Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Well, my little stunt last night hasn't gotten me thrown out of the apartment yet. I think that's good; I think it means that we're going to live with it.
It was fun, though - we had mostly people from BioSoft, although neither of the founders came. Carter didn't invite anybody; he said he meant to, but never got around to it. Maureen was kind of put out that only a few of her friends from school and church had even RSVP'd. She said she expected it after the falling-out she and Mary had (Mary being her previous roommate), but it was disappointing for her.
I barely had time to get showered and changed before Maggie showed up. Carter said he was sort of surprised that I didn't wear something trashy, but I figured that would make him and Maureen uncomfortable. So I just went with a sleeveless top and some loose-fitting slacks. Besides, there was no time to shave my legs on Monday.
Maggie was the first to get there, and she'd finally gotten around to asking that guy from work out. Rick's a decent looking guy, but you can sort of tell he usually wears glasses. Nice guy, if a little nervous, could not wait for other people to arrive so that he wouldn't be the only guy in a room with four women. I know the feeling; a lot of guys get out of science/engineering schools and then go to work at a similar environment and just aren't sure how to behave in an environment where there's a lot of girls. They're afraid those women will suddenly start talking about their periods or something similarly gynecological. I certainly remember being there.
Other folks started coming, though, and the room filled up. We put some music on, which was a weird mix: Maureen's tastes run from country to Christian, Carter's to hip-hop, mine to Barenaked Ladies and Huey Lewis. You could get whiplash going from one song to the next.
Around 8:30, the doorbell rang and I sent Mags to answer it. I felt kind of sneaky, but she'd been the one I'd sent to talk to Kurt and Wei, and so they expected to see her. The plan, and it was a silly plan, was for them to not realize they were at my party right away, but I guess they bumped into Kate pretty quickly, since it wasn't that big a party. At first, they said they thought it was a weird coincidence, but then Kate said, no, it was mine and Sam and Maureen's party, and went to fetch me.
Kurt said he thought this wasn't very funny, and they were going to leave. I begged them not to, and said there was a good reason, and just mix and mingle for a while.
About forty-five minutes later, when I figured people would be ready to start leaving anyway (work the next day, you know), I hit stop on the CD player, and then did the whole spoon-on-wineglass thing to get people's attention. Then I went into my pockets for the notecards.
"Hi. Most of you know me, more or less, and I wanted to get you all together. It's sort of under false pretenses; I told you this was a housewarming party, but it's really kind of a birthday party." Lots of looking around, as it couldn't be MINE, that was back in November.
"A year ago today, I woke up in a strange room with a face I didn't recognize in the mirror. I had to look in my wallet to learn the name 'Michelle Garber.'"
Carter grabbed my wrist, hissing a question about what I was doing into my ear. I whispered back to relax, his secret was safe. Kate was the one who blurted out "you had amnesia?", but everyone else was thinking of it.
"I wish. No, I remembered my entire life. It just didn't belong to this body." Confused noise. "A lot of you were at BioSoft; this is what got the FBI involved. Dmitri Gubanov and some unknown accomplices had stitched a couple of different projects together to form a body-switching technique. My memories, and a lot of my personality, came from someone else. I pretended to be Michelle because I'd been left a note saying that if I didn't... Well, look what had already happened, right? Someone who could do this, think of what else they could do."
Pregnant pause. Then Jen started to laugh, and soon pretty much the whole room joined in. I mean, even I had to sort of smile. It just sounded so absurd. The only other folks not laughing were Carter, Doug, and Maggie.
"She's telling the truth!" Everyone turned to look at Maggie. "I didn't believe it at first, either, but she brought me this bottle of stuff to analyze, and although it didn't switch bodies, it was some of the most amazing stuff I've seen, an aphrodisiac that targets a specific genetic signature that her boyfriend was using on her. Just groundbreaking, and really terrifying. I asked her why she brought this to me, when MIT was just up the road and there are, like, a dozen research hospitals nearby, and she said she knew me from... well, from before."
More laughter. But not as much, and some of it was pretty nervous. Wei looked at Maggie, then at me, and I think she'd put half of it together but couldn't quite get past the barrier of common sense. "So, Michelle, just who are you?"
This was the hard part; I flicked through my cards until I found the right one, and started to read kind of mechanically. "Before I answer that, I just want to make something clear - who I remember being doesn't change who I am. I'm the same girl a lot of you have known for the last year. I may have used Michelle's name, but I never pretended to be a different type of person. Everything I've said about what I like, how I feel, or what you guys mean to me... It's all the truth. It's very important to me that you understand that."
