by Paul Di Filippo and Damien Broderick
From: The Beadle Monger
To: Local Secundus
Subject: Brane Breakthrough
Let’s get this effort on the road. The team has been futzing about far too long. The Faith Gambit pissed itself up against a wall for 3000 local years, and the Science Trope has just about done for them far more quickly. I need a Brane Breakthrough, and I want it now. I suggest you take a closer look at candidate Jeremiah (“Jay”) Cornelius, Registered Earth Sentient 2744692043.
From: Local Secundus
To: Lord Beadle Monger
Subject: Brane Breakthrough
Your Eminence, the department has developed a plan for your consideration. Please see Attachment 5338.
From: The Beadle Monger
To: Local Secundus
Subject: Cornelius Brain
Very droll. A pun in their native language, quant suff! Proceed at pace. I want to see a working Messiah before the Galactic Ginnungagap Event closes the Brane Potential Portal and we lose that universe.
Jay made a beast of himself during dinner. Nobody there except Tim had the faintest interest in the tedious horrors of toiling in the bowels of Henry McKinley’s disgusting empire. Least interested of all: long-suffering wife Jessie.
If you don’t like working there, man, get another job, she thought but did not say. God knows, she was complicit. They needed the money, and it wasn’t going to come from her PhD scholarship. Jessie gazed remotely at her plate, moving a fragment of gristle about the rim. After a time she began to polish her serrated steak knife with a paper napkin. A sort of rough dandruff floated from the napkin to the tablecloth. Annie’s glance snared her drifting, absent soul. With a start, Jessie put the knife aside, pushed back her chair, took herself away to the bathroom for a quarter of an hour. Jay, more than half-drunk on Chardonnay, babbled about masturbation magazines and their destruction by free pr0n on the internet.
On the Metra home (at least he hadn’t attempted to drive, although he was too mean to call a cab, justifying it by a monologue of dubious ecological reasoning), Jessie bleakly examined the ears of the brown, nodding Eastern European man across from her, next to the door between cars. At the first shrieking corner the door ratcheted, groaned, abruptly found within itself some magical lubricant and sped like a calving one-dimensional iceberg to crash back into its slot. The abrupt jolt was more psychic than physical; it bruised her. She looked at Jay, who was staring in befuddled pleasure at the smeared streetlights, their virtual reality. He failed her gaze. She stood up, pulled angrily at the door. It rolled slightly out of its slot, stuck. On the next curve it crashed fully closed. If the man with the ears had extended his foot into the doorway, Jessie thought, his bones would have been broken by the impact.
They were nothing like a beast’s ears. No beast she knew of. The man’s head was bald and smooth, regular as some Eastern church’s dome. Mosque. At his fringes, the last of his hair was as crimped and curly as, presumably, the hair at his groin. Shit no. On his arms, then. His back. She didn’t like him. His feet stuck out into the space where other people might wish to walk, could trip, tumble painfully as the tram turned a corner, might at the very least be obliged to step awkwardly. His ears were very human ears. The ears heard nothing at the moment, of course, because the man was asleep. Was that possible? Asleep on the tram. On the Metra. You can go anywhere within reason. He could easily miss his stop.
“She’s certainly a very interesting woman,” Jay said.
“How would you know?”
“Know what, precisely?”
Oh, Jessie saw in his mind, you’re in one of your moods, are you? One of your incomprehensible, incalculable, unplumbable, fathomless, mysterious, womanly moods. Nothing is as it seems, nothing conveys its own transparent truth.
You prick, she thought.
If the Metra went away all the smeared reds and greens and mercury vapor shapes might be stars floating at the edge of a surging swell, salt at the back of her tongue, endless flowing steppes of grass dark and mysterious and shadowed with beasts with ears like hairy Euclidean theorems, lolling tongues, no doubt, and flowing manes, Christ; and its discontents, its woes, its nasty little mean-spirited toads.
She takes the steak knife from her bag. It has been cleaned to a certain brilliance. The door crashes open again. Jessie imagines taking a single step across the aisle. Jay is watching the night. The cry would be in no language she has ever heard. Hot and wet. Rubbery. It would come free in her hand. The man’s eyes open now, staring at her, shifting his feet back under his seat. The train accelerates around a curve and back again. The door crashes and crashes.
Jessie imagines herself holding out the moist ear, a gift really. Jay would watch the man bleeding into his cupped, clawing hand.
“Well, I thought she was interesting,” he’d tell her, oblivious.
Luminous fish with rubbery lips hung from the heavens, a school of grinning, finny clown-specters. The leader squeaked like a vinyl dog toy, and said, “Jay Cornelius! I will pheromone no Eve girl!”
A dark bird of omen, sharply winged like a stealth killer drone, swooped through the dimming sky and began to gobble the squealing panicky fish with a capacious maw. Without conscious summoning of associations, Jay Cornelius knew this raptor to be an emissary of that beneficent personage known as “the Beadle Monger.” Despite its predatory actions, the bird must therefore be doing good.
“I love you,” cried Jay Cornelius, laughing joyously. He flung up the heavy Rasta locks from his velvet shoulders. “You are the wind beneath my wigs!”
“You fool.” Stately, anfractuous Jimmy Brunner scowled. He descended a sigma sequence, a Planck egg in one hand, his swollen member in the other. “You don’t even know what anfractuous means. Think, man.”
