Archives for posts with tag: Universe 2 edited by Robert Silverberg

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First published in Universe 2

Ed. Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber (Bantam Books, 1992)

Republished in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories

(Bast Books, 2017)

The old wachter peers at the holoid of Sha!n. From the holoid’s ectomurk peeks a cherubic face—shy kid grin, tousled hair, big eyes.

Tatiana’s offspring.

“Yep, I seen ’im,” says the old wachter. Its chrome headpiece wobbles up and down. “Yep, be sure o’ tat.” It spits a drop of oil. With a raspy creak, the old wachter’s armpiece flips up, plucks out its eyeball. It ponderously wipes the acrylic orb on the leg of its dingy uniform, pops the eyeball back in its headpiece. “Purty chil’. Be lookin’ jes like you, hon,” it says to Tatiana.

Tatiana’s backblades flutter hopefully. The whirring of her six stiff wings forms a pearlescent halo behind her delicate pointed face.

“And this man?” asks Dana Anad. He shoves a holoid of Tatiana’s deux-partner, Edstuart (that bastard Eddie, she calls him), in front of the old wachter’s eye.

Dana can see that the greasy smudges dappling the eye before are now smeared all over it. Rust erupts around the old wachter’s joints. And there, through a gap in the old wachter’s control console, surely the quick dart, a tiny gleam of red eyes, betrays some vermin nesting in the warm wires within.

How can a wealthy cityship like Nexus allow wachters patrolling the skin to get so grubby? It’s negligence, an eyesore, not to mention a security risk.

Security risk. The skin holds the world within. From where Dana stands on the avenue of steel strut and blood-gorged bone, the living sphere of skin arches out across an inner horizon.

“Hellya,” says the old wachter. “Him, too. Be wit’ de chil’.”

“Ah!” Tatiana cries out.

Dana takes her by the shoulders, holds her. The slim knobby cords of her wing tendons tremble.

“But ye cain’t go in der after ‘em, bud,” says the old wachter. “Porthandle be closed next six hours. Dey’s openin’ de ports. Cain’t go in der aft’ ‘em, no sirree. Not even ye, bud-oh.”

The old wachter chuckles to itself, tickled by some secret joke of senility or a surreptitious shot of electrolyte in its battery pack.

“It’s right, Tatiana,” Dana whispers in her fluted lavender ear. “Out of the question. We can’t go on.”


“Yes, my love.”

“But I’ve got the injunction. I’ve got a right to my offspring.”

A steelyn sheath surrounds the skin, shielding the living world with a thin atmosphere. The sheath opens directly to space through the ports, apertures inset with plastic diaphragms. When the ports open, the exosphere destabilizes. The living world shivers. Gravitational fields, atmospheric pressure, condensation all askew. The skin has got to maintain. Dermal intruders would be irritants to it. Maybe infection.

“The injunction is just an equitable remedy. Tatiana, please listen,” insists Dana. “The injunction has no authority here. We’ll have to wait.”

Tatiana’s ears are like irises inviting a bee’s tongue.

Dana’s desire for her stings like salt in the wound of his t-burn. Her perfume dizzies him like always, the scented oil she calls amante: ripe peaches, musk, a hint of her flesh. The dazzling scent recalls their stolen nights. He hungers for her touch.

But as soon as he desires her, the t-burn bites him.

Bruises fester under his softening skin. The sour lump on his tongue means the joints are next, each movement soon fraught with the shock of quick cuts deep within his ligaments.

The t-burn is pretty bad this time. Withdrawal from the testosterone he’s megadosed to be a man for her.

Be a man. As if Dana could ever be a man.

Other swings try to deceive themselves. I’m a man inside this body, they say. Or, despite this body, I’m a woman.

Dana knows neither is true.

He is a swing. A mutant. Accursed.

“We can’t wait!” says Tatiana. Her shimmering violet eyes stare up into Dana’s, plumbing his passion for her. “Don’t you see? Eddie’ll stow away on a sunshuttle or a starbarge, and we’ll never find him. He’ll take my Sha!n away for good this time, I know it! Oh please, Dana!”

“All right,” mutters Dana. “All right, all right.”

When the old wachter shuffles back to its post, swiveling its circuit plate for a moment, Dana kicks it in the knee tread, rips out its main cable.

The old wachter clatters to the street like a bag of scrap.

“Damn, Tatiana,” Dana says, feeling like a thug. “The things I do for you.”

He can only hope the fall jams up the old wachter’s memory. Even so, he’ll have to grease some gears next time he wants special access to Porthandle. Acquiring special access takes years on Nexus. Years and favors tendered, the codes on a small cityship broken only by necessity. Vandalizing a dermal wachter could ruin Dana’s reputation.

Damn! The things he does for her.

“My Dana,” Tatiana says, and kisses him. But her lips are cold and dry. Her face, so soft and appealing before, hardens into a mask of such determined fury he can barely stand to look at her. “Come hurry, you must hurry,” she says.

Now an order, not a plea. She shakes his hand away when he reaches for her again.

They slip past the wachter’s post, step onto the inner sky itself. The perspective swings precipitously. The avenue soars above them now, disappearing into the central city. Below their feet, the blue-veined breathing dermis of the world. Epithelial monitors stretch their skinny necks, angling lidless emerald eyespots for a better view.

Dana turns his face away from the monitors, tries to shield Tatiana’s notorious profile with his cloak.

It’s no use. She and Dana will be identified. A stunt like this could get Dana disbarred. The Municipal Bench of Nexus is punctilious with interworld counsel.

Too late to turn back now.

Ahead lies the scarlet tube of a bronchiole overlaid with biotic membrane.

That’s it!

What Dana brought Tatiana to this remote post for. Not the usual way to leave the skin. There are mouths for that, yawning directly into the sheath-ports.

No, this has to be the way. Tatiana’s final bid for her offspring calls for secrecy.

Dana massages the membrane, finds its tough curl of nerve, pinches the nerve firmly, then smooths the membrane open.

He lifts Tatiana, shoves her through.

Wrestles himself past the membrane just before it slaps shut.

Gelatinous walls squeeze all around him, the narrow shoot of the bronchiole.

The air within is putrid, poisonous. These muscular, filament-lined pipes filter the famous fresh atmosphere of Nexus. Millions of them riddle the skin, expelling vapors of the city for dispersion through the sheath.

The bronchiole propels whatever stuff enters it into Porthandle.

That is Dana’s strategy.

But it’s shameful, a Triadian damma and her Nexus counsel, expelled from the world like poison. Isn’t that the truth of their love? Something to be expelled from both their lives?

“Lie quietly,” Dana calls to Tatiana but she’s already careening ahead. The bronchiole grips him in its suckered walls. He fights panic, yields with effort to its repulsive embrace.

Lie quietly.

If only Dana could lie quietly with Tatiana again.

*   *   *

How once he’d lain in his bed, not quietly. He was burning. Burning up.

MU had awakened him out of the sweaty torpor of a ferocious e-burn and informed him that a new client had arrived.

Dana had begged to make a referral. MU had refused. MU was a metaprogram hardwired into Dana’s northside combodominium. MU had priorities. MU flashed Dana’s overdrawn credit accounts across the sleeping cell’s monitor.

“Get the fuck up,” MU said.

Dana groaned.

T-burn was always piercing, brittle. E-burn, heavy and feverish. The e-burn now, aftermath of an estrogen overdose, had fevered him for nearly two hours. Finally his breasts had collapsed. Subcutaneous gristle gripped his sternum. Shrinking hips squeezed his pelvis like an animal hide drying on the shaping rack of a tannery.

No way to lie down that wasn’t excruciating. No energy to get up.

All he deserved, trying to please Lenni.

MU feigned perplexity. “MU cannot assimilate this, Dana Anad. Diagnosed allergic, yet you megadose yourself. MU doesn’t know why you genderize at all when you know hormone withdrawal is going to be so bad.”

“MU should tell me. Then we’ll both know.”

Dana hated it when MU scolded him. There was no evading MU’s view. He slapped at the headboard controls. He succeeded in nicking his wrist.

“Take a V-shot.” Into the bedside serving tray, MU dispensed a hypodermic syringe opaque with a vile yellow opiate.

“No, no. Not another needle.”