No-one was laughing.
"I think Dmitri and his father chose the person I remember being because that person was on my way out of town, to start a new job in a new city where no-one knew him and he could start fresh. They somehow put something in one of my drinks and it got into his brain--"
"Hold on. Hold the fuck on." Kurt looked vaguely sick. "What the fuck do you mean by 'him'?"
"I mean..." My mouth was suddenly really dry and my wineglass was empty. "I mean that every memory I have from before a year ago, and every personality trait that comes from experience and not biology, originally belonged to a man named Martin Hartle."
Kurt sort of imploded. His date stared daggers at me. Wei's fiancé Jim just looked confused, and Wei didn't seem to know whether to look at me or Kurt. She wound up turning to Maggie, asking if this was true, because it was certainly well past the point of being funny. Maggie said she freaked when she first found out, but too many little details fit. That saying I was Martin Hartle in Michelle Garber's body was oversimplifying things, but it was how she thought of me most of the time.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kate putting her arms around her chest. "I shared changing rooms with him!"
Kate turned her head to face Doug, connected some dots, and then her eyes bugged. "Oh my god, you..."
"Yeah. It's weird to think about, but she's a great girl. And she is a woman; you won't find a Y-chromosome in her body, and she's got all the normal hormones and, uh, everything else. That she's been able to adapt to all this... I mean, it can't be easy."
"Oh, she's easy." The attention was back on Kurt. "I can't believe this. Martin's my best friend, and I won't have him insulted like this..."
Wei cut him off. "You haven't heard from Martin in a year. Neither of us have, he didn't even acknowledge the wedding invitation. His mother was worried sick. This would explain why." She turned to me. "But why are you telling us this? Why not just leave well enough alone? I mean, if what this guy [Doug] says is true, you're doing okay."
It was a fair question. I was about to answer when Maureen, of all people, jumped in. "She's living a lie. I mean, even if she doesn't actually say anything that's not the truth, she's hiding something from the people she cares about. How long did you know this Martin Hartle person?" Wei said it must have been ten, twelve years. "See? Even if she's not actually Martin, she's got those years inside her, and it's not right for her to have to pretend she doesn't."
I was kind of surprised. "Uh, thanks, Maureen, but if that were it, that would just be selfish. The fact is, the person with Martin Hartle's body and DNA and everything is still out there. The FBI is looking for him, because he's got the memories of Dmitri's father--"
Jen piped in that it was getting a bit confusing for a simple blonde like her; I promised to draw her a chart later. We hadn't planned it, but the exchange broke the tension, and there was a bit of laughter.
"Anyway, what if he came to you, Wei, and asked for help? Would you put yourself at any sort of risk for someone you thought was an old friend?" Maybe, she said, she just might. "I don't think he'd do the same. He's already abandoned his pregnant fiancée in Seattle. Even if it's hard to know about me, you deserve to know about him."
"OK, I buy that, Mi-- I can't call you Michelle. Maggie, what do you call her?"
I interrupted. "That's the other thing I wanted to announce. Doug's been helping me with the paperwork, but I'm having my name changed, legally. I've seldom really felt comfortable using Michelle's name, even though she is a part of who I am. But in a couple weeks, when everything goes through, I'll be Martina Michelle Hart."
"OK, Mar-tee-na. I hope you understand that you've given us a lot to think about..."
This, everyone could agree on. If you ever want to clear a party, announce that you sort of used to be a member of the opposite sex who had had their mind swapped with someone else. Within a half hour, Maureen, Carter, and I had the house to ourselves again. I'd kind of expected there to be questions, but nobody seemed to want to ask them. Even Maggie and Doug left, seeing that my roommates had some things to get off their chests.
Which left me with Maureen and Carter. Maureen asked Carter if he had known, and Carter said, yeah, Dmitri was going to use "her" body to ferry people into the country.
"That's horrible." She started to clean the place, just to have something to do, but her hands were shaking. "We're going to have to talk about this, but I need some time to digest this. We will talk tomorrow, though, Mi...Martina."
She she went to her room, and Carter to ours, looking none to happy I'd opened my big mouth. Which left me with a room to clean up.
Which was okay; I could use some boring chores to keep my mind off the fact that I'd just done something I couldn't take back.
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