"Donna wants to have a baby," Rissa announced.
I smiled, picturing my best friend holding a baby in her arms. "That's wonderful!" I said. Then I remembered Rita, my love, back on Earth. I had left her alone and carrying our baby. A wave of intense sorrow engulfed me, but I managed to keep the smile on my face for Rissa's sake.
"She says she's ready for motherhood, or as ready as someone who was born male can ever be." Rissa smiled and tilted her head to one side, letting her long, blonde hair sweep over a bare shoulder.
As usual, I marveled at the complexities the sex gates had brought into our lives. A hint of the perfume Rissa wore drifted my way on a warm breeze. I eyed her cleavage and asked the obvious question. "Are you planning to father this baby?"
"Not in my present condition." Rissa cupped her hands under her two lovely breasts, as if I hadn't noticed them. For our outing, she'd conjured up a skimpy halter-top sundress of greens and yellows and blues. Her twin mounds threatened to spill out of the two slashes of fabric that held them in place. The soft folds of the dress draped around her curves as if the cloth were alive, the luminous colors shifting and merging with every breath she took. As soon as she saw she'd grabbed my attention with her breasts, she clutched the hem with her scarlet nails and hiked it to the top of her slender thighs. She winked at me as I eyed this further proof of her femininity. When Russell changed into a woman he turned into flirt.
I coughed to clear my throat. "Nothing wrong with your present condition that I can see." My fingers itched to reach over and stroke the warm flesh of her thighs. It was a beautiful day in the Nexus, perfect for a tumble on the grass. My mood perked up a little at the thought of forgetting my problems between Rissa's thighs. The lewd sparkle in her dark blue eyes told me she was horny. Most people are after a trip through a gate.
"Do you think I look good as a woman?" That was a silly question, but like most women Rissa loved a compliment. She patted her golden curls and arched her back slightly to display her breasts to greater advantage.
"I think you're sexy as hell and I'm prepared to prove it." I shot a torrid grin at her and put my arm around her slim waist. Taking the hint, she cuddled close. I'm not a very big man but Rissa still felt small and fragile and very feminine against me. It was intriguing, since when he was a man he was about my size.
The two of us sat on a round stone, perched on the edge of a cliff. A towering tree with leaves like the blue-green feathers of a Mallard Duck cast its shade over us as we looked down into the valley where a city of living crystal towers held the secrets of the sex gates -- and probably many more secrets as well.
The towers sparkled in the bright sunlight. I could swear I could see some of them growing. They were not straight like buildings made by man, but more like trees, sprouting out of the ground and branching into the sky. Whenever I got fooled by the green grass or blue sky and thought for a moment I was back on Earth, a glance at the city cured me.
From the distance, it looked enchanting, like Dorothy's Emerald City in Oz. But when we were inside those towers Rissa and I struggled with seemingly unending problems. That's why I liked to leave it behind, wander across the meadows, and climb the hill to the cliff that overlooked the valley where the city sat. Sitting perched on the edge, I found a sense of perspective at last. Or maybe what I really found was a false sense of power. Living in the city of the masters frightened me at times -- looking down on it from the edge of this cliff it seemed smaller and I had a momentary illusion of control.
Power is a funny thing. Even when you have it, you can't always do what you want to do. And even when you can, it's not always such a bright idea. Most of my life, male or female, I've had a habit of acting before I stopped to think it through. Ever since Messler had left me in charge of the Nexus, I found myself thinking a lot, perhaps too much. Having awesome power dumped on your shoulders will do that to you.
Russell and I faced a momentous choice soon -- it was no exaggeration to say that we held the fate of millions in our hands. I was determined to think any proposed plan of action out thoroughly before I made a final decision. Hence this trip up the hillside for a heart-to-heart with Russell, who happened to be female today.
Then Rissa's unexpected announcement about Donna had sidetracked our discussion.
