“This is Big Bertha,” I tell the aliens, “And she is a beautiful lady.”
We get inside and I give a small tour. There are jump seats outside the flight deck and I show them how to strap in. Urban and sophisticated Tinoct has never flown before, and an ancient freight hauler, loosely bolted together, is a great way to have a first experience. Then I tell them to hang out in the rec room while I run checks. I’ve had to turn off everything at the port, but we aren’t leaving gravity so it’ll only take an hour.
When the last check greens I get on the intercom. “Drop your socks and grab your cocks, it’s time to rock folks.” They don’t take their time getting up here, and Tinocts hands shake while he buckles in.
Bertha makes some noises I know, and the others find scary. Then the turbines are hot and we’re climbing.
Flight Control gets me into the air, and up at cruising altitude. The guys English is good enough he might be human. I guess Chinochkan gets enough human traffic, that they’ve adopted our systems. Everywhere in the Earth SOI flight control is in English. Doesn’t matter what province or people, it’s always English. Apparently that goes back to the invention of passenger flight, and it’s becoming galactic standard. I’ve had to use and interpreter once, in the 8 million hours I’ve flown, and that was because I was landing in a Korean prefecture, and it was easier to understand the controller’s Korean, than his English. That city also had a huge Hispanic population, and the accents had kind of merged into one. I’ll let you imagine a Spanish/Korean accent speaking English, because your imagination can’t be as bad as it was.
Once everyone is free to move, I get Tinoct onto the deck, and he helps me find a driver for their weather format, and then I’m able to plot a course. I could follow the flight plan I filed, but my flight plan is a complete fraud. It lists a landing at a private airport on the wrong continent, in the wrong hemisphere, that doesn’t exist.
I have a jet stream this time, and once in our land speed climbs to over mach 1. Land speed and airspeed are not the same thing, and Bertha doesn’t have the minerals to show off like that in atmosphere. Our airspeed is barely 500, but just for fun, I tell the others that we’ve broken the sound barrier.
Our ETA is six hours from now, and we have to down time to get creative—but everyone is pretty much fucked out by now.
The cool of the ship environment is a welcome relief, and predictably, Chinta complains about the cold. I tell her to put on clothes. She does that and complains again. I turn the heat up to 90 degrees and tell her it’s not going higher. She finds a blanket and cuddles up on the couch. “There is problem 11. If we fly cargo ship to art festival, people will wonder.”
“I think when the trucks show up they’ll start asking questions anyway.”
“I’m not in business of being conspicuous, 11.”
“What do you suggest?”
“We need to fit in. We’ll have to print some new clothes,” she tells me.
Something inside me is thrilled now with the prospect of playing dress up. I let them into my room, apologize for the mess that isn’t there, and we spend some time going through the printer.
How do you fit in at a crazy-person art-festival? You wear whatever the fuck you want actually. What is whatever the fuck I want to wear?
I voice my concern. Chinta is ecstatic, “I will choose!” Then she starts running over mods, and I get worried. There’s punk, and goth punk, and steam punk, and grease punk. There’s rave, and hippy, and hipster. She finds some anime cosplay, a Klingon uniform, some circus clothing. I’m getting cold feet until she starts landing on some Rennaisance and then I’m… is it bad I’m intrigued? There is a lot of sexy cleavage in there.
“You should do this one,” she says.
“No,” my instinctual response is to resist the first offer anyone makes me.
“Please? It’ll look great on you.” It turns out Chokan bambi eyes actually work.
I agree, way too fast, “All right. Print the corset.”
“I have never understood what this does,” Chinta is holding a pair of panties up, and turning them around.
“It’s underwear,” I tell her.
“I know this, what does it do?”
“You wear it under your clothes.”
She puts them on, “I don’t like this.”
“You have to put your gynuss inside.”
“I really don’t like this.”
“Well with what you’re wearing, you need them.”
Chinta is dressed as a magical girl. She has frills and lace and crinoline petticoats, and a giant cock hanging beneath them. It kind of ruins the image. I try to explain this and don’t get very far.
“I will do it, because you say so.”
