enjoying the perks of a taller vantage point. A shrug of Kotono’s shoulders warned her that she’d been spotted.

Taking a breath, she followed the woman inside. The door squeaked shut behind her, latching locked.

“Now we can drop the act,” Kotono breathed, turning to face. “So, do I call you Gaige, or Mackie?”

Gaige forced a rueful smile, one of her hands finding its way to her hip. “If I'm going to be called Gaige for the next few weeks I better get used to it.”

Her stomach turned. Kotono’s body tensed.

“Alright, Gaige,” she said, trying the name on for size.

Gaige forced a smile. “Tea?” she offered.

“Oolong,”

Gaige blinked.

“Whatever you have will be fine,”

Kotono made herself comfortable on a couch, bare thighs sliding across each other as she crossed her legs. Gaige felt her own legs rub in sympathy, swallowing the lump rising up her throat.

Had Kotono worn that on purpose?

She tried to suppress the thought, buying herself searching through the open kitchenette for anything that resembled tea. A press door nudged against her breast, drawing a shudder up her spine and a simultaneous giggle from Kotono.

“So, how're you feeling?”

Gaige glared at her.

“Really weird,” she answered. Her hands pressed against her chest. “I didn't realise how much these things would move,”

“We all went through it, said Kotono mildly, just enough to lull Gaige into turning around. “And if you say what I think you're thinking I'll kill you.”

“I didn't say a word.”

“But you thought it.” Kotono glowered down. “You've had them for two days and already you're bullying the naturals.”

Her lips pursed into a thick pout “It's not like I wanted them...”

Silence. Kotono held the stare long enough for the kettle to start boiling.

The mask cracked. Laughter burst out,

Gaige came within a moment of murdering her for it.

“Got you, Gaige”

“Damn it.”

She closed her eyes, letting her forehead rest against the cool steel panelling of the cupboard.

“You need to work on your cattiness,” Kotono advised.

Gaige glanced back at her. “Cattiness?”

“The feminine art of making yourself feel a lot better, by making a lot of other people feel slightly worse,” Kotono explained with a sage-like finger in the air.

“Sounds like bullying to me,”

“It is a little.” She admitted. “So you only do it with your friends because you know where their limits are. That's the art, cattiness without bitchiness.”

Gaige said nothing, focusing herself on the fine arts of making instant tea while not brushing parts of herself with her arms.

“Guys do it to!”

“The difference being guys are both in on the joke,” she snapped, harder than she meant.

“Both women are too. It's a matter of boundaries”

Gaige said nothing, filling two steaming cups with scalding water. Tea brewed along with her temper. Kotono’s gaze never left her back.

“There's no real trick to being a woman or a man, it's just life,” said Kotono. “Find those things that make you feel good about yourself and don't be afraid do them, whatever they are.”

Obviously she didn’t get it. Gaige remained silent.

Fuck.

In a diamond-bullet moment, she remembered all the times the women of her life had given her The Silence. Without ever explaining why or what, it was the moment when you knew she was mad at you and you had to do something to make it up even though you had no idea what so it had to be something big to cover every possibility.

And there she stood, doing it like a master.

Her mind scrambled for something to say, to not be that person….

Kotono beat her to it.

“There's no sense in being miserable just to prove your manhood. Nobody doubts that...”

It cut far harder than she expected. Her tongue snapped.

“But I need to at least try, or people'll think I wanted it or something.”

Kotono’s jaw slacked open. Enlightment had just swooped down and slapped her hard in the face.

“What'd I say?” Gaige wondered.

Kotono’s shoulders fell, the expression on her face into something that could almost fall

“Something more women would understand than you think, Gaige.”

She stood there, secretly grateful that she didn’t. Two cups of fresh tea steamed on the counter beside her. A few short moments and a long breath helped her face the conversation coming.

Gaige crossed the floor, calmly placing both cups on the table. One without milk for Kotono, one with for herself.

“Thanks,” said Kotono, mild surprise passing across her face.

Gaige’s body found it’s natural comfortable position when she sat down, legs sliding over each other, mirroring the woman opposite. Kotono took her cup in both hands, bringing it to her lips.

Gaige allowed hers to steam.

“So how do you feel?” Kotono asked again, her voice softer.

“Weird,” Gaige gave the same answer. “It’s really hard to describe it more than that..”

She felt herself look up, expecting an answer.

“You’re dealing with it very well,” Kotono said. “Better than I think I would.”

“Maybe. It doesn’t feel like I am. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, really.”

“Neither do I.” Kotono looked down at the reflection swimming on the surface of her black tea. “But I think, I’d be scared more than anything.”

“A little,” Gaige admitted, feel her body crush down into itself. “Of a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

Her mind mind cracked.

