LIST OF CHARACTERS
Charlotte The narrator (and sort of heroine).
Jessica Charlotte’s Maternal Aunt.
Isobel Charlotte’s French long term friend.
Franchesca Charlotte’s Italian long term friend.
Jack American Gap-year student at the Faculty.
Pete American high school jock
Bill Pete’s crony also a macho high school jock.
Terry The supplier of the party music.
Bob Terry’s friend and owner of the pick-up truck.
Tom Arlott Jack’s dad.
Charlie. Feminised rapist who now has external female genitalia.
I decided to make my flight to Africa via Rome where I could renew acquaintances with my long time Italian friend Franchesca.
After clearing Immigration and baggage at the air-port I was seemingly attacked by a trio of excited and curious children who had escaped their mother’s control. Eventually a heavily pregnant Franchesca appeared huffing and puffing with her brother and old acquaintances were renewed with much hugging, kissing and emotion. I was introduced properly to her children who then promptly received a scolding for running off towards the international arrivals gate while leaving their heavily pregnant mother telling her brother to run after them and make sure they didn’t get into any trouble.
“I brought my brother to help you with the luggage, as you see, I can’t carry anything.”
“My god girl, when are you due?”
“Next week. But I’m okay, you stay with us I hope before flying on.”
“Yes, I planned on two days stopover just to catch up with you. I won’t be a burden.”
“It’s okay, I’m staying with my Nona and Mama here in Roma for the next couple of months, they and my sister-in-law will be helping. Then I go home to Milano and my husband.”
With arrangements settled we drove to her grand-parents small farm located about twenty miles east of Rome. There I learned the very sound reasons for Franchesca’s choice. Her immediate family lived locally so she had an excellent support network for her children. With a constant flow of nieces, aunts and cousins, Franchesca was never short of baby-sitters.
I spent an Idyllic two days on their family farm before finally boarding the chartered flight from London via Paris and Rome to central Africa and the now globally feared outbreak.
“You be Careful now Charlotte. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous this business can be.”
I reassured her for the umpteenth time and finally checked in my own baggage plus all the medical and laboratory Equipment I was overseeing in transit. I also met several other medical colleagues who were similarly burdened with assorted medical supplies and equipment. On the plane we had several hours to get to know each other and exchange ideas about tackling the outbreak. We landed late at night in the inevitable tropical down-pour and it was late the following morning before we were finally on the road to the quarantined area where the outbreak was hopefully contained.
Most of us had our doubts about medical security and were not reassured when we arrived at the medical station and hospital that was serving as a base station in the battle against the disease’s break-out. The biggest factor that seemed to surround the whole camp was fear.
After confirming my quarters, I moved immediately to set up my laboratory station and by the following morning I was studying samples of the disease. One of my first acts of self defence was to take a sample of my own blood and check if I had any sort of immunity to the disease following from my previous years in the area. There was some hope for my blood seemed to show a little bit more resistance than my fellow scientists and this was attributed to my having spent nearly seven years intermittently in the central African Jungles. Unfortunately, short of experimenting with my own body, there could be no certainty.
After checking with my colleagues, I agreed to join the ‘control group’ of local Africans who had similar levels of resistance to mine. My uniquely European heritage would also bring a different genetic marker and reference point for comparative blood tests, sampling and analysis.
I spent a long, arduous year experimenting with preventative vaccines before our team got a lever on the outbreak and we were finally able to reassure the WHO., that this outbreak at least was now under control. The infection rate finally fell to zero and more importantly we had identified and isolated the primary vector which turned out to be a parasite found mostly in the blood of monkeys.
Like most innovative researchers I had been forced to test the vaccine on human guinea-pigs and, like many researchers before me, I felt it was unethical to put others at risk without first taking responsibility for my endeavours,
I secretly used myself as the first human ‘guinea pig’ to be vaccinated and then exposed to the disease. However, I did not do it without first informing my most trusted and discreet associate at the research station. On learning of my intentions, she agreed to supervise my isolation and monitor my condition.
