Jake and I were in the back yard, in the middle of a ‘lovers spat’. Or at least, that was what Dave had jokingly called it a short time ago.
At the moment, Jake and I were sparring, as he taught me how to fight unarmed. I’d been in a couple fights while growing up, but this was something different, and something that might very well save my life. After all, I couldn’t count on having a gun or sword handy when my life was in danger.
We’d been practicing for over two hours, with a couple breaks scattered in the middle, so I was covered in sweat…and bruises. Fortunately, the bruises should be completely healed by dinner, so I did my best not to think about them. Instead, I focused on trying to give Jake a few bruises of his own in return.
“Good hit,” Jake said after I punched him. He rubbed the side of his jaw. “That one really hurt.”
“Now you know how I felt,” I responded smugly. Of course, he’d given me a lot more than that, but my bruises would heal in no time at all, while his would have to heal at the normal rate. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.”
“Definitely,” Jake agreed with a grin. “That was one hell of a right hook…”
I felt rather proud of myself, though I probably shouldn’t have. Yes, I was picking things up at an incredible speed, and was starting to do pretty well, but I couldn’t take much credit for that. This was just another case of my inherited muscle memories coming into play and helping me along. I was reacting out of reflexes that Aunt Dora had developed, and instinctively using a few of her moves, which I’d never even learned.
These muscle memories were a mixed blessing. On one hand, they made it a lot easier for me to learn things that Aunt Dora knew, and they were helping a great deal when it came to adjusting to my new gender and life. But on the other hand, they also made it difficult for me to know how much of what I did was me, and my own accomplishments, and how much I actually owed to her.
The thing that concerned me the most about this, was my relationship with Jake. There was no doubt that I was now attracted to men, and to Jake specifically, but how much of that was me, and how much had been inherited from Aunt Dora? There was no doubt, that most of my skills in bed had come from her, which made me a lot better than my limited experience would suggest.
“It doesn’t matter,” I quietly told myself, and not for the first time. “I am Pandora now, and this is all part of being Pandora.”
After all the changes I’d gone through, both physically and emotionally, it was easier to think of myself as Pandora than Byron. At least, I was trying to think of Byron as being an entirely different person. It was easier to deal with things that way. The rules and taboos that belonged to a fifteen year old boy, didn’t have the same meaning for a grown woman, and that was what I was now. That was what I had to be.
“I am Pandora,” I silently repeated the mantra that I’d begun using whenever things became confusing. My previous life didn’t matter, only the one I had now. I figured that if I repeated this often enough, then one day, I might truly believe it.
“I think we’re done for today,” Jake said, shaking me out of my thoughts.
“Why stop now?” I asked. “I’m still good for a few more rounds…”
“But I’m not,” Jake told me with a chuckle. “I’m getting tired.”
“How about you?” I asked Dave, who was sitting on the back porch with a beer in hand. “You want to come out here and spar with me?”
Dave laughed at that. “Naw. I don’t think my pride could take having my butt getting kicked by a girl.” He used his beer bottle to tap his bad leg. “Besides, you have an unfair advantage…”
Jake and I went to the porch to join Dave, who poured us each a glass of lemonade from the pitcher he’d brought out. After all that exercise, this was exactly what I needed. Well, this and a nice long shower, but this was definitely a good start.
“You’re picking that up pretty fast,” Jake told me, though from the look he gave me, it was clear that he was thinking about my inherited muscle memories.
I took a sip of my drink, then gave him a wry smile. “I have a good teacher.”
Jake seemed pleased with that praise. “Well, we can practice a little more tomorrow, after work.”
“Sounds good to me,” I agreed.
Learning these martial arts moves, and how to fight properly, was tiring and painful. However, after everything I’d seen and been through, I was well aware of how important it was to be able to defend myself. If Kraesse and his people ever found us again… I shuddered at that thought, silently promising myself that I’d be ready.
“I’ve been thinking,” I said carefully, glancing to Dave who still didn’t know the full story of what was going on. “I want to try practicing with a few other things too. I mean, you never know when a skill might come in handy.”