“Like not really being me.” Words seeped from her mouth “Like my Sister might’ve screwed up and doesn’t know. Like I’ll never go back or I might not want to go back or that people will find out it’s really me and….” The seep roared into a torent

She sniffed, her eyes moistening. Her body shook as she spiralled

“Gaige….Mackie.” Hearing his real name stopped him dead, staring at her “You’ve been attacked. You’ve been violated. Your identity’s been torn apart. However you feel, it’s OK to feel that way.”

“They killed me and now….”Gaige’s breath spasmed, her mind crashing to a halt at the moment of impact.

“I can prove you’re still you.”

Kotono’s face carried a sweetling smile, comfortable as plush doll. Soft hands clasped together.

Gaige’s eyes blinked themselves clear. “How,” she breath.

“Daryl told me she saw you in a flight suit earlier. That you took that racer out for a spin,”

The smile mutated into a cheeky smirk.

“Well yeah,” Gaige’s legs tightened together, recalling the sensation of the flightsuit. “If I didn’t get back into the cockpit, I’d be scared of it for the rest of my life. It’d be harder next time, so I had to.”

Kotono leant forward, over her mug. Her eyes gleamed. “It’d beat you.”

Gaige sat up. “Yeah.”

Kotono’s eyes narrowed. “She told me about the flightsuit.”

Her voice slipped down to a whisper, sharing a secret.

Gaige’s arms crossed. “Well, I had to wear it, or I wouldn’t be able to fly?”

Kotono smirked. You just triggered my trap card. Her arms crossed in triumph.

“So, flying is more important to you, than worrying about a few people in the landing bay watch you stroll to the locker room in a skintight flightsuit. It’s more important that worrying about anyone seeing you as a woman.”

Gaige felt her cheeks flush. She looked away, focusing on the wall. “I didn’t think of it like that. I just felt so good, I guess I forgot.”

Hopefully she’d believe that.

Gaige looked up

“The only way this will destroy your identity is if you let it.”Kotono took a breath, struggling to be magnanimous in victory. “If you let it stop you doing the things you want to do, or trying what you want to try, because those are the things that make you who really are.”

Dammit.

Gaige wheeled it around. “What’d you do, if you woke up as a man tomorrow?”

Kotono giggled. “Once I got over the shock? Maybe another woman.”

“Really?”

“Well, yeah.” Her shoulders shrugged laconically. “I’d want to know what guys get out of it.”

And that sounded almost like an accusation. Gaige cringed, her stomach turning.

“You don’t think you’d be creeped out?”

The idea sickened her.

She snorted. “After having a penis inside me, I think I could manage having one outside.”

Gaige’s jaw slacked open.

Kotono help up a single finger, driving the point home with a few short taps against empty space. “And if you think women won’t ever get pervy about men, you’re in for a sharp lesson.”

Gaige scowled at her. “I know what women are like.”

“Oh,” Kotono loomed forward, ready to hoover up the story.

“I live with my sister…”

She decided against telling her of time time she’d walked in on her own sister, straddling herself with empty tins of turtle turtle wax and a buffing wheel.

If only to avoid the next obvious tease.

And the idea churning in the pit of her stomach.

A long gulp of cooling tea swallowed it.

“I see…” said Kotono after a few moments. “Well, after a few years with a body like hers I suppose I’d find it hard too.”

Her smile hid behind a slurp from her mug, draining the last of the tea.

“Now what?” Gaige finally broke the silence.

“Do whatever you want.” Kotono answered, placing the cup on the table in front of her.

Gaige gazed down at her own reflection swimming in the dark tea.

“Easier said,” she breathed. The weight on her chest hung heavy.

“I get it.” Said Kotono, taking a moment to gather thoughts. “Look. This has happened to you, you can’t change that. This violated you. And you’re scared and frightened and it’s looming in your head and you don’t want to loose what little bit of yourself you have left.”

She took a breath. Gaighe opened her mouth to try and interrupt. Kotono leant forward, closing her down.

“But you can still beat it, by not letting it rule you. Don’t let it change your mind, don’t let it deny you the things you enjoy, and don’t let it keep you from trying new things, or discovering new things to like about yourself.”

“Am…” Gaige managed.

Kotono glared, eyes turning hard. “You win by moving forward and not letting it hold you down, you lose a little every time you turn away until you find yourself months down the line still curled into a ball hoping it’ll go away while instead it, and whoever did it, sit gloating in the back of your mind.”

Turned her own personal success against her. How cruel. “That’s nasty,” Gaige said to her tea.

“But it’s true.” Kotono took a breath. “Thanks for the tea.”


--

The suit made a deliberate effort to become as tight as possible, finding its way into every uncomfortable crevice. She ignored it as she crossed the hangar, letting her long stride carry her inexorably forward.

Eyes stared.

Every gaze crawled across her body, eyes like thousand of legs skittering across her skin. Whispers whirled around. It gnawed inside her. Maybe this wasn’t exactly what Kotono meant.