After several days of intense fear combined with considerable disablement I slowly recovered from the infection. I had not succumbed to the disease but it left me sorely weakened. Eventually however, after two months of slow recovery, our team were able to identify and process the resistive elements in my blood to produce the first precious drops of a truly effective vaccine.
Strike one to Charlotte and her team!
Strike two for the success of science over tribal superstitions that had caused the outbreak in the beginning. The primitive and superstitious act of sacrificing monkeys and drinking their blood was quickly eradicated.
Strike three for conservation.
My success in the field quickly brought me several offers from various prestigious institutions and I chose to return to Florida to work alongside my beloved aunt Jessica. I was surprised, pleased and not a little embarrassed by the reception committee she had secretly organised for me when I stepped out of the immigration hall. I hadn’t prepared a speech or anything for I had expected to simply step outside the airport, catch an airport bus into town and book a hotel room before contacting my aunt to advise her of my arrival.
Instead I was suddenly confronted with a barrage of flash cameras and what I had to surmise was half the medical faculty at the institute. For several seconds I just froze and stared stupidly at the flashing cameras before my sight returned.
Fortunately, aunt Jessica took control and the pandemonium gradually subsided. She spoke on my behalf before cajoling me into offering a few words about my work. This proved relatively easy then there followed a barrage of questions before I was finally hustled away. It was only when I was safely ensconced in the university’s ‘minibus’ that I was able to censure her for surprising me.
“Get used to it little niece. Your secret is out, that selfless act of philanthropy by exposing yourself to the disease has made you famous. Besides, fame brings funding, especially in medical research.”
“Well I didn’t come here to be a fund raiser, I just want to carry on with my researches.”
“Oh, don’t worry darling, you’ll get all the research time you’ll need. You know the military are interested in co-opting your services; biological warfare and all that.”
“What!” I almost shrieked, “biological warfare? No way! Spreading diseases is obscene – a crime against humanity!” I protested whilst shuddering inwardly at my own dirty little secret concerning my secret work with the Sacculina parasite and infecting Charlie.
“Don’t jump the gun darling. It’s about preventing infections. Developing vaccines for
other bugs that enemies of the west are developing. More defence than offence. I’ve been reading up on your work out there and you employed some very innovative ideas that seem to have come out of nowhere. Where did you get those ideas and more importantly, where did you get the confidence to progress them? It was singularly intuitive of you as to how you managed to select the most favourable paths or options at several decision points without first wasting months of work eliminating the dead ends.
I’m intrigued, you must have done some earlier research. Where did you get those ideas, those building blocks that turned out to be so successful? Whose work did you build on. I can find nothing in any journals that might have illuminated your path.”
Aunt Jessica was getting too close for comfort. I knew she was clever but not that clever. I decided to feign innocence.
“They were ideas I’d been playing with for years, I just took the opportunity to investigate them while I was out there. Don’t forget, I was researching for my doctorate for nearly seven years in those steaming jungles.”
“That was to do with viruses and bacteria. What about the parasite angle. Where did you get the ground work for that?”
“Du-uh! That was my dissertation for my graduate degree. Remember, three years virtually locked away in Wales. I would have thought you’d have read it.”
“I’ve tried, but your old Alma Mater seems to have lost it; which seems strange for a dissertation that earned you a first.”
“Lost it?!” I squeaked pretending surprise. “Bloody hell that was three years of hard grind.”
“Have you got the other copy, your own original copy?” Aunt Jessica persisted.
I knew exactly where my original notes were and indeed also the college’s copy. Once I had been awarded my degree I had seen fit to ‘borrow’ the college’s copy to check some work that I pretended had been lost from my original notes when going down from university.
Then, like most large academic bureaucratic organisations they had seemingly forgotten my deposition because I had delayed returning the copy until I had deleted a few items that might have suggested some other work not presented in my dissertation. My own, fully complete copy of my dissertation and researches still resided in the attic back home.
I pretended uncertainty towards my aunt Jess.