Jake stared at me for several seconds before nodding agreement. “Good point.”
I let out a sigh, wondering how much I could take advantage of this muscle memory thing. Aunt Dora…Dora had been around for a long time, and had probably learned a wide variety of skills. Since I was now Pandora, and had to deal with everything that came with this, it made sense to prepare myself as much as possible. If I could get the benefit of Dora’s hard work and experience, then it would be smart to do so, even if I had to put in a bit of my own hard work.
My thoughts went to Tom and his artifact, which we’d recovered three days ago. Tom hadn’t shown up at the diner since then, much to my relief, but he could still end up being a problem. Of course, he wasn’t nearly as big of a problem as Kraesse, or even the box.
One thing I’d learned during the situation, was what it really meant to be Pandora. I wasn’t just carrying the box around and keeping people from stealing it. I was also expected to find artifacts and recover them for the box, even if that kind of thing was dangerous. I was expected to be the box’s hands, as well as its bodyguard.
The box could influence me and my emotions, the same way that Tom’s artifact had. It had compelled me to get Tom’s artifact, and then to put it in the box. That wasn’t quite as creepy as the whole magic roofie thing, but I still didn’t like it, not in the least. And unfortunately, didn’t know of any way to escape that. If there was a way, then Aunt Dora probably would have used it herself.
“The box is both blessing and curse,” I whispered to myself, remembering the words of the previous Pandoras. Now, I was starting to understand what they really meant by that.
“I’ll see if I can figure what else I can teach you,” Jake said thoughtfully. “We don’t exactly have the gear to teach you how to work with claymores or grenades, but I’m sure we can find something else that might be useful.”
With a nod of agreement, I tried to think of what other skills Dora might have had, which could help me. However, I realized that I didn’t know enough about that part of her life. Cooking? She knew how to do that. Archeology? She probably knew quite a bit about that. Speaking other languages? Almost definitely. The truth was, I’d probably have to learn a lot of different things if I wanted to survive being Pandora, and for most of them, I wouldn’t know if I had an advantage or not until I tried.
“I might have to sign up for some lessons at the community college,” I thought aloud.
“That might not be a bad idea,” Jake said. “You might sign up for a real martial arts class, rather than relying on me. I’m good in a fight, but no expert.”
Dave chuckled. “Maybe you two should sign up and learn together.”
“Not a bad idea,” I repeated with a grin.
Jake nodded at that. “I can teach you a bit of wilderness survival and hunting. I don’t think we’ll need anything like that, but it won’t hurt to learn.”
“Scuba diving,” I said, suddenly thinking of sunken ships and how many artifacts must be on the bottom of the ocean. “That might be useful to know. Mountain climbing…”
Dave gave me a curious look. “I thought you were just hiding out from these guys, not wanting to go into the special forces.”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll need that kind of thing to avoid these guys,” Jake admitted with a wry smile. “But it would be fun to learn.”
“True,” Dave agreed. “Maybe take some flying lessons when this is all over too. Hell, if you want to practice, I’ve got a couple good flight simulator programs you could try…”
“I just might have to do that,” I responded, wondering if Dora knew how to fly. I never would have thought it before, but I’d learned the hard way that there were a great many things about Dora and Theressa that I hadn’t known.
We sat on the porch for a bit longer, each of us suggesting various classes that might be interesting or useful to take. Some of the suggestions, like painting or origami, might be interesting, but I doubted that they’d be very practical. However, some of the suggested classes were ones that I could easily imagine being useful in the search for artifacts, or just for staying alive.
Eventually, I finally stood up and announced, “I’m sweaty and gross, so I’m going to go take a shower…”
“Do you mind if I join you?” Jake suggested with a suggestive look. “I’m sweaty and gross too, you know…”
“And stinky,” I added with a grin. “You need a bath even more than I do, so I suppose I should take pity and on…”
After that, Jake and I kissed passionately, ignoring the fact that we were both still dirty and smelled of physical exertion. Then, we turned and hurried into the house and down to our basement for a much needed shower, and perhaps a little more.
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