Steve Rorkiel drove through the night on a lonely rural road. He'd just had a fight with his girlfriend, Georgina. It was a minor spat, about nothing in particular, but he needed to get out and clear his head. He'd had his headlights on high-beam for miles now; there was no one else on this road tonight. It felt . . . free. The endless rows of corn on either side flashed into his pool of light and disappeared behind, over and over, like side markers for the edge of the road.
And the stars overhead were so, so clear. Even now, in 1989, there were still places like this where light pollution had not yet reached. He could make out the band of the Milky Way cutting the night sky in half. That bright star must be Vega. No . . . it couldn't be Vega. The rest of Lyra was nowhere nearby. And . . . was it getting brighter?
It was getting brighter, and it was moving. Fast. A meteor? No. Meteors didn't make sudden left turns. He slammed on his brakes to get a better look at it, and at the same time the bright light expanded in his field of view until it filled his windshield. The light wasn't uniform, it was coming from several small spots on a . . . on a . . . holy cats. It was an actual, for real, flying saucer.
Well, okay, it looked like two crash cymbals held together and turned sideways. The front of the — craft? — edged past overhead, until his car was right below its dead center; then a white light far, far brighter than any the craft had yet produced enveloped him. It looked like it was coming from every direction, even through the roof of his car. He looked down, and saw his own car ten feet below him. He was outside, with no idea how he'd gotten there, and floating in the air between his car and a big flying saucer.
No — he wasn't just floating in the air. He was frozen in the air. He couldn't so much as wiggle a finger. He was completely at the mercy of whoever or whatever was projecting this light on him, and he felt utterly and completely powerless.
His eyes could still move — barely — and he managed to look up at the bottom of the craft. Were they pulling him closer? Were they going to take him back to their planet? To probe him? No . . . he wasn't rising any higher. They were just suspending him there, at the same place and altitude. He tried clearing his throat, and summoning all his strength to speak, he said in a weak, shaky voice: "Okay, I — I don't know who you are. What do you, what do you want with me?"
No one responded. He didn't really expect anybody to. If they'd wanted him to know, they would have —
A silhouette, suspended in midair just as he was, appeared in the distance in front of him. A human silhouette. A . . . a woman's silhouette. No clothing was evident in her shape; she was either naked, or wearing some kind of form-fitting outfit. She drew nearer, and as she did, the light struck her and he could make out her details. Most of her was covered in what looked to be chrome-plated, form-fitting body armor. The breastplace clung to her torso like a one-piece bathing suit. Her hair was a fiery, curly blonde; her face was . . . quite lovely, actually. Were her body covering black instead of metallic, she would have looked the spitting image of Ms. Marvel in her second costume. Except . . .
Her eyes. They weren't the eyes of a human. They were two short, wide triangles, each colored a solid yellow. There were no pupils or or irises or other details, just two featureless yellow expanses. As her face drew closer, he could see that these eyes gave off their own faint yellow light. He could also make out the dark bands around her triangular eyes, almost as though she were wearing a domino mask. When she hovered barely five feet in front of him, she began to pivot, with aching slowness, giving him ample time to make out all the details of her side view. There was something sticking out of her back. It looked like a gigantic bullet nearly two feet tall, or maybe an artillery shell, except it was the same polished chrome color as her armor. And as she rotated into a full-on side view, he could see that this bullet shape was conjoined with the back of her armor by a short, narrow, shiny chrome strut.
As her body continued to turn, and more of her back became visible, the air started to hum; and then something rang in Steve's ears that completely took him by surprise. It was a voice. A deep, human-sounding voice. Speaking plain modern English. "Accept the body," the voice said, "That you may help defend your world."
The womanly form was now facing directly away from him, and now it began to move even closer. And closer. He would be eating her hair in a couple of seconds. Was she really going to bump into him? She — yikes! The back of her head passed right through the front of his face, and now he was staring out through the glowing yellow eye holes in the front of the woman's face. And they, too, were still getting closer. Finally, her yellow triangular eyes seemed to merge with his, and all he could see was blindingly bright yellow light in all directions.
The hum intensified. He shook, all over, still unable to move.
And then, with a pop, he found himself sitting bolt upright at home in his own bed.
He threw off the covers and patted himself all over. He was still there, and solid. There was no anti-gravity beam, no phantom woman's body, no space ship. It had all been nothing but a dream. That sense of helplessness he'd felt, of being frozen in place, was nothing more than good old-fashioned sleep paralysis. He got up, picked his pants up off the floor, and looked out the back window of his studio apartment. His car was still parked outside, in perfectly good shape, and not at all stranded on a road in the middle of nowhere with its engine running.