“It’s somewhere I suppose. Buried with all my notes and stuff back home in the UK. If I remember rightly, Mummy put it all up in the loft – along with a million other pieces of junk.”
“Have you not got an electronic copy?”
Once again, I lied glibly.
“I did have but I’m not sure if it even survived the move. Even if it still exists, it’s not immediately to hand, for it would also be buried up in the attic of my parent’s house in the UK. I can’t be bothered to go all the way back home just for my undergraduate dissertation. Anyway, I should imagine it’s all ‘old-hat’ by now. Research has moved on.”
I shrugged dismissively to reinforce my lie and Aunt Jessica was forced to accept my seeming disinterest. Having hopefully ended her inquisition, we got to talking about future research and my distaste for military work.
“But they pay well Charlotte, which is a blessing if you embark upon pure academic investigations. You’ll be able to fund other, more humanitarian, beneficial work.”
Aunt Jessica paused momentarily then stepped across to her own private bureau and rooted through a thick wedge of newspaper cuttings.
“Look at this for example. A guy in North Carolina was apparently infected with some chemical agent and it’s supposedly altered his gender according to his doctors. It’s pure claptrap of course but they do have a point. He was certainly once a man, and a very unsavoury one at that. Now-a-day’s apparently, he has somehow become feminised but the doctors don’t know how or why.”
“That sounds crazy, I suppose he’s going around in a mad spin looking for something or somebody to sue.”
“That’s the weird part.” Aunt Jessica continued, “further on it states the guy seems okay with the changes but the family are not and they are offering money to anybody who can find a cure.”
I finished reading the article for I had already recognised it as Charles’s (AKA Charlie’s) case. My thoughtful silence caused Aunt Jessica to mistakenly assume I was not interested but I could immediately see a ‘cash-cow’ placed before me. For, virtually no effort, I could actually appear to ‘discover’ the causes of the man’s changes and present a learned paper. So far, it seemed, nobody had found the root cause or isolated the agent that had precipitated the changes. As I put down the article I asked.
“What are your thoughts about the causes?”
Aunt Jessica returned the bundle of articles to her bureau as she replied.
“I don’t believe it’s a chemical. The man has apparently never worked near any chemicals and medical tests have found nothing to indicate that.”
I made a pretence of thought before offering.
“Could it possibly be a virus or something else biological; you know a plant toxin, insect bite or something.”
Aunt Jessica snorted derisively.
“Do you know of any plant or bug that causes a sudden sex change in humans? I certainly don’t! It’s my opinion that he’s been taking hormones secretly even though apparently he swears he hasn’t.”
“Hold on Aunty Jess.” I found myself protesting mildly. “What about that crab research you were doing in Costa Rica? What was it again? Saccu- Sacculina- I remember now Sacculina carcini, yes that was it, some sort of relative of the barnacle. Didn’t that castrate littoral crabs?”
“Yes, but I said Humans Charlotte, not crabs. In the first place; humans don’t moult.” She added a little sarcastically. “So that sort of parasite could not invade any of the higher order’s anatomies. These parasites can only invade lower orders that pass through suitable incubation or moulting stages.”
“Well if you say so aunty,” I conceded, thereby causing her to reinforce her own convictions.
Auntie Jess shook her head in disbelief that I, as a scientist, could even contemplate such a bizarre hypothesis.
“Well really Charlotte, you of all people should have realised that. The very idea is- well- preposterous.”
I shrugged my pretended acceptance and pouted my capitulation whilst being secretly pleased that my auntie had been so dismissive of my postulation. It seemed the very idea of parasites causing Charlie’s metamorphosis was to be dismissed out of hand. Thus, I let the issue drop. My secret seemed to be safe. The idea of some easy money however was not to be overlooked so I raised this idea with Auntie Jess.
“You know they said in those cuttings that his family were looking for causes to his sex change?”
“Yes.” Auntie Jess answered somewhat dismissively.