Slightly embarrassed, Cornelius temporized. “You’re right, but let us consider the roots. ‘An-’ suggests negation. ‘Fract-’ might be a break, a cleft, a cleavage, a…well, a fracture. So you can’t be smashed?”
Now, shielded from any surveillance from the sky, the two men clung together under the bridge, smooching wetly, clasping each the other’s gigantic, equine, throbbing manhood. The satisfaction of a climax seemed imminent—
“What the hell?” groaned Jay, waking. A gay Harlequin paperback dream? With babbling fish? And someone absurdly named “the Beadle Monger?” His subconscious was generally as disciplined as a Marine drill sergeant. Why this weird outburst, and why now? And who the fuck was Jimmy Brunner? Nobody he knew, had ever heard of, let alone–
His tongue and the roof of his palate were bone dry: he’d been sleeping with his damn mouth open again. These filthy allergies. His nostrils and eyes were swollen all but shut. The sensation of bristled lips pressing against his still rankled. “Oh my god. That’s not me.”
Half-dark still, early morning. Turning his head to find Jessie snoring faintly. Continuing to mumble his apologetic credo. “I mean, I swear to god I’m no gay basher, but for fuck’s sake—” Under the sheets, he was unequivocally—albeit unequinely— erect. He nudged his wife. She replied in her sleep, “Humph?” and rolled his way. He pushed up her nightie.
“Open to me, my sister, for my need is sore great.”
She woke and punched him. “I ain’t nobody’s sister, jerk, least of all yours. What time is it?”
“Come on, my darling, let me at you. You would not wish to connive in the sin of Onan, I trust?”
“Five minutes only,” she said, and gave him a smelly après le sommeil kiss.
“Ninety seconds,” he promised, “as usual on these occasions,” and spat on his fingers. He returned her kiss and caressed her, lathering, heaved up beneath the autumnal covers, entered, plunged, made good his promise, fell back. “Ah my dearest girl. Later for you, I swear. No good deed shall go un…”
“Punished?” But she was falling into sleep again, her own dreams, no doubt, just as full of twisty turns and windings.
“Rewarded,” said Jay Cornelius. In a minute he’d get up and check his email and google anfractuous. Where does this stuff come from? he asked himself and, remembering then some small part of the vanishing dream, groaned. Jiminy Bullard, was it? Where the hell does it come from? Jessie’s damned incessant gender research, maybe.
Laughing quietly, Jessie scans into a Word doc a passage from Edmund White’s The Beautiful Room Is Empty.
I had to put on a leather harness, stick a swan feather up my john’s ass, and call him “Pretty Peacock” as he strutted proudly about, cocking his head from side to side like a bird while wanking off in an all too human way. Fifty bucks for me and seventy for Lou who, after all, had organized the party.
She is up to her elbows in unlikely gender research material. These guys do seem to confuse their bodily secretions. On the morning after a rowdy party in the largely gay high rise apartment building where he was living, one New York writer reveals, the elevator floor was awash in urine.
Their own dwelling, hers and Jay’s, is on the nose as well, though for less lubricious reasons. After only a week or so of fruitless emails and phone calls (“Okay, lady, she’ll be right, see y’ soon, sweetheart, oh sorry, look, we’ll try for the next clear day, eh?”) her builder Robert O’Kelly Branagan, Esq and his jobbie or rather sub contractor, a handsome hunk of bronzed expertise with a powered hydraulic nailing device, named Kyle if such a thing is credible, had appeared at the tolerable hour of 10 a.m. and tore into the roof’s shoulder blades with such venom that soon the whole horrid thing lay in splinters in the concrete far below, where she stood at some risk snapping away with her nifty Nikon (as if for a forthcoming article, perhaps in the Tribune lifestyle supplement, on remodeling your inner city Chicago pied–à–terre), and a drafty smelly hole was revealed or created through which she cavorted bearing bulging plastic bags, happily quite light, of high thermal capacity mineral wool batts that she helped strew among the rafters, coughing and near to puking owing to quantities of dead birds, molted feathers, old dispersed nests, grime, Neanderthal men’s bones and the like. Meanwhile young Kyle was nipping and tucking, sawing and hydraulicking, not a handtool in sight. Art in the age of mechanical reproduction, she thought, and laughed quietly to herself.
The meeting that morning with Henry McKinley went poorly for Jay. Miserably, in fact. An agonizing death would be a blessing by comparison. He caught himself. Such a sentiment, he suspected, could be regarded as counterindicative of job satisfaction.
Henry McKinley ruled over the Groper Media empire like Genghis Khan over trampled Eurasia, although with less gentility. The comparison was particularly apt, given Henry’s full-blooded Asian heritage—Uighur, to be specific. Adopted and rechristened at a young age by Western parents from the ruins of Urumqi after the Han Chinese had leveled the rebellious city, Henry had grown to nominal adulthood pampered and puffed-up. His native lateral intelligence allowed him to find the easiest path to any selfish goal, and to avoid hard work or any peaks of morality. He had been perfectly fitted to become a magnate in the new style of cyber-publishing. Today, Groper Media ran a passel of salacious or sensationalistic sites, such as Cunning Runts, Root and Tell, Fork Estate, and Mindlezz Pleazurez. The ad revenue from the gossipy, tawdry, eye-candy-filled venues had bought Henry a yacht (the Canoodle Canoe), a beautiful brownstone in Chicago’s ritzy Lincoln Park district, a fleet of Lexuses (Lexi? wondered Jay, willy-nilly), and three mistresses, each of a different and complementary ethnicity.