Her Sister stared straight through her with a look like they’d never met before in their life.

“I’m a Pilot,” Gaige declared, silencing everyone.

Nobody dared dispute that. This is who I am still.

“That’s why you got the job,” Jet answered.

Gaige couldn't help but notice the change in her sister's expression. Chilled fingers crawled up her spine.

"I have to go," said the cyber, leaving no room for argument.

----

Marco’s fate isn’t yet sealed when he discards the dead Geiger counter. He places it back in the equipment locker, dead batteries and all, right beside the warning label advising people not to go into rad-hazard areas without one.

It doesn’t matter. Two sensors read zero, so he knows it's safe.

Fucking arrogant Mary-Sues snapping off at him. Of course he could fix it. But he had better things to do.

Two exocomps wait outside the powershaft hatch. DCAMS assigned the little shits to do the repair, but neither of them bothered.

Silly robots. Their tools chatter in response.

He doesnn’t die when he opens the hatch, wearing only a facemask and boiler suit. His lifetime risk of cancer increases by five percent, as he steps across the threshold, carrying a brand new sensor and a toolbag. He doesn’t die when the overhead lights burned out, fuse on the wall popping, With a curse, he switches on his headlamp.

Everything breaks down.

Blue light flashes off steel, concrete and something that might’ve been glass.

The hatch seals him in the darkness, a faint blue glow simmering at the edge of his vision from the lnmp. Each breath feels normal. Damp. Cool. Each step carries him forward, closer to death. Metal dances on his tongue.

Old iron rock and new steel pipework.

He follows the conduits on the ceiling to the broken sensor, hung from a wall. B-24-A, in a steel enclosure.

Around his booted feet, a cool pool of water. Some part of his mind wonders where the water had come from. It couldn’t be reactor water. A leak would’ve been noticed. The other two sensors would’ve gone crazy.

It’d probably come from the fire system. A leaking fitting or an old valve had to have let go when Unit-4 caught fire. A black, coal-like stain traced the leak-path up to the cable tracks and pipework overhead. It disappeared into the tangle. He called it in.

No big deal.

His body tingles. He sets to work. By now, he’ll be sick for a week, with a ten percent chance of cancer.

Control confirms the cable is good. Disconnecting the sensor triggers a broken wire alarm. Jumping the terminals confirms a short. Definitely a dead sensor.

It takes another ten minutes to get the new unit mounted and switched on. He now has a fifty percent chance of surviving the next month.

Control report another offscale high reading. But not a wire-break.

And he thinks, what the hell?

He wonders.

Two bad sensors?
Short circuit in the terminal block.

He tests the sensor by covering the aperture with a steel plate.

No reduction.

He checks the connections. Once. Twice. Three times. His multimeter puts power into the sensor itself. Current flows at the full 24 milliamps. The maximum value it can, but not a short circuit.

By the time he closes the cover on the sensor, he’s already dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.

His feet slosh through water to find the next sensor, tracing conduits above. It takes another few minutes to find it. To find where it had been.

The cover stands, propped open. Inside it, nothing. Only enough of a resistance across to keep the system from tripping on a broken or short circuit warning and enough dust to tell him it'd been done years before.

Dread sinks in.

He pulls the resistor.

Control reports the wire break.

He runs to the hatch, screaming to seal the compartment off, for a medic, for something to save him. Offscale high could mean anything, couldn’t it? It might just be 3.6 roentgen an hour. It could be fucking anything. It might still be low. It’d only been a half hour. He's sweating.

He's drenched in it. Back in the light, the hatch slams shut behind him. Already, he feels sick. From the run or radiation, he doesn’t know. He fumbles in his pocket for the dosimeter, and stares at the dial, hands shaking.

Both Exocomps slide away from him, as if they could sense the contagion on his body.

A single red needle stands hard against the rightmost limit of the dial.

He knows the meter has no need to read any higher. Recording doses above 600 roentgen is good only for bragging rights.

That arrogant cyber bitch killed him. Slowly and horribly.

Already rotting alive.

--

The door latched behind him, sealing away the world outside. Safely home. Another day over.

No more looking over the shoulder.

No more panicking at every stranger who followed him around a corner.

No more sparking in his body at every loud noise.

No more wondering if that woman staring at him from across the street was the one….

Thank Christ. He leant back against cool steel, soaking the tension from his body. His boots found their home beside the wooden step. The familiar scents of home embraced him whole. Cedar wood, fresh miso and…

Lavender?

Hs body chilled. His hand went to his hip, fingers silently working the clasp to a heavy holster.

“Tanaka.”

A voice. A woman. Somewhere to his right. Pop! The button came free. Fingers grasped the grip of the Berretta.

“It was just a matter of time, I suppose….”

His voice pulled taught, despite his best efforts.

“I want to know who. And why.”