“Well I believe I might be able to help solve the issue for the family. The guy doesn’t live far away in North Carolina and I go up that way twice a month to see Jack. I’ll contact the family while I’m up there and ask if they are prepared to sort out some funds for research.”
“Provided it doesn’t incur any cost to this college I have no objections.” Auntie Jess allowed.
Having cleared the decks down in Florida I commenced my plan and within two months my private research programme was up and running parallel to my regular college programme. Although I already had the answers I let the programme stew a whilst exploring other, safe vectors for helping transgendered people. I had begun to realise that there could be some very helpful aspects to the effects of my previous research. These thoughts about possibly helping transgendered people started to occupy my mind extensively after I received a huge shock from my boyfriend Jack..
Some weeks earlier as I had lain on a beach in North Carolina with Jack, I had asked him what he thought about marriage. He had sat up slowly then fallen silent as he stared pensively towards the gathering evening shades out over the ocean. I was beginning to feel the evening chill and I snuggled up to him affectionately as I wrapped my beach towel over both of us. He didn’t respond as he usually did by turning to me and kissing me so I had immediately sensed that something wasn’t right.
“Penny for your thoughts darling.” I had asked as he continued staring.
“Huh, erm what was that babes?”
“I said ‘a penny for your thoughts’.”
“Wha-? Oh! Yes. Well - I.”
He fell silent and could easily tell that he was desperately worried about something and it seemed to surround the word ‘marriage’. I remained silent to allow him to gather his thoughts.
After long moments which left me nervous and Jack tense, he turned to look at me and I noticed the glint of a tear struggling to escape his eye. I realised that there was something really serious bothering my boyfriend but I was fearful of pushing him for an explanation. Eventually he replied hesitantly.
“I’m getting cold here, shall we chat in the car?”
I was also feeling the evening chill so I agreed and we gathered our beach apparel and sought warmth in the Car. Jack switched the engine on and turned to me nervously again.
“Are you serious about marriage? I thought you were wedded to your researches.”
“Well. Yes and no darling, I’d like to start a family one day and - tick - tock - tick ¬- tock, if you understand my meaning. Don’t you want kids?”
He turned again to stare at the ocean and I soon noticed that his shoulders were heaving! To my surprise Jack was crying!
“What’s wrong Babes?” I demanded as I reached out to hug him.
We hugged for nearly a minute before his choking sobs finally subsided.
“Do you really love me?” He asked while softly chewing his lower lip.
“You have to ask.” I replied, annoyed at his doubting me.
“That’s just it,” he frowned, “I do, I really do!”
“Why?” I replied monosyllabically, lost for words.
“I, - I’ve got a problem, I’ve got a huge problem.”
After hesitating amidst the oppressive silence, I plucked up the courage to ask.
“Would it be cruel of me to ask?”
He stared at me tearfully then shook his head.
“If I told you, it could hurt you – no it will hurt you – I’m so sorry!”
All sorts of things raced through my mind until I found the courage to ask –
“What are you trying to say? Are you gay or something?”
He stared at me in perplexion before asking.
“Would you hate me if I was?”
I fell into a thoughtful silence then finally I answered.
“I’d hate if you didn’t tell me then gave me some disease like aids.”
“And what about marriage, children and such like?”
It was my turn to be perplexed before I replied.
“My problem would be your loyalty, or more correctly, the lack of it. I know many gay men are perniciously promiscuous to the point of self-destruction and the last thing any child wants is a self-destructive parent.”
“Well I’m not gay.”
I hesitated before committing myself further then I spoke slowly.
“O-kaaay. So, what’s the problem?”
He stared at me thoughtfully then asked.
“Are you saying you’d be willing to have my children?”
“Hold on! I didn’t say that. I said the last thing ANY child wants is a self-destructive parent. The emphasis there is on the word ‘any’. Are you liable to self-destruct? Are you thinking suicide?”
His face darkened before he almost whispered.
“You’re getting close, many of us do.”
“I’m at something of a loss here,” I confessed, “who’s ‘us’?”
“People like me,” Jack allowed, “transgendered people.”
