Transplanted Life
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Well, Nat has flown back home. Which means, what? My life returns to "normal"? What the heck does that mean? Carter and I have no place to move in to come Thursday, I remember spending four years in science to get a degree in computer science but am waiting tables, I have regular conversations with the FBI but it doesn't seem to bring me or them closer to any answers. I wonder what a normal life will be for me in the future, when all this is settled down. Will I ever wake up in the morning and feel no surprise whatsoever at what I see in the mirror? Will it mean aligning this life somewhat with my previous expectations or accepting that I'm going to be in a lower social status because this body doesn't have a college degree associated with it? Or will the rest of the world change, with this sort of body/mind-exchange becoming common? In that case, will I be looked at as some sort of pioneer or a prototype that's not quite right? Or maybe it'll get suppressed, and I'll have to keep part of my life generally secret to avoid being considered nuts until the day I die.

Ach. For now, may as well just concentrate on the present - going to work, coming home, treating myself to some entertainment as a reward for getting through the day. All I can do, I guess.

Of course, even that's skewed. I love science fiction, but now, well, how do I consider that an escape? Especially certain subjects. The weird thing is that I'm peculiarly drawn to those subjects - a sci-fi story about the transfer of minds between bodies would have interested me before, but now...

I don't think it's stupid to look to fiction for insight, usually - certainly, good fiction writers often seem to have a better handle on human emotions than those trying to document what's real. Not just because they can stack the deck, but they're better communicators, in general. Still, when I get to the parts which must, to the author, be totally speculative, I sometimes find it laughable.

For instance, my local comic shop got a copy of the first volume of a manga called "Your And My Secret", about a teenage boy and girl who switch bodies, in this week. It's not very good. Even though I know about how Japanese is read from right to left, and thus manags are presented in that format, and have in fact read several that way, the panels on the page are not laid out well; word balloons are often far from the speaker, and it's difficult to figure out who's saying what, especially in the early going when you haven't gotten familiar with the characters yet. The art style also doesn't much appeal to me, with the characters appearing sketchy and often not differentiated enough. It takes place in high school, so the characters are all dressed in uniforms, which doesn't help. The backgrounds are either not present or extremely busy, and the characters are often practically crowded out of the picture with too much text and sound effects.

Plus, I just couldn't believe in it. The boy-in-girl's-body was the main character, so they made the girl-in-boy's-body adapt far too easily. And the other characters basically handwaved past nobody realizing something really strange was going on. I at least subconsciously felt something was off when Mikhail was in Carter's body, and if I met anyone who knew Michelle from before last July, I would screw it all up.

Art aside, would I have liked it if this sort of thing hadn't actually happened to me? I don't know. It's funny, though, that having something impossible happen to you doesn't really make you accept the impossible in fiction more easily - quite the opposite. It makes you realize that even the outrageous has a million little details that need to be filled in for it to be believable.

Friday, June 25, 2004
New friends
Natalya Tartakovsky likes shoes more than any woman I have ever known. I mean, sure, we know the cliché, and I admit to giving them more thought than I ever did at a guy, but today was the first time I ever remember being with someone who has, while doing something else, seen a pair of shoes in a store window, actually squealed, and gone in to buy them. I remind her that with their high, narrow heels, they'll be pretty darn impractical in a couple of months, and she doesn't care, because summer will practically be over by then.

She then procedes to try and teach me about shoes, since the only other female who knows about me and thus would understand that a 25-year-old woman is ignorant on this highly important subject and needs to be educated is Maggie, and she is not much of a footwear connisseuse herself, sandals and other open-toe shoes being somewhat impractical in a laboratory environment. By the end of the day, this information had fled my mind just as thoroughly as my unused Java programming skills. Still, it's a bit of an insight into Nat. Her family is, as I've mentioned before, wealthy, and she is the youngest child and only daughter. She's been somewhat spoiled, but also trained in how to be social and pretty and charming since she was a very young girl.

