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A NineStar Press Publication

www.ninestarpress.com

Dalí

Copyright © 2017 E.M. Hamill

Cover Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017

Edited by: BJ Toth

Published in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar Press, LLC.


Warning

This book contains sexually explicit content, which is only suitable for mature readers, and scenes of violent death.

Dalí

E.M. Hamill

Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Glossary

About the Author

Dedication

For Michaela, Tyler, and Arin: different shades of the same spectrum—all amazing young people who give me hope for the future of the human race.

Acknowledgements

This book is the product of generosity on many levels.

I would like to thank the Tumblr genderfluid community, specifically Andropologist, for boosting my signal when I asked for help developing my book’s characters. Several people answered my questionnaire and helped me make the fictional souls in this story more believable, honest, and I hope presented in a respectful light. I am grateful for their willingness to help.

My critique partners once more went above and beyond. I would like to thank Michael Mammay for giving my first draft the tough love it needed and some excellent advice on action scenes, Colleen Halverson for pointing out some serious late-draft issues I hadn’t considered, and James Stryker for letting me know I was on the right track with this book. My alpha and beta readers braved many levels of mediocrity and still encouraged me to finish: thank you to Janean Dobos, Ashley Miller, and Katharine Henry Alexander.

Grandmaster Wannabe Ninja Katharine and her husband, Kudo Sensei JD Alexander of Iron Forged Martial Arts, also gave me some excellent advice on structuring my zezjna sequences. Any inconsistencies in martial arts philosophy or execution are completely my own.

Developmental editor Jami Nord was hugely inspirational, encouraging, and full of writing wisdom. *bows down* Thank you so very, very much for your help in sensitivity reading, my endless questions, and for encouraging me to take it “from jalapeño to habañero!”

Chapter One

Human beings are assholes. I should know. I’d become one in the last few months.

You’d think the near extinction of our entire species after the pandemics and global poisoning our last world war inflicted might let us all pull together. Even with galactic war breathing down our necks, when almost everyone realized the human race constituted less of a threat to each other than some of the other things out there, we continued to be dicks.

Those attitudes started problems—in particular, Europan attitudes, of the New Puritan variety. I no longer possessed the self-control or sufficient fucks to avoid adding fuel to their fire.

His voice floated over the excited din of the crowd and the pregame show on the holographic screens above the bar.

“Abomination.”

I sighed and turned my head. The Team Europa-jacketed hulk next to me exuded a cloud of loathing against my empathic nets. I raised one eyebrow at him.

“Really? You can’t come up with anything more original after fifteen minutes of shit-talking?” The conversation behind me started as a diatribe against the rally for third-gender rights, held outside the arena and glimpsed on the main holo screen. I didn’t pay attention to either until the comments got louder and were meant for my ears.

“Faggot.”

“How very twentieth century of you.” I downed another of the six shots the robotic bartender dispensed in front of me. I wasn’t looking for trouble, only anesthetic. Outside, a cluster of media bots interviewing star athletes had driven me into the bar to hide. The presence of mechanized paparazzi still unsettled me. I didn’t want them in my face.

The annual Sol Series tournament games between Mars and Europa bordered on legendary for their savagery. No one took rugby as seriously as a gritty Martian colonist or a repressed New Puritan, and the bar overflowed with both, waiting for the station’s arena to open. Spectators gathered around us in the bar, drawn by the promise of a fight, glittering eyes fixed on us. My empathic senses drowned in their excitement and fear, even with the numbing effects of synthetic alcohol.

He invaded my personal space and leaned closer, face centimeters from mine. His breath carried a trace of mint and steroid vapors. Great. A huffer, his molecules all hyped-up on testosterone. He stood over a head taller than me, about twenty-five kilos heavier. His fists would do damage. His minions stood at either side, more meat than smarts. Neither spoke. Their mouths hung open while he harassed me, and I expected shuttle flies to crawl out at any time.

“You’re nothing but an A-sex freak.”

“Better. Still lacks originality.” I threw back the last shot. “How about androgynous freak? Hermaphrodite? No, those words are probably too big for you.”

The titter of laughter from the crowd only pissed him off. “Go fuck yourself.”

“Technically, I can’t. But I can fuck anybody else in this room. Can you?”

Shocked laughter rose from the circle of spectators. The guy clenched his fists and flexed his muscles. I continued, “Do I scare you?” I swiveled on the stool to face him and changed posture, crossing my legs in demure modesty. My voice rose into a husky, suggestive alto as I leaned one elbow on the bar. “Or do you want to find out what’s under my kilt?”

I hit a nerve. His eyes went blank, black, and his rage flooded over my senses. The crowd gasped and took a step back. Minion One caught his rising fist and spoke. “Jon, don’t you know who…”

Jon’s lip curled. “It’s an atrocity. It should have been killed at birth.”

“I prefer the term changeling.” I stood, and the circle around us got wider. The potent mix of hormones surged through my bloodstream as they altered my chemical makeup and bulked strategic upper body muscles. I let a cold smile form on my lips and dropped into a Zereid martial arts stance. Jon took half a step back as I became more definitively male in ways he recognized. “Oh, go ahead and hit me, by all means. A good fight is almost as good as sex.”

“Break it up.”

The crowd parted into nervous brackets with security’s arrival. Caniberi lumbered into the midst of the circle with the boneless roll space-born started to get after generations in orbit. He cast a sour eye in my direction.

“Dalí, why is it always you?”

“Just lucky, I guess.”

The constable growled at me. He turned to Jon. “You can’t play in the tournament if I throw you in the brig for violence. Move out.”

Jon stared at me a minute longer. The threat of not getting to beat the hell out of some hedonistic Martians made him reconsider. He and the minions moved away, but he threw one more sentence in my face like a javelin.

“You’ll be alone, changeling.”

The truth in his words knifed through me all the way to my gut and cut me deeper than any microsteel blade. “I’ll be waiting.”

Caniberi squinted at me as the crowd began to disperse. “Dalí, do I need to talk with the Captain?”