The last cog in my brain meshed into place with a ‘clunk’ as I finally learned what he was trying to tell me. I stared at him for long seconds as a hundred and one scenarios raced through my brain. Finally, I arrived where my natural compassion would inevitably have brought me by any one of a hundred different emotional routes; sympathy.
“So, this is your secret, the big thing that you were afraid to tell me, to share with me?”
“Share with you?” Jack frowned uncertainly. “Of course, I was afraid to share it with you, it’s a deal buster isn’t it? You don’t want to marry a dickless wonder do you?”
I changed tack as I tried to collect and sort my thoughts.
“Does anybody else know, your parents for instance, your sisters perhaps?
He paused before replying softly.
“My mother knows but not my father.”
“How did she take it?”
“Oh, all the usual issues; what about grandchildren, what about your job, have I seen a psychiatrist, can it be cured? Then she asked if I had told you. I said you were next on my list and she gave me a bit of a row. She told me to tell you immediately so here I am. I only told her this morning.”
I chuckled as I recovered my composure and privately contemplated a marriage to a ‘dickless wonder’.
“Yeah, your mum always struck me as eminently sensible and practical. She was right to order you to tell me. Can I speak to her?”
His face turned grey with fear.
“What are you going to say?”
“You’ll hear right now,” I replied as I took out my mobile.
“Please don’t hurt her feelings, she’s had enough hurt for one day.” Jack begged.
“I’ve no intentions of hurting her. Oh. Hello Carol, it’s me Charlotte.”
“Hello darling has my son explained it all?”
“Yes. He’s just told me.”
“And what where your feelings?”
“Well, of course I was shocked, as you were he tells me.”
“Yes, I was shocked but more hurt than shocked.”
“Why d’ you think?”
“You’ve lost me Carol. You always struck me as sensible and practical.”
“This goes deeper than sensible. If he transitions, I’ll never have grandchildren.”
“You’ve got two daughters, it’s more than probable they’ll give you grandchildren.”
“Yes, but a mother likes all her children to give her grandchildren and besides, I’d fulfil my obligation to Harold to carry on his family name.”
“Oh, let’s not go down the son and heir route Carol. Of course, James can give you grandchildren.
“How?” She demanded.
I tittered provocatively before teasing her.
“My god Carol. Are you telling me you’ve had a son and two daughters and yet you still don’t know how babies are made?”
There was a brief silence before she realised what I was offering.
“Oh my God! Are you saying your prepared to go through with all this, getting married to him and having his children BEFORE he transitions?”
“Sounds like a plan to me future mother-in-law. That is if your side of the family agree.”
“But what about, - you know, - after the op and stuff? Won’t you feel, - you know, - unfulfilled, frustrated and things?”
“That’s between Jack and me ‘future-mother-in-law]. You’re not allowed into our marital bed.”
Carol gave a shriek of joy and asked to speak to her son. I handed Jack the phone as his mother waded into him.
“Did you hear all that, you lucky sod?”
“Jack had to hold the phone a foot from his ear as his mother’s excitement pierced the space between us. “
“Yes mother, I heard it and nobody’s happier than me.”
“Oh yes there is, and that is me! Now you look after that girl, you’ll never find another one like her. D’ you want me to tell your sisters?”
“Okay mother, if you must.”
“Very well but it’s up to you to tell your father, it’s only right. By the way, what do her family think of it. What are they like? Are they a decent family?”
Jack turned to me and wagged his head in disbelief.
“Can you believe that? You’ve just demonstrated that you are the kindest, most understanding and compassionate woman in the world and my mother wonders if you’re ‘from good stock’ What tells me she was originally from Kentucky?”
I smiled enigmatically and reached across to kiss him before explaining.
“You do realise you haven’t even asked me to marry you yet!”
He gaped at me stupidly before bursting into relieved laughter then finally ending up in tears of relief as he double checked again.
“You will marry me won’t you? Despite everything I’ve told you, dickless wonder and all.”