For instance, she was christened "Natalie" when she was born back in 1979, since even if her parents were too proud to change their surname, there was no need to sound too overtly Russian during the cold war. She acquired the nickname "Natty" at prep school - and readily admits with laughter that it is a hilariously stereotypical preppie nickname - and mostly went back to Natalie around the time she entered college. After graduation, as she landed a position with the Seattle Arts Council, she started using "Natalya" because it made her sound more worldly, and actually helped her image. She's very aware of all this, but also amused. She knows she'll never be "the girl next door" except for other people who grew up on estates, but she's playful about it and comes off as knowing she's different but not feeling particularly superior. She's nice, but if I'd met her as Martin, we'd have very little to talk about.

So, she's high culture and I'm pop culture. She likes foreign movies as much as I do, for instance, but watches them without subtitles as long as they're in Russian, German, or French. We spent the morning shopping because that's what she wants to do in a new city, especially since she'd done the museums already, and figured she might have wisdom to impart. As much as people who know about me think I've totally gone girl, she makes me feel positively masculine. She was also vaguely horrified to see that spots for rings in my ears and navel had pretty much closed up. I told her jewelry drives me nuts, that I can't even wear a watch; when I was a guy, I always wound up removing them from their bands and just carrying them in my pocket or attaching them to a keychain.

We spent the day aggressively not talking of anything important. She just wanted to get to know me, and for me to get to know her, and maybe upgrade my wardrobe a little. When she heard I had an interview at 1pm, she insisted on getting me something to wear with shoes that really matched. I protested, but she pointed out she was buying two outfits, and it was easier to put it on one card. I said I'd pay her back, but evidently a few hundred bucks between friends isn't that big a deal. Must be nice.

Did it work? Well, I did feel a little more confident throughout the entire process, though I probably won't know for another week or two.

Meanwhile, Carter has been hanging out with some of the "other" kids at the supermarket some more after work. As much as he thinks most of them are good kids and kind of enjoys being able to act like a teenager again, they sometimes make him feel old.

Today, they went to the movies, and the entire experience could apparently be distilled to "White Chicks somehow managed to offend and insult me as both a black man and a white woman, and I couldn't possibly explain to the kids why."

Thursday, June 24, 2004
Other people's reactions
It's tough to get a read on what Carter thinks of the whole Natalya situation. He hasn't met her yet, and considered Tuesday a major pain in the neck, but he's as curious as anybody would be. His original movie had taken a bullet to the head not long after I'd broken up with Mikhail-Carter, so not only does he not have his own Natalya out there somewhere knocked up (which would piss us both off), but he doesn't have to wrap his brain around someone living his ilfe in a way other than how he would.

We had an interesting talk about how much I should consider Natalya's unborn child "mine". Sperm donors can at least establish paternity; what did I have aside from a sentimental attachment to half the fetus's DNA? Besides, he pointed out, I'm the one who always talks about accepting who we are now or considering ourselves "new" people; isn't trying to lay a claim of some sort hypocritical?

I tell him it's not about "laying a claim", at least in terms of possession, but continuity, feeling like part of a family. He says that growing up in the foster care system makes him understand the desire for that, but not what it actually feels like. I thought that was sad, but Carter just shrugged it off. It was just his life, the expected baseline.

So, we looked at a couple places in JP, and he wondered if maybe his old place was available, or what had happened to his things. He hadn't left a will; after all, without anyone to leave his possessions to ("hmmph!" I said), what would the disposition of his worldly goods matter to him after he died? Something to ask Doug the next time we see him.

We both had afternoon shifts, so we split up. I probably shouldn't have been surprised to see Maggie show up at work at around six. "Someone else is having your baby," she says, "and I have to read about it on the internet?" This prompted a "looks like Massachusetts's first gay divorce" crack from someone at a table. Not wanting to make a scne, I told Mags I got off in about half an hour.