Dana recoiled, but there was no escape. Servos snapped out of the carved ebony bed-frame. MU seized Dana’s wrist, plunged the syringe. Dana winced, angry tears starting. “It’s all Lenni’s fault, the treacherous swing. I never want to see—”

Lenni had double-swung him again.

“So don’t see,” said MU. “Now, Dana Anad, there’s someone new to see you.” A lilt and a hum to MU’s voicetape. “She’s beautiful.”

“Beautiful.” Holy suns, his programming. Numbness stole his nerves. Nice. Too nice, a V-shot. Turn to V-shots too often, and he would need the V, day in and day out. “I need beautiful like I need another hole in my arm. Remind me to upgrade MU’s common sense.”

“Pull yourself together, Dana Anad.”

MU flitted away, trailing offended feedback. Dana could hear MU’s deadpan receptionist mode echoing from the office in the east cell of the combodominium. “Madam, if you will wait one moment, please.”

Dana edged out of bed, hobbled across the sleeping cell. The north-bay porthole remodeled its almond-shaped arch as he passed, thrusting out a new arabesque. Although a disciplinarian with his other cells, Dana loved the sleeping cell’s exuberance for life. He freely permitted its erratic transmutations.

An indulgence that intimated a secret hope. That he might one day redeem his life of relentless transmutation.

A touch at the closet door, and his wardrobe presented itself—a meticulous sheaf of pressed garments held by black-gloved servos.

A conservative gray bodysuit stepped out of the wardrobe, zipped itself around him. He strapped around his wrists and neck strips of gold inset with holoids of lapis lazuli cabochons and one-carat diamonds.

Then to the groom-room for a spot of lanolin and a whisk with a teak-handled brush through the hair that fell straight to his cheekbones. Dana replanted his scalp often, favoring silvers, blonds, and lavenders. Pearly planting shafts peeped from the part down the middle of his scalp. He wasn’t sure he still liked the lustrous red he’d chosen for the last swing with Lenni.

Lenni. In boots and britches and a chamois shirt, lean-hipped, a trace of mustache on the lip. Lenni teasing fingernails across Dana’s tender scalp. Lenni seizing a lock of that lustrous red, jerking Dana’s head back. Rough insistent Lenni, demanding Dana submit. Lenni bending over Dana for a kiss.

Then Lenni coming up, full-lipped and full-hipped, laughing falsetto, ripping open the chamois shirt to show new full breasts.

Treacherous Lenni. Genderizing female, just like that. How could Lenni do this to him? Swing fem right in the middle of his own fem manifestation? Double genderizing not less than half an hour into Dana’s swing?

And Dana, he’d injected the estrogen not very willingly. Endured the swell and change of the body, accepted the inevitable agony of e-burn, to please Lenni.

Please, Lenni, for pity’s sake, you can’t do this.

The bastard, the bitch, the treacherous double-crossing swing. Dana never wanted to see—

Dana suffered their mutation. Lenni reveled in it.

He could hear MU in the office cell, making polite conversation.

He stuck his head in the wraparound, watched in the interior mirrors as the air-jets blasted him clean. His face looked like hell. Lips cracked. Eyes drooping, glazed, stained with last night’s mascara.

Steady up, he told himself. Looking like a superannuated whore, and a new client waiting.

He set the wraparound on mist, directed mild electroshock around the eyes. Optic muscles quivered. He wasn’t happy about the eyes. With such eyes, a man might look distinguished, a woman experienced. But a swing, Dana thought, looked like death.

Over his face he sprayed a superfine celluloid powder that sealed in ten seconds into a smooth ivory mask. No beard to contend with this time, thank goodness for small favors.

In the groom-room cabinet lay another syringe filled with the yellow bliss of V. What the hell. The first dose was peeling off the e-burn, laying the ache bare again too soon. He plunged the needle under his tongue.

Taking on a new client implied another tomorrow. Dana wondered if he could stand himself for another tomorrow.

*   *   *

She was Tatiana, a damma from Triad.

From a clannish folk, close-knit and closer-mouthed, not often seen in interworld ports.

Of elegant proportions and regal deportment, she was nevertheless doll-like, quick and charming. Her complexion was lavender jade, fine and translucent, with lines like crackles in glaze fanning up from her eyes and mouth. Her slanting amethyst eyes seemed to regard him askance until he realized they curved around the bilateral sides of her narrow face. A dress of ivory silk fell from her shoulders to a wasp-waist, then flared out around her knees. A latticework of lace across her back permitted six long cartilaginous, oval-tipped wings of shimmering violet to extrude with striking grace.

Beautiful. Good old MU.

But what was beautiful? The first planet from this particular central-sun was beautiful, but not to one dying of thirst. The deep purity of space was beautiful, but not to one shipwrecked.

Who could be beautiful to a swing?

Still, Dana caught himself staring.

Tatiana told him she was united with a permanent partner. “We call it Solemn Deux.”

But she and her partner in deux had divorced. “It’s over,” she said. “I cannot love him anymore, and he certainly doesn’t love me.”

She was bitter. He’d failed her. They had an offspring, Sh!an. “We call the offspring the Point of the Triad.” Triadian law required that the estranged couple share custody of the offspring.

About this, she raged. “Oh, Dana Anad,” she cried, “I never wanted to see him again until I was required to.”

In flagrant violation of their custody agreement, the deux-partner Edstuart had kidnapped Sha!n and disappeared.

She produced documents on interworld disks.

“Repeat offender,” she declared. “Oh, he’s done this before. Not showing up at our appointments. Or showing up, but not with the offspring. Bold as you please, mocking me. That bastard Eddie,” she said, the epithet incongruous in the fluting voice of her folk.

“And now you think they’re on Nexus?” asked Dana.

She was certain. Shortly after he and the offspring disappeared, a luxury cruiser had warped through Triad, bound for Nexus.

She shifted in her seat, seemed restless.

Dana could see that the base of her left fourth finger was surrounded by a cybernetic centipede. Spiky spinal fur glistening like sapphires set in the platinum ribs of its exoskeleton. Silver proboscis plunged in the major blood vessel of her left hand. From the centipede’s neck extruded a razor-thin ridge curved in the shape of a crescent moon.

Dana had seen such parasites before. In exchange for high-grade nourishment in quantities limited only by the host’s vitality, the centipedes constrained certain nervous diseases or maintained artificially induced behaviors better than any drug. Some swings used centipedes when they could get them. But such devices, with their exchange of need, made Dana sick. The sight of its gleaming head buried in her hand repulsed him.

She caught his glance. “Triad attempts to enforce the Vows of Deux this way. I can’t detach it. But I swear to you, it affects me no longer. I don’t seek him out of any induced obsession. I simply need to have my Sha!n returned to me. Dana Anad, you of all men must understand.”

Dana picked uncomfortably at the bodysuit sleeve tormenting his sore arm. You of all men. Always this embarrassment. People’s illusions about him that in due course would require a humiliating disabusement. He never could shake the knee-jerk.

She watched him intently.

“If it’s kidnapping, we should notify the Nexus police,” Dana said.


“Couldn’t the offspring be in jeopardy?”

“No! No Nexus police! No outsiders! This is a matter of Triadian law!” Tatiana rose from her seat, bright-faced with urgency. “We are an old world. A closed world. We have stood aloof from your interworld community. This is shameful for me. You cannot imagine what a disgrace. On Triad, matters of deux are confidential among our people. And me, approaching you, an outsider, like this? Offworld? Oh, Dana Anad! It is forbidden to reveal our ways to anyone, anywhere. Yet I’m begging you, help me.”

She stood, paced around his office. Her silk skirt rustling.

Dana reconsidered the reasonableness of taking on her case, overdrawn credit accounts be damned. “Article Two of the Interworld Code stipulates that no neutral counsel may intervene in matters of parochial jurisprudence, unless the petitioner waives all parochial rights and submits to interworld law. Look here, Tatiana. Do you so submit?”

“I do, yes!” She paused. “Well, why not. I have to, don’t I?”

“Then what would you have me do, if you refuse the protection of the Nexus police?”

“Oh, Dana, if you would just find them. Arrange for a meeting. Do something discreet. Impress Edstuart. Invoke your interworld law, but in a way that won’t expose me. He would listen to you, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, I could obtain an injunction in the Interworld Court requiring him to honor your custody agreement. Confidentiality would apply.”

“Yes! Yes, that’s perfect.”