“No, sir. Leave my father out of this.” He’d dealt with enough from me already. My mother was now away on the diplomatic mission I’d been suspiciously—but rightly—deemed unfit to assume. Without Mom there to buffer the uncomfortable presence of my grief between us, Dad was lost.

“One of these days you’re going to push the wrong buttons and end up hurt, or worse. Some things the medical officer can’t fix.” His gaze softened. “Drinking and getting the shit beaten out of you won’t bring them back.”

“I’m well aware of that, sir.” My voice came out sharper than I intended. One of the best officers on the station, Caniberi had known me a little over a decade, and he never hesitated to kick my ass if I deserved it, no matter what gender I chose at the moment. This time, he just stared at me with an odd expression. His pity broke in tepid surges against my senses.

“Get out of here. I don’t want to arrest you again.”

I turned and left the bar. With the bots still hovering outside, I ducked my head to foil their facial recognition apps and fought my way upstream from the arena.

The shakes hit me in the aftermath of the hormone flood. The synthetic alcohol in my system warred with my normalizing chem levels and sour nausea threatened. I grabbed one of the rails lining the corridor and took several shuddering breaths as my muscles cramped, rearranged, and settled back into the lean, sexless frame where I am most at home.

The crowd jostled around me and headed toward the game. My empathic nets buzzed dully with their anticipation and excitement, but the sense of being watched pushed at the back of my mind. A familiar presence tripped a memory and an emotion.

The watcher knew me.

I turned my head. The Zereid made his way toward me, head and shoulders above everyone else, long, muscular limbs wading with passive grace through a river of human bodies as the crowd shifted for him. An eddy of cautious glances swirled and vanished downstream.

Oily quicksilver eyes without lids narrowed, their shape signifying the equivalent of a smile. His resonant voice buzzed in my ears. “He is the size of a cargo bot, you know. Even the arts we learned can’t change gravity. He might kill you.”

“I won’t let it go that far.” I shrugged. I actually hoped I’d bitten off more than I could swallow this time.

But the presence of my childhood friend undid me. A lump rose in my throat, pressure in my head, and I closed the distance between us. He gathered me in against cool flesh. I was locked in arms capable of crushing a human like a piece of foil but which held me with careful tenderness. Against his enormous chest, I felt like a small child, even though in developmental terms, Gor and I are the same age. His concern brushed my mind with affectionate familiarity.

“I see you, Dalí,” he murmured. “I mourn with you.”

I breathed in the scent of Zereid. Gor smelled of his homeworld—rain and earth and copper clung to his leathery turquoise skin and short, downy fur even in absentia. Homesickness washed over me.

I’d lived on Zereid most of my life. My mother, Marina Urquhart, served as ambassador for fifteen years. Dad’s career required he return to Sol Fed, and rather than separate our family, Mom resigned her appointment. My differences were clear, even to my third-gender mother, but there, we were aliens. I wondered what it would be like to have more friends who blinked.

When we got back to our own kind, I found out I was still an alien.

Gor pulled away. In the tarnished silver of his eyes, like antique mirrors, my unkempt reflection stared back at me. His dismay at my mental and physical state, impossible to miss, sighed against my mind.

“How did you hear?” I said.

“Your mother. “

“Of course.”

His head cocked. “I tried to come sooner, but the travel permissions into the colonies are daunting.”

“No, I understand.” I wanted to sit and talk with Gor. I eyed the bar, but couldn’t go back in there yet. “Come on. We can go to Dad’s quarters. He’ll be on the bridge.” My own cramped space wouldn’t accommodate Gor’s height or his bulk.

We squeezed into the private lift and rode up to the command deck. My thumbprint opened the door to the Captain’s suite, and Gor made a sound of wonder as he ducked through the port.

Three levels of transparent alloy shielding overlooked the U-curve of Rosetta Station. Shuttles buzzed in and out of bays like honeybees in the hydroponics domes, ferrying passengers to huge starliners docked on the outer limbs.

“An inspiring view.” Gor gazed out the window.

Ochre planet-shine from Jupiter’s face illuminated the room, the swirling storms in the gas giant’s atmosphere familiar to me now. I never found them beautiful, only an echo of the chaos in my head. I dropped into one of the chairs facing the viewport.

Gor eased himself into the seat opposite me. “You’re in crisis, Dalí.”

I couldn’t hide anything from him. Even if I wanted to, he was a telepath; his empathic senses much more attuned than my own modest abilities. Our friendship spanned far too many years, our trust well established. Lying to him would betray our oath of crechemates, a Zereid custom similar to old Earth tradition of blood brothers.

“Today would be the second anniversary of our wedding.” I stared at my hands. I still wore a ring on each of them, the ones Gresh and Rasida gave me.

“I remember. The love between you and your mates deserves celebration.”

Triad marriages with two members of the same sex and one of the opposite were common. The female population had not rebounded as fast as the male. But mine was the first triad marriage to include a changeling spouse under the new laws we helped to bring about. The legislation was both praised and vilified by hundreds of other citizens while we exchanged vows beneath the domes of the lunar capitol. My parents, Gresh’s mother, and Gor celebrated with us. Rasida’s mother refused to attend the wedding of her only daughter.

The three of us had been inseparable, invincible. Without them, I staggered, incomplete.

Our child would have been three months old now.

“Don’t say it.”

Gor’s eyes elongated in confusion. “What?”

“That they wouldn’t want me to be like this.”

“I did not come here to admonish you for grieving.”

I gave a short laugh. “What did you come here to scold me for?”

“For ceasing to live. Abandoning the larger destiny for which you trained.”

“Ambassador?” I dug a vape out of the pocket of my coat and thumbed the switch, inhaling illegal chemicals deep into my lungs. His gentle reproach against my empathic nets rebuked me without a word.

“You were sure of your calling as a peacemaker six months ago.” Zereid reverence toward conciliation is, ironically, unforgiving and unbending.

“I was certain of a lot of things then.” I exhaled a cloud of spicy mist. If any of the scent remained, I’d catch hell later for vaping in Dad’s quarters.

“There are always those who work against peace, even in their own hearts. As you are doing now.”