I wound up apologizing a lot, and she accepted. She brought up the "breeding with yourself" idea, saying she knew how to make it happen if I got a sample. I pointed out that my place was crowded enough and that Carter or I might end up on her couch if we didn't sign a lease in the next week. She's cool with that, although her roommate will probably put up with one short-term guest. So, I guess I'd better sound out Kate.

Another thing she said, though, was that this was the first time she remembered "the new me" seeming unsettled. She's seen me scared and angry, but that this was me more subtly shaken. I had to admit that I'd sort of put what the guy in my old body was doing out of my head for most of 2004. But the big thing is that I had more or less made myself Marti/Michelle, and I'd gotten comfortable in that role, to the point where I was only half-terrified of acting like some sort of mentor to Carter. My strong reaction to this idea of my old body fathering a child, though, seems to mean I haven't made that clean a break. Really, I'm starting to wonder who I am again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004
One hell of a conversation
Well, Doug was wrong. When Natalya came by this afternoon, she just stood there gaping when I opened the door. I let her gawk for a moment, then told her to come in. She was sorry for staring, but I said that's everybody's first reaction when they find out.

She sat on the edge of the futon, saying she hadn't believed me, but had her guy check it out because there were things about Alexei (though she said Martin at first; as one might imagine, she did that a lot). That when he disappeared, half of his moving boxes from July were still taped up, especially the ones marked "comics" and "games"; that he wouldn't get references to movies sitting on his shelf. And then the clincher was when she talked to Kurt and Wei, they described a Martin Hartle totally different from the man she knew...

"You didn't tell them, did you?"

"No, by that time I was starting to believe, and it wouldn't be my place, and, besides, I'd look like a loon."

"Good... It would be awkward, since Kurt and I..." I let it trail off.

"Ew! I don't know what's nastier - that, or that Alexei has a son who's older than I am." She shivered in a way that more or less approximated skin crawling. "And I thought the five-year age difference between me and Martin was a little weird."

"This does more or less put conventional standards of freakiness out the window."

Neither of us wanted to talk about sex more, so she just looked around the apartment, which can be done fairly quickly. "Do you even want to know what Mar... Alexei's place is like?" Not really, I said. She could understand that. "I could help you move to a nice place. I owe you that much."

As much as I'm starting to wonder where I'll be living next week, and would like some more creature comforts, I told her that she didn't owe me anything. Alexei had hurt us both, but that didn't make me her responsibility. If anything, I said, I owed her; if I'd been a little more proactive last year in investigating Alexei or warning her...

Well, she said, for the most part he didn't seem like something she needed to be warned about. Best boyfriend she ever had in some ways. Sweet, courteous, liked things other men found boring. Did the right thing even if it would cost him. It just seemed hard for her to reconcile this with a man who would steal someone else's life or just leave her. She could understand him not demanding to be placed back in his comatose body - that would take a kind of self-sacrifice she knows she didn't possess - but becoming Martin must have been his call. And the worst part is that ever since she heard all this, she had started making excuses - that he fled to the West Coast so that he wouldn't have to be near the son who had orchestrated this, or that he had arranged to keep my mind from being stuck into the comatose body, or that he was just too much man to be able to handle being a woman. But then she remembers that someone is dead because of this, and she sees this tangible sense of what he took from me and the original Michelle...

Hey, I tell her, lots of us have loved people who do things we sharply disapprove of. Take my father's business partner. He and dad were the closest of friends. I was named after him, and called him "Uncle Martin". He was even older than Dad, but practically family. And then, when I started dating Becky Nagoshi in high school, I found out he was a horrible, horrible racist. To this day, I try to make excuses, that he'd served in the Pacific during WWII, or that he was a product of a different time, but the fact is, you expect the people you care about to rise above such things and do what right. And you should.

"That's just begging to be let down." I supposed it was, but I was brought up to think high standards are better than settling.