To his left. His head snapped. Shit! Thermoptics. It had to be.

“You work for….” He snarled.

“Nobody,” A figure loomed, coalescing out of the light into something solid, right in front of him standing in the living room door. His hand snatched at the pistol, pulling it on target. Finger on trigger. Dead to rights.

The impact knocked the breath clean out of his lungs, chased by the rushe. A blade, iridescent under the hallway lights. Razor sharp, cold against his neck. Solid steell pinned him to the wall, crushing his chest. Turbines spooled down, enegy tingling across his skin.

The pistol thumped to the ground, unfired. His awareness came into focus.

Cold steel. Glacier eyes. Bloody hair. Gunpowder moondust. Lavender perfume. Unstoppable force.

A strange relief in recognition. Not her. Not them. Until he realised why she’d come.

“If I wanted you dead, you wouldn’t even have noticed,” she assured with calm certainty.

Those eyes bored.

“So what do you want?”

The pressure eased. His bare feet found soft tatami as she stepped back, giving him room to breath. Both blades relaxed, still gleaming to a fine point.

“You’re going to tell me who. And why.”

His fingers brushed at his neck, checking. No blood. Inhumanely quick. Machine precise. Sweat prickled. “And if I don’t?”

The pistol sat on the floor, far too far out of reach. He looked to her.

“I walk away,” she said, matter-of-factly. Her eyes went to the gun, then back to him. She’d notice.

The hair on his neck prickled. “I think you’ve got that backwards.”

Her arms folded. “I’m a killer, but I amn’t a murderer,” she breathed. The word accused. “The people who told you to shoot my brother down on the other hand. Can you imagine trying to convince them you didn’t talk if I just leave you be?”

She smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile.

“Can I at least sit down?”

Before he collapsed.

“Your apartment,”

She stepped aside, letting him pass. He never even heard the footstep on the tatami.

He took a moment to soak himself in soft vinyl, closing his eyes. The television slept. An old turntable waited for the new Bebop soundtrack still in its cellophane. A simple wooden bookshelf carried a few dozen books. Already, he wished he’d gotten around to reading more than he did. A Bonzai remained un-pruned. One of the tatami mats had torn at the corner. Outside, the city bustled past, four stories below.

The cyber stood in the door, one shoulder leant against the creaking frame, unconcerned about any attempt he might make at escape. Anything he might try would be beyond futile. The thought occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, it might all be an act – being so relaxed and self-assured to hide a true weakness. It seemed ridiculous.

He looked at her, then down at his own clasped hands. No such luck and he knew it.

“Alright. Look. I didn’t shoot. Denon did. And they chipped her for it.”

“Chipped her?”

She stepped into the room. His hands gripped.

“We were told to bring him in alive, but make it look like an accident. We thought it was just a mission. Some Boskone agent we had to bring in without them realising we had him…”

“What…” she breathed, blindsided. “Boskone?”

A small victory. She really didn’t know who he worked for.

“Yeah. They burned me.” He shot her a rueful grin, skin turning pale. “Said it was reserve activation for a special mission since we were both anti-spacecraft experts. Everything looked official. All the right stamps. I thought you were here to tie up the remaining loose end.” The laughter escaped, harsh and cynical. “Can you believe? During the war, all I wanted was peace. And then I jumped at the chance to go the war again. How fucked up is that?”

He swore he saw sympathy in her eyes.

“I wanted a new mission, and for my sins they gave me this one.”

They shared a smile. Faint joy from a shared misery. A moment’s understanding. No hatred. No intent. Just a fucked up situation. It could’ve happened to you.

Her posture relaxed, becoming more human, more natural. She wouldn’t kill him. In another place, maybe they might’ve shared a drink.

He calmed himself with another breath. His shaking hands betrayed him. She wouldn’t kill him.

“Look, you’re a warrior. I get that. But let me tell you right now. Whoever you’re dealing with, they’ve a mole in SHIELD capable of pulling something like this off. You can fight someone in front of you. But you can’t fight someone capable of turning the most respected law enforcement agency in Fenspace against you with a finger-click. You want to face the Scarlet Angel?”

Maybe, he thought, he could talk his way out. She listened. She thought. She smirked.

“She knows my capabilities, intimately. My records. My training. Even what I normally eat for breakfast.” Amusement lit up behind her eyes. “But I know how to make klaatchian coffee liqueur cheesecake.”

“Hah!” It barked back off the wooden panelling on the walls.

“Trust me. She isn’t something I need to worry about. She works with SHIELD, I don’t.”

He caught it immediately.

“So that’s how it is?”

“You can think whatever you want,” she shrugged her shoulders. He wondered how the suit managed it. “But I’m going to find who wanted my brother, and I’m going to find out why. I just need to know who gave the order.”

That glacier gaze made it a cold certainty.

