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[Fic] [Open] The Changeling
[Fic] [Open] The Changeling
#1
So it was sometime in late 2023... you know, a little after Mackie fucked up with his Griffon project and nearly got everyone killed at Frigga, and about six months after that whole United Belt Alliance fiasco.

Here's what only some people know about that time... you have to remember that UBA was trying to throw all sorts of wrenches into the JMC works - and it was in a big bid to force us to work for them, or to fold up, and to either way isolate everyone who wasn't under their banner further and tighten up that set of thumbscrews.

Overall, it was a really rough time for everyone out Jupiter way, almost but not quite as bad as the Boskonian War had been for us. After all, I came out of that Milestone Event with a biomod, using a dose of the substance Handwavium to basically change from someone who was rapidly dying to someone who was going to keep on living. Oh, and it included a level of involuntary gender flipping whenever I’d get excited or stressed. But that was usually once a day, tops, and either would reset when I’d get sufficiently calm, or had gotten a good night’s sleep.

A little thing about the UBA situation now that you know about the biomod... my gender flipping had gone into serious overdrive from the stress... I was literally spending, well, not full up days at the time, but I was finding there was less and less male time as the stress had mounted from dealing with what they were doing to be maximally disruptive to our operations, the shift happening pretty much every single day and earlier and earlier in the day. It took months after enough information was found to bring that entire thing down around their ears for us to finally start getting to where we could deliver on time regularly.

My variable gender thing... didn't really recover quite so neatly. I was still finding myself randomly changing, in both directions, with no apparent cause or reason, and it stopped even being as predictable as “early in the day”, to say nothing of the fact that relaxing was no longer guaranteed to shift me back and make it stick. It took a little bit to realize why. Of course, it wasn’t me who realized it first.

*****

I woke up in the middle of the night with the overriding need to use the head, and did what I always did up until that night, padding into the head, pulling down the front, standing over the toilet and doing the business, as it were.

I didn't hear the sound, at least as soon as I should have... but the warm, wet sensation that unexpectedly spread down my legs brought me right awake.

*****

Nene woke with a start to a muffled groan almost becoming a scream from the head of the small sleeping area aboard Starbug 1. She quickly threw off her side of the blanket and rushed into the head nestled between the two cabins. Jeph was there, leaning against the wall, panicking a bit... her underwear still bunched down around her hips and dripping with something that clearly wasn’t water.

"Jeph... are... are you all right?"

Jeph seemed to come back to herself, her lips quivered, and she lunged against Nene, grabbing her into a hug and practically sobbing.

"Nene... nene... it... make it stop... I... i can't..."

Nene did the only thing she could, taking Jeph into a hug, lowering her carefully down to the floor and seating herself to cradle her, letting the crying fit run it's course, stroking her hair and making soothing sounds. "Jeph... it's all right... it'll be all right…”

*****

I don't remember, honestly, how long the sob attack lasted. Nene held me until it had properly passed. I felt more than a little wrung out.

"Ne...Nene... I... gods I just want this to be stable..." I sniffed, straightened myself back up, then leaning against the bulkhead. "I need to just be one gender for a day... just one damned day..."

Nene looked at me, and there was that look again, the one that told volumes about the depths of the love she could hold.

"Jeph... OK, first of all, take a shower... a good soaking long shower, as much as you need, OK? I'll go down to the galley and put on some of that Death Wish on the pot and a couple of bagels in the toaster. You come down as soon as you're ready and decent, and then we'll talk about what we can do, OK?"

I nodded. I was a bit numb as I showered... I hadn't woken up female like that in a long time, not since sometime in the middle of the War, and that had been a week that included a major flashback to nearly getting killed... and something had hit me really hard about it when I'd felt my underwear get soaked when I expected the stream to just hit the bowl… and it was clear the last bit of gender consistency I’d had - waking up in male form - was no longer going to be.

I yanked myself away from that, and worked on getting myself cleaned up, washed out my hair just to be certain and to partake in the ritual of cleansing, so to speak, and rustled myself up some clothing while wrapping my hair up in a towel. Pants, shirt, undershirt ‘waved to become a bra (which it did immediately) shorts, the whole drill at the time. And I slinked down the stairs, feeling a little more out of sorts than I had been feeling of late, while smelling the sweet roasted bean smell of caffeine ready for the cup.

Nene had gotten the coffee and bagels out as she'd threatened, and had even taken the time to make scrambled eggs and bacon, which had become a fair luxury of late for us as they still haven’t figured out a way to vat grow a satisfactory form of bacon. She put a steaming cup of coffee and a nice, hot plate of breakfast down on the table, and indicated the chair. We both sat down, and she watched me intently as I ate and drank, and gave me a few minutes to eat in silence before she sighed.