She smiled, and she has a really pretty smile. "Would I have met those high standards?"

"In terms of being cute, absolutely. And you seem like a great girl - smart, independent, and ridiculously open-minded to accept what you've learned this week. I'd have hoped for a second gate, I think. How 'bout you; would you have gone for the full Marty?"

"I don't know; I generally stay away from the comic book geeks. I mean, we never would have met, would we? There's no way you would have been at the ballet that night."

"Not a chance."

"Still, I'm really glad to meet you now. I'm glad you're nice, that you don't seem to hate me, that being a selfish jerk wasn't something intrinsic to that body. It's a pattern with Alexei, isn't it? He defected without his family, he moved across the country rather than live near his son, he left me. So that sort of thing probably comes from him and not from you."

"What's it matter?" She had clasped my hands, and was starting to give me a look. I removed her hands from mine and started doing the lecture-pace. "It's like I tell Mags, I say I'm Martin because it's convenient, and it's who I remember being, but folks like me are composites. I mean, I like to have sex with men. A lot--"

"That's not where I'm going with this!"

"Not saying you were; just that the Martin you know is who he is. I'm who I am. How the pieces fit together to make us that way may be important to someone like Maggie, who knew us 'before', but for those of you who only know us 'after', it's irrelevent."

"Not to me! Damn it, Marti, I need to know which pieces come from where!"

"Why? How could it possibly matter?"

"I'm pregnant."

My turn to stare open-mouthed, and stagger backward to sit on the futon.

"Missed my period the first week of March. Took a test. Martin...Alexei was shocked, but happy. Proposed right away. I told him that I had money, that I didn't need to be supported, but he said... he said kids need two parents. He said it was just a matter of when, not if. It made me so happy, and then he left. And now I'm ashamed, and trying to hide it."

"I... I didn't realize."

"Only four months along; a loose dress like this can still cover it up. And it's silly to worry too much, because the fact that you're still pretty Martin-like and he's still pretty asshole-like seems to prove that who we are is less nature than nurture. But still... I'm glad my baby's got 'your' genes and not 'his'."

"May I...?" She nodded, and I touched her abdomen; I could feel a bump under her dress; no kicking or anything yet. "I'm going to be a father. Huh. That's a sentence I'd given up on ever saying."

"This poor kid is going to be so confused someday." She grinned bigger. "If they ever track Alexei down, you should get some sperm frozen. Be both the mommy and daddy."

"Not for a loooooong time; I'm not close to ready to be someone's dad, let alone someone's mom. It's a thought for later, though. It would, of course, have to be artificial insemination."

"Oh God yes." She hugged me. "I'm so glad you're nice. I'll totally understand if you say you don't want any part of this, but I hope you will. But think about it. Lord knows that's all I've done the past two days."

"I... I will."

"Good. Now, here's my cell number, and where I'm staying while I'm in Boston - and yes, there really are people named Buffy; we went to school together. I'll be here until Saturday; we really should get together and just hang out before I go back home - are you free the rest of the day?"

I looked at the clock and was like, oh shit, I've got to look at an apartment. Then she felt bad about keeping me. But I promised that I'd try to squeeze her in sometime Friday, since I had the afternoon off. She made me promise.

Been hours, and I'm still digesting this. I suspect I will for a while longer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
This morning
I think I'd love Doug for what he told Agent Jones if not for, well, the other things he said this morning.

He met me, Carter, and Maggie at the Post Office Square Starbucks. Caffeine was the last thing Maggie needed; she was shaking like a leaf. "They can't really put us in jail for talking about Marti and Carter, can they? I never really paid attention to this stuff, I mean, I defended the Patriot Act a month or so ago..."

Doug said not to worry; the Feds just want to throw a scare into us. Maggie and I commented that it was working pretty well. Carter shrugged, and Mags asked why he was so calm.

"I'm already in jail."