Not that I cared. I welcomed some good news. I had to decide soon what to do about all the humans who had vanished while going through the sex gates on Earth -- and who were now held in stasis on this Nexus world -- but that pressing problem could wait while I shared my friend's pleasure. I couldn't help but notice that the thought of knocking up Donna had gotten her excited. Her nipples had hardened under the thin fabric of her sundress.
"When do you plan to get Donna pregnant?" I aimed a good-natured leer in Rissa's direction.
Rissa shook her head and patted my hand. "We're still discussing that question. It's a big step and I don't like bringing a baby into a situation as unsettled as this one is."
Her remark sent my thoughts spinning back to Rita. An ache started somewhere under my chest bone. I won't be dramatic and claim a broken heart, but I didn't like my forced exile from Rita one bit. I was stuck in the Nexus and Rita was on Earth. Unfortunately, because of the way the sex gates operate, we had no other choice. Rita and I both wanted our baby and she couldn't use a gate to come to the Nexus while she was pregnant. Meanwhile, Messler had dumped the responsibility for watching over the gates on my head and gone merrily off in search of the gate masters. I had to stay in the Nexus to solve the problem of those locked in stasis.
I almost laughed at Rissa's hope for stability. I didn't expect stability in my life anytime soon. The whole world had been in upheaval ever since the day the sex gates first appeared on Earth.
"You're right," I agreed. "It's not a good situation at the moment."
Rissa sighed. "Spoken like a rational male. Donna doesn't agree. She wants a baby now. If I didn't know better, I'd say her biological clock is ticking."
I snorted. The idea of a biological clock was ridiculous for Seconders. We could go through a gate whenever we wanted, which meant we could change our sex and become young again whenever the whim struck.
"The number of trips through a gate isn't infinite," Rissa said as if reading my thoughts. She probably was. All Seconders were telepathic to some extent and I wasn't making any attempt to shield what I was thinking. "And Donna has preferred to stay female for the most part."
That was true. On the day that the gates appeared years ago, Donna had been Don, my best friend. The four of us -- me, Russell, Don and Rita -- had been walking home from our college classes when a gate materialized right in front of us. On an impulse, he'd gone through -- that was before anyone knew what they did, of course. I could still remember the shock when he emerged as Donna.
"So you're saying she's thinking like a woman about this," I ventured.
"Some of the differences between the sexes are real," Rissa commented. "I mean besides the obvious ones." She snickered slightly and glanced down at her breasts. When you were born a male and still spend most of your time that way, it's hard to get over the sight of two huge mounds of soft flesh on your chest. She cupped them again, making them jiggle, and looked thoughtful. "Women have a definite nesting instinct. Donna's has apparently kicked in."
"But you'd prefer to wait?"
Rissa nodded. "At least until we figure out what to do about these people in stasis. That problem could get nasty."
"So tell her she has to wait." Rita always accuses me of being naive, if not downright simpleminded. I guess it's true. Rissa only laughed at my suggestion. Her eyes sparkled as she poked me in the thigh with one painted fingernail.
"I can't do that, not if I want to be the father. And I do. No offense to you."
I frowned. "Why should I be offended."
"Because you're her second choice."
"Hey, wait a minute." I raised my hands. "I have quite enough going on in the baby department already."
Rissa chuckled. "That's what I figured. Don't worry. I'll make the sacrifice and do the deed."
We both laughed and sat for a moment in companionable male silence. Not that I'd forgotten for a moment that Rissa was in a female body. Russell seldom stayed female, and I made the most of those occasions when they happened. The majority of the time, he preferred to be a male, just as Donna liked being female. Even in her x-rated female form, most of Rissa's thinking remained male. I reached over and patted her on the thigh. That was a mistake. Her smooth skin was like hot liquid silk under the palm of my hand.
I snatched my hand away. If Rissa and Donna were planning on a baby, I needed to back off and allow them to bond as a couple. The ache beneath my chest bone started up again. It was lonely on the Nexus world without Rita. I needed both of my friends, needed the warm comfort of their bodies too.