"OK... I'm just going to take a page from Priss' playbook for a change and just come right out with it, right now, and spare us a lot of drama and misunderstandings and everyone else around us second guessing all of this. Something's been really off since all the business with Maico and her Saber Chase, like it’s thrown your balance way off and you’ve never really recovered it, and given the way it's gotten even worse now, I think I have some idea, after all these years, what it's all about." She took in another breath, held it, let it out, then,

"Jeph... all of that stress, then dealing with the Griffon fallout... there's definitely been a lot more to the variable gender thing you have than most anyone have been aware of." She gave me a look, much sharper than I was used to seeing on her face. "It... it's like it’s been part of a mismatched and bodged up coping mechanism, isn't it?"

I looked at her, still trying to shrug off the awfulness of the morning thus far, as she pulled out her laptop, opened it, and read the file that was already pulled up on it. "OK... I'm going to ask a few questions, and I need you to answer them completely, and honestly. This comes from those Biomod Psych Tests that Peters came up with."

She asked me the question: What was my name before I went Up and joined Fenspace. I said it, three names. First, middle, last.

Her expression, it didn't quite sour, but it got more thoughtful. "Uh... huh."

She asked a few more... all of them were about my past, how I grew up.

She closed her laptop up. "Jeph... OK... I think... I think we can stabilize this a bit, but I'm not sure how much you're going to like the idea."

I sighed, shuddering a little. "Nene... I need a lot more gender stability than I've been getting... It... it's like I change for no reason now, no stress, no excitement, just suddenly." I shuddered. “It’s starting to feel like Hell.”

Nene reached over, and took my hand in hers. "Maybe... we should ride this day out. Take it as just two girls today. Geo says we're about an hour from landing. Don't worry about changing back for right now, just see if this will be stable for today." She smirked. "If history is any indication so far, it takes anger or a good night's sleep for you to go all boy again, and the latter clearly isn’t reliable at this point. Might as well just work with it." She breathed again. "I also went ahead and rescheduled that one meeting you had today for tomorrow. Explained that we had some unexpected issues aboard Starbug to iron out."

I could only nod. Part of my brain was still a bit all over the place from the really rude awakening I'd received from a body that had, lately, seemed determined to mess with my head.

She got up, got me another mug of coffee, and sat back down. "Oh, and Jeph? That name you went by? Can you say it again? And THINK about it this time?"

I opened my mouth to say it, and thought about it, and right then, I realized it wasn't the name I'd been given when I was born. Not quite. The last name was the same, and one of the other names matched, but wasn't the middle name, but the first. I’d heard of the phenomenon, but it was shocking, if not disturbing, to actually FEEL what it felt like to have had the discontinuities in one’s psyche wallpapered over. Nene's face wore an expression of sympathy as she watched me suddenly find something that I'd not been aware of since I'd gotten biomodded in 2012.

"Jeph... here's the deal... I remember we decided to not sell that lifesaver kit you'd developed... and I know you'd bred that strain of 'wave for it specifically..."

"Yeah... because I wasn't sure it was going to have that effect on others, and we decided not to take the chance."

She nodded. "You were the only one who worked on that strain. I... I think you put more of yourself into it than any of us suspected at the time, nor suspected until recently." She gave me that piercing look again. "There is something else I've noticed, now that I can really think about it, and seeing the stuff that happened with Jet when she incepted Mackie has brought it into stark relief. You're... more comfortable once you've shifted. Every single time. At least once you're past whatever triggered it, whether it be excitement over something, or general stress." She looked towards the cockpit door. "Geo noticed it too, but I didn't really put two and two together myself for a while, and he literally can’t connect the facts because he doesn’t quite understand the reasons, but I think the excitement causes you to drop the barriers you’ve erected, and when it's general stress, it's happening to remove an element of stress to give you more room to cope with it."

"...and what do you think is the stress it... it's removing?" I asked, not sure I wanted to hear the truth.

"Jeph... I... I think you're just more comfortable as a woman. And you always have been." I opened my mouth to protest. “And no, you know what my history is, both before and after inception.”

“But… but what about… well…”

“In bed?” Nene tapped me on the forehead, three times. "THIS is what I'm in love with... what's inside that thick bone skull of yours. I've... spent time realizing that I don't care about what sort of package it's actually been wrapped in. I love you, the person, not the bundle of hardware you happen to be installed on." She looked me straight in the eyes. “I want you to be happy, Jeph. That’s the one thing in the ‘verse that is guaranteed to bring me pure joy, seeing you happy.” And she snorted. “Besides, has what form you’ve been in stopped us having a little fun? It’s just different avenues to the same end for me.”

<I hate to interrupt the counseling session,> Geo tweeted over the intercom, <but we’re coming into the Ganymede Traffic Control Area. Captain to the bridge, Blue Alert!> I quickly dumped another round of coffee into my cup, slapped the lid on it, and we made our way from the common area to the “bridge”, which was way too small to really qualify as such, but was also ludicrously larger than what you’d really consider calling a “cockpit”. Someone on the internal JMC listserv had once sarcastically suggested we call it the “codge”, but the sheer intensity of the groaning was almost too much and the idea was tabled without further debate.