Now it’s my turn to ask questions, “How do I fit in to this?” I’m holding something the screen says is a “demi corset” and I can’t make myself look like the picture.
“You have to fluff,” Tinoct tells me. He’s been watching our dress up play with amused disinterest. He came prepared and is wearing a flower print silk kimono, complete with sandals. I try not to think about where he got it.
“How do I do that?”
He comes to stand next to me, “Bend over.”
“Grab your nipples.”
I do that.
“Pull them up.”
This is weird.
He throws the corset over my back, and pins the first clasp closed, “There.”
I stand up straight and close the rest of it. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, breathing is a little difficult. But my figure is good on it’s own, so I’m not lacing it up with hooks.
I stand and look in the mirror. My boobs are bursting out of the corset like little coconuts. Yeah, they look amazing. I put on the skirt and consider again. Damn amazing. It’s the first time I’ve worn a skirt, and it’s a little different. I turn my upper body, and don’t feel the fabric on my legs twist with me. I sit on the bed and start lacing up my boots. They have a pointy toe and the heel is a little lower. I’m not sure what historical period this costume is going for, but I don’t really think it matters much to the people down there.
Then my phone chimes with the Civilian Band, and we hear, “Echo mike echo tango, baker baker one one, at sixty thousand?” That’s me. “We got your approach plan when you’re ready.”
Thank god! Someone down there is doing flight control. I try to run to the deck in heels, find I’m very bad at it, and then figure they can wait a tad. I should not have put on these boots before I got in the flight seat. The pedals feel super weird on my feet.
I get on the horn, “Flight control this is baker baker one one, gimme watcha got.” Then I flip the switch for the modem, and it makes modem noises while they transfer the data. They want a quick descent which is fine by me, but one of my passengers is about to have the ride of his life. “Would the flight attendants please take their landing positions?” I say over PA.
A minute later Chinta hits the signal that she’s strapped in. Then she turns it off because Tinoct can’t figure out his seat belt. Then they’re good and I drop altitude hard.
Big Bertha cants a bit in the packed sand as it settles. It’s only a couple inches on the port side, but it’s noticeable and doesn’t help the boots.
Outside the ship has turned some of the sand to glass and the kilning has made it a pretty green color. Otherwise it’s all white out here. Looks good with the sky.
And it’s hot. Hotter than Mekt. It’s dryer, but not “crisp your lips” dry. I have a 20 gallon water bottle in my purse though, and I know I’ll go through most of it.
Bertha is down on the strip, on the outskirts so she could fit herself in. She’s not the largest ship, there are a couple of passenger liners out here. The rest are small, mostly personal, none expensive. Some don’t look like the should even be able to fly. The crowd is thin out here. People wandering back to their ships for more money, or a nice place to pass out high as hell.
The dense atmosphere creates a mirage only a couple hundred feet into the distance, so it looks like the festival is being held in the middle of a lake. There are big white tents out there, looking like sailing ships, and even from here we can hear the noise of a hundred thousand people trying to be heard over the sounds of a hundred thousand people trying to be heard over…
We collect ourselves and set off. Chinta is having trouble with her heels. Around a dozen feet in she realizes—like I did—that she has to shorten her stride. It’s a bit like wearing the shackles they put on you when you get arrested. I assume. Not like I’d know.
She’s carrying a parasol on her shoulder, and from the back you could almost mistake her for an anime character. The red skin kind of spoils it, but I’m sure no one will notice.
My skirt is made out of cool-cotton, but the corset is a little thick, and I can feel sweat start to build up under my breasts.
As we get closer the crowd gets more diverse. In clothing and species.
“Try to blend in,” Tinoct tells us. “Split up, but keep everyone in eyesight.”
This is good. I want to explore a little bit, and I feel like these two are cramping my style. I’ve got $700 cash money, and I’m gonna buy some weird ass art shit.
That’s probably not very professional, but I think professional went out the window when I woke up in the wrong body.
We saw from the air, that the festival has been set up in a bunch of concentric circles, that loop around one another like a maze. There’s probably a reason for that, but damn if I can’t figure out what it is. It would be nice to get to some of the booths I can see from behind the boohts where I am, but I can’t figure out how to get there.