She turned her narrow back to him so he could see her sinewy shoulder blades, the startling wings, her waist through the lace. She swung her hips in the café dance women do when they want someone to notice them.

Then composed, smile dazzling, she sauntered to where Dana sat and took his hand.

Dana recoiled. E-burn crackled over his skin.

She began to murmur nonsense in the tongue of her folk like a mother baby-talking her child. Her slanting gaze dizzied him. She exuded some kind of power. Her touch and words grew amorous.

“Elegant Dana,” she said. “What is this great pain of yours?” She drew back his bodysuit sleeve, surveyed the new punctures, his scabs, his scars. “Surely not a drug addict?”

“No. No! I am an androgyne,” said Dana. “A swing. Not a man. Not a woman, either. Neither and both. A mutant. Oh, my kind has always known chromosomal jumbling. Women born into men’s bodies. Men into women. Hermaphrodites, with both sexes manifested. But never the true androgyne. Once there was too much radiation. The anarchy of twelve billion matings on our homeworld. Now, here we are on Nexus. Here I am. Please don’t be frightened.”

“I’m not.”

“Right now, I’m particularly neither. I’m in stasis. Undifferentiated male and female. This is my normal state of affairs.” He laughed bitterly. As if anything could be normal about a swing and his/her affairs.

“But you can become a woman? Or a man?”

“Oh, yeah. With injection of the appropriate hormone. Then the gender manifests.”

“The gender manifests. How marvelous!”

“I’m glad you think so.”

“Why do you hate yourself so?” she asked tenderly.

He was struck dumb. Then finally, quietly, “The universe is a great duality. Morally, there is good or evil. Physically, light or dark. Sensually, hot or cold. Temporally, now or infinity. There is no third mode that isn’t suspect. Between good and evil lies compromise. Between light and dark lies murk. Between male and female stands the androgyne.”

“Between your dualities lies harmony and balance, too,” she said. “And perhaps whoever you are, whatever you are . . . is your truth?”

“Harmony! Balance! Truth!” He got to his feet, pushed her away. “The truth is my kind is hated and feared throughout the worlds. Rapists of daughters, the lynch mobs call us, sodomists of sons. Yet only when we genderize—conform to the dual world—can we become sexually active. Not when we’re in stasis. So even if I were a sexual psychopath, I’m a hundredth as able as someone normally genderized. Damn absurd, eh?”

“And this great pain of yours,” she persisted, pulling him back to his chair, “it comes when you manifest a gender?”

“During. Mostly after. Before, too, in a way.”

The terrible emptiness of stasis. The sadness. The grief, like a death.

That was why Dana megadosed. Dosed and dosed again, despite the agony of change. He must remember to tell MU. The awful emptiness of stasis.

“My poor darling Dana,” Tatiana murmured. “I have something for your pain.”

From her bodice she withdrew a celadon flask. She twisted the stoppered top and, with an inscrutable look, tipped the flask at him.

The most amazing scent wound around him, a ripe rich lusty odor that so startled him with its blatant allure that he laughed out loud.

“This is amante,” she whispered. “It soothes and heals. We the damma of Triad use it to ease our own particular pain.” Her fingertips poised above his damaged forearm, bearing a drop of the glistening ointment.

Dana struggled to free himself, but she gripped him with surprising strength.

“Please,” he said. “Don’t touch me. Just your touch right now would cause me the most excruciating—”

“Not my touch, Dana Anad,” she said and lowered her hand. “Not my touch.”

He flinched with foreboding, then trembled with disbelief. Warmth at the instant her honeyed hand touched his skin. Then soothing folded over his torment, coolness and warmth, mingling, trading sensations, a minted mist that ticked him. Then an absurd unexpected blossoming of pleasure, an ecstasy rising out of his depths, welling up from unexpected places.

And a vision: Tatiana. Jewel. Lady of ladies. So beautiful.

Distrust seized and shook him. He struggled to throw off the blinding pleasure.

But amante wrapped around him like the legs of a lover.

He thought he saw her watching him, assessing his reaction. Too knowing. Too unpleasantly smug.

Then her radiance blossomed again. The odor of peaches wafted from her fingertips. She stood and seemed to float across the room, trailing mist. She was collecting her things, a gossamer shawl that spilled over her shoulders. With a sorrowful look, she flitted to the door.

He realized she was leaving. Fierce longing to keep her near pierced him.

“So we are agreed?” he heard her ask. “You will do as I wish,” he heard her say, not a question now.

Before he could answer, she was gone.

*   *   *

Tatiana lies where the bronchiole spit her out, pale limbs sprawled amid her scarlet silk.

Dana wrests his ankle from the bronchiole’s orifice, tumbling backward over Tatiana when the sucking lips release him with a sudden pop!

She screams with laughter, tussling with him playfully. Then falls back, silent and weak. Grimaces. Her pain is worsening.

She must find her offspring soon.

Dana grinds his teeth, tasting the blood t-burn loosens from his gums. If only he could return to full stasis, he might risk genderizing into masculine strength again.

“Dana my darling,” she whispers. She touches him tenderly, like she used to. But a spasm shakes her and she growls, “Get me up, get me up. Hurry, damn you!”

Dana lurches to his feet, pulls her up.

They set out across Porthandle.

Beneath the steelyn sheath, the world curves down. Out of the dark floor that is the top of the inner sky spring ten billion shafts of light shining out into the void. Monstrous clanging issues from the ports twisting open and shut overhead, revealing the pitch-black of space. Set against that ebony infinity, the defiant jewel-like sheen of sunshuttles, starbarges, needle-slim scoutships.

Wind howls. Sleet batters them. Dana clicks MU’s portable jack onto one of the transport tracks crisscrossing the exosphere like the silk of a spider web. But for MU’s grip, he and Tatiana would be plucked from the top of the world and flung into the void.

Ahead lies the knobby hulk of a dockworkers’ den. Woozy red lights, rowdy shouts. Dana maneuvers them both through the tattered entry. The den is dim, disheveled, strewn with broken glass and pools of brew. Tatiana spins her wings dry, sending the drenching off her in a brisk whir.

The drunken shouts fall silent at the sight of her. A roomful of eyes turns, sporting silver eye-patches, nictitating lids, plastic-fringed robotic lenses.

“Hey! Whaddaya want here?” yells the den-keeper.

“Have you seen this youngster? This man?” Dana holds up the holoids.

The roomful of eyes isn’t friendly. There are no winged folk among them. A snarl rumbles up from a roomful of whiskeyed throats.

“Hey, seen ‘em?” says the denkeeper. “Buddy, I can’t keep them bugs outta here.” He flicks a towel at an imaginary fly on the bar, stares rudely at Tatiana.

Dana lays a hand on her arm, silencing her retort. “Know where they’re bound?”

“Five’ll get you ten, the starbarge leavin’ for the Coldworld V mines.” The denkeeper can’t resist divulging his speculation. “This bug, he says he don’t have no stash, and he wants to skip Nexus, see, him and the bug kid. So I tell ‘im, the barge is takin’ on labor for an X on the dotted line. That’s where they’re bound, ten’ll get you fifteen. Them and the godzilla what’s askin’ about ‘em, too.” The denkeeper leans toward Dana, lowers his voice. “Now beat it, buddy, if ya know what’s good for ya.”

“The godzilla?”

“Yeah. Guy with wings like her and a temper with a shot of gin in him. Twice her size and a face like a broken plate. Smashed the shot glass. Shoved around a couple o’ customers what got in his way. Got some kind o’ blade as long as my arm. One piece o’ steelyn, man.” The denkeeper leers at Tatiana with a crude admixture of blood-lusty awe and animal fear. “I woulda got the cops, ‘cept he says he is one. A cop. Listen, I don’t like bugs, buddy,” he says to Dana. “Understand? So I don’t mind tellin’ ya, get her out o’ here.”

The snarl deepens to a malevolent roar. Tatiana trembles against him.

“Please,” Dana insists. He has to be sure. “He was Triadian? He said he was a cop?

“Yeah yeah yeah. No offense to ya, buddy, but get the hell out. Now.

They dive through the entry, back into the winds of Porthandle.

“Prefect Tule,” Tatiana whispers. “He’s in Porthandle.”

“Yes,” Dana agrees. One step ahead of them, maybe two. Fear shoots up his spine.