“Darling it’s you I love. I felt for you that very first day when you stopped the jocks tormenting Franchesca and Isobel at the campus lido in Costa Rica. You were with them but obviously not of them. Was that your feminine side surfacing even then?”
“That’s very insightful of you babes, yes, I suppose it was, I’ve always had a sort of empathy for girls and I was never into tormenting them. So, your answer’s yes then?”
“Yes darling, a clear unequivocal yes!”
Suddenly Carol’s voice came through the phone again and we both gulped as we realised we had not shut it off.
“I heard all that my boy and I am not into breeding horses, Kentucky or not! Anyway, congratulations. Are you coming around tonight Charlotte? You Jack might as well face your pop sooner rather than later.”
I confirmed for both of us and within two hours we were scrubbed up from the beach. Jacks sisters came squealing from the house before we’d even parked. Hug and kisses broke out all around before Jack stepped nervously into the house. I joined the womenfolk while he spoke to his dad. Eventually his father emerged and approached me.
“Are you truly happy about this?”
I nodded as he pressed his questions.
“You realise this is North Carolina, not England. I know you people are much more tolerant and liberal than many down here below our bible belt. Are you happy about the situation?”
“If Jack is and your family is then I’m sure I can handle it. It’s what’s between our ears that counts.”
“Well yes but also what’s in your hearts.”
“Are you speaking biblically or patriarchally?” I asked.
“I’m asking as a grandfather who might have to protect his kids if you choose to settle hereabouts. After Jack transitions, he might not be in a position to protect his children.”
“We’ll cross that bridge if or when we come to it.” Jack declared.
Jacks father turned again to me.
“Charlotte, what do your folks think about it?”
“I’ll find out when I tell them. I’m pretty sure they’ll be pretty cool about it. They’ve been expecting us to get hitched for some years now.”
“And the transgender bit?” He pressed.
“It’s the UK, we’re easier on this stuff. I don’t expect any problems. We could even get married there and then North Carolina could not nullify any marriage or birth certificates if the law gets changed by the Carolina state legislature.” I opined.
Jack’s dad’s eyes lit up.
“Now there’s a thought. Anyway, it’s normal to get married in the brides church isn’t it?”
“Well I’m easy about it but if Jack wants some sort of additional protection for our marriage then if he got married in the UK, the State of North Carolina would have no power to nullify the wedding certificate and two people of the same gender can remain married in the UK. The USA is signatory to the international conventions concerning human rights and citizenship rights. As is also the UK.”
“Have you asked your parents about this?” Jack asked.
I turned to him and shrugged.
“I only just learned about your issues this afternoon how can I have spoken to mum and dad? They’re in bed even as we speak. It’s three o’clock in the morning over there!”
“You seem pretty confident though.”
“My mum and dad are pretty liberal and by that I mean the English idea of Liberalism not the American one. They’ll be surprised that I even ask for a wedding let alone a church thing.”
“What d’ you mean by that?” Carol asked.
“Well if you want us to be ‘churched’ as we say back home, then we’ll have to find a vicar who’s prepared to wed us as woman and woman. Unless we get married before Jack transitions. That would make everything simpler. Then we could easily change our wedding certificate after Jack’s operation.”
“That would be after you’ve had children then.” Carol persisted.
“That’s entirely up to Jack, I’m quite prepared to accept AI., if Jack is.”
“Artificial Intelligence!?” What’s that got to do with it?” Jack protested.
“Not that you dope,” I giggled, “artificial insemination.”
Carol let out a snort of laughter as her agricultural roots emerged.
“Ha! Sign of the times eh. How an acronym can change!”
Jack shook his head while his dad just wagged his head in amusement. With that the door opened and Jacks sisters entered after having been sent out for the evening.
“What’s all the merriment about? We thought you were sorting out some serious problems.” They demanded.
“They’ve been sorted girls,” his father explained, “you’ll get your opportunity to be bride’s-maids even yet.”
This caused whoops of excitement as they learned that the wedding might take place in the UK.
The next hurdle was to speak to mine.
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