Meanwhile the same enterprise had, over the last five years, provided Jay Cornelius, online editor and all-purpose whipping boy, with sixty-five thousand a year before taxes, a modest house undergoing renovations in Naperville, a monthly pass on the Metra, and wife Jessie. The continuance of all of the preceding relied, naturally, on pleasing Henry McKinley. Which today was just not happening.
Henry’s fierce mustachios, cultivated precisely to engender racial memories of Mongol savagery, thus reducing subjects to a jelly-like state, quivered as he addressed Jay. “Have you gone fucking gay on me, Cornelius?”
The hyperbolic and clichéd accusation, merely one of Henry’s standard taunts, resonated strangely with Jay today, after last night’s disturbing dream.
“What makes you say that? I thought the layout for the Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus spanking session was hot.”
“Hot? Yeah—if you were thirteen fucking years old! Who did the photoshopping on that anyhow? A blind monkey with simian AIDS and his head up his ass?”
From the back of the room, an intern named Huddleston timorously raised his hand. “Uh, that would be me, sir. . . ”
“You’re out of here. Go to HR and collect your check.”
“But, sir, I don’t get paid . . . .”
“Then just blow!”
After Huddleston slinked out, Henry turned back to Jay. The hapless editor could feel the eyes of everyone else in the room boring holes of pity, schadenfreude and terror-stoked disaffiliation into his living corpse.
“Cornelius, you’re damned lucky not to be following Hudnut out that door.”
Am I? thought Jay.
“You know damn fucking well that the only reason anyone visits our sites is because we continually push the envelope of good taste and libel. If we run PG-thirteen pap like this, what will that do to our Google Analytics? True, I intend to run Groper into the ground. But not quite yet, and not with lame ass posts like this. Do you understand now what’s expected of you?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Well, say it then! What’s our fucking cri de coeur, man? Our goddamn pole star!”
Jay found the puerile words as unpalatable as fetid garbage, but was forced to utter them anyhow. “Tell it—tell it like it’s jizz.”
“Fucking ay! Now, get back to work. And get fifty percent more nip slip and camel toe in there!”
Back in his upholstered veal-fattening pen, Jay Cornelius laid his head upon his desk and silently wept for precisely thirty indulgent seconds. Luckily, his back was to the shared aisle and any passersby. When he raised his reddened eyes, the first thing he saw was a picture of Jessie. So he returned to work, ordering a re-shoot of the simulated celebrity catfight with fifty percent more of the mandated lascivious ingredients.
His spirits revived, briefly and somewhat guiltily, on the Metra train home that evening. Usually Jay drowsed, stunned into stupidity and resentment by the day’s grotesque demands. Now he opened his weary eyes as a strange rustle went through the car, murmurs and one squeal. A gust of perfume galvanized his allergy-stricken nostrils, and someone dropped into the seat beside him. Jay glanced sidelong, blinked, felt his jaw loosen, looked away, looked back. The young woman ignored his glance. She was fantastically gorgeous. Jay felt his reason totter. Impossible! On an evening Metra route? Wait a minute. It had to be a photo shoot. Vox pop video, something viral for YouTube. He didn’t want to be filmed as the sort of idiot who stands behind a celebrity holding up rabbit ear fingers behind her head, so instead he let his eyes shuttle back and forth in search of the AV devices. Doing that he probably looked just as dorkish, he thought in self-reproof. But he couldn’t hold his incredulous curiosity back a moment longer. He was a journalist, after all. Sort of. He turned, feeling a fatuous grin on his face, unable to block it, and said, “Excuse me, aren’t you—”
“Girly D’joan,” the pop diva said wearily. Her voice was electrifying. “Don’t tell me your name, bozo, I’m not interested. Frankly, I’m bushed. You want to know why I’m on the Metra instead of coddled with a limousine, but this badge I’m wearing on my left breast which you are far too bourgeois and inhibited to look at declares my allegiance to the principle of Carbon Frugality, which I trust answers your question. Also that guy on the other side of the aisle who looks like a gorilla on steroids is my bodyguard, Slim Harry, and he’s packing a taser. Just saying. Have a nice rest of the day.” All this canned diatribe, which was surely rehearsed, came at him without a single glance from her famously dazzling icicle eyes. Something slammed into the window. Jay jumped.
A smear of dark blood. More thuds. Birds were tumbling from the sky, dozens of them, plummeting in the faded light, hundreds, maybe thousands.
Ms. D’joan gazed impassively past him. “Another avian toxic death event,” she murmured to Slim Harry, who’d instantly loomed at her side, protective and immense. “Good thing we took the Metra instead of driving.” Multitudes of birds were still flinging themselves at the ground, clanging against steel roof and sides, splattering blood. A window cracked but failed to shatter.
Ahead of the train, rattled by the same suicidal flock, one Sal Travett, behind the wheel of a ten-year-old Kia, tried to slip under the closed gates at a grade crossing and got stuck in the path of Jay’s train. The Metra locomotive made short work of Sal and his Kia, but an undetected weak spot in one of the buckling rails caused the car containing Jay, Girly, Slim Harry and a score of other riders to jackknife, punching a metal-edged folding tray completely through Jay’s midriff, nearly severing him in two.