He knows that knife, the sweep of it, the sheen of it. The way it shrieks when it dives to flesh. Prefect Tule promised to use it the next time he and Dana meet.

*   *   *

“Are you happy?” she asked as they lay together, amante rising off their flesh. He answered, happy? No, not happy. The word could not contain the well-being she brought him. His pleasure in her knew no bounds. Every part of her enchanted him. And the whole of her was more than lips and waist and hips.

She was entirely, irrevocably female.

She didn’t change.

When she made it clear she wanted him, Dana had swung stud without hesitation.

Swing stud. Those were Lenni’s words. Swing slang. Vulgar.

But Tatiana laughed when the term tumbled from Dana’s mouth. She helped him with the needle. Watched as his jaw lengthened, beard and chest hair sprouted, arms hardened, hips elongated. She smoothed amante on his ache.

Then she returned his kiss.

“What is this great pain damma suffer?” he asked one night. “It might be worth suffering for this.”

He traced silver veins down the celadon flask. Tatiana said that the perfumed drug-lotion couldn’t be obtained anywhere in the living worlds except on Triad, and Triad didn’t offer it for sale. Only a female of Tatiana’s rank, a damma, was permitted to possess amante.

“Nothing is worth that pain,” she said.

Her cold retort silenced him.

In a while she said, “You want to know about our pain?” Her mouth tightened. “It is the whip. The pain that lashes. The pain of separation. When we damma are young, it comes. This whip drives us to find the deux-partner. We seek and seek until we find the one who will join us in Solemn Deux. And then, after deux, it gets worse, this pain of separation. Then we must have the offspring. If we’re fertile and lucky, and the offspring comes, we are blessed with the Triad. We are blessed with the Point of the Triad, by all of Triad. And the pain that would never cease is gone.”

“What happens when the Triad separates?” Dana asked. “Like you and Eddie and Sha!n?”

“Oh, Dana,” she cried, “I can barely face each day.”

So it was cultural, legal, even moral, the integrity of the Triad. But ultimately it was some kind of physical, instinctual drive, Dana concluded, her urgency to find the offspring.

Dana jacked MU into full telespace embodiment and sent MU with his citizen’s surveillance code through the world brain. All import-export information on Nexus was closely regulated. Declining reciprocity with any other world in exchange for a universal neutral status, the cityship was an interworld haven. Obtaining a universal neutral status, the cityship accepted whatever came to it, subject strictly to cityship regulations, but no more.

Such was Nexus’s interworld position, both privileged and vulnerable.

The world brain, its monitors sprouting at every pore, post, and synapse, saw and stored all that transpired on the cityship.

To a Nexus citizen in good standing, with the right code and a properly formatted request, the brain divulged.

MU duly reported that a male Triadian adult and his offspring had arrived on a luxury cruiser. They’d cleared customs and fled into the city.

But Nexus was a small world. The brain routinely supercopied global memory into high-security subconscious storage. For a Nexus citizen with clearance, anything could be traced.

Dana sent MU on a trace.

Pending some development, Dana showed Tatiana around his world.

Everywhere they went, she provoked excited whispers and awed stares. There were few winged folk on the living worlds. The commotion pleased Dana. Since they’d first made love, she’d taken from wearing white to wearing red: vermilion silk, scarlet sequins, capes of wine-colored velvet.

She was zipped into a fiery red leather jumpsuit the evening they’d supped on rare hydroponic beefsteak anemone, then saw a circus of chimeras from Arkan. She was making arrangements at the front desk to pick up her correspondence at her hotel in the morning when Lenni strolled into the lobby of the club.

Lenni. In heels and jewels and a well-cut dress, sultry, sulky, an escort in a tuxedo in tow. The very picture of a woman about town. Lenni genderized so well, Dana wondered if the escort knew this was just an image. Fake. An imitation. An illusion.


“Dana, baby!” Lenni cried. The escort glowered. “You look wonderful.” A look Dana knew only too well crept across Lenni’s theatrically made-up face. “Suns, it’s been too long.” Then Lenni noticed Tatiana returning to his side. Scrutinized her red leather, her wings. “Who the hell is this?”

“Excuse us, Lenni,” Dana said coldly. “My friend and I are about to leave.” He directed Tatiana to the cloakroom to retrieve their coats.

Us? There’s only one us, Dana. That’s you and me.”

“You’re wrong. It’s over for us.

“You and me, baby, we’re one of a kind. We’re the exciting thing. Oh, we blow hot and cold with each other, but that’s all right. I love the drama.” Lenni dismissed the escort. “It’s so good to see you again. And each of us genderized as the opposite. Just the way you like it. Everything in duality.”

“No. Nothing is in duality.” Anger burst in Dana’s chest. “Nothing is ever in duality with you. You’ll be wearing a beard before the night is out. You won’t be able to go out for morning coffee in those clothes, not because you wouldn’t dare, but because your body won’t fit.”

“You’re so stuck, baby. I’m only trying to set you free. Help you fully realize yourself. Why can’t you let go? Why can’t you accept the changes as they come?”

“Free?” Dana said. “I don’t want to be free. I want to be real. Solid. Something I know that I am, truly, time and time again. Look, Len. I don’t hate you. I just can’t swing with you anymore.”

“Oh, real, baby? You want to be real? What about her? Think it’s real with her? She’s Triadian, isn’t she?”

Dana swallowed hard. He didn’t like Lenni’s tone. Lenni was an interworld statistician. Lenni knew a lot of strange things.

“Oh, yeah, you don’t want to say, huh?” Lenni pressed close. “Let me tell you, they’re ruthless, baby. I mean, ruthless.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Butcher and eat their own kids, that’s the rumor. I mean, the stories I’ve heard? Triadians?”

Dana shoved Lenni away. “She’s a damma. Some kind of great lady on their world. She has principles, Lenni. Something you wouldn’t understand. She retained me as her counsel in pursuit of a just cause. A family law dispute, as a matter of fact. She’s entirely devoted to me.”

“Devoted. There will never be anyone as devoted to you as me. Yeah, go ahead. Walk away. You wait. Wait and see how devoted your little madam butterfly is. Triadians, they don’t give a damn about anyone or anything but their own kind. You’ll see.”

*   *   *

In the morning, Dana took the tram downtown to the Interworld Court. He was exhausted from Tatiana’s insatiable lovemaking and overwrought from the confrontation with Lenni. Tatiana had insisted he take more testosterone and he had, dreading the ferocious t-burn that would surely follow.

The Court shone before him in the morning light, ten thousand colloidal cells in a glass-and-bone tower housing each judge’s quarters and staff. From each tiny cell, litigants jacked into a computer-constructed telespace vaster in mental perception than ten cityships. An appearance in Interworld Court conferred irrefutable authority.

Dana had prepared Tatiana’s request for an injunction, coding for the confidentiality she insisted upon. But tension gnawed at his nerves, his intuition informing him something was wrong. Sure enough, when he jacked into telespace and logged in the injunction, the judge discovered an oversight.

Tatiana wasn’t technically divorced from Edstuart.

Under interworld law, she was only separated. The Triadian documents she’d given him hadn’t been clear, with a muddled usage of the term “Solemn Deux” and an enigmatic reference to the “Holy Triad.” From all Tatiana had told him, Dana had assumed she was divorced for interworld purposes and coded the injunction accordingly.

The judge refused to proceed until the code was correct. Dana jacked out of link, dashed across the hall with the hearing disk in hand, burst into the office of the Clerk of the Interworld Court to use the inputter.

The door slammed and locked behind him.

The knife sliced his exhalation of surprise.

“Stay away from her, counselor,” said the giant in a voice like cracking glass. Asthmatic breath wheezed from his wrinkled snout. Six huge wings buzz-sawed from his back.

“How dare you threaten me. Clerk!” shouted Dana, circumnavigating the Clerk’s cramped quarters as the giant advanced on him. The knife the giant clutched was as thin as a scalpel, shaped like a crescent moon. It flung shimmers of icy light into Dana’s bewildered eyes.

“Give up the case, counselor. She’s my responsibility and mine alone. I am the Enforcer of the Holy Triad and Its Keeper. Get out of here. Go now. Out the door and be gone.”

“No, I won’t! She came to me for help. Retained me. She’s got a right to interworld counsel under Nexus law, you’ve no right to interfere—”

The crescent cut the air.