“I don’t know if I believe in peace anymore.”

“Because you do not possess it.”

“Stop feeding me platitudes, brother.”

He spread six-fingered hands wide. “What would you have me do? Tell me. Your pain is mine to share, beloved friend. Allow me to help you. Your rage is fearsome but undirected. You point it at yourself.”

“I was supposed to die, not them.” I cursed the terrorists who missed their target by eight minutes. When I decided not to address the media bots and chose instead to hold a private farewell with my family, I put myself ahead of schedule. I should have died with them. Even though the bastards failed to kill me, they destroyed me.

“Come home.” Gor waited for me to answer. I didn’t. He continued. “Madam Ambassador thinks Zereid would be a place of healing for you. You can study at the temple with me again, be teacher and student. This year’s crop of younglings is a challenge.” His vocal pipes fluted in laughter. “As we were.”

“That isn’t much of an incentive.” A grin tried to tug at the corners of my mouth, stiff and out of practice with the expression. “I’ll think about it.”

“Will you?” His doubt hovered between us.

The port slid open again and my father thundered in—Captain Paul Tamareia—“The Captain” to everyone on the station, even me at times. I stood at automatic attention, swaying a little. Gor rose too.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he demanded. “And turn that goddamned vape off.”

I complied. “A misunderstanding, sir.”

“Misunderstanding, my ass. Six shots of the synthetic piss that passes for whiskey says it wasn’t.” He turned to Gor and bowed. “Welcome aboard Rosetta Station, honored friend. Forgive me for not greeting you first.”

“Captain Tamareia.” Gor bowed back.

“How long will you be staying? I insist you use my quarters as your own. Stop by the constable’s office and he will register you for my door. I’m afraid most of the cabins are small, and we’re overcrowded with the tournament.”

“My thanks, sir. My travel clearance is good for the next two weeks, and then I must return.” Gor nodded at us. “I should collect my belongings now. I will go to your constable on the way back.”

“It’s good to see you, Gor.”

“You as well, Captain.” He put one enormous hand on my shoulder. “Dalí, please think about what I said.”

Gor let himself out. Dad and I both understood he made a graceful exit so we could shout at each other in peace. Zereids don’t carry a whole lot of baggage. They don’t wear clothes.

“Did you need to pick a fight with the number eight of the bloody Europan rugby team?” He tossed his personal data device on the table. “Do you even know who he is?”

“Other than a prick, no.”

“Jon Batterson. Does the name ring a bell at all?”

“Batterson.” I blinked through mental processes made sluggish by the vape. “As in President Batterson?”

“Light dawns. The heir apparent to his self-righteous little robotics empire.” He ran both hands through his hair. I inherited my dark-brown waves from him, but Dad’s customary high-and-tight showed little hint of curl. Mine now fell to my shoulders in a shaggy, tangled mane. “Do you realize the mess I would have had to clean up if you really let loose on him? Even if he is built like the ass end of a freighter, you could put him on the injured list.”

“It wasn’t my intent.”

“From what Caniberi told me, you were about to unleash hell on him. You sure stirred up some crap. The president is coming to the game tonight. The constable didn’t know who he was either, or he might have thrown you in the brig to prove a point.” He sat down with a thud on the steel bench and sighed. “Dalí. Come here.”

I sat next to him and braced myself.

“It’s been six months. Your leave from the diplomatic corps is finished, and if you don’t return, you’ll be dismissed. This has to stop. When you go back to your life, you’re going to encounter people like Batterson on a daily basis. Your reputation and your career are at stake. You can’t do this anymore.”

“That life’s over.”

“Don’t throw it away. You did so much in so short a time. You have a gift for understanding, and you will be a formidable ambassador. Sol Fed needs you in the negotiation chamber at the Remoliad. Luna is a better place because of your work.”

“Because of Gresh’s work. Because of Sida and our child. They were my reasons for everything. I’m not sure I feel as strongly for the rest of the human race.”

“Then you need to find another way to deal with their deaths. I won’t watch you destroy your future. You worked too hard for it.”

“Tell me how, sir.” My fury rose. “Tell me how I can deal with it because I’m looking for an exit.”

He stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing.” I rose and stalked away. He started to call after me, but the communication tones went off.

“Captain Tamareia, report to the bridge. The president’s shuttle is incoming.”

“On my way. Dalí!”

I ignored him and ducked through the port.

Chapter Two

I had to pass the terminal’s arrival gate to reach my assigned quarters in the lodgings district—nothing but a tiny room with a bunk and a desk. More than I needed. I hunched my shoulders and pulled the collar of my coat up. It wasn’t enough to evade electronic eyes.

Goddamned media bots. The week after the bombing, they descended upon me every time I stepped outside my door, wanting tears, statements, something juicy to regale the holo viewers at home. Charges of destruction of the networks’ property got dropped after I was diagnosed with PTSD. But no one else could verify what I’d seen the media bot do in Luna Terminal. They were all dead.

Six months later, the things still recognized me whether I leaned toward male or female, but followed me at a safer distance. This one hovered outside the gate to spy for any late celebrities who might sneak in after the championship game began. It buzzed and floated in my wake.

“Ambassador Tamareia? Would you care to make a statement on the latest developments in the Senate regarding the Remoliad negotiations?”

“No. I’m on bereavement leave.” I didn’t turn around.

“How about a statement regarding Sol Fed’s stance on third-gender reproductive rights?”

This was a human voice and made me pause. I turned slowly. “Kiran Singh. Waiting for the next big human tragedy?”

His answering smile was brilliant and manufactured for holo audiences, white teeth blinding against dark-brown skin. Tall and slender, Singh’s features shared the same androgyny as mine, the kind of facial structure that earned a double take. His plum-colored kurta glittered with embroidery, the tips of shiny black boots visible beneath its folds. I hadn’t seen Singh since the memorial service on Luna, but I’d been barely cognizant of anything in those first days of mourning. Except when I punched Singh in the face. I remember that.

“Yours?” I jabbed a thumb at the patient, hovering bot.