“I might be a fool, but not an idiot. I kept it all on a memory card, just in case.”On the phone, she called herself ‘Green Grass’.”

She tossed the phone to her. One steel hand silently caught it. The other worked the card free. Her eyes never even left him.

“And Denon?”

His whole body shuddered. That scream. The look in her eyes. Betrayed by her own body, silently begging it to stop, but compelled nonetheless.

His teeth clenched. “Sent me a video file, showing what happened to her. Told me to be quiet if I didn’t want a chip of my own. I’ve been waiting on the other shoe to drop, ever since.”

It struck him cold. It struck both of them.

“I came on my own. Nobody knows I’m here.”

It might not. He knew the game too well to believe that.

“I understand. I guess.” He tried to sound nonchalant, to put up the brave face. It came out sick, twisted, a bad imitation at best and a blatant tell at worse. “The least I can do is give you the best chance.”

His eyes went to the pistol again. She caught his intent, immediately.

“It’s not your fault.”

Her voice clipped through it.

“But it’s my duty.” He swallowed it, dead set. Better that, than Denon. He looked to her, meeting her gaze. “It can only end one way. For what it’s worth, I really am sorry.”

“Thank you,” she nodded. Her lips firmed up. “…And me too.”

His eyes fell to the floor. She wouldn’t try stop him.

A sick relief.

“Try and get me out, and they know you’re coming. Kill me yourself, and they know you’re coming. But another veteran suicide? Nobody ever notices them these days.” His whole body shook against it, begging him not to, even as he tried to convince himself by rounding it out loud. “Just promise me you’ll tell ‘em I wasn’t a traitor.”

Tears on his cheeks betrayed him. Funny that. Try to be stoic. To stand up. He forced himself to stare. His lip quivered. Force of will stiffened.

“I will. I promise.”

“Thanks,” his voice stretched out.

Nothing more needed to be said. She left him wordlessly, as silently as she’d entered. He wondered if she’d even been there, or been a figment of his conscience.

The pistol still waited on the floor. It waited another hour until after the record he bought finished playing.

See you space cowboy.

--

Dartz
Senshi Candidate
Posts: 22
 

Re: [Fenspace] The Melancholy of Mackie-chan

Postby Ellen Kuhfeld » Tue Dec 27, 2016 1:11 pm

Good storytelling. I'm not familiar with the background of the world, but you made it obvious -- at the very least it has content from Ranma 1/2, Evangelion, Bubblegum Crisis, Lensman, and Megatokyo. I didn't scrabble around trying to figure that out. The story didn't need me to know, but knowing enhanced things. Obviously, we're dealing with some kind of mega-fandom shared vitual reality, which may or may not have turned into a real reality.

(If that wasn't what you were up to, you definitely need to fix it -- either that, or change the game plan to fit.)

The storytelling was good, the writing excellent. The only flaws involved spell-check, and maybe some homonyms. You need an editor (I'm not volunteering, I already have enough editing to do) because nobody can vet their own work for the fiddling little details. That's all you need to fix.
Visit Big Washuu's Lab of Arcane Knowledge at http://washuu.net
Ellen Kuhfeld
User avatar
Sailor Starlight
Posts: 1939
 

Re: [Fenspace] The Melancholy of Mackie-chan

Postby Dartz » Wed Dec 28, 2016 9:06 pm

That's actually not far wrong...

Fenspace: (Http://www.fenspace.net) is an open setting, sou you're welcome to swing by a join us here :

http://drunkardswalkforums.yuku.com/forums/8/Fenspace

Don't ask to call it a reconstruction or a deconstruction - just that everyone writing there has their own opinions and that it's not a Utopia.
Dartz
Senshi Candidate
Posts: 22
 

Re: [Fenspace] The Melancholy of Mackie-chan

Postby Dartz » Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:42 pm

---A short update. Using the PHO format

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♦For all you new women out there.
In: Boards ► Social ► Biomods ► Gender
The All Seeing Eye (Guiding Hand) (Original Poster)
Posted on April 4th, 2013:

Okay.

Since the Senshi medkits got adopted throughout GJ more and more guys are waking up to discover that they’re now very much gals. There’s plenty of tg stuff online sure, but all of it sort of assumes a little bit of familiarity with the feminine condition, and some pre-transformation preparation,

While us guys sort of get dumped in at the deep end and expected to get on with it.

So, lets get on with it.

