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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 6: A Little Change

 

Bill was striding down the hall in his usual, preoccupied manner. The changes made to Triton Station made him feel old, useless. But he knew it was inevitable. New locks were on the doorways, more machinery was running, and more guards and uniformed people with sidearms were in evidence.

It was only a year since the papers for the United Earth Defense Force were finalized and signed - no mean feat considering the unspoken paper war at the time between the Eastern and Western nations.

But to many of the people it was no surprise, considering that the U.N. Secretary-General herself and the eminent Dr. William Steele were the project's prime movers.

It was also not surprising how strong the people's belief in Bill was. Most knew of Bill and his much publicized talents and accomplishments. He was a certified genius, with an I.Q. of 250 (the only other Human who had a confirmed IQ similar to his was the 19th-century American, William James Sidis) . He was tall, well-muscled, though more in the lean lines of a swimmer, good looking, and with a gentle disposition. He knew fifty languages and their attendant dialects, and had degrees in chemistry, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science and cybernetics, and was also a licensed M.D.

He’d finished his secondary school subjects by age ten through acceleration programs and scholarships, finished all his degrees by age eighteen - the only one in the history of the European Continental University to be allowed to take multiple courses at the same time, and acquired his medical license by age twenty through a special program of the University's Department of Medicine.

But despite his academic attainments well beyond his peers, he did not grow up lacking in what most would call the social graces, as most overachievers and child-geniuses were apt to be. This was due to the fact that he wasn't segregated out of social groups as others were.

And this was largely because of his parents, both widely acclaimed psychologists who knew the probable problems their son would face. They taught him how to behave and be accepted by his peers, not to use his unique position to dominate over them, and thereby be accepted by his friends and classmates.

They allowed him the social freedom given most children, and didn't keep him the way other parents did with child protégés. They encouraged him, from an early age, to join people and make friends; to learn to make allowances for others who couldn't keep up with him intellectually, and never antagonize anyone or show off.

It was because of this that he was always voted president of his class (even if he only stayed in a class for less than a semester before moving on), was always popular with the girls, and was always active in campus activities. Even as he was getting medals for his more than excellent work, he was also voted as the most popular guy on campus. Though his parents didn't stop him making friends with his classmates, who were usually more than five or six years older than him, not to mention about one or two feet taller, they encouraged him to associate more with those closer to his age. And his natural affability came from his getting social fulfillment from kids his own age, and academic fulfillment from his classmates.

However, though he was exceptional in intelligence, physically he was not so remarkable, except for his height - upon entering puberty, he shot up to about six and a half feet – or about two meters. (In his mind, he unconsciously switched from English to Metric – in this day and age, most people use English and Metric interchangeably, as most did, though people from the North American region still used English units of measurement most of the time.)

His physique, though well-toned, only showed normal muscular definition an any normal strength. However, his consummate coordination and reflexes made him an ideal football player, which were at odds with his love of playing the piano, his mother's favorite instrument, or his skill in fencing, his dad's favorite spectator sport.

After finishing his degrees and his masters, he was recruited by his country’s Space Force. He finished his four-year tour as a captain in the Navy, a veteran of the Asteroid Wars - indeed a full-blooded hero - a decorated member of the Sky Eagles special Marines unit, and as a certified M.D. specializing in space medicine.

He then went on to other things. He became the foremost pioneer and greatest advocate of science and space medicine. He developed a new electronic system that jumped computer efficiency a magnitude or so, and patented the EDS line of computing systems that was now the most common computing platform in the system. He developed new medical equipment that simplified diagnosis of patients' conditions, and because of these, the medical community was finally taking the last steps towards the abolition of that ancient scourge: cancer. He also formulated and proved the magnetic field theory that made gravity control and Earthship Two possible. And he, of course, discovered and developed Phase-Wave. But everyone knew that.

He thought of the unique path his life had taken. The revelation that his mother and father made right before his twentieth birthday that explained much of it still shook him. Apparently, he was part of a clandestine eugenics experiment that had started in the late nineteen-forties. It was not about any unusual medical treatment or medical procedure, but rather the deliberate, though voluntary, selection of mates with the goal of producing superior progeny. Over the years, though, the "grand experiment" slowly lost headway, as more and more of its believers started doubting the ethics of the program. As such, its few remaining proponents discontinued the unofficial program. He was therefore the latest, and the last, of the 400-year-old program's supposedly superior humans.

Bill shook his head and banished these bad thoughts, and looked up to find that he was at Main Mission, Triton Center's main control station - the heart and nerve center of the entire complex. It brought back the things he was thinking of a moment ago - of the proposal his good friend Marc and his faithful assistant Walter had told him, and how he felt about it.

But even that he tried to forget for the moment. He'd been monitoring a heavy load of restricted communications between Triton and Earth for a long time now, and he finally decided to get to the bottom of