“It is you who interfere, outsider. This is a matter of Triadian law. Forbidden to you.”

“I don’t understand,” Dana said reasonably. “The deux-partner has breached their joint custody agreement, under your own law. She just wants the offspring returned to her. Because of the deux-partner’s breach, I intend to counsel her to demand full custody and have the divorce finalized.”

The giant emitted a gargle that must have been laughter. “No, you do not understand, counselor. She can never divorce him. Never separate, not for long. She is the initiator of the Holy Triad, bearer of the Mystery. She is damma. And she has deceived you, if you think otherwise.”

Dana darted forward to the Clerk’s desk, seized the comm at last. “I’m calling the police.”

“I am the police.” The giant flicked the comm out of Dana’s fingers with the tip of the knife. “Prefect Tule of Triad. You will cease and desist, counselor. I insist. Triadian law requires it.”

“You’re on Nexus, now, Prefect Tule,” said Dana, emboldened. A cop? At least the monster wasn’t a common criminal. “As an officer of the law, you ought to know you’re bound by the laws of this cityship. You will cease and desist. And I will report you to the Nexus authorities for attacking a citizen.”

Dana seized a steelyn stylus from the Clerk’s desk, fenced the knife-blade away. At impact, the stylus split apart like a stick of warm butter.

Prefect Tule spat on the floor. “That is what I think of your Nexus law.” He sheathed the knife. “Leave her alone, counselor. You have been notified. You interfere with the Holy Triad in any way, next time you will feel the blade of Triadian law.”

*   *   *

Beneath the tempest of Porthandle, Dana catches a sound. There! And again, closer. A rusty whine from somewhere behind his left shoulder. He strains to see.

Suddenly he feels a touch that won’t let go. The handclasps snake out on a steelyn cord, truss up Dana’s wrists. Swift silver figure-eights pin Tatiana’s frail elbows behind her back.

“Yes sirree, bud-oh,” says the old wachter. “Gotchew now.” A wire rat peeks its purple snout out from under the old wachter’s arm-pit, peers at the captives with jet bead eyes. “Tain’t happy wit chew. Tain’t happy a-tall. I be placin’ chew and der lady under arrest. Back to de skin wit’ ye.” The wire rat leaps to the old wachter’s necktube, capers across its shoulder shelf.

Tatiana writhes against the old wachter’s restraints. Her lips curl back from her tiny pointed teeth. “This is all your fault,” she snaps at Dana. “You’ve failed me. Just like everyone else.”

“Tatiana, please! I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Do something, Dana Anad. We can’t go back to the skin.”

“I’ve got no strength. The t-burn. I can’t even feel the amante anymore.”

“Take a t-shot!”

“I can’t. It could kill me.”

“And what’s your miserable swing life worth? You’re not a man.”

He knows it’s the pain of separation making her cruel. Still.

“No,” he says, struck to his soul. “I’m not a man. And you’re not a woman, either. Not really. Are you.”

“No,” she says bitterly. Tears pool across her cheeks. “I am damma.”

Pride spurs Dana now. From his bound wrists, he flips MU’s portable jack at the old wachter’s control console. The frontal claw of the portable neatly snatches the old wachter’s main cable.

“Override.” Dana voice-activates MU, splicing the command directly into the old wachter’s settings.

“Eh?” The old wachter pulls up, startled. The wire rat chuckles maliciously at Dana. “Cain’t override. This be Security One. Cain’t override, not even fer ye, bud.”

Dana sighs. “All right. But don’t take us back to the skin. Take us to the docks. To the starbarges. You can do that, can’t you?”

“T’well, t’well. To de docks, den.” The old wachter swivels, then lurches into the roiling fog of Porthandle. The wire rat squeals and plunges through a crack into the old wachter’s abdomen.

“One more thing,” Dana says, trudging after the robot. “Who reconnected your main cable? Who sent you after us?”

“Porthandle tain’t a fit place fer man nor beast, eh bud-oh?” the old wachter says by way of an answer. It chuckles to itself. “No sirree, not man nor beast.”

*   *   *

As Dana had requested, MU traced Edstuart and the offspring through a corrupt vascular monitor in the employ of the Nexus eastside district. Edstuart had resorted to immigration racketeers well known to Nexus atmosphere agents. The racketeers had taken them across town, changing transports in an obvious fashion, to a cheap hotel in the slum known as Atro City.

There, amid fugitives from a thousand worlds, Edstuart and the offspring Sha!n hid.

Dana kicked in the flimsy door, burst into the sour room.

“Edstuart of Triad?” he said. “Tatiana’s offspring Sha!n? By this injunction of the Interworld Court, and my citizen’s power of arrest under Nexus law, I demand you come with me.”

The Triadian turned.

Not the brutish playboy Dana had imagined. Nor the embittered ex-partner Tatiana had described.

Edstuart was a frightened man. As elegant as Tatiana, with slim lavender limbs and six graceful wings, Edstuart was—Dana realized with a hopeless stab of jealousy—the perfect mate for her.

“Please, sir,” Edstuart said, trembling.

From a rumpled cot in the corner, the tiny Triadian Dana had seen only in Tatiana’s holoid blinked sleepily up at him, even more endearing than the holoid had been able to convey. The offspring whispered, “Hadda?” and Edstuart answered, “Shush, shush.”

Sha!n yawned ingenuously, revealing two long canine teeth that arched from tiny upper gums. With the gleam of razors. Curved like crescent moons. The offspring’s teeth flung shimmers of ivory light into Dana’s astonished eyes.

“We cannot go with you, sir,” Edstuart said.

“But she wants to see Sha!n. She wants to see you, too. Do you hate her so much?”

“Hate Tatiana?” Edstuart laughed bitterly. “Who could hate her? She’s magnificent! Haven’t you found her so?”

“Yes,” Dana said and turned away, burning with unexpected shame.

How could he tell this elegant Triadian an androgyne was in love with his beautiful wife?

In love. What did in love mean to a swing? It meant Dana wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anyone, even when he was in stasis. It meant Tatiana shared her heart, her body, her amante. She accepted Dana as a man even though she knew he was a swing.

“Then why?” Dana asked gently. “Why run away like this?’

Edstuart bit his fist. “Don’t you know? Ah, I see. No, of course not. She wouldn’t tell you. She’s a true damma. Keeps our secrets.” Edstuart bit his fist again so hard he drew blood from his delicate lavender skin. He grimaced at the sight of it. “Well, sir, I don’t hate her. I’ve loved her. I suppose I love her still. But I can’t take Sha!n back to her. Not now. You see, she can’t help herself. You don’t know what she will do to him.”

“Tatiana? Do to her offspring?”

“Yes. It’s more terrible than I can say.”

And after all her protestations. My little one, I want my little one back. Her entreaties sounded discordant in Dana’s memory.

The offspring cooed, extending a tiny hand toward cockroaches scuttling down the wall.

“Please put away your injunction, sir,” Edstuart said. “Say you never found us. Say we were already gone.”

Sickened, Dana edged out the door. “What will you do now? Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.” Edstuart laughed ruefully. “We left in a bit of a hurry. I didn’t take much.”

Feeling ludicrous, Dana threw down a couple of Nexus bills he had in his pocket. “I suppose I better tell you. Prefect Tule is here.”

“Prefect Tule!” Edstuart turned pale. He darted to the window, seized the shade, yanked it shut.

“Know him?”

“You—you’re not working with him, are you, sir?”

“Suns, no!”

“He didn’t follow you here?”

“I sincerely hope not.”

“You’re sure? You’re sure? You were careful?”

“Very careful. He told me he’s a police officer. Is that true?”

“Yes, yes.” Edstuart sat down heavily on the cot, folded Sha!n in his arms, stroked the offspring’s downy hair. “And it’s true, I am a criminal. I cannot accept your charity, though I thank you.”

Dana picked up the bills, tucked them firmly in Edstuart’s hand. “What possibly could be your crime? If she abuses—” He could not finish.

“I’ve failed the vows of Solemn Deux. I’ve shunned the Mystery. Run away from the duty of the Holy Triad. I love them both so much. Too much. Whatever else has happened and will happen, Tatiana has never run away. She’s never shirked her duty as damma. Ah!” Edstuart brushed tears from his cheeks. The offspring began to whimper. “If Prefect Tule is on Nexus, then truly the time for the Holy Triad is near. Please go, sir, and grace go with you.”