I sat down at the forward right control station, dropped my cup into the cupholder, looked at the radio, and looked back at Nene. “I… I’m sorry, my throat’s a bit raspy from crying.”

Nene gave me a sympathetic look. “It’s OK.” She sat down at the station right behind me, and put in the headset mic. “CQ CQ CQ, this is Starbug 1 to Ganymede ATC, we are on approach, and requesting a landing course, over.”

“This is Ganymede ATC to Starbug 1, we have you on scope. Landing course is already open on Beta 5, destination pad is your usual green zone.” There was a pause, and a new voice came on. “This is Commander Hayes, is everything all right over there, Romanova? Usually Captain Antilles speaks for Starbug 1. Over.”

Nene sighed. “This is Starbug 1. Nothing a little bit of rest won’t solve, Commander. We had a little bit of a rough night after the last course correction. Over.”

“Ganymede ATC, anything you’d need to report? Over.”

Starbug 1, negative Commander, it was all internal logistics, we have it under control for now. Over.”

“Ganymede ATC, understood, happy landings, over and out.”

Starbug 1, over and out.” Nene pulled the mic back off, and sighed again. “You know, they’re going to ask after the next town hall.”

“I know. I’ll have to figure out what to say… at least, once I figure out what I really need to get on and do about this. Geo, you have the course?”

<Yeah, Boss, all green on my boards. Need me to take us in?>

“Knowing my state right now, I’d probably manage to bang into the pad and bend one of the landing legs. So yes.”

Geo made a happy chirping noise. <I don’t get to park us often enough. Consider it done. You take it easy and let me handle it. Like a pillow made of feathers.>

Nene mock quailed. “Oh no, I’ve heard that before… we’re going to crash, and then explode.” She dropped the mock quail, and got thoughtful. “Or was it explode, and then crash? I can never keep the correct order straight in my head.”

<Har har sis.> Geo twitched his head back and forth in an expression of annoyance, only made mock by holding his holoprojector up. <I’m only going to take it gently because I know Hayes would demand you uninstall my flight controller software.> The last was one of the raspy blurts that was the astromech form of a raspberry.

“OK, OK, you two, settle down. I just want to get home. You can be bratty siblings all you want once we’re at home and settled back in.”

“Awww…” Nene mock groused as Geo chortled. <You got it, Boss.>

Ganymede got much bigger in the viewports, the ground rushing past as the horizon went from curved to flat quickly. We’d made this approach so often that I could almost see the exact moment of the transition between the two now, and then the beautiful, glittering domes of Serenity Valley appeared from behind one of the last crests of mountains. For once, not distracted by the task of piloting, I felt the catch in the back of my throat… as pedestrian as the sight was to me these days, there was still some level of beauty in seeing it, of coming home after weeks out in the black pursuing business.

<Bay doors are open, starting the landing cycle,> Geo reported as the engine’s timber changed, and we felt the angle shift, our ship slowing down considerably, and the landing legs rotating from travel mode to landing mode, as we slipped past the huge hanger door meant to accommodate the much larger Blue Midgets, then spiraled in and passed through a much smaller door into the dedicated parking slip that was only marked with a big green “1” above it.

Starbug 1 slowed further, kicking up a cloud of dust in defiance of all physical laws, spinning almost in place above the turntable pad before finally settling down on her four pads, even as the door we’d come in dropped closed and a gangway extended from the staging walkway nearby.

<And we’re down.> Geo stated as the engines spooled down, from a rumble to barely a vibration of anything. <And not a moment too soon... Boss… something really didn’t feel right about something in that landing, but I can’t pin a servomotor on what’s wrong.> I paused, going over it in my head, then nodded.

“I’m not going to trust my senses myself, given the way the morning’s gone, Geo… schedule the deep inspection team to come in and give the ‘Bug a proper going over.” I unbuckled my harness and stood up, reclaiming my coffee cup from the cupholder and brushing bits of peanut shells from the seat of my shorts. “Right now, I just want to get home.”


-----

OK, yes, I'm finally putting paid to part of why Jeph's biomod worked the way it did. Feel free to chime in with your pieces if you have any, since I'm starting to post it. Also, I'm hoping doing some posting will help me kick the rest of my writing of this story into gear. There is still more to come that's in the datafile.
"You know how parents tell you everything's going to fine, but you know they're lying to make you feel better? Everything's going to be fine." - The Doctor
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RE: [Fic] [Open] The Changeling
#2
I've been looking forward to this for a while, even as I too struggle to put words on page.
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RE: [Fic] [Open] The Changeling
#3
Been thinking really hard about what, if anything to say. I supposed I'll keep mum for a bit and wait for the next part.

Quote: but it was shocking, if not disturbing, to actually FEEL what it felt like to have had the discontinuities in one’s psyche wallpapered over.

If talked to about such matters, Jet would say 'When it comes to things like this, trust what feels right, unless your feelings are wrong'.

This is probably not as intelligent as she thinks it sounds, but she's trying to say something.

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.
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