“It’s my network’s.”

“Make it go away or it’s scrap.”

“Stand down, Geraldo.” The globular bot obeyed and floated back to the gate.

Singh stood in front of me. The smile faded. “You look like shit.”

“Thanks. Good to see you too.” I wanted nothing more but to go back to my room and surround myself with a cloud of illegal vaping chems. I turned away.

“Seriously, Dalí. What the hell?”

“What do you want, Kiran?” I kept walking.

“Stop and talk to me. We used to be friends at university.”

“We were never friends. Is this off the record?”

“Give me a statement against the New Puritan Movement. The NPM’s stance on our reproductive rights is nothing less than selective genocide under the guise of recovering our species. Your opinion still matters to Luna. You can help us make a difference.”

“I don’t agree with your form of journalism or your tactics. Gresh’s opinions were the ones that mattered.”

“Gresh was the judicial heart of the equal rights movement, but he wasn’t a third. You were the voice. You still could be.”

“Not for you and the Third Front.” Kiran and his activist friends played along the borders of extremism, where Gresh and I had preferred reason and legislation.

“Dalí. Listen to me.” Singh grabbed my arm. I wrenched it away but stopped walking. He moved closer. “I know the bastards got you ousted from your appointment to the Remoliad. The NPM is poison, and it’s gaining momentum in the Senate. Do you even watch the news?”

“Not if I can help it.”

“So you’ve given up.”

“What do you want from me?”

“You do know that isolationist prick Hyatt won the nomination, don’t you?”

“What nomination?”

“To be Head of the Senate, Dalí! Where have you been?”

“In hell.”

“Okay.” Singh’s voice quieted. “I understand. But you need to wake up. Our rights to be treated as the equal of every other Sol Fed citizen are being threatened. Europa introduced new bills into Senate deliberation. With Hyatt’s election, they’re going to pass and make parthenogenesis mandatory for our reproduction. Guess whose research they’re using to fuel the hysteria?”

“Dr. Atassi’s, I presume.”

“The witch has been busy. They’re going to use the law to eliminate the entire third gender.”

I blinked at Singh with disbelief, even in my still-numbed state. “That isn’t legal under galactic statutes. It’ll never pass.”

“Wake up! Sol Fed isn’t Remoliad yet, and if the NPM gets its way, we never will be.” Kiran stepped closer to me. “Changelings are disappearing from the Colonies, and nobody is investigating. They’re ignoring hate crimes. In our government’s eyes, we don’t serve any greater good to further the human race if we can’t reproduce.”

“Maybe they just wanted to disappear.”

Singh’s expression grew ugly, and his disgust pricked my empathic senses with needle-sharp derision. “You never did get it. You think more like a galactic than a human being. You were never one of us.”

“We’ve had this argument before.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. It still doesn’t touch you. You’re a cold bastard, Tamareia.”

I turned my back, but Singh called out, “What if I told you I could connect the NPM to the terminal bombing?”

I stopped and wheeled on him. Two steps brought me within arm’s length. I grabbed the front of his jacket and pulled him in, snarling, “If that’s true, why didn’t you tell the authorities?”

“Take it easy!” He slapped my hands away and licked his lips, his eyes darting away from mine as he straightened his kurta. “Word has it that Batterson Robotics is expanding into illegal weapons technology. I heard rumors the NPM formed its own little militia, funded by Batterson himself.”

“Rumors.” I gave a bleak laugh. “Prove who killed my family, and I’ll show you what a cold bastard I can be. Until then, stay the fuck away from me, Kiran.”



Every night, I stood over the graves of my husband and wife. I screamed until my throat bled and scarlet fell like rubies into the mounded silt of lunar soil. I recognized it as a dream only because they didn’t have graves. None of the victims did.

I didn’t sleep much anymore. Instead, I prowled the underbelly of Rosetta.

Every space station has a place no one admits to knowing about, ignored by the crew because it keeps the ugliness from spilling over into public areas. Spacers who haven’t seen planetside for a long time get…hungry. On Rosetta Station, the place they go to satisfy their hunger is the Labyrinth. It’s a maze of ducts, plumbing, supply lines and tanks running under the metal skin of the bottom level, which constitute the veins and arteries of the station. Beneath my feet, less than an arm’s width away, lay the vacuum of space, frigid and infinite.

In the shadows, makeshift stalls got set up in a hurry after the maintenance droids went into hibernation. Illegal vaping chems filled racks beside other contraband items promising a minute or two of oblivion. Real alcohol distilled in the cargo holds of somebody’s ship—not the synthehol they serve in the bars upside—sold by the dram and quickly disappeared. Pornographic holos from off world flickered in tantalizing glimpses, only a second or two to stir the juices and tempt a buyer. Fights were common, weapons forbidden, but blades from all over the galaxy found their way to hand for the right price.

The night’s game over, the Labyrinth teemed with strangers. Visitors with more money than sense to avoid this hellhole sought a risky outlet for excess energy before they shuttled home.

Men and women who wanted more intimate trade lingered among the tanks and narrow pipe-lined alcoves. It could be dangerous. Perverse appetites grow in the silence and solitude of space, especially on the slow ships taking a year or longer to transport their cargo from off world. More than once, a chilling corpse blocked the maintenance droids’ track when they came back online.

The delicate balance between violence and release lets me forget.

I wore a veil of sorts when I went to the Labyrinth. A hood hid most of my face and left only my eyes exposed. The temperature stayed cold enough against the outer hull of the station that it didn’t appear out of place. Once my empathic senses or physical cues told me what they wanted me to be, my body settled into the gender with rising anticipation of a few minutes of unbridled, old-fashioned, down and dirty sex. No lovemaking happened down there in the dark. Few words were exchanged, no money given. For false love, the paid companions had an office upstairs. This was catharsis, need born of loneliness. Sometimes, they groaned someone’s name aloud. I kept my names inside, like a silent prayer.