Fuck it. I can see a guy welding a statue together behind a booth selling soap with psychic healing energies. So I just walk off the path, in between the canvases. There’s already a worn path here, so the maze idea was pretty useless on it’s face.
The guy has built a twenty foot tall dinosaur out of a scrap heap. Well I assume it’s a dinosaur. He’s Salc, and I don’t know about extinct Salc species, but I know a dinosaur when I see one. Also, it spits flames, as a dinosaur absolutely should.
I move on, wandering really, and hear somebody call out to me.
“Hey! Human! You, Red!”
I turn and see a woman standing in front of her tent. She’s Loa, so I’m not sure if she’s actually a woman. I’m going on form, not function. Loa have three genders and each of them can bear a child. When only one gender can bear a child, like on Chinochkan, and childbirth is dangerous to the mother (like everywhere), the women become too valuable to risk in a conflict. On Earth, in the past, a woman could bear around 8-10 children, before the pregnancy was statistically most likely to kill her. The mortality rate for children was usually between 25% and 50%, so getting the maximum out of your population growth mean protecting women at all costs. Protection becomes marginalization, because why would you allow women to make decisions when they should be making babies.
There, I just saved you a semester of gender studies.
With the Loa, and other peoples, “women” have about four children in them, and once they’ve had enough, they get to be men and go fight in wars and stuff. Of course this means that they start bearing children around (human equivalent) eight years old.
Hey, I didn’t make the rules of evolution.
But all three genders have mamaries, or the Loa version of that, so I tend to think of them all as women.
I walk over, and see that she has a tattoo on her chest just over her heart. This must be what a Loa Butterfly looks like. Not the tattoo, that’s a flower (I assume). But it must be where her navel was. She’s dark skinned, and exotic, and she’s wearing a mesh bikini top, so you can’t help but notice the 4 gauge rings through her nipples. She’s tattooed to an inch of her life. Has all of the classic exotic peircings, ears, nose, eyebrows, tongue, some other things I don’t know the name of. Eyes, your ears, you nose, and your… ovipositor?
She says, “A woman like you can not go around without her ears pierced.”
I’m not sure if she’s coming on to me but our genitals are… not compatible. And while I guess I’m bi, I’m not that bi.
But she makes a very good point. A woman… like me. “Yes. Yes you are absolutely right.”
She leads me inside the tent and I sit in the comfy “get holes poked in you” chair. It’s actually not comfortable at all. The Loa snaps on a pair of gloves, and I think about how weird it is that other races have other kinds of latex gloves. Then I think about what a stupid thought that is.
“Just my ears, I think.”
That’s right, I can get more than one. Do I want more than one? “Two?”
“Do you think that you actually want one?”
The more you have the more girly you look. Unless I really go overboard. I feel like I’m back where I was months ago as I think about it. Then I decide that if that time has passed I may well have gotten somewhere. “Two.”
Then she brings over a tray of rings, and asks me if I’m planning on guaging up, and I don’t know what to say. Until I see the rings. There are stylish, and there are simple, and there are dangly.
“You wander around honey, and you’ll see a lot more, but this is a good starter set.” I pick out two pairs, and she laughs, “Red, you can’t go dangly in both holes. Here, get these to go with those.”
I barely breathe it out, because I’m so out of my depth. It’s not as bad as the makeup, but we’re crossing a threshold here.
“Sit back and try to relax.” She pulls a needle out of its little plastic case, and fingers my ear a bit, and I decide to look at something else for a second. Theres a feeling like a needle being shoved through my earlobe, with doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, and then I feel a tiny bit of weight in my ear. Then it hurts again, and happens again, and I’m letting my brain just numb out a bit. I’m not processing anything right now.
The chair swings around, and she does my other ear, and there I am in a mirror, looking at my pierced ears.
I look like a girl. I’ve looked like a girl for five months, but now I really look like a girl. She’s put little hoops in my ears, and I can see them, and I’m a girl.
“Oh, come on, it wasn’t that bad,” The Loa says. She doesn’t understand my expression, which is equal parts shock, acceptance, and the urge to cry. I’m not really sure over what.