The Haynes Manual for Women: Basic hygiene. Basic biology. Basically how to keep yourself in good health – and the important differences which might catch you out.
To hell with fashion: How to find clothes that actual fit and will actually be comfortable to wear. How women’s sizes actually work, or are supposed to anyway. And Lingerie. With plenty of photographic accompaniment to a visual glossary.
Sex and sexuality: With yourself? With women? With men? With toys. A quick how to primer of how everything down there and up here is supposed to actually work. And how not to hurt yourself.
Dealing with friends and colleagues: Some anecdotal advice for dealing with family, friends and coworkers. Some stories. Some good. Some bad. Some funny.
We’ll make a woman out of you: The Oath of Venus, prerequisites, how the ceremony works and how to choose if it’s right for you.
Identity issues: How to get the correct ID card printed actually identify yourself according to the standard metric and what effects this can have on your privilege rating and annual dues. It’s a complex minefield (Millenium focused) that can cost you a lot of money if you get it wrong.

The P-word: Unwanted or unplanned, or otherwise. What normally happens, and your options going forward. Note: Discussions on termination require mod approval after one too many idiots. But yeah, it’s your choice and only your choice on this one. There’s no right or wrong.

Help Directory: Please. If you get into trouble, talk to someone here. Anyone.


EDIT 1:
The unspeakable: The statistics on this are becoming disturbing lately, even in the Crystal Cities. How to take precautions, and advice on staying safe out there. Self-defense classes

EDIT 2:
Originally by LongKnight98

1) This is Your Body. The only person who’s permission you need to try anything, wear anything or do anything is your own. You don’t need to ask anyone else. If it feels right, do it. It is your decision.
2) Don’t be afraid to try new things. Really. You’ve gone through a big change and now you’ve got a chance to step out and actually try all those things you promised yourself…. Or whatever makes you curious. Yes, those silk Chinese dresses feel great. Don’t wall up. You’ll be miserable.
3) Things will matter more. Things might seem awful. Or they might be amazing. It can be a wild ride. Don’t be afraid of showing it. It feels better to let it out. Guys hold it in far too much.
4) You can do it. Always remember, that 50% of all human beings ever born have managed to live full and happy lives with this condition. Anything you ever wanted to do, you still can. Nobody’s going to stop you.
5) Trust your feelings Your relationships with your friends and family will be in flux. Old friends might suddenly feel awkward to be around, and distant relatives might turn into close confidents. Friends might become lovers, lovers might become friends. Trust your feelings – they’ll probably be right.
6) Trust your instincts too. They’ll probably be right too. If you get a bad feeling around someone, make your excuses and leave. Or call for help from a friend. I hate to say it, but there’re plenty of guys out there who’ll want to be more than friends…. If something feels wrong, it definitely is.
7) Always carry spare tampons. Always share if asked. There is a special place in hell reserved for people who don’t. Even your worst enemy will help you on this, so never be afraid to ask if you get stuck.
8) Hygiene is your god. No matter how bad or awkward it feels, take some time every day to take care of yourself. Don’t just slob out in misery A good shower daily and a regular shave will make you feel a lot better about yourself day to day(Of course, you did these anyway, right?).
9) But otherwise, don’t worry about passing – you won’t. If you want to go in heel-boots and all, be my guest. Attitudes towards the ‘New’ women vary. Most people are kind, but some can get very militant. Watch out for idiots who’ll forever see you as ‘tainted by male privilege’….. they give trans people a problem too.
10) You have the right to be happy. If something feels right to you, and it makes you feel better about yourself and who you are Nobody has the right to
11) You always have options. There will be bad days when it really hits you and you want to tear yourself apart. There will be good days too, when everything feels perfect in a way you can’t place. Please, call someone if the bad starts to gain on you.



EDIT 3: Catgirls now have their own forum here.



(Showing Page 441 of 441)


► Herriot
Replied on Jan 02, 2025:

Look. All I see are a bunch of wannabees in their hugbox trying to prove that something awful happened to you.

None of you have ever had to actually prove yourselves to anyone? Nobody’s ever questioned that something happened to you.

Sure what you see in the mirror feels wrong, but you know why…. So quite pretending we’re the same.


► Stocious_One (Moderator)
Replied on Jan 02, 2025:

And Locked after two pages. That’s far enough.

EDIT (And back after 1 weeks.)

► Habufan_87
Replied on Jan 08, 2025:
It’s been nearly six months since I got out

There’ve been good days and bad days.

Some days I can almost feel normal. Somedays I feel like I’m playing the biggest prank possible on everyone around me and they don’t even notice. They just smile and I’m like a cookoo in the nest.

I go to work. I fly. I shop for underwear. I’ve cosplayed and that was a great weekend. I can get through that time of the month and it almost feels ordinary – like a funny nosebleed. I do the shit I used to like. I do some different things. I begin think I’ve beaten it.

And then something happens – maybe I catch a tit with the inside of my arm without expecting it, or I’m under the shower and something just feels wrong.

And then it just hits like a punch to the face and it all the progress from the last few years just collapses and it’s like I’m lying on that hospital bed again all over again bawling my eyes out.


► LongKnight98 (Contributor)
Replied on Jan 08th, 2025:

The good days outnumber the bad. That’s the main thing. Always remember that

► Habufan_87
Replied on Jan 08th, 2025
True. Dat.