In the faint light, he hesitated, a tall, athletic man with shoulders almost too wide for the narrow space between the tanks. His eyes scanned around him in quick movements. When he saw me, his steps faltered. He wasn’t feral enough to be a spacer newly returned from a jaunt. I tilted my head in invitation, leaned back against the pipes leading into the alcove, and waited until he approached me. I turned and led him into the jungle of conduits and hoses behind the tanks until we reached the darkness at the end, away from the crowds on the other side.

I pulled him against me by his belt, my fingers working the clasp. His hands went to my waist, pushed at the edge of my shirt until they found skin, and moved upward. Seeking a woman. By the time his hesitant hands reached my ribcage, my small breasts awaited. Hormone surges drove the change, fueled by my own building excitement and my body’s instinctive reaction to his pheromones. His palms brushed over my sensitive nipples, and I shivered as his mingled relief and lust spilled against my mind. I’d guessed correctly.

The kilt was gender neutral and long enough to delay access while the blood-filled tissues beneath my mons prepared to assume a female role. In my neutral state, my genitalia passes as female to an exploratory grope against the front. For a short period, early in my arousal, I’m caught between genders. He was more interested in my breasts. Both hands went up beneath my shirt and kneaded the soft flesh. The tricky clasp of his belt parted at last, and I slipped my hand inside to cup the hardening length of him. He gasped.

Commando. Even better. I shoved his trousers down around his thighs.

The hood fell away against my throat as I knelt. He rocked against my mouth with a muttered oath, steadying himself on the pipes overhead with one hand and the other fisted in my hair. I kept up the rhythm until his breath shuddered. He pulled away and yanked me to my feet. His mouth collided with mine in bruising urgency, the slow heat of volatile liquor on his tongue.

One hand raked up my thigh and found me bare beneath the kilt. A guttural sound escaped him as he lifted me off my feet and shoved my back against the wall of conduits. A grunt of pain emerged from my lips, but I wrapped my legs around him and locked my boots together as he fumbled with the material between us. I was ready. My fingers guided him to the place he sought, my own breathing quick and ragged now. As he buried himself inside me, I grabbed the pipes above my head for purchase, straining against him and meeting each thrust violently as I sought oblivion.

My pleasure came from both physical sensations and the empathic shock of orgasm; my body clenched, nerve endings exploded. The biting cold of the Labyrinth slid away, and the shredding grief for my lost loves evaporated as I experienced the moment of climax in my own body and the body invading mine. My mind burned, consumed and blinded to all outside sensations and emotions. For a moment, nothing else existed.

But it only lasted seconds. The tsunami crashed back to shore, wearing me away with its relentless motion.

The rules of the Labyrinth were clearly not familiar to him. Trapped between the wall and his body for too long, I was forced to speak.

“Put me down.”

Dazed, he lifted his head from the curve of my neck and shoulder. “Oh. I’m sorry.”

I used the pipes above to maneuver myself away and settled my feet on the floor. Only a few seconds were required to straighten the kilt and pull the hood back up over my head, but I didn’t refasten it yet. He seemed to fumble with his belt forever, and my patience wore thin. He was too big to go around, and I needed to be someplace warmer.

“Excuse me.”

“No, wait, please. Let me buy you a drink.”

I laughed. Couldn’t help it. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

He missed my sarcasm. “I’m here for the tournament. I play for Europa.”

Oh, shit. A New Puritan trolling the Labyrinth. What in the seven hells was he doing down here? I asked him as much. “You’d be safer upstairs. How did you even find out about this place?”

“I came down with my brother and some teammates. They came after the tournament last year. We won tonight, so we’ll be here another twenty-four hours before we leave for the finals. Maybe…I could meet you again?”

“I don’t think so.” Young and naïve; great friends he had, to leave him down here alone. I squeezed past him, and the idiot caught my hand.

“At least tell me your name.”

I actually hesitated a moment. I’m not certain why. Long enough for my escape route to be cut off by his friends, drunk on cargo bay hooch.

“I saw him go this way,” one slurred, his voice familiar. The hackles rose on the back of my neck as light flashed into the alcove. I turned away and hurriedly fastened the hood over my face again. Shit.

Jon Batterson and the minions stood in the narrow passage. “Hey, the boy’s finished popping his cherry. Well done, little brother.”

This couldn’t possibly get better.

I ducked my head and tried moving through them, but one grabbed me. “Hey, where you going? You got time for another?”

“Wait a minute.” Batterson spun me around and ripped the hood off my head. His eyes bulged. I stared back at him and gave the same cold smile I had in the bar.

My would-be gallant stepped between us—well-intentioned, but once again trapping me down the goddamned alcove. “Jon, what are you doing? Let her go.”

“Congratulations, Brian.” Jon glared at me past his brother’s shoulder. “You just lost your virginity to a changeling.”

“I…what? No, she’s…” Brian turned around and searched my face in the harsh glare of the flashlight. I could see him now, as young and naïve as I’d thought. Confounded, but not angry. Not yet.

“Get out of here, Brian.” Jon’s voice drawled in monotone, his face blank.

“I’m not going to—”

“No, you really should.” My voice deepened with each word as I allowed the softness of femininity to slide away and be replaced with my neutral side. There was going to be blood. Mostly, mine. I ignored the pain of change and let the expectation of a fight begin to carry me over into masculinity. Brian gaped at me in disbelief until Jon pulled him out of the alcove.

I leaped to grab the pipes above and drove a double-footed kick to Jon’s chest as he reached for me. Propelled into his buddies, they staggered back, but I only managed to create a roadblock for myself. I scanned desperately for some means of escape between the tanks and spiderweb of conduit and found none.

Zezjna, the Zereid martial art, requires space. I tried to adapt. Someone’s nose crunched under the heel of my boot, and I delivered a solid blow to Batterson’s solar plexus before the three of them pounded me into the ice-cold floor. My jaw cracked beneath Jon’s fist. His massive hand dwarfed the knife he pulled from his boot, glinting in the faraway light. He slammed the blade through my ribcage.

What an anniversary. Gresh, Rasida, and I might spend it together after all. Relieved, I welcomed the black hole that swallowed me.