When we got to Agent Jones's office, we met up with the BioSoft founders and their lawyer. The agent started pacing, saying he didn't invite Natalya because that might just confirm my story for her. Then he started in on how "the process" could be the greatest danger facing world security. Imagine if you would, he said, that Mikhail Korpin came to the United States not because Carter's job paid more for a week than he made in a year, but to blow up a building. I've got a badge, he says, and then points at me and Carter. "You know I'd be stopped at any entrance or reported as suspicious before either of them. The thing that allows me to get five hours of sleep most nights is that most of the world's six billion people dismiss the idea of somehow exchanging minds as not even science fiction, but outright fantasy. If this notion ever gains credibility, we just have to hope suicide bombers decide that the process corrupts the soul enough that they'll never reach Paradise. That's what we're fighting here."

Doug stepped forward. "And we applaud that, but the truth of the matter is, the cat's been out of the bag for some time now. Why, you yourself pointed out Marti wasn't under any obligation to keep quiet when it suited your needs." Jones said soemthing about that being one interpretation before Doug started back in. "But it goes much further back. Warti has been posting her experiences on the internet since last July with over a hundred people reading her journal every day, and no-one's told her to stop."

"Who believes what they read on the internet?"

"Are you more likely to believe it seeing her in person?" So that was why he'd told me to put on a nice dress, pumps, and some make-up. "You only believe to because you've got a bunch of evidence stashed away somewhere. Miss Margaret Roache, here, was intimate with Martin Hartle and thus likely more difficult to fool. None of that applies to Natalya Tartakovsky."

"And what about you, Mr. Hastings?"

"Who says I do? Sure, a friend of mine says she's trustworthy, but maybe she's just a cute girl with an interesting story. Wouldn't you want to spend some time with her? And in the unlikely event that she's telling the truth, it's a chance to make legal history."

Khalil thought it over; he didn't like it that much, but he had to admit that there was nothing he could charge us with. "Just try to remember we're investigating a crime, all right?"

"Of course. But you've also got to remember that these ladies are the victims of that very personal crime, and you certainly wouldn't advise a rape victim to keep it a secret, would you?"

And then Agent Jones told us to leave.

As we got out the door, Maggie heaved a great big sigh of relief, and I agreed with that sentiment, but also... "What the hell was that? 'On the off-chance she's telling the truth'? What's that about?"

"I just had to convince him that there was no danger in you telling this Natalya Gubanov character. It worked, didn't it?"

"And is there any truth to it?" Carter and Maggie may have said something about being late for work at this point; I don't recall seeing them later. "I mean, are you humoring me? Do you just want to sleep with me even if I might be mentally ill? Or do you just see me as some kind of way to make a name for yourself?"

"Well, you have to admit that it is pretty far-fetched. I'll be honest, I had doubts until I heard Agent Jones taking it completely seriously. I mean, be fair, here!"

I closed my eyes and counted to ten. "Okay. It's reasonable. But from now on, just be honest with me. The lies I've had to deal with - and told! - since this all began... I just don't want to do that any more."

He nodded. "I can respect that. Now that I know it's true, well." He smiled. "You're a hell of a woman." And he kissed me on the cheek.

Made me feel pretty good, even if it is his job to convince people of things.

Monday, June 21, 2004
Phone-filled day
Just like being at BioSoft again - I spent all day on the phone before leaving for my real job. In the morning, it was making calls - letting Mags, Agent Jones, and Mr. K know what was coming. Maggie was pretty agreeable, cool about keeping Carter out of it. I was about to hang up and call the FBI when she gave me a little chuckle. "So she and 'Marty' were supposed to be married this past weekend, huh? I feel like I should be jealous or something."

"Or something, definitely."

I got Agent Jones's voicemail next, then called BioSoft. Maureen was still there to answer the phone, but who knows for how much longer. She sounded stressed-out and said Mr. Kraft would be meeting with lawyers all morning, and I told her that I'd really like to talk with him before the PI does.