*   *   *

“Dana! Baby, wait!”

The familiar whiskey-and-smoke voice stopped him when he should have hurried on through the alleys of Atro City.

“If you’re following me, Lenni,” Dana said, “cut it out right now.”

“Following you?” In tweeds, with a pipe and a brass-knobbed cane, a salt-and-pepper goatee. “Hey, I love Atro City on a free afternoon, what a surprise,” said Lenni. “Say, Dana, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost. Come here. Sit a minute with me.”

Lenni propelled him to a door stoop. Made Dana sit, unbuttoned Dana’s collar, fussed over him. Fingers through his hair.

Dana sighed. “Thanks, Len.”

“Well, baby. You don’t look so good today.”

“And you look great. I don’t know how you do it.”

“Oh, hell. You do it great, yourself. Don’t kid me.”

“Nope. Swinging isn’t real. It isn’t real for me. Don’t you see?”

“Yeah, I do see. I see you’ve swung stud for weeks now. Weeks and weeks. To please her.”

“What’s it to you?”

“It’s not good for you, baby. With your allergies? You should know better. Getting t-burned, big time?”

“No. Hey, Len, tell me you’re not following me.”

A troupe of chrome-clad gravity dancers who used Arkanian microboosters to defy the local g-force stopped before them, commenced a rollicking kick-and-float routine.

Lenni tossed currency-chips into the scarlet helmet that bobbed before them. “You worry me. You’re getting too wrapped up in the daily grind. You’re working too hard.”

“Because I could be getting in a bad tangle,” persisted Dana. He hated how Lenni always evaded a direct answer to a simple question. “You get in the way, you could get hurt, and not by me.” He met Lenni’s eyes. “I don’t want that.”

A gravity dancer pranced up an invisible one-story stairwell and executed a perfect swan dive off the invisible edge, swooping up from the concrete within millimeters of impact.

Lenni tossed her another currency-chip, then scowled at the troupe, who somersaulted away, cheering and hooting. “It’s your little madam butterfly, isn’t it?”


“Yeah. So I looked up some stats on this world of hers. Want to hear?”

“No, but you’re going to tell me anyway, so get on with it.”

“Don’t be so stubborn, I’m trying to help. Now, listen. Triad’s big, equatorial radius of seventy-five thousand klics. The twelve billion natives aren’t pressed for space like a dozen other worlds I could mention. Very healthy planetary profile. They’ve still got frontiers, habitable areas not yet cultivated. The population enjoys a growth rate of 105 percent. They want to increase that rate, with so much available niche. Boost the citizenry.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Sure. But the demographics puzzled me. Stats show a young adult population of some seven billion. They should be paired off. But they’re not. Oh, I don’t mean permanent pair bonding. You don’t have to have that with 105 percent growth. Although in a frontier society with a stable homebase infrastructure, you tend to see restrictive institutions regulating reproductive functions. You following me?”

“I think so.”

“But we’ve observed no generalized pair-bonding on Triad. At all.”

“Wrong,” Dana said. “What about Tatiana and Edstuart?”

“I said generalized. The population at large is productive, industrious, specialized, inventive. And, to all appearances, neuter. Can you beat that! What a kick in the ass for the likes of you and me!”

“Don’t tempt me to kick you in the ass right now.”

“Bring it on, baby.”

And they were laughing and play-punching each other just like in old times. Till Dana sobered up, sunk back into the seriousness of this puzzling case.

Of Tatiana.

“Okay,” Lenni said, straightening his cravat, “so how to account for a population growth of 105 percent? How to account for your little madam butterfly? Here’s my best guess, since it’s true, they’re very secretive. A small class of Triadians is charged with the reproductive function. I suspect this elite has specialized biological equipment. And they enter into highly regulated reproductive unions.”

“Solemn Deux.”

“You got it. Oh, it’s hush-hush. Members of the reproductive class are of vital importance to the species. But how do they do it? What do they do? Nobody’s talking. High state secret, with religious rhetoric thrown in to keep the outsiders mystified.”

“Tatiana and Edstuart have an offspring, Lenni,” Dana said wearily.

She never had referred to Sha!n as a child. Neither had Edstuart.

“Fine, all right! But that isn’t even zero population growth.” Lenni took on the insistent tone Dana disliked. “The government protects this elite. Honors them. Indulges them. Allows them privileges. You should hear the rumors. Orgies, exotic food, intoxicating drink, aphrodisiacal spices. Amante.

Amante isn’t an aphrodisiac, Lenni. It’s an anesthetic.”

“An anesthetic!” Lenni howled with laughter. “Baby, the stories I’ve heard. Amante?

“An anesthetic lotion,” said Dana, flushing. Kindled with the quick anger of finding out what should have been obvious, and from someone else. Tatiana’s explanations tasted ashy. “Used for medicinal purposes,” he continued, though he sounded lame even to himself. “To ease a certain pain the damma must endure.”

Lenni looked at him. “Oh, my suns. She gave it to you? You’ve tried it?”

“Yes! As a matter of fact, I have.”

Lenni’s gray eyes bored into him. “She’s really gotten to you, hasn’t she.”

“It’s not your business.”

“Yeah, it’s my business. I love you, Dana. You and your fucking real. She’s not what you think, don’t you see? She’s, oh hell, she’s a queen bee. Dedicated to the propagation of her species. There’s no dropping out for her. I’m talking strict behavior modification, baby. She wears a cybernetic centipede, doesn’t she? She’s a lifer.”

Dana’s heart constricted and dropped out of him like a brick striking the concrete, breaking apart in a million pieces. “Is this why you took all the trouble, Len?” He jumped up off the door stoop. “To prove I’m a fool?”

“To prove you can’t think of her as a woman.” Lenni rose unsteadily. “Queen bees, they rip the guts out of their lovers. She’s something else, Dana. Something you can’t conceive of even in a swing’s notion of gender. Something you can’t apply your concepts of family law to. Something you can’t love.

“I don’t want to hear this. Of course she’s got obligations to her offspring and her people. She’s always been frank about that. But don’t tell me I can’t love her. It is real, what’s between us. Tatiana is a great lady. A damma.”

Dana stalked away.

“Yeah, she’s a damma,” Lenni yelled after him. “Closest translation: mother with egg.”

*   *   *

Pale limbs on the red satin dress she shed across the bed. Wings arching up, beating, lifting her in amorous hover and swoop. Tender fingers guided the needle for Dana. She stroked his burgeoning genderization as if she’d invented Man herself.

“Excuse me, Dana Anad,” interrupted MU from the bedroom’s speaker. “That is the last t-shot you’re going to be able to handle.”

Tatiana laughed. She took the flask of amante from between her breasts, uncapped it, scooped up a dewdrop. “I’ll take care of him, MU.”

“The last t-shot for quite a long while,” MU persisted. “You’re going to burn.

Honey and haze flowed over Dana again. He could think of nothing else but her again.

He struggled against the pull of pleasure. He sat up, seized Tatiana’s slender hand. Examined the sapphire-blue spikes of the cybernetic centipede, whose head wriggled deeper into her palm. He cut his finger on the centipede’s razor-edged neckridge. A drop of his blood slid down the crescent moon.

“My darling Tatiana.” He drew a deep breath. “Amante isn’t just an anesthetic, is it? And you found out I was a swing before you came to me, didn’t you? So you knew I had pain. Worse, you knew that I was vulnerable. Yeah, a sophisticated entity would know all about swings, and you’re nothing if not sophisticated. And your affair with me? Has it been a pleasant interlude before you go back to Edstuart? I hope it’s been pleasant. Because you can never divorce him. You can never leave Solemn Deux.” He threw down her hand. “What I don’t understand is why you had to make me love you. I would have found Edstuart and the offspring for you anyway. Your credits would have been good enough. It’s just a job. Why have you done this to me? Why?”

Sorrowfully she arose from the bed, then glanced at him with glittering eyes. “You mean you’ve found them?”

“Of course. MU is the best. Is it because you didn’t know what I’d do when Edstuart told me about you, if you hadn’t secured my loyalty?” Dana wiped the smear of amante off his arm. “So. Am I addicted to this crap? Just what is amante, Tatiana? You tell me.”