He sat back down on his bed, and finally noticed the blinking red light on his answering machine. He rewound the cassette tape and played back what he'd missed. There was the usual loud beep, followed by Georgina's voice: "Hey, Steve. It's about three-thirty in the morning. Are you out somewhere making a fool out of yourself, or are you just not answering? Look, I — I'm still mad at you, but, but it's game night tonight, so I guess I'll see you then. Take care. <BEEP>"
Hm. Well, their fight last night hadn't been a dream, at least.
Steve couldn't stay mad at her; or vice-versa. Georgina was the best thing that had happened to him. That crazy dream had evaporated like the morning dew, and by the afternoon they were both saying they were sorry and fervently making up. Besides, it was game night tonight at Mark Robinson's place. They didn't want to miss game night with their mutual friend, not with 7-card stud in the works.
Like all poker variants, the objective of 7-card stud was to guess your opponents' hidden cards by their actions, without letting them guess what your hidden cards were. Hiding your true motivations was key. It was all a game of secrets. Georgina had just dealth Steve the ace of hearts and the three of clubs face down, and the seven of spades face up. He glanced at Georgina's and Mark's hands; Georgina had the seven of hearts showing next to her two downcards, while Mark showed the two of diamonds. Both of them wore their most wooden poker faces. Mark fingered a red chip in his pile, trying to decide on his first bet.
And promptly, he scooped his cards up and put them next to the pot. He'd folded. Steve shook his head, and admitted, "Don't have jacks or better. I've gotta fold too." Georgina just shrugged and put her unplayable hand atop Mark's and Steve's.
Mark took the cards and started shuffling. Steve and Georgina chipped in the ante for the next hand. The ante had begun at just one white chip apiece, but had grown by one additional white chip for each hand where no one could open, and was now up to two blue chips and a red. "Whose bright idea was it to play the jacks-or-better rule with stud poker?" Steve asked.
Georgina gave him a dirty look, and said "Yours."
Steve shook his head. "At this rate, we'll need to play a hand of seven card stud, hole cards wild and all like 'em, just so we don't run out of chips."
While Mark dealt everyone two down and one up, Georgina reached over and playfully kissed Steve on the ear. Mark seemed a bit pained by it. Steve furrowed his brow slightly, and asked, "So Mark, have you had any luck getting back onto the dating horse?"
"Not a bit," Mark grumbled.
"Ugh, sorry man," Steve said. Mark had been the commensurate ladies' man back in college, but he'd kind of assumed that the college environment would continue for the rest of his life. It was a cold shock when he'd gotten out into the full-time professional world, where most of the women were already married, office romance was off limits, and all the social opportunities he'd taken as a given suddenly vanished. Mark hadn't had so much as a first date in over a year, despite working out and getting in remarkably good shape. Steve worried that the affection he shared with Georgina might be making Mark feel like a loser.
This hand, though, Steve had the queen of diamonds showing, and the queen of hearts face down. Yes. A pair of queens was enough to open. He tossed a red chip into the pot. The other two gleefully called his opening bet, grateful to finally have a full hand to play. Their betting continued one upcard at a time, until Mark had a pair of fours showing and Georgina finally had to admit defeat and fold. Mark laid the last downcard in front of Steve, then himsel, and when Steve peeked at his card, he glimpsed . . . the queen of clubs.
Steve put on his most triumphant grin, grabbed some chips, and said, "I bet five red."
Mark narrowed his gaze. "You're bluffing." He tossed in his own red chips. "I call."
"Not this time, buddy," Steve said. He turned over his final downcard, and the queen of hearts from his first two downcards, which combined with the queen of diamonds from his upcards made a three-of-a-kind. "Read 'em and weep."
"Dammit!" Mark cursed. He slumped back in his chair. "Three lovely ladies. Even at our poker table, you've got better luck with women than I do."
Steve figured he'd better get Mark off the subject, and said, "Maybe the card deck thinks I'm Helen Reddy."
"You know," Steve said. He sang a short melody: "I am woman!"
Then he froze. His hands were glowing — no, shining — with yellow-white light. He looked up and saw Mark and Georgina glaring at him.
"Dude!" Mark said, and then followed with something that jammed Steve's gears: "That's not even the right tune!"
Steve was dumbfounded. Mark didn't even mention his new lantern-hands.