That got her attention. Investigatiors mean lawyers, and she doesn't want any more of that. I wound up waiting on hold for ten minutes, then talking for five to my old boss. He, as one might imagine, wasn't nearly so eager to help as Mags. Aside from Maggie and I being close, she had a reputation to make from all this stuff where he and his company were more or less on the losing end. I told him that I felt this weird combination of sorry for Natalya and scared of her; she was supposed to have been married Saturday, but the resources she could bring to bear if she focused on me as a target are pretty daunting. He pointed out that he was afraid of the same thing, and warned me that he'd probably have to do a lot of no-commenting. I said that was fine, and not to totally screw himself over on my behalf. He still feels pretty bad about what happened to me and Carter, though, so I think he'll help.

No sooner did that call end than the phone started ringing with incoming calls. I made a couple appointments for Carter and/or me to scope out summer sublets, and a job interview on Friday. Then Doug called, saying a PI had called upon him. I hadn't talked to him, so he'd said "attorney-client privilege." I said I didn't know how they'd found out about him, but I should have warned him anyway. He said it was OK, since the more people who believe me, the better a case I'd have when we were ready to talk litigation.

It turns out Maggie was being "helpful"; she gave Natalya's man all he asked for, including my present boyfriend ("Doug and I are not..."), as well as the cell numbers for Kurt and Wei. I was somewhat less that thrilled to hear that, since I sure as hell don't think I'm ready for them to know.

Still, I wasn't as ticked as Khalil Jones was on the message he left, asking if I knew what kind of fire I was playing with and how much harder I'd just made his and his fellow agents' jobs. He wants me, Carter, Maggie, and anyone else I'd told at the Federal Building at 8AM sharp.

I think it's a very good thing that I've got Doug's cell number now.

Sunday, June 20, 2004
I should have written about the weird experience that was last night's movie this morning, when it was still relatively fresh in my mind. Suffice it to say I'm not sure whether they showed the advertised film or not (no English-language titles, but it didn't look much like the description), one reel was repeated - and it contained a scene where you see some breast, so the second-biggest crowd I can remember for one of these things got all excited - but nobody from the theater acted like anything was wrong. Doug sort of shook his head, saying that when Kate told him that I was into movies, he assumed it was like Kate was into movies. You know, good movies. I said I just have a much broader idea of what a good movie was than she did. He said I certainly must.

Anyway, he drove me home and I crashed, since I had to be at work by eleven. Anyway, we're pretty busy for lunch, so I'm pretty focused on just my tables. I just about jump out of my skin when someone grabs my arm and asks what time I get off work. At first I think it's some guy harassing me, but then I look down and see it's not, it's a blonde girl sitting by herself, eating a salad. It takes me a second to recognize her as Natalya Tartakovsky, since I'd only seen pictures, and she looked different somehow. Maybe it's just seeing her in person.

I was kind of shocked, so I was like, um, okay, I get off work at seven-thirty. She said that was okay and let go of my wrist.

So I was nervous all day. When I got off work, she was waiting at the door, and asked if there was anywhere we could talk. I say I haven't had dinner yet, she asks where there's good seafood, and we wind up taking the T to Legal Sea Food in Kendall Square.

We don't talk to each other on the train. We're seated pretty quickly, and don't say anything for a few minutes. Then she breaks the silence. "So, you know who I am."

"Well, we've never met, but..."

"Right. See, here's the thing. Two months ago, my fiancé disappeared. We'd just gotten back from a nice vacation, I'm bushed but he says he wants to check his email before going to bed, and then when I wake up, he's gone. Just gone. Then later that week the FBI comes looking for him. The FBI! What the hell could the FBI want with him?