The Beadle Monger cradled Jay Cornelius’s head in its infinitely large, infinitely soft lap, while Jimmy Brunner caressed Jay’s fevered brow. “There, there,” whispered Jimmy, “it’s not as bad as all that. Just take it easy, and you’ll soon be whole again.”
Jay raised his head up tentatively and looked down upon himself. He was saddened but not surprised to find that he had no body below the neatly truncated waist. He tried to express his feelings about this, but could not speak.
Brunner began softly to sing. “Oh, it’s no feat to beat the heat. All reet! All reet! So jeet your seet, be fleet, be fleet—cool and discreet, Honey…”
The warbled lyrics soothed Jay, and he began to relax—until Jimmy saw fit to administer a cure. The male nurse clutched what appeared to be a grinning moray eel, large around as Jay’s forearm. Now he tried to feed it head first down Jay’s throat.
Gagging as the eel’s snout passed his lips, struggling for breath, Jay rebelled, thrashing futilely without legs, like a character out of a Tod Browning film.
“Cool and discreet, Honey,” sang Brunner, as he impossibly threaded the eel down Jay’s throat—
“Please sit down, Mrs. Cornelius,” said the doctor, grave face sunlamp-tanned. “This gentleman is Dr. Hare, our Ethics Officer. Let me offer you—” He pressed an open box of Kleenex toward her side of the desk. Jessie took one, swallowed, blew her nose.
“Ms. Kanavan,” she said. “Call me Jessie, Dr. Wu. I want to see Jay. Why won’t the bastards let me?”
“Jessie, you do understand that your husband was in the very gravest condition when we began the surgery three days ago. Please let me be blunt. We were obliged to perform what is called a craniectomy—” He broke off, coughed. “Your husband’s lower torso was severed almost entirely just below the ribs. Very fortunately, we had a compatible donor, who suffered a massive internal brain injury in the same train accident and whose—”
“God damn it, why didn’t you let him just die?” She was weeping again. Bent over, clutching her own belly. It felt torn open.
“Well, you must understand, Ms. Kana—Jessie,” the Ethics Officer told her, offended. “The Hippocratic oath. This facility’s top surgical team has been preparing for another incident of this kind for five months. Your husband will receive the best—”
“My husband the guinea pig! You’re telling me you stitched him onto some dead woman’s lower body.”
Wu regarded her. “This was a far more serious and complex procedure, Mrs…. Jessie. Fortunately, recent outstanding work with stem cells allows us to anticipate fully functional regrowth of anastomozed neurological structures subserving the—”
“What? What are you babbling about?”
“We originally planned to graft his head to the neck of the donor. That proved infeasible for a number of— In lay persons’ terms, Jessie, we transplanted his brain.”
She sank back in her chair, faint, ill with horror.
“You fucking shits,” she shouted at him. “You’ve given him a woman’s body? What makes you think he’ll want to live like this?”
“A rather sexist objection, don’t you think, Ms. Kanavan?” said the Ethics advisor.
Jessie was on her feet, enraged, hands extended and clawed, making sounds even she did not recognize as words. Dr. Wu rose, too, made shushing motions with his expert surgical hands. “We have many months of recuperation ahead of us,” he said. “You will both adjust. It is a sort of miracle, you know. If this terrible accident had happened anywhere else, your husband would indeed have died within minutes, hours at best. We brought him back from the brink. And that poor woman’s death—
“Such a generous donor family!” said Dr. Hare.
“—is not entirely in vain, not now.”
REPORTER: So what’s that shiny thing sticking out of the top of Girly’s head? Looks like someone left half a hatchet stuck there.
DR. WU: His head. The patient is Mr. Jay Cornelius. His identity is unchanged. Ms. D’joan is deceased. Let me remind you that the donor’s identity is strictly embargoed. It will not be published, and there will be no photographs! You have all signed–
REPORTER: Hey, come on, he’s got tits. Great tits.
REPORTER: So’ve you, Billy. Time to cut back on the Quarterpounders.
REPORTER: Yeah, but Girly’s are better. What a waste.
DR. WU: Gentlemen! And ladies! Please, some decorum. This is a patient who has recently undergone an immensely stressful operation, as the videos you’ve just viewed demonstrated. Now the fellow from the Post asked about the microwave reflector inserted into the cranium between the two halves of Mr. Cornelius’s brain.
REPORTER: It’s a Space Age Mohawk!
DR. WU: What you see is the outer portion of a steel microwave reflector that has been positioned with exacting care to avoid damaging the corpus callosum, which joins the twin hemi—
REPORTER: Keep it simple, doc. We’re not all from The New York Times.
DR. WU: Very well. Let me explain. In simple terms, we had to open the top of the skull to allow the traumatized brain to expand, as it does after injury. In order to effect the transfer without further deterioration, the patient’s brain had to be cooled to nearly freezing point, as was explained in the video for those of you who kept up. Now, the stainless steel plate acts as a heat sink and a reflector for the 4GHz microwave—that’s 7.5 cm–as well as a temperature control device. Following the Gregory Jones cranial protocol, the microwave beam is collimated with a simple catadioptric collimator, and we use the reflected pi-phase-synchronizedmicrowaves from the central plate to interfere destructively at the center of the brain with the incoming non-reflected beam—
Medical Diary of Patient 005: Entry #17
Magritte is the prophet of my life. The shards of his broken window, each shattered portion of burst pane thick with the paint strokes of sky, trees, grass, the world; everything ordinary broken yet nothing lost, everything refracted and held, ruined, beneath the raped window. Holograms of indecipherable meaning.