My face always shows my feelings. Or maybe I was radiating them like a dark cloud. Rissa aimed a bright smile my way. "Why so glum?"
"Just doing some thinking, as usual," I lied.
She grabbed one of my hands in both of her small ones and squeezed. "Thinking shouldn't make you sad. For the look on your face, I'd say you were debating with yourself over whether or not to jump off a cliff."
She sent a mental image into my mind. I saw myself, all long limbs and disheveled reddish brown hair, plunging over a rocky prominence and falling, falling down toward jagged rocks below. I shivered and pulled her closer. She laughed.
"See? That's how despondent you looked."
She pressed her head against my chest. The heat of her soft body seemed to ease the ache. I inhaled the sweet perfume of her hair. The scent was elusive and light. Rita preferred deeper, richer scents -- musk and jasmine and other exotic aromas. I swallowed a lump in my throat. Even smells were making me think of my lost love.
I decided it was high time to change the subject. "Well, hell's bells, Russ -- I mean Rissa. This whole stasis situation is getting to me. I just can't decide what to do -- and time is pressing. There's not that much longer before I have to make a decision about those people."
She knew who I meant. All the ones in limbo. When Messler left the Nexus to search for the masters, he left me in charge since he insisted on believing that I have a gift for leadership. Fortunately, I was not alone on this alternate Earth. Russell and Donna had lived in the Nexus for years, ever since they'd vanished when entering a sex gate on Earth.
A few months ago Messler had transported me to the Nexus where I'd learned the truth about the entities who'd sent the sex gates to Earth -- they were humans from an alternate world who had discovered the simple steps of the scientific method while humans were still trying to figure out how to hunt down and kill mammoths without losing half the tribe in the process. They were as human as we were then, right down to fleas and dandruff and trying to figure out a better way of killing their rivals and stealing their women. But while we spent thousands of years floundering around in the Dark Ages, they made steady progress.
I'd like to ask them a lot more about that. Unfortunately, the gate masters are gone now, into some unfathomable dimension they discovered through their invention of the sex gates. In their wake, we humans of Earth dig through the toys they'd left behind, trying to figure out how they worked. Since the masters were geniuses, it demanded a brilliant mind.
Not that I was brilliant -- I was nowhere near as bright as Rissa, for instance. And I lacked the gift for empathy that Rita had. But I was one of the first humans on earth to become a Seconder, one who could pass through a sex gate more than once, changing gender each time. Changing gender was almost a side effect though. As we'd gradually discovered, the real difference the sex gates made was a mental one. Ironically, that effect might have been unintended by the masters.
Intended or not, with each passage through a gate, a Seconder became smarter, able to think quicker and better. And like most Seconders I had developed a prodigy-like talent, a specialty if you will, where my increased brain power really went to work. My talent was seeing patterns in events while others were still barely aware of the actions. Other Seconders developed different idiot savant abilities without becoming idiots. Hardly any were as far along as me and Rita, though, and therein dwelled part of the problem I had hiked up here to think about.
Rissa must have seen that I was slipping into gloom again. She stood up and took both my hands in hers. I enjoyed the pixyish look on her face. It wasn't an expression you usually saw on the face of one of Earth's most brilliant physicists. For Russell, being Rissa was a vacation from a life of almost continual pressure. The smile on her lips was both radiant and intriguing.
"Come with me, Lee. I have some news that might cheer you up a little."
Shucks, I would have gone with her regardless. Anything was better than spending the afternoon sitting on a rock brooding. And the way she glanced up at me as we strode off gave me the whole pattern. She did have more news to tell me, important news, but she wanted me in a good mood before she gave it to me. To confirm my impression, I touched her surface thoughts. They swirled with desire and an eagerness to please me.