"Yeah," Georgina added. "You're singing the Roto Rooter jingle." She broke into what was clearly the Roto Rooter tune from TV, but with lyrics that mocked Steve's musical blunder: "I am woman, hear me roar, and away go troubles down the drain!"
They can't see my hands glowing, Steve thought. I'm the only one who can see it.
"Uh," Steve tried to compose himself, "I think I need to get some fresh air. I'll be right back." He pushed himself free of the poker table and began walking toward Mark's front door.
"Might wanna work on that melody while you're out there," Georgina called after him.
"And hurry back," Mark added, "You need to give us a chance to win our money back from you!"
Steve stepped out and shut the door behind him. The night was clear and dark, with a few stars visible through the city's light pollution. A couple of streetlights dotted the block, but his blazing hands outshone them by a wide margin. He waved his hands back-and-forth, and the light moved with them; it really was coming from his hands. He wasn't having a brain hemorrhage in his visual cortex, or seeing some bizarre optical illusion. And yet, his companions couldn't see it.
He held his hands high over his head. Their light swamped out the few visible stars behind them. He turned the palms to face each other, then, not knowing what else to do, he clapped them together.
The sound of his hand-clap turned into a thunder clap. His heart leapt into his throat as the whole sky flashed rapidly on and off. His forearms, still in his field of view, seemed to blink between his normal shirtsleeves and hairless arms clad only in long metal bands. Two or three seconds later, the rolling thunder ended and everything stopped flashing; but now, the sky was lit up as bright as day. Only it wasn't blue, it was . . . colorless.
He looked back down toward the horizon. The whole suburbian block, and the blocks beyond, looked like a black-and-white movie filmed in broad daylight. He could see every detail as though it were daytime. This was crazy. What was happening? He started to quiver with impending panic. Then, he looked down at his own body.
His own body wasn't his own body anymore.
Instead, he now had the body of . . . of . . . a woman. Her legs, and her arms, were covered in shiny metal, except for her bare elbows and knees. Her torso, likewise, had a shiny metal covering that fit its curvaceous form exactly, like a one-piece bathing suit. It looked an awful lot like that woman's body from the dream he had last night, with the aliens and the bright paralyzing light.
He held the right forearm up in front of his face. The metal wasn't just shiny, it was mirrorlike. He could see, bent like in a funhouse mirror, his own reflection. The face was a woman's face. It was that woman's face. With the cascading blonde hair; and the pretty, womanly features; and those eerie, blank, triangular eyes.
Holy cats. It hadn't been a dream. He really had been tractor-beamed by a flying saucer last night. They really had merged a woman's body with his, somehow; and singing "I am woman" to the wrong tune, and clapping his hands together over his head, had swapped his body with hers. He reached out and felt his feminine right hand. It felt like real human skin, pliable and warm to the touch and everything. It still looked eerily off in this black-and-white night vision, though. Maybe that was how those yellow triangular eyes viewed the world. The glowing sky was consistent with how the world might look in the ultraviolet.
Mark's house looked equally eerie. Mark. And Georgina. They hadn't come outside to check on the thunderclap. Had he been the only one who could hear it? It was a bit of a relief, actually. He didn't feel ready to be seen like th—
Then a panicked gasp escaped from his new, feminine throat. Did Steve's body even exist at all any more? Was it even possible to change back? Willing his voice to sing "I am woman" to the same wrong tune again, he clapped his hands together over his head. The hands didn't glow, the sky didn't flash. Nothing. He was still . . . her. And as a side note, when he'd sang the short line, the notes had come out nearly an octave higher than his normal singing voice. It was a woman's voice.
No no no no. He shook his head. This can't be happening. I don't want to be a man trapped in a woman's body for the rest of my life! In the grip of panic, he yelped, "I'm a man!" and pounded his fists together.
And in that instant, the sky flashed again for two or three seconds, and it was night. In color. Steve's shirtsleeves had returned to his hairy, manly arms. His body was once again his own; the woman's, nowhere to be seen. Steve breathed hard with surprise and relief. He had to tell —
No. He couldn't tell anyone. Especially Georgina. He couldn't let his girlfriend know about . . . about . . . well, about the other woman. There was no way she'd understand. As far as she and Mark were concerned, Steve had just gone outside for a couple of minutes of fresh air. Now that he knew how to change into the woman's body and back, he could try it again later when he had time to be alone. He walked back inside, sat back down, and continued their poker game as though nothing had happened.
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