Chapter Three

Maintenance droids found me and sent out an emergency call before I bled to death. The cold of the Labyrinth probably saved my life.

I woke up in increments in a medical pod, the first fragments of awareness indistinguishable between nightmare and reality. Phantoms darted out of the dark to stab me again, and Jon Batterson’s voice growled in my ear, Make sure it doesn’t wake up.

I remembered Gor: an impression of turquoise skin filled my blurred vision as his mind touched mine in reassurance. Dad sat beside me, sorrow etching his face with more lines than he’d earned in the last six horrendous months.

In my delirium, Rasida and Gresh visited me too. Sida took my hand, her dark eyes filled with tears. I tried to speak around the tubes in my throat, but she shook her head, blue-black hair glinting in the harsh white light of the pod.

Not yet, Dalí.

Gresh’s eyes held love, but his expression was set and without compromise. I knew the look. He wore the same one when I almost turned down the appointment to the Remoliad because of Rasida’s pregnancy.

You have a responsibility. He’d said it then, too. I struggled for reference. Real, or drug-induced fantasy, I didn’t care. I wanted this contact. I know it hurts. Use the pain. I promise it will get better, Dalí. I promise, love.

Now, wake up. Wake up.

“Dalí? Wake up.”

The female voice demanded my cooperation. I opened my eyes and swallowed a painful gulp of air. Tubes no longer choked me. A face swam into view, and the woman smiled.

“You’re awake and breathing on your own. Do you hurt anywhere?”

I began to shake my head. Movement sent a sharp, nauseating ache through my skull and made me groan and heave. Agony streaked through my chest. She checked the display of firing pain receptors on the overhead screen and tapped with rapid, precise fingers on her PDD. Medication flowed through the alarming number of subdermal nanopatches that covered me. Relief came almost at once.

“Thank you,” I managed. “I’m not dead.”

“You were close. You had a fractured jaw, a hemothorax, broken ribs, and a concussion. The knife wound almost earned you an artificial heart. We transfused you twice with synth-blood replacements. I think that covers everything. The chest tube came out this morning. The bones are set and should be healed by the end of the week, but it’s best to let the brain heal on its own. I’m afraid you’ll experience some pain, headaches, and dizziness for a few days more.”

I didn’t recognize her. Pale blonde tendrils escaped the tidy knot at the back of her neck, blue eyes mild and curious. “Who are you?”

“Doctor Tella Sharp. Call me Tella.” Her voice softened. “You’ve been unconscious for four days. I had to keep you in a medical coma for a while. Do you remember what happened?”

I squinted. “Yes.” Mostly.

“I need to ask you a couple of questions. Constable Caniberi will want some information as well.” She hesitated. “Were you raped? I found the DNA of four different men on your body, but only one semen type.”

“No. No, the sex was consensual. The fight, too, I guess.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I didn’t go down to the Labyrinth without knowing what could happen, Dr. Sharp.”

Her brow creased. “I just want to make sure I’m not missing anything. I studied third-gender anatomy, of course, but each person’s genitalia varies according to their dominant sex.” Her fair complexion bloomed with rosy color as she discussed my genitals. “You don’t have one.”

“No. I’m changeling. I’m neutral until I assume male or female.”

“And you can control this at will?”

“Yes.”

“That’s fascinating.”

“One way of putting it.” The meds kicked in with speed. My speech slurred. “I’d be happy to give you a demonstration when I’m all healed up. For science.”

Dr. Sharp tapped a few more times on the display, grinning. “Go back to sleep. The pain should be better the next time you wake up. I’ll spare you the constable until then. I may not be able to hold your father off, though.”

I let the drugs pull me back under.



Dad dozed at my bedside in the medical pod when I opened my eyes again, a PDD clutched against his chest. I studied him for a minute. His dark hair was streaked with iron, more gray than I remembered. My throat knotted in gratitude. Dr. Sharp said he’d been there, and I knew he’d been on duty every day. He seldom took personal time off except when Mom was in residence.

“Dad,” I croaked.

He sat up with a start, and his relief sang in my senses even through the haze of medication. “Hey. Do you need a drink of water?”

“Please.”

Dad held the tube for me as I sipped. Coolness spread over my cotton-dry mouth, down my parched throat. I couldn’t get enough, but he drew the liquid away.

“Dr. Sharp says not too much at first. How are you feeling?”

“Better.” I paused. “I’m sorry. I was stupid. I know I’ve been difficult to deal with.”

“Don’t, Dalí.” He cleared his throat. “If you wanted an exit, I would have found you a nice airlock instead.”

His eyes gleamed at me. Shock, then a chuckle bubbled up in me. He smiled back. Knives sliced my lungs as I laughed, but I couldn’t stop. I’m not sure when laughter turned into tears, deep, racking sobs that burned in my chest. My father moved and placed his forehead against mine, stroking my hair until they passed. It was a long time.

When he sat back, Dad’s eyes were red. He grasped my hand between his, pressing it. “You can’t stay here. It’s not helping you.”

“I know. But I can’t go back to Luna. Not yet.” If ever. I swallowed. “Gor asked me to come back to Zereid for a while.”

“I want you to go with him. Dr. Sharp says you need more time, so I pulled some strings. Your leave is extended another six months, but you should go as soon as you’re released from medical.” He hesitated. “Yesterday, Sol Fed fired on a Nos Conglomerate ship between Saturn and Neptune Station. The Nos are threatening a blockade of the Colonies.”

I sucked in a breath and held it. The pain in my ribs sharpened my fuzzy thought processes. The Nos Conglomerate constituted little more than a loosely unified band of humanoid traders and merchants—read “pirates,” according to the Remoliad. Early encounters with them pushed shockwaves through the fabric of Sol Fed’s long-held beliefs of creationist privilege. Few visible differences between our species existed. Subsequent, unfortunate conflicts with our scout ships proved they not only resembled us, they could reproduce with humans. The idea of alien-human hybrids sent a faction of people already unnerved by increasing numbers of third-gender humans into outright paranoia. The NPM and isolationist movements emerged, fed by dire predictions against the survival of the human race.