“You’re not addicted,” she said hastily. “You’re not Triadian. What did that bastard Eddie tell you?”

“That you’ll do something terrible to Sha!n. I can only assume he means you’ll abuse the offspring. Did you know there’s a rumor Triadians butcher and eat their progeny? Is that why Edstuart took Sha!n and ran away from you, even though it means he’s broken the vows of your precious Solemn Deux?”

“Abuse! Butcher and eat my Sha!n? Oh, I would never do such a thing. Sha!n is the precious one, the Point of the Triad. Eddie is such a coward. Don’t be a fool, Dana! And don’t look at me like that. Your ghastly rumor is pathetic. I would never harm Sha!n, you must believe me.”

“Believe you? You have me code your injunction incorrectly in front of an Interworld judge. Prefect Tule says you’ve deceived me. Lenni, too. Your deux-partner is terrified of you. You’ve done nothing to make me believe you. You’ve done nothing but make love to me, damma of Triad. But that’s your function, isn’t it? Temple whore?”

“I see. Then I need not try to convince you that I really do care for you, counselor of Nexus.”

“That’s right.”

But Dana did want her to try.

“Very well.” She pulled on the red satin dress. “And,” that sideways glance, “you’ve spoken with Prefect Tule?”

“Yes. Are you also a criminal on Triad?”

“I suppose I am. I’ve come too close to revealing the Mystery of the Triad, dear counselor. By coming to you for help. When did you see him?”

“At Interworld Court, before the hearing.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Our introduction was not exactly amicable. He demanded I drop the case. Leave you alone, abandon you. And I. I didn’t want to do that. I thought I was defending your interworld right to neutral counsel.”

“I see, I see. Then truly the time for Holy Triad is near.”

She grew suddenly distracted, withdrawn, pale.

Despite his anger, Dana came to her side and held her.

“Edstuart said that, too. ‘The time is near.’ Tatiana, what is the Holy Triad?”

“It is my duty as damma. Only I can initiate it. Oh, I’m sorry if I’ve wronged you, my sweet Dana. That bungler, Tule.” Her face twisted with contempt. Her voice was harsh. “Tule failed me. He was supposed to enforce our custody agreement. He is the Keeper, you see. He should never have allowed Eddie to get this far. I deny blame for resorting to outsiders.” She turned to him with the shimmering look that always pierced him. “But not you, Dana. You’ve never failed me. You must not fail me now.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You know how to contact Eddie?”


“Contact him now. Let me speak to him. Maybe we can come to terms.”

MU placed the connection, returned with the response at once. “They’ve gone.”

“Of course!” cried Tatiana. “He knows the Prefect is here? Oh, of course he’ll flee. We’ve got to find them. Please, Dana! They’re leaving Nexus, I know it. How could they get offworld without attracting notice of the world brain?”

Dana said, “They’ll go to Porthandle.”

*   *   *

Porthandle crashes around Dana like a planetary sea. Sleet beats down. A thousand stratospheric voices shout, pressure exploding against pressure. Then abrupt, eerie silence until the living world gasps for breath again.

The old wachter basks in the sensation Tatiana has created. Maybe it deserves some glory. It brought them to the right place.

Lashed to the launch pad, the great silver whale of the starbarge awaits departure. Oscillating green and purple lights ring the loading dock. Plumes of mist twist up.

Grizzled dockworkers stare at them. Indentured laborers make lewd noises. News reporters crowd around, flashing cameras and recorders.

The old wachter beams and preens. The hero who captured the Triadian, an illegal alien once she attempted unauthorized exit from Nexus by tres- passing through the skin.

“In a bronchiole?” exclaim the reporters, furrowing their faces. “During open port?”

But, after all, bronchioles have been used for quick exits before. It’s not such a scandal, Dana thinks, as the hoopla would warrant. Except for Tatiana, the beautiful winged lady. Triadian damma. Butcher of her progeny, the rumor says.

Then Dana glimpses the one who has followed them, the one who has dogged their path and harassed them all this time. Patting the old wachter’s backplate, chucking the wire rat under its scruffy chin.

Lenni. In a dockworker’s jumpsuit, almost frail in stasis, with a pale earnest face. Talking it up with the reporters. Saying who knows what about Tatiana.

Damn you, Lenni, Dana wants to shout. But the shout sticks in his throat. The sour lump on his tongue slides down to his tonsils. He can barely swallow now.

You’re going to burn, MU said.

Exhausted, defeated, aching with serious t-burn, Dana doesn’t know if he can stand himself for another minute, much less another tomorrow. And all because of her.


She kneels in misery. Her chest rattles as if her lungs are crumbling. Sweat slicks the lavender curves of her cheekbones, running in rivulets down her neck. The cybernetic centipede ripples wildly around her finger, sapphire fur clacking. Its bloody head rears and wallows in the palm of her hand. The crescent moon of its neckridge slashes her hand.

Only her wings still arch magnificently above her tiny, crumpled body.

The pain of separation. How could Dana have doubted her?

Lenni was wrong. Whatever else it does, amante is an anesthetic. For the unspeakable pain of the damma of Triad, yes, intended for that. But whatever else she felt or did not feel for Dana, Tatiana had pitied his pain.

The shimmering slanting eyes glance up at him, filled with that piercing look he thought he knew. Then dart away, toward some distant vision.

Prefect Tule.

The monstrous Triadian stands before the dock of the starbarge, brandishing the gleaming crescent moon of his knife. The arrogance of him, the flagrant disregard for interworld law. The terror he strikes in these frail elegant people, his own people, to whom he bears so little resemblance.

Dana despises him.

“Tatiana,” Prefect Tule intones. “The Time is at hand. We cannot wait to veil the Mystery from these outsiders’ eyes. You must do it now. You must initiate the Triad.”

Tatiana gasps. Then, amazingly, stands up, stands tall. An unknown strength visibly tightens her. She brushes sweat and tears from her cheeks with a slender hand.

“How dare you address me so,” she says regally.

“My pardon, Damma. But your duty.”

“I will remind you of your duty, Prefect. Do it, and leave these outsiders alone. I command you not to harm them. Dana,” she says, “tell the wachter to release me.”

MU’s portable jack does its work. The override finally kicks in as the old wachter fields questions from the gathering crowd.

The steelyn cords fall away.

She rubs the circulation back into her arms, finds her celadon flask, pours out the last drops, slathers amante over her throat and breasts.

Then she takes Dana’s shoulders.

“Dana Anad,” she says. “In my pain before, I spoke nonsense. I meant nothing. Do you forgive me?”

He has no answer.

“Please forgive me.” She loosens his own steelyn bonds. “No, you’re not a man. Not a man or a woman, but always my Dana. Find your balance and harmony, my love. Between good and evil lies objectivity. Between light and dark rises the dawn. Between male and female stands Dana, the Loyal One. When everything else changes, the one I will love forever. This is real. This is the truth. Yes?”

Dana sees Edstuart and the offspring at the far side of the dock, huddled together.

“But my Dana,” Taitiana says, “there is another kind of love. Mother love.”

Edstuart is rubbing the offspring’s head, murmuring baby talk. He looks up, sees Dana, and from across the distance, Dana looks into the Triadian’s eyes. In those eyes once filled with bafflement and sorrow, Dana sees terror. Bright brittle terror.

“Don’t go to them,” says Dana, filled with dread.

Sha!n sees her.

“Damma!” A weird shriek issues from the tiny gleaming mouth.

Dana tries to restrain her, but she breaks away.

She runs to the offspring, takes Sha!n into her arms. Their wings buzz joyfully around them, forming a chatoyant halo.

Tatiana rips her bodice down, gives her breast to the offspring.

Sha!n suckles.

At the taste of her, its eyes bulge and its babyish cheeks turn hard. It sinks its long, curved teeth into her. The crescent moons flash, tearing open her chest.

Dana runs to her, but Prefect Tule kicks him aside.

The Prefect advances on Edstuart. Edstuart kneels, trembling violently. At the sight and smell of Sha!n assault, his skin hardens, cracks, splits open like a molting dragonfly. The Prefect swings the knife down Edstuart’s back, hastening that which has begun.

Edstuart in a trance, body split and oozing, stumbles toward Tatiana and Sha!n. He embraces the bloodied couple, then tenderly bites Sha!n’s head off. Blood gushes from the tiny, quivering neck. Tatiana, still moving somehow, reaches around Edstuart’s waist, grips one flap of his split back, pulls the flesh free of his spine.