But some days it’s harder to remember than other.

► Blacksun_Patron
Replied on Jan 09th, 2025

So, to get back to where we were before. In the end the decision was made for me.

I’m all ready and lined up to tell everyone that, yeah, I’d much rather just go through with it and get some resemblance of myself back again and everyone’s all supporting me and agreeing that hey, it’s for the best.

Except for 2 year old Becky who wandered up and put on her most innocent smile.

“Is there something wrong with being a girl?”

And now, I’m standing in front of her mother, her aunt, her sister, and they’re staring. It’s that stare that just warns you to be careful what you say. God it was good to feel like that again

“Oh, no sweetie.”

And this is the right answer and it’s good an correct and I’m released from the evil stares.

“So, why do you want to be a man again?”

And now, I can try and explain the whole concept of self identity to a two year old girl and hope she understands it well enough. Or I just spin a little wad of bullshit and hope.

“Because I don’t know how to be a girl and I’m a bad one,”

Becky seals my fate with a smirk. “That’s fine, I’ll show you how”

And while her parents are trying to explain it’s not the sort of thing you can be shown and it’s breaking her heart, I can’t help but say yes, just to make the poor thing feel better about herself.

So, now anytime I see her she insists on giving me lessons on the things she thinks I’m doing wrong, and how a real princess should do it, and this is a tea ceremony.

It is utterly hateful.

But I love her to bits. I just can’t help it. And I’ve secretely been taking her out to my favourite things to….. Beckey’s quite happy to muck in on the tools and gets a kick out of doing ‘mens’ work.

The rest of the family are being supportive – like, really. No you’re one of ‘us’, like I passed some secret test.

And in a weird way, I feel better about this than I have for a long time. Do it for her, I guess.

► Habufan_87
Replied on Jan 09th, 2025

Dude, that is actually badass. Like, properly. Nothing is more manly…..

► [PONY] Geigermatic
Replied on Jan 09th, 2025

Or more maternal…..

► Blacksun_Patron
Replied on Jan 09th, 2025

Oh shut up.

► [PONY] Geigermatic
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

Join ussssss…..

It’s really not so bad. For the first few months anyway. Then the sickness starts as the parasite grows, expanding inside and robbing you of your very dignity and continence, until finally, it decides to emerge from its gestation screaming and covered in blood after breaking your back and leaving you in agony.

And you just can’t help but love the poor thing.

The screaming, mewling, shit-stinking, suckling little gentle ball of…

….you got sick on my nipple.

► Ork_Lives_Matter (Shadowrunner)
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

Chestburster.jpg.

The idea still gives me nightmare… it’s like my entire stomach turns just thinking about it.

► [PONY] Geigermatic
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

Used to be the same tbh,

It’s part of the deal. Nether of us really wanted it to happen but we’d just sort of both gotten out of therapy together and we’d been friends for a while and the whole relationship sort of started out of shared misery of being in someone else’s body and a little curiosity and then went from there.

FYI, my significant he used to be a she…… so I had a lot more support than I expected.

If you want the gory details, click here... Remarkable helpful response, all told. Better than my 'husband' got.

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

I still remember when my grampa found out what happened. And he’s a complete died-in-the-wool, anyone born after 1950 is a moron generation conservative type and we have to break it to him gently. Now, he’s the sort of old white guy who’ll ask for a nigger-brown coat in a Fubu.

“So, when are you giving me great-grandchildren?”

Basically, everyone just turns on him as they usually do and I’m just standing there thinking, wait, what, I can do that and they’re like, well, d’uh, we just showed you how to use a pad, so either you cut yourself honey or you’re good to go…..

I probably never will. I can barely handle mornings, let alone kids.

Fortunately, it’s unlikely my girlfriend will ever get me pregnant.

► Blacksun_Patron
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

Congratulations, Geigermatic.

I guess.

► [PONY] Geigermatic
Replied on Jan 10th, 2025

Thanks dude.

► XVR_Traveller
Replied on Feb 18th, 2025

I think my brain just changed.

I was watching Black Lagoon and you know I sort of look like Roberta. But it just sort of clicked in my my head. Just watching her body and how she moves and the way the water cascades of her body and it just sort of hits…..

I’m just like her. She’s just like me.

This is me. It’s like getting washed under a waterfall and it just cleans my body through.

On the one hand it’s nice to wake up in the morning and feel normal and not like ripping these things on my chest off. It’s nice to feel that sort of power is mine.

But I can’t help but feel like it’s cost me a little bit of myself in the process.

► Blacksun_Patron
Replied on Feb 18th, 2025

Another one lost from our proud Frarority

► Checkride-chan
Replied on Feb 18th, 2025

This isn’t the end.