Sol Fed’s recent decision to demand previous authorization for any ship just passing through our outer system was a point of contention in the membership negotiations. It was our right, but pompous, hardly being good galactic neighbors. Nos ships were well armed and outnumbered our fleet. We weren’t strong enough to defend ourselves, not without the Remoliad’s help. We couldn’t afford to pick fights, but we did anyway.

Now they were within striking range of the inner Colonies.

Strange to think of things outside the scope of my own pain again. It would take some time. My eyes kept fluttering closed. Dad kissed my forehead, something he hadn’t done since I was a child.

“Get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”



The constable blustered in as my first visitor of the morning, DNA identifications in tow. Caniberi was relieved when I told him I would not press charges, but at the same time pissed as hell he couldn’t do anything about it. Taking on the most powerful family in the New Puritan colony of Europa did not top my list of priorities at the moment.

My priority consisted of getting out of the pod and the white, flappy smock that left my ass out in the ventilation. I stayed surrounded by goddamned artificial medical assistants with the Batterson Robotics logo displayed on their chassis. Anxiety did not relinquish its hold on me even when Gor came to visit. He spoke with the doctor, who reprogrammed the bots to stay out of my personal space. It was better afterward.

The pain lingered, but became more tolerable. When Dr. Sharp believed my claims of improvement, she let me leave the bed. She allowed me a set of scrubs but confined me to the medical bay.

Even walking around the pod proved more difficult than I imagined. The good doctor remained quite opinionated about my recovery, and I chafed under the restrictions, although, I grudgingly admitted she knew what she was doing.

She was also more than a little curious about my uniqueness among the third gender.

“May I ask you some personal questions?” became a mantra the week I convalesced under her care. I didn’t mind answering, if only to make Tella Sharp turn shades of pink. I suspected she’d led a sheltered life. She was young, quite lovely, and if I had to guess, in her first practice after residency somewhere civilized. I picked up little from her in my empathic nets. Her focus and control usually kept her emotions buried beneath routine. Rasida was the same way when she worked, the elements of her private life compartmentalized in the deepest parts of her mind. I’d found the fiery, passionate personality beneath Sida’s scientist alter ego. I wondered about Tella’s.

“So, do you view me as an interesting genetic mutation, or the knell of doom for the human race?” I asked questions of my own, sometimes rather tartly.

“I find you interesting as a person who just happens to have a fascinating genetic trait.” She let my sarcasm roll off. We were becoming comfortable enough with each other not to take offense when either of us got salty. “I read a summary of a paper last year that suggested it’s a corrective mutation rather than a malignant one. I found it easier to agree with than the doom and gloom predictions.”

I grew still. “A natural progression allowing transgenderism to correct itself.”

“That’s the one. Their arguments were rather passionate but logical. People whose gender identities didn’t match their birth sex appear in some of Earth’s earliest recorded history. The concentration of intersex and transgender individuals in the Hijra colony on Luna, where the first refugees from Earth were evacuated, was the clear beginning of a bottleneck.” Her brow creased. “What is the scientist’s name? I feel like I should know it.”

“Rasida Gresham-Tamareia.” The name fell from my lips like an invocation.

Her hands ceased their busy flow over the touch screen. “Your wife,” she said.

“They called her the most brilliant geneticist they’d seen in years. The government tried to recruit her, but she chose to work for the university, instead, and continue the study. It’s how we met.”

Rasida published the paper after six years of research and painstaking analysis of her data. I’d volunteered as a test subject during my junior year and fell in love with the dark-eyed grad student whose work subverted the claims of NPM-sponsored scientists.

“Her final hypothesis about changeling traits?” Tella inquired.

“A self-terminating mutation in this corrective flux.” I smiled without mirth. “It isn’t likely to proliferate, since we can’t contribute to the reproductive process without genetic assistance. Changelings will be a brief note in the history of our species, rather than the permanent addition the NPM’s doomsayers predict. But her new work…now, that’s something that would have shaken some of these isolationist assholes to the core.”

“What was she working on?”

“She proved we have a common ancestor with the Nos.”

“What?” Tella’s shock was clear. “Why haven’t I heard about this before? That’s important research.”

“She’d won a grant to further the study before I was appointed to the Remoliad. It was one of the reasons she and Gresh decided to stay on Luna during my mission.” I swallowed, hard. My emotions were in turmoil, memories coming in a rush I couldn’t stem.

“Your husband practiced as a human rights solicitor, didn’t he? Was he third gender?”

“No. Gresh—Andrew—was very much male.”

“You were his wife?”

“No. Gresh liked men. I was husband to both of them.”

“Oh.” Her complexion flushed crimson as she worked things out.

Small minds leap to pornographic images—yes, mine too—but it wasn’t like that between the three of us. Gresh and I were already committed by the time I fell in love with Rasida. They were close friends. Since I am incapable of reproduction, Gresh and genetic manipulation allowed a way for me to contribute to the laboratory-assisted conception of our child. While all three of us were biological parents, only I shared Rasida’s bed. We were a boring, normal, married threesome who loved each other fiercely.

I expect never to find such a level of communion again.

“Tell me more about Gresh and Rasida.” Tella watched me, aware I was struggling against a loss of composure. I took a breath.

“They—I—” Tears threatened and burned my eyes. I still couldn’t talk about them with clinical detachment. I turned my back on Tella, embarrassed. Her hand lay softly on my shoulder for a moment, and her sympathy flowed over me. She left soon after.

The physical symptoms of withdrawal from the illegal vapes played themselves out while I was still unconscious, but I struggled with the psychological sequelae now. I had no access to chemical crutches that dulled the pain. I shut out Tella’s attempts to engage me in conversations about the loss of my loves. The subject remained off-limits until I surfaced from nightmares in a cold sweat, my own scream echoing back from the walls of the pod.

The robotic assistants that monitored my vital signs were set into alarm by my racing heart and buzzed around me. Their presence increased my panic. I shoved one away, and it collided with the other. They both made annoyed electronic chittering sounds. I sat in bed, panting. Tella padded in from her quarters adjoining the medical pods, sleepy and concerned.