Tugging my hand, she led me down the hillside and back toward the crystal city of the now vanished masters. As we walked across the valley, she moved slightly ahead of me. I couldn't help thinking she did it on purpose so I could get a good glimpse of the delightful way her hips swayed when she walked. For someone who spent very little time as a female, Rissa had certainly mastered the intricacies of the feminine walk. Watching her wiggle her way toward the city would have given a dead man a hard on.
As we approached the crystal towers, Rissa fell into step beside me and slid an arm around my waist. Her elusive scent surrounded me again as she brushed her long, silky hair against my shoulder and leaned into me. My pants started to feel uncomfortably tight. Rissa, for her part, radiated a low, pleasant hum of mounting sensuality, almost like a cat's purr. I sensed contentment and a gentle, playful sort of pleasure whenever her body bumped mine as we walked. Something was definitely on her mind and growing stronger as we got closer to the buildings. I call them buildings for lack of a better word, although they were never built that we could see. They were more organic than anything. They seemed to grow out of the earth like a crystalline plant. Whatever material they were made of, it was incredibly responsive to quantum manipulation. Inside, we used our advanced Seconder abilities to reshape the rooms into whatever we needed at the moment.
Although I'd lived in the city for months, it was still startling to walk right through the wall, but this was a city without doors. We emerged in a room Rissa had probably created before coming out to get me. It contained a queen-sized bed, covered with silken sheets. Little carved tables stood on each side and held pitchers beaded with moisture. Gold-rimmed glasses sat beside the pitchers, waiting to be filled.
After our walk, I was ready for a drink, but Rissa had other ideas first, as I already knew.
Soft music began to play, the sound flowing out of the walls. Rissa turned and reached up to curl her arms around my neck. I put my hands on her hips, feeling the almost impossible softness of the material of her dress as I smoothed it against her skin, then suddenly the material was gone, vanished in a blink, and my hands were roving over the warm silk of her bare skin. The dress hadn't really been there at all.
She snuggled closer to me and laughed, a merry tinkling sound. Her eyebrows drew together in a frown of concentration and my shirt disappeared. Her nipples stiffened into taut pink nubs and made little up and down movements against the skin of my chest as her breasts rose and fell with her excited breathing. I got goose bumps simply from their touch. I was about to make my pants vanish when I remembered Donna.
"What about you and Donna and the baby?" I asked.
Rissa stroked her fingers though the hair on my chest, sending rivers of fire down to my aroused cock. "I'm going to go ahead and make her pregnant. It's what Donna wants and I love Donna." Her soft mouth curved into a sensuous smile as she stood up on her tiptoes and pressed a hot, demanding kiss to my lips. Her tongue came out, probing, demanding entrance into my mouth. I was forced into silence for a long moment as our two tongues tangled in an ancient dance. Then I came up for air.
"So should we be doing this?"
Rissa's blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "Lee! Don't tell me you're turning straitlaced in your old age."
"I don't want to start any trouble between you and Donna, that's all."
Rissa wiggled her hips, bumping her pelvis against mine. I bit down on my lip as her hot, naked skin pressed against my already aroused member. She lifted a teasing eyebrow. "If I'm going to be a dad, I'm going to have to change back to a male and stay that way for quite a while. Are you going to deny me one last fling as a female -- especially when I know you're more than able to please me."
I stared down at her perky breasts and licked my lips. Her nipples jutted out, begging for my touch. Breasts like that deserved some tender attention, especially when they were about to vanish in Rissa's next trip through a sex gate.
"What about you, Lee?" Rissa purred. "What about you and Rita?"
I knew she was teasing me now. It was just like Russell to enjoy trapping me in my own logic. Rita was my one true love, whether she was a beautiful woman, as she was now, or in her male guise as Rez. We'd both had many lovers, but we always came back to each other. Fortunately, Rita was an open minded woman when it came to sex and never displayed the slightest hint of jealousy. If anything, I was the one who could become jealous from time to time.
Copyright © 2004 by Darrell Bain and Jeanine Berry