I got ‘lucky’. I got the whole hog. I woke up that morning and didn’t even realise I had a problem when I looked in the mirror. Yep, that’s me, red hair and all.

My wardrobe was the first clue. My friend’s reaction was the next.

I’ve had boyfriends happily. I know what I am when I look at myself in the mirror. I feel all perfectly fine and normal. I get on with the girls at work and I can almost feel like I’m one of them. I took the oath. As far as Venus is concerned, I’ve been female since birth.

Until they start talking about things that happened when they were teenagers or kids and I don’t have anything. It’s like I missed out on all of that…

I can get everything but I just can’t be one of them.

I don’t know if that makes it harder or not.

No matter how far we go, we’ll never be one of them.

► TheSecondKnight
Replied on Feb 18th, 2025

Trust me. After spending the last 4 years aged fifteen.

You’re not missing out on much.

Also. Teenaged crushes really, really screw with office politics.

My ID card says 40.

But nobody ever feels comfortable with it. And I don’t really feel comfortable with the ones who do.

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Feb 19th, 2025

That must get incredibly frustrating.

► TheSecondKnight
Replied on Feb 20th, 2025

I can deal.

One good thing about being fifteen. It’s harder to feel ashamed about acting on your frustrations. It’s just a thing you need to do.

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Feb 20th, 2025

Oh I stopped feeling ashamed a long time ago.

Whether it feels like it or not. It’s my body. I’ll take whatever enjoyment I can out of it

► XVR_Traveller
Replied on Feb 18th, 2025

>>I’ve had boyfriends happily.

I’m not sure whether to be frightened of this or not. I mean it’s creepy enough to feel your whole self identity changing….

► [PONY] Geigermatic
Replied on Jan 10, 2025

Technically by the standard metric I’m Bi, I guess. You see my post above. ;P It weirded me out at first but then I was like, ‘Ooh, that’s what that was….” Once I figured it out, it just took a little nerve and someone in the same situation….

Inspite of the results. I don’t regret it.

If it feels good, it probably is good.

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Jan 20, 2025

That’s the justification I use when I masturbate to the woman in lingerie in the mirror masturbating….

….and if anybody says they haven’t done it they’re a damned liar.

Edit: After 2 days, no takers?? Jesus I killed it again.

► XVR_Traveller
Replied on Feb 23th, 2025

She isn’t always wearing Lingerie….

► Nexus_Origins
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025

When it comes to things like that I’ve gotten into the habit of slipping into KoFen anytime that hits me, just the ground myself in who I used to be like

► LongKnight98 (Contributor)
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025:

That’s really not recommended dude. Even the tg people say not to do it too often because it can make the dysphoria much worse by jumping like that…..

► Chinese Roomate (AGZ: Genaros)
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025

The biggest mistake I made was keeping my old avatar on the metaverse because, at the end of the day I could just sort of slip back into myself again and feel normal. It got to the point where work was just the part I played during the day so I could become myself later.

Eventually it sort of screwed my job and I lost it so I just dived permanently into it and lived there as myself like, right up until my savings ran out and I lost my premium subscription….

To cut a long story short I did something dumb to pay for it, spent some time behind bars and, well…..

A year in prison does clear the head, and they did have a program to help.

I’m still seeing a therapist for it.

But I’m doing better. I get it really bad, but I’m ok.

► Nexus_Origins
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025
There is a surgical option. They not offer that?

► Chinese Roomate (AGZ: Genaros)
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025

My homeostasis is so bad I can’t even trim my nails or cut my hair. I’m stuck as fuck.

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Mar 28th, 2025

Keep you head up man…. I saw you at the last meet and you were looking so well. I knew you found it hard but I’d no idea you were that bad. You should’ve said something….

► Chinese Roomate (AGZ: Genaros)
Replied on Mar 29th, 2025
I’m pulling myself together. Just started a job in rainwater maintenance. Must be the only person on Genaros without a metaverse account. I got my exercises for dealing with it.

And you know how it is, asking for help.

► LongKnight98 (Contributor)
Replied on Mar 29th
Look, we’re here for you if you need it. There’s the help directory in OP.

► Chinese Roomate (AGZ: Genaros)
Replied on Mar 31th, 2025

Thanks mate.

► TheNewKidofSpeed (New User)
Replied on Apr 8th, 2025
Thanks for OP.

It’s been less than a week for me and I’m sitting here and reading something that, at last, isn’t trying to convince me to hate myself and actually gives practical advice…

► Steel_Eye_Blackbird (Animo et Fides)
Replied on Apr 8th, 2025

>> convince me to hate myself
"Today I learned I used to hate X about myself. Today I learned I like Y about how I am now."

Ah, the official guidebook. Carefully produced by a committee to provide firm, but gentle guiding hand towards a Stepford happiness.

Welcome to the club. Also. Send Nudes.

----


Updates or inputs are welcome. What do people say to Mackie-chan
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