Magritte is the prophet. His bland civil servants falling in eerie quiet through the sweet, undubious sky, bowlered and umbrella’d. Filthy Magritte in his own business suit and the oiled tip of his brush.
The “corporeal face.” Do you know that terrible painting, that piercing painting? My portrait. The hair like some damned socialite’s winter coat, framing and tumbling about the Face, the Face, the round blind breasts staring back at me below the brow of the shoulders, the unscented nostrils of the navel, that pubic beard with its pursed, hidden mouth, its toothless lacking mouth… Let’s see Jessie cite her fave psychiatrist Lacan when she reads this.
I broke the mirror with my small bloodied fists. They brought the mirror to my room last night and left it here. They told me the time had come to get used to reality. Enough denial. Life is better than death in a ruinous accident. How ungrateful I was to turn my face away from the world to which I had been retrieved with all the surgical skill of wonderful hands cutting open my wrecked cranium and cupping my bloody brain and slopping it into an impossibly handy histocompatible corpse. But nothing is improbable once it’s happened. Break down these walls of denial! Implosion therapy, it’s called. Beyond a certain point, they implied, coddling has a bad track record. One of their early triumphs, the whispering rumors tell me, found a nail file in her handbag and before they got to her almost had her penis sawed off. Oh God, shit. The fucking feckless bastards.
At least they’ve taken out the famous “Space Age Mohawk” and screwed my skull back together. Her skull. Nobody mentions her name but I know that face, even with the bandages. Sitting right beside me, poor bitch. Skull itches like a bastard.
Jessie leaves messages every day, comes in two or three times a week. Of course I refuse to see her. Your wife called, they tell me. Your wife. I’d like you to meet Mrs. Jessie Kanavan Cornelius and her wife, Mrs. Jay Girly Cornelius.
The mirrored glass didn’t stay on the carpet long enough for me to put any of its slivers into my filthy new body. Clean orderlies. They watch everything through cameras which they make absolutely no attempt to hide. Implosion therapy. Panopticon therapy, Jessie would call it. That damned Frog Foucault. Undoubtedly they’ll be pawing through these notes the moment they give me my injection. They’ll love that line about filthy new bodies. Stick the injection in. Sleepytime, Jay. Shut eyes. There’s a good girl.
From: The Beadle Monger
To: All Employees
Subject: Jay Cornelius
I am not pleased. Not pleased at all. You are not trying hard enough. Not by a long shot. I have plans for this one. Large and extensive plans. We all know the drill. A new Messiah is called for upon my favorite test planet, and I am convinced Cornelius has the makings. A certain mundane and self-centered insanity. A perverse genius for creating disturbing new parables of existential unease, longing and dread. A new hybrid physiology. (Very important! Take note!) Wide semiotic bandwidth. Look at him/her, people! What better raw material could I give you to work with!?! It took a hell of a long time for me to set up the plausible concatenation of circumstances, the cascade of bad luck, the woman on the train, the dead birds, all the shit that would make this possible. And you guys are blowing it! Cornelius is slipping away into a funk of self-pity and mordant despair. What happened to the guy who chortled at the luminous fish, and passionately embraced the Brunner eidolon? We need that fellow back in harness!
Let’s get that dreamscape romance going again! Fast!
And don’t tell me that Unknown Kadath wasn’t built in a day!
The new drug the nurses gave Jay Cornelius during the second week of his/her post-op mental struggles was one of the recently developed ultrapotent anti-depressives, an acetylcholine uptake enhancer. Irrational and bitter, he/she struggled womanfully against the injection, unfamiliar undermuscled arms flailing, breasts getting in the way, but was unable to thwart the burly orderlies. The drug was intended to induce a kind of passive state of mental beneficence, but had the unforeseen effect on Jay of rendering him/her utterly flatline, heart as pulseless as a stone, starving cells screaming shrilly.
While the hospital staff rushed about madly with defibrillators and oxygen tanks, and the clinic’s spokesperson hastily prepared a worst-case speech, Jay was very busy elsewhere.
Polychromatic water glistened and heaved like billows of luscious, nigh-edible acrylics: goldenrod, magenta, periwinkle. A sun like the Google Chrome logo blazed in the sky. The big luminous fish, hefty as barracuda, were swarming ashore to breed, and the human harvesters of L’Almadrava cove were waiting, spears poised.
Several feet offshore, skirt pulled up and tied between her bare, wet, bronzed legs, white blouse pasted to her nubile breasts, her toes gripping the shifting, sucking sands, Jayne hefted her own pole nervously. Her first harvest. She was only sixteen. Would she comport herself well? The future prosperity of the village rested partially on her shoulders.
A rough male hand dropped upon one of those very shoulders now. As if reading her mind, Jaime Brunelli said, “Your stance is bold, little one. But the angle of your spear lacks a certain, ah, utility. I predict impalement of your own delicate foot upon the first thrust. Here, let me adjust your cast.”