I’m browsing for ear rings. No one here has a printer, they just sell the physical in the open. Most of it is hand cast though. At a real store that would be worth a huge markup, but here everyone is locked in a trade battle, and I win.
But I don’t know what goes with a corset and skirt. I find a tent with a large selection, and I’m looking around when I see something that makes my brain break.
They’re dangly, and they each have a little praxite lense in them. They show little red sparkles, and I know I can blue tooth the things and make them show whatever I want. They’re gorgeous. I’ve never wanted a piece of jewelry like this. Now if only someone would buy them for me. Crap all this femininity is really creeping in.
Conservative guess? $2,000 on Earth. Here I haggle the guy down to a tenth of that. I find out that sticking ear rings into your ears is pretty hard when you haven’t done it before. I think they might bleed some, and I look around to see if anyone has noticed. The store owner has decided to be elsewhere, overcharging another customer after I fleeced him.
Now I’m pretty, and I badly need something to eat.
Well look at that. There’s a chob set up between a tent selling silver jewelry, and an old fashioned blacksmith. I don’t think I’ve had anything to eat today, and I feel like I could use some comfort food.
It’s a little clay hut, like a pueblo oven. I can see the equipment used to print it stacked up behind. There’s no sign, just a low door. I duck through, and wait for my eyes to adjust.
It’s very cool in here. Cool and humid. And it smells kind of damp. I look around for the source, and see that there’s an ancient swamp cooler running in a hole in the tent. When I say “ancient” I don’t mean the swamp cooler is old. In fact it looks new. But it is a clay jar sitting in a hole in the side of the tent. I don’t know how they work, but they’ve been found in 1,000 BC Babylon. The one in here is exactly what I remember those pictures look like.
There’s a tiny fan, which is actually a drone rotor, blowing the air into the chob. It kind of spoils the effect a little bit.
I’m the only one here other than a little babushka sort of woman sitting next to a big pot and a jar. She’s dressed in what must be a traditional shawl, but it’s all cool-cotton, I can spot the texture. Cool-cotton is a tiny bit shiny. You put money in the jar but there’s no indication of what the food costs. You just pay what you think some chobbish is worth. Previous pattrons think it’s worth a lot. I put a $20 coin in the jar and sit on a low clay bench around the circumference of the chob. At intervals there are little, um, flower mushroom things. Each has three or four branches with bowl-like caps.
I scoot over to one of these, drag my skirt, and try to brush it under me like a lady.
The babushka is a Dobba, but if she was human she’d be a babushka so she’s a Dobbabshka. I’m hilarious.
She doesn’t say anything, just scoops some chobbish out of the pot with a ladle. When it gets close to the flower in front of me, the flower swings over to meet it. She hands me the tweezers.
I don’t know what to do here. The flower is still in front of her.
< Take, > she says.
I reach out and grab some of the greasy grass, and my tongue remembers what it’s like and spasms in anticipation. When I bring the tweezers to my lips, the bowl follows them. Then retreats when I stuff them in my mouth.
When Marcus said the last place wasn’t very authentic he was being too simplistic.
The Dobbabushka watches me eat for a bit. The food is heavenly and when she sees that on my face she smiles and adjusts her shawl. The she goes back to tatting some kind of thing.
I notice that my bowl is emptying faster than I’m eating, until I take my last bite and see the rest dissapear into the small hole in the bottom of the flower cap.
I look to the Dobbabushka, “What just happened?”
< Chobbish feeds the lobbish root. It grows bigger. >
“What happens if it grows too big?”
< Get a bigger chob. >
Yeah, okay that makes sense.
< You’ve come a long way. >
“You would not believe the half of it.”
< But not far enough. You need to go farther, to find your way. >
I try to internalize this, and nearly succeed.
< You gotta get strong. >
I have to laugh a little at this. I survivor I am. Strong I am not.
< You’ll get stronger. Chobbish makes you strong. >
I think she has some weird ideas, but I’ll tolerate this dispensary of traditional wisdom.
The cool air is nice, but I know that Chinta is probably worried about me. I thank the little woman and she smiles at me, and makes some kind of hand gesture. I don’t know what it means, so I make it back on my way out the door.
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