“Dalí, what’s happening?”

“I’m sorry I woke you, Dr. Sharp. I’m all right.” My voice sounded hollow in my own ears.

She studied the readouts on the screens for a second before she waved the complaining bots away with a flap of her hand. They withdrew in sullen, artificial silence. She drew the chair up beside the bed.

“You have nightmares every night. What are they about?”

“The explosion at Luna Terminal.” I ran a shaking hand over my face, damp with tears I hadn’t known I shed.

In my nightmares, I see Rasida’s blue gown and Gresh’s red hair as they float side-by-side, motionless in space.

In reality, I saw nothing but the first explosion. Spots filled my vision with blank, white blobs. My shuttle rolled over, pounded by the force of the blast. By the time the pilot regained control of the craft, nothing remained but a cloud of debris. The amputated limb of the space terminal hung by twisted girders. Everyone inside the arm of the terminal who wasn’t incinerated by the blasts suffocated, exhaled into the void above the argent sphere of Luna by a rush of evacuating air.

Tella leaned forward. “I’m so sorry. I read about it in your file, and I can’t imagine your pain. I’m willing to listen if it helps. Tell me what you loved most about Gresh and Rasida.”

“I can’t yet.” Hot tracks followed the course of the first.

“All right. Then tell me what drove you insane. What made you argue with them?”

Surprised, I stared at her. She waited. I stammered, thinking.

“Ah…Gresh made this terrible dish he loved, some kind of tank-grown seaweed thing, but Sida and I couldn’t eat it without gagging. He’d take offense when we went out to a restaurant instead. He sulked.”

“What about Rasida?”

A smile crept at the corner of my lips. The pain stayed level and didn’t rip me to shreds. “She hated my kilts. She preferred me to dress in a sherwani, when I wasn’t in uniform, but she’d buy wild prints that made people stare at me more than usual. I complained and told her I wouldn’t wear anything with print or embroidery except at our wedding.”

“What did you wear for your wedding?”

“A scarlet sherwani with gold embroidery. Her choice. Gresh insisted his be more muted, though. Dark gold, like honey.” I closed my eyes. “Rasida’s gown was like a flame, crimson and orange and yellow. I married fire and honey. It was fitting.”

It was the first memory of a joyful time, since their deaths, that didn’t send me into a spiral of despair. I opened my eyes and looked sidelong at Tella.

“You tricked me. And I thank you.”

“I have my moments.” She rose, yawning. “Do you want something to help you go back to sleep?”

“No. I think I’m all right.” Strangely, I was.

“Call if you change your mind. Good night.” She left the room, and I lay back, holding the fragile memory of our wedding day close in my thoughts. I only dozed, but the dreams were muted, the rounded edges of sea-worn stones instead of jagged shards of glass.

Chapter Four

“How do you see yourself?” Tella asked me on the morning she removed the last of the nanopatches from my skin.

“What do you mean?”

“Male? Female? Both?”

“No one ever asked me that question.” I thought for a moment. “I see myself as ‘neither.’ I’m something different altogether.” I winced as one of the patches threatened to take skin with it. “Ouch.”

“Just hold still. You’re lucky you don’t have much in the way of body hair. So, your determination of gender when you interact nonsexually is based on what people want from you? Nurturing female, warrior male; that sort of thing?”

“It’s a little more than that. I have a high degree of empathy. Not enough for psi-ops, but enough to give me advantage. I learned to rely on it in the way the Zereid do. Gor’s people depend upon empathic sense to relate to each other. My friend can’t show a lot of facial expression.” I wiggled my eyebrows in demonstration.

“It caught my attention.”

“It helps to get hints of what people feel, and what they want, especially in sexual situations. Another advantage to growing up on Zereid was their culture lacks societal gender expectations. Pair bonds are fluid and not exclusively heterosexual except for purposes of reproduction. Everyone is expected to do what needs to be done, from military service to caring for younglings. Living there meant freedom to be myself. I wasn’t pushed in any direction in regard to sexuality. I don’t think third-gender individuals who grow up in the colonies possess that sense of self beyond the two usual genders. They view their neutrality as a burden rather than a comfortable alternative and struggle to fill one of those roles.”

“You don’t?” She glanced at me sidelong. “You just said you look for hints to tell you what your lovers want. You wait to figure out where you fit into other people’s needs. Where do your own come in?”

I opened my mouth to answer and didn’t find one. Not one I wanted to share at the moment, anyway. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re irritatingly perceptive?”

“Once or twice.” She wiggled the next nanopatch out of my skin and examined the pelt of hair-thin needles to be certain no strays got left behind. I thought about her observation for a moment.

“I didn’t struggle with it until we came back to Sol Fed and started to date my peers. I think I was the frequent subject of sexual experimentation.”

“That must have been terrible for you.”

“Sarcasm, Dr. Sharp? No, I never complained, and I’ll be the first to admit I rarely hesitated. I still don’t. I like sex.” I enjoyed the view of her fair skin warming with tones of pink as she concentrated on lifting the edges of the last two patches. “But I never had to be cautious about who I am outside the bedroom until now. The NPM and their views on species preservation… I got quite a shock when I discovered I’m a genetic abomination.”

“We’re not all like that, Dalí.” Her voice chided softly. “The Europan sect is pretty scary, even for me.”

“Aha. I knew you were a virgin.” The final patch nested low in my groin, the only area I do have body hair. She wasn’t gentle this time. I whistled a Zereid profanity through gritted teeth, my eyes watering.

“You deserved it,” she said primly. “I was married. For a while.”

“What happened?” I stood up and put on my own clothes while she tapped more information into her PDD.

“Those gender roles you talked about? I couldn’t conform to the ‘go forth and multiply’ part of New Puritanism, and it isn’t negotiable with my husband. The survival of the human race is apparently dependent upon his progeny. I’m not ready for children. He put me aside—the guiltless word for divorce.”

For the first time, I caught something of her emotions in my empathic senses. Sadness. Anger. Even fear. “I’m sorry.”


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