Big hairy arms enveloped her, along with the musk of male sweat. Jayne trembled. Jaime Brunelli was one of L’Almadrava’s most handsome and desirable bachelors. The fiery way he had danced at the last festival— Jayne found the sea-engendered wetness between her legs taking on new hormonal qualities.
But before she could respond either coquettishly or haughtily to Brunelli’s suggestive help, the first battalion of luminous fish were upon them. With a bull-like battle cry, Brunelli disengaged, and Jayne was left on her own.
The first rainbow fish that reached her began to plead for its life, as was the wont of these creatures. It employed a human tongue, but to produce gibberish.
“Beep me the be-bop downlow, sister! Raster the roster! It’s a treat to beat my milt on the Missus’s eggy strand! Oh, no, don’t pierce my male maidenhead!”
Ignoring the siren tones of the fish, using both hands on her hard shaft, Jayne plunged her razored spearhead down and into the fish’s back, at just the designated point to sever its spine. Her blow was fine and forceful, and the fish ceased its spasmodic mating dance, beginning a prolonged expiration at her feet like some war captive at the feet of a Roman princess.
“Ai, bonita! I flounder! The word for the world is tuna! Monkey see, sea monkey do!”
Jayne disregarded the pathetic gasps and inane drivel, and continued to stab and slice. Soon, a mound of fishy carcasses surrounded her, putting other victims beyond her reach. Thin fishy sparkling blood threaded the waters in an abattoir’s aquarelle. She tried to clamber over the bodies, but only collapsed wearily upon the scaly pile, unaware of time’s passing until familiar hands cupped her under her arms (and against her breasts!) and raised her up, totally out of the water.
“My little goddess! Victory is thine! You shined like Venus. No, like Bellona! Your ancestors are grinning in heaven!”
Jayne was suddenly shivering, despite the heat of the day. Instinctively, she wrapped her lithe legs around Brunelli’s treetrunk torso and hugged him to her.
He whispered in her ear. “You were made a hunter today, but I will make you a woman tonight!”
It seemed the interval between the end of the catch and the village celebration in the plaza passed in mere seconds, and when Jayne found herself in the fragrant shadow of a lime tree, kissing Jaime Brunelli with fervid languor, she could sense her destiny unfolding. When he raised her fine skirts and stuck two rough fingers up her wet vagina, she came close to fainting. And when he followed that invasion with the whole rushed length of his thick penis, leaping unleashed from his own gaily decorated trews, she finally did indeed lose consciousness of her whole world.
Jay Cornelius’s latest dream had left him/her somewhat gentled, filled with an odd combination of waning remorse, waxing resignation and acceptance, dwindling suicidal impulses, and a barely germinating interest in and excitement about her/his personal future, an emotion tender and crushable as the first pale sprout of a maidenhair fern. Additionally, the brute compulsion of a healing, nicely toned body supplemented the blossoming good spirits.
Lying in bed, she/he poked at the still-vivid memory of life in the fishing village, Jayne’s piscine conquests and arboreal defloration. Some sense of eternal recurrence lingered, a lineage larger than himself. Life had gone on in such a fashion since the dawn of human history, for men and women alike, each grappling gender playing their part. Who was Jay Cornelius to fight such immemorial rituals? Just because he had involuntarily switched sides in the old competition, he had no solid right to complain. Happened to a limited number of citizens all the time, at their own instigation. Nip and tuck, fold and invert, extrude and stretch, plump and polish . . . .
Of course he spent some time exploring his new body, as the nerve attachments to his brain strengthened, clarified their renewed identity, pulsed from numbness to dulled medicated aches and twinges and at last into a palette of prods, pinches, strokes, soothing, fondlings. Of course his fingers caressed those fabulous boobs, swept down to touch, titillate, enter the exciting, terrifying complex emptiness where his brain gibbered that his penis should be. But it wasn’t like the dream of fervent lusty girlhood. Yes, there were some of those sensations he’d tried to turn into market fodder for the Groper Media empire and his odious boss McKinley, but mostly it was like trying to tickle yourself. His brain literally didn’t know if he was coming or going. If he was Arthur or Martha. He took his fingers away from his vagina and sighed.
At that moment, Jay decided firmly and spontaneously on one simple thing, easily within his/her limited grasp. Pronouns. At least she could be a she. Simplify, simplify, for accuracy’s sake and ease of conversation. After all, what mattered more, the meaty mass of corpore or the smaller quantity of mens? Even that organic, formerly male brain was now awash in the female chemicals and hormones this body pumped out, laved by a luteal lake.
And so Jay determinedly became Jayne herself. A certain straining tension immediately evanesced.
Over the next few days her concerned handlers, noting the “progress,” let up on the meds and allowed more privileges.
Such as getting attired in loose grey sweats and sitting up in this cheerful, sunny lounge, to receive her first real visitor.
Henry McKinley, togged out even more pavoninely than usual, as if in deference to some imagined girlish heart-flutter susceptibility of his interviewee (Jayne admitted the publisher did carry clothes well), brazened into the lounge with his usual air of bestrider-of-worlds. But Jayne thought to detect, beneath the macho bluster, a layer of nervous uncertainty and ego-failure. Had Henry always radiated this self-denying put-down-ability, or was it something new, engendered by Jayne’s unique circumstances?