"I tell my father about this, and he is, well, pissed. We've only been engaged a couple weeks, and now Martin is some kind of fugitive? Now, I don't want to seem like some spoiled rich bitch, but daddy does have resources. He hires Seattle's best private investigator, and the first thing I find out is that Martin's parents are only half as dead as he said they were. And the weird thing is that there's absolutely no reason for him to lie about it. His mother is... I mean, she's..."


"Nothing! Well, not nothing, but she's just this nice old lady who has no secrets whatsoever, and when daddy's guy talks to her, she's terribly worried about 'her Marty' - and, by the way, Martin hated when anyone called him Marty - who hasn't talked to her for almost a year, since he moved out west! She didn't even know he was engaged to me! It just doesn't add up!"

Well, at least she's okay, I say. Yeah, whatever, she says, looking 80% confused/20% irritated that I'm interested in her hitherto-unknown potential mother-in-law. "Anyway, the trail practically dead-ends after that. It's not totally surprising; Martin is really good with computers, and not only is there nothing on his machine, the PI says his phone records have been, and I quote, 'sanitized' as well. We get a couple of hits on his credit cards, but after a week or so there's no new trail.

"And then, here's the really freaky thing, this PI knows people in the FBI, and he says that the guys who came to question Martin had no idea what they were going to ask him about; they were to take him to the local office so that he could be interrogated by folks who would fly in from the Boston office. And this guy can't find out anything about what these guys were going to ask; the investigation is apparently more top-secret than locating foreign terrorists. There's like ten people in the Boston office who know about it, and then it's ridiculously need-to-know, with maybe the FBI director, attorney general, and head of Homeland Security in the loop. He's never seen the like.

"So, we don't hear anything for like a month. I'm searching my way through my system, to see if there's anything I missed, and I find a deleted email that you sent me back on October 25th saying Martin wasn't to be trusted. I give your name to the PI, and he finds out that you were involved in some shooting back in April which led the FBI to investigate where you work just before Martin bolted, and that there are holes in your phone records that correspond to some of the holes in Martin's. He says he'll fly to Boston to find out what's going on, and I say fuck it, I'm coming with you, because I just don't want to sit around home on the weekend I'm supposed to be getting married and I can't stand just waiting any more. So, here I am.

"Now, you tell me: Who are you, what the hell do you have to do with Martin, and what the fuck is going on?"

And then she starts crying. I didn't know what to do with crying females who liked me when I was a man, much less how to handle them now. "I... he... we..." There's just no reasonable answer. I take a deep breath, and ask her how open she is to a completely ridiculous explanation. She says she'll take any kind.

"Your fiancé's real name is Alexei Gubanov, or at least it could be said to be that--"

"'Could be said to be'? What the hell does that mean?"

That, I tell her, is the weird part. I tell her about the body-switching thing, and that I used to be Martin Hartle, and everything up until January, basically leaving Carter out. What does she care about him. I run on and on, never giving her a moment to interrupt, because I guessed her reaction right:

"You must think I'm completely stupid."

I shake my head. I give her a list of people who can verify what I'm saying. Maggie, Mr. K, Khalil Jones. She pulls a cellphone out and hits a speed-dial. Maybe it's coincidence, but I hear a phone on the other side of the restaurant ring once almost immediately. She talks to the PI, I guess, giving him the names.

Then our food arrives, and we realize that we'd sort of forgotten we were in a restaurant. We eat in awkward silence and don't get dessert. She puts the bill on her gold card, saying she doesn't want my money when I reach into my purse.

We leave, and are about to head in opposite directions. "So, anyway," she says, "I think it's fair to warn you that I think your story is total and complete bullshit, and if I find out that this is some sort of elaborate mindfuck..."

"It's not."

"Right. Sure. If that's the case, and my life is now total and complete science fiction, then I'll owe you an apology." She blows a strand of hair out of her eyes, and then mumbles something about how she'll have a lot of thinking to do.

Me, I'm trying to figure out if anybody's following me.


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Note: This blog is a work of fantasy; all characters are either ficticious or used ficticiously. The author may be contacted at