The three bodies entwine, disintegrate, merge.


The gore speedily coagulates, transmutes, forming a blood-slick veined globe of rippling flesh, over which a thick white skin begins to grow.

“The Holy Triad!” cries Prefect Tule. “The World Egg!”

Dana crumples to the pavement, hand at his throat.

“Dana, baby.” Lenni comes and holds him. “Listen to me. They’re only larvae, swarm-born.”

“Outsider!” Prefect Tule shouts. “Do not denigrate what you do not understand. They are the Chosen of Triad. They sacrifice their puny privileged lives to the World Egg. From this a million new citizens will spring. It is glorious!”

“Please listen,” Lenni says, stroking Dana’s cheek. “Terran bees, ants and termites, certain flies do this. The fertile ones, the reproductive elite of the swarm, produce the offspring that, when ripened, acts as the catalyst. When the time is right, the mother host yields royal nectar. The catalytic agent is stimulated, consumes the mother host, and the male partner completes the synthesis, sacrificing the nutrients of his body. Their union produces that. It’s a pupa, containing genetic material for another swarm. Without the pupa, and the few who must create it, their race would die.”

“Outsiders!” Prefect Tule charges at them, swinging the crescent knife. “See how you try to interfere! Look at your repugnance! You should not have witnessed the great Mystery. No outsider has ever seen the Holy Triad. This is Sacrilege! You must die!”

With a swagger and a sneer, Lenni confronts the bloody edge of the remorseless knife. “Leave us alone, you ugly bastard. Your Damma commanded you.”

The Prefect sheathes the knife. “You are correct,” he concedes. “But begone, outsiders. You’ve seen enough. This is a matter for the Keeper of the Triad now.”

The World Egg rolls fitfully. Odd extrusions thrust here and there through the moist, pale skin.

Prefect Tule fashions a hexagonal box, spitting wax from his mouth. Next he fills the box with dark purple jelly he spurts from an organ in his lower torso. With his huge long forearms, he carefully, laboriously lifts the fitful World Egg and deposits it inside, sealing the box with more wax.

“What about Tatiana?” Dana whispers. “What about her? What about her pain?”

“She has no more pain,” says Prefect Tule. “She has fulfilled her destiny.”

“Come on, Dana,” says Lenni. “Come home with me, baby.”

Dana looks at Lenni, and he sees a face that is neither male nor female, but human. Always human. A face filled with compassion and love. A beautiful face. He takes Lenni’s hand and together they walk down into the dawn.

Afterword: I’m a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin, the late eminent feminist science fiction author.

Of her many books, The Left Hand of Darkness is perhaps my favorite. It features a hero who periodically “goes into heat,” becoming a woman.

When Robert Silverberg announced that he was accepting stories for the Universe 2 anthology in 1992, I was eager to write my own gender-bending story.

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“Triad” is in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle world wide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT at

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Updated for 2019! Published in print in seven countries and as an ebook on eighteen markets worldwide.
As I mulled over my published short fiction, I found seven wildly different stories with one thing in common–a heroine totally unlike me. I’m the girl next door. I have no idea where these strange ladies came from.
In The Oniomancer (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), a Chinese-American punk bicycle messenger finds an artifact on the street. In Guardian (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), an African-American gallerist resorts to voodoo to confront a criminal. In Felicitas (Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion [Carroll and Graf]), an immigrant faces life as a cat shapeshifter. In Stripper (Unique Magazine), an exotic dancer battles the Mob. In Triad (Universe 2 [Bantam]), Dana Anad lives half the time as a woman, half the time as a man, and falls in love with a very strange lady. In Destination (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), a driver takes three strangers from a ride board on a cross-country trip as the radio reports that a serial killer is on the loose. In Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis (Fantastic Alice [Ace]), Alice considers life after Wonderland.
Five stars on Facebook and Amazon! “Great work, Lisa Mason!”
“Hilarious, provocative, profound.”
From Jeanne-Mary Allen, Author on Facebook and the Book Brothers Blog: “Kyle Wylde and I are thrilled to have found such a talented, dedicated, and brilliant collection of shorts in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories…Your style/craft is highly impressive.”
From the San Francisco Book Review: “Strange Ladies: 7 Stories offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.”
From the Book Brothers Review Blog: “Lisa Mason might just be the female Philip K. Dick. Like Dick, Mason’s stories are far more than just sci-fi tales, they are brimming with insight into human consciousness and the social condition….Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is a sci-fi collection of excellent quality. If you like deeply crafted worlds with strange, yet relatable characters, then you won’t want to miss it.”
5.0 out of 5 stars This one falls in the must-read category, an appellation that I rarely use.
“I have been a fan of Lisa Mason from the beginning of her writing career, but I confess that I often overlook her short fiction. That turns out to have been a big mistake! I have just read Strange Ladies thinking I would revisit a few old friends and discover a few I had missed. Well, I had missed more than I had thought, and I regret that oversight. This collection was so much fun! I loved each and every story and enjoyed their unique twists, turns, and insights. I thank Ms Mason especially, though, for the high note ending with the big smiles in Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis. Uh oh, I guess I still am a child of the summer of love. Well played. You made me laugh at the world and myself.”
“I’m quite impressed, not only by the writing, which gleams and sparkles, but also by [Lisa Mason’s] versatility . . . Mason is a wordsmith . . . her modern take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”—Amazing Stories
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection that will make you think
Format: Kindle Edition
“My definition of a good short story is one that you keep thinking about for days, and this book had several of them.”
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo.
On Kindle at US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is in Print in the U.S., in the U.K., in Germany, in France, in Spain, in Italy, and in Japan.
Join my Patreon page at and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies there for you with more on the way.
Donate from your PayPal account to
Visit me at for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!


Here’s the list of publications, including magazines and anthologies, I’ve published stories in:

OMNI, edited by Ellen Datlow

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by C.C. Finlay, earlier editions edited by Gordon Van Gelder, and an even earlier edition edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, edited by Gardner Dozois

Unique Magazine, edited by Tamara Sellman

Welcome to Dystopia, edited by Gordon Van Gelder

Not One of Us, edited by John Benson

Transcendental Tales From Asimov’s, edited by Gardner Dozois

Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 5th Annual edition, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein

The Shimmering Door, edited by Katharine Kerr

Fantastic Alice: More Stories from Underground, edited by Margaret Weis

David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, edited by David Copperfield and Janet Berliner

Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Janet Berliner

Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion, edited by Janet Berliner

Universe 2, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber

Hayakawa Science Fiction (I can’t read Japanese)

Unter Die Haut, edited by Karin Ivansics and Peter Hiess

Gogols Frau, edited by Wolfgang Jeschke

Cyberpunk, edited by John-Henri Holmberg

and now Daily Science Fiction, edited by Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden!

(Doesn’t seem like enough, does it?) Onward!

From the author of Summer of Love (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

The Gilded Age (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

The Garden of Abracadabra (“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy . . . I want to read more!) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT! Find the beautiful trade paperback at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle. Back in Print! Find the beautiful trade paperback at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

Cyberweb (sequel to Arachne) is on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also Kindle worldwide on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle. Back in Print at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle world wide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. NOW IN PRINT at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

One Day in the Life of Alexa (“Five stars! An appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms”). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. Order the beautiful trade paperback NOW IN PRINT at or IN PRINT at Barnes and Noble at

Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition, A Lily Modjeska Mystery (Five stars) On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle worldwide in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. SOON IN PRINT!

Shaken (in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Hummers (in Fifth Annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Daughter of the Tao (in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn) on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Every Mystery Unexplained (in David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tomorrow’s Child (In Active Development at Universal Pictures) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria (in Full Spectrum 5) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

U F uh-O (Five Stars!) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tesla, A Screenplay on US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.

“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.

Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on my Facebook Author Page, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

If you would like to receive Lisa Mason’s quarterly newsletter, New Book News, please respond by email to, enter “Add Me” on the subject line, and it shall be done. You may unsubscribe at any time.

If you enjoy a title, please “Like” it, add five stars, WRITE A REVIEW on the site where you bought it, Tweet it, blog it, post it, and share the word with your family and friends.

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Thank you for your readership!