Oh. My. God. Was this insight a case of feminine intuition coming into play? Faintly suspect. No evident logic. Impossible to spreadsheet. Could be useful, though . . .
McKinley thrust out something he had carried behind his back. An enormously expensive box of Godiva chocolates. “Take it! Jessie said they were your favorites, even before this titanic fuck-up.”
Jayne felt her mouth watering. Nice to see Jayne’s body’s tastes conformed to Jay’s.
This body. The stranger’s eyes she hid behind. Who had the donor really been, in her short extravagant life, her legacy of accomplishments and relatives and friends, of dreams and hopes? For the first time since their mutual tragedy, Jayne resolved to think at least a little less about herself and more about the famous young woman she inhabited.
Henry pulled up a chair and sat down, his knees almost touching hers. He leaned forward, intruding into her personal space. What an obvious boor! Still, his interest was flattering.
“So you’ve been talking to Jessie?”
“Damn straight! Couldn’t talk to you, could I, lost in that self-pitying fugue. My god, Jay—”
“Whatever. Don’t you realize what you almost threw away by vegging out and indulging in Britney-Spears-magnitude hissy-fits like that? You are the number one media sensation of the millennium! Or at least of this year. All the other freaks like you who survived—sorry, I mean ‘lucky beneficiaries of modern medical wizardry’—have proven hideously unsuitable for inspiring the semi-grossed-out adulation by Joe Sixpack and Jane Soccer Mom. Either the bodies were less than optimally hot, or the brains belonged to rat bastards, or both. The worst case was that embezzling bigamist transplanted into the trailer-park mother of seven. Eeeyeuw! But look at you! A smart, sane guy in a smokin’ bod!” Henry paused a moment and looked quizzically at Jayne. “You are still sane, aren’t you? No, don’t answer that! We can work around anything! Where was I? Oh, yeah, so here you are, with the gifts of the fucking gods in your lap—ha, your lap, that’s rich!—and you’re like, ‘Oh, no, woe is me, I don’t have a dick anymore, I miss the old sub-average third leg which I never used anyhow except to dip into the stale wifey once a week tops.’“
Jayne felt a surge of anger at this rude characterization of both her quondam private member and the uses to which it had been put. But then, miraculously, some kind of estrogen-based counter-surge of tolerance and humor overcame the anger, and she smiled.
“Okay, bossman, so I’m incredibly lucky. What about it?”
Henry McKinley held his head as if to prevent it from exploding. “What about it?!? What about it!?! Haven’t you been working for me for five years? What did I teach you? Didn’t you absorb even a gnat’s ass’s worth of savvy from me? You are going to assign to Groper Media all representation of you and your incredibly sexy-sad story, and we are going to ride this to fame and fortune and megastar-fuckability. I can say that to you, can’t I? You’re still Jay Cornelius inside that pretty little head, aren’t you?”
“Mostly. But why should I necessarily pick Groper to handle my story? Shouldn’t I start a bidding war? Man, this is the body of Girly D’joan! And I’m right here. Talk about an inside scoop!”
Henry seemed genuinely taken aback. “Jayne, do you really think there’s anyone out there with more sleaze-marketing expertise than yours truly? This is the story I was born to ride!”
Jayne pondered this honest and unsparing self-assessment. She realized that she no longer hated Henry, but only pitied him. Fuller comprehension of his drives and character had brought tolerance.
“Let me hear some of your marketing plans,” said Jayne. “And don’t spare the dirt.”
From: The Beadle Monger
To: All Employees
Subject: Jayne Cornelius
I am highly pleased, highly pleased indeed! Operation Androgyne Messiah is back on track! Big kudos to all relevant departments: creative, fieldwork, grok-meld, scanalytics, sevagram programming and astral bookkeeping. Bonuses to be dispersed according to seniority, with highest senior grades receiving no less than one hundred quanta of karmic fluxion.
Please keep up the good work as we move ahead into the next stages of our campaign of enforced enlightenment.
Jayne felt like a hundred million dollars, which was appropriate given yesterday’s judicial verdict confirming her sole ownership of all her donor’s worldly possessions. This still struck her as an insane decision, but she wasn’t complaining. All the usual biometrics declared that she was, indeed, beyond question, Girly D’joan, alive and well and almost fully recovered, her fingerprints and retinal scans and DNA genomic profile unaltered by the dreadful accident. Yes, she now had a different brain, but then similarly, too, all those other transplant patients had grafted kidneys or hearts, and nobody expected them to waive their legal rights of full possession and enjoyment thereof. Henry McKinley had spared no expense in hiring the best law firm and suborning the most pliable judge in Chicago.
But thoughts of wealth and borrowed fame were a distraction. Jayne Cornelius rolled out her Pilates mat, dropped into position, and allowed the energy of oxygen to pass into her blood and tissues. And they were hers now, every cell and corpuscle. Calm, calm. Concentration. Control. Center. Flow. Precision. And the soothing, energizing pulse of breath.
“Jay. Jayne. Christ, sorry, should have knocked.” In the doorway, Jessie gazed down at her former husband raised full length from the mat in a Shoulder Bridge, right foot squarely on the floor, perfect left leg raised perfectly in alignment through her elevated torso and hip, left toes pointed like a ballerina’s. “My god, Jayne,” she said in a tone of confusion, “you’re hot, man.”
A raw sexual jolt went through Jayne’s vagina, roared up her spine, clobbered her diaphragm and lungs en route, brought her to the floor with a crunch. This was nothing like her abortive attempts to touch herself. This was that dream, brought to life–Jaime Brunelli of L’Almadrava. But not a rough, beautiful man from a fantasy. Her wife. Jessie. She felt… wet.
“Come here, you,” she said, and rolled to her feet, lithe and poised with the body of a 22 year old diva. They fell upon each other with hot mouths. After a long raging moment Jessie batted away her hand.
“This is wrong, Jay! You’re a girl!”
“I thought you were the expert in gender confusion,” Jayne said, withdrawing, pouting despite herself, chagrined. “And what’s the probability of that, anyway?”
“It’s a popular course,” Jessie said. She backed away, found a chair, sat primly, watched her husband, her wife, in that sparkling sequined leotard cut in a lewd slash from her sharp hips all the way down to—”Your lawyer called. Congratulations on the decision.”
“Thank you. Jessie, I want you to know that—”
“None of it is mine,” she said bitterly. “Yes, your Miss Priss made it very clear. Since you are still legally Ms. D’joan, we’re not married and never were. So under the settlement laws of Illinois and indeed everywhere else on the entire planet, I can expect nothing, not a penny.”
“Hey, hey, baby.” Jay surged up inside Jayne. “You’ll have everything you need, and more. This… my donor, she was loaded. Is loaded. If I never sing another song for her, she’ll be rich until we both die.”
“She’s already dead. Or you are, whatever.”
“You and me, I meant. I told Jesus to write you a check for a million and a half and have it ready for you at the office. Didn’t you—”
“Jesus Saves.” She pronounced it in the Hispanic fashion, Hay-soos Sah-vays. In a happy moment, like the past of their marriage instantly recovered, Jessie blinked and her eyes rolled.
“You’re shitting me. You have a money manager named Jesus Saves?” Anglo pronunciation.
Jayne burst out laughing, and felt the tension fall away from her tensed shoulders. The Pilate mat was calling to her. “Right. Right. Man, it’s just one crazy coincidence after another.”
She found a chair and kicked it closer to her wife. Ex-wife. Widow. Whatever. She reached out both hands and after a moment’s pause Jessie took them. “Babe, this is too crazy. But I’m taking steps right away to deal with one issue.” Jayne took a deep breath, let the dreams flood through her. Something was trying to tell her something, that was sure as shit. Jay no more. Cornelius no more, either. Time to roll the dice and start over. “I’m changing my name.”
“You already changed your name.” Now Jessie was stroking her right hand as if it were a small child’s, or perhaps a kitten. “Let me guess. Um. Darby N. D’joan?”
“Ha ha.” Some old movie they’d seen together? No, an 18th century poem Jessie had studied in her gender crimes course, wasn’t it? The weather beaten old couple who’d stayed together through thick and thin. “Sorry, not any longer, sweetheart. This thing that’s happened to me, I tell you, someone up there either likes me or hates me, and I don’t know which it is, yet. But I got stuck here in this gorgeous bod for a reason, Jessie. Maybe I’m some kind of message to the world.”
“Oh shit, Jay.” Her widow dropped her hand. “Don’t tell me you’ve got religion. It was an accident, and then a bunch of medical ghouls used you for an experiment. I know, sorry, that was uncalled for, you’ve recovered beautifully, but…” She trailed off. After a moment she said, “So what’s the new name?”
“Jayne Brunner.” The person in Girly D’joan’s living corpse stood up, squared her shoulders, felt the still-unfamiliar weight of her breasts as they shifted under the lycra.
“Well, whatever. So are you now Mrs. Brunner or Ms. Brunner, Jay?”
“Neither.” She offered her widow a vulpine display of teeth, and led her toward the door. “I’m an old-fashioned girl, it seems. Call me Miss Brunner.”
Somewhere behind the multiverse, the Beadle Monger experienced a small frisson. The Eidolon Lure had been taken.
A Glaroon nodded in satisfaction.“Now to nudge the human’s Messiah Complex into overdrive, Beads.”
“Yes indeed. ‘Miss Brunner’,” they muttered to itselves. “Now that sounds . . . quite promising.”
for Mike Moorcock
Paul Di Filippo is the author of hundreds of short stories, some of which have been collected in these widely-praised collections: The Steampunk Trilogy, Ribofunk, Fractal Paisleys, Lost Pages, Little Doors, Strange Trades, Babylon Sisters, and his multiple-award-nominated novella, A Year in the Linear City. Another earlier collection, Destroy All Brains, was published by Pirate Writings, but is quite rare because of the extremely short print run (if you see one, buy it!).
Damien Broderick is an Australian science fiction and popular science writer and editor of more than 50 books. His science fiction novel The Judas Mandala is sometimes credited with the first appearance of the term “virtual reality,” and his 1997 popular science book The Spike was the first to investigate the technological Singularity in detail. Broderick holds a Ph.D. in Literary Studies from Deakin University, Australia, with a dissertation relating to the comparative semiotics of scientific, literary, and science fictional textuality. He was for several years a Senior Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Broderick lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, tax attorney Barbara Lamar. He was the founding science fiction editor of the Australian popular-science magazine Cosmos from mid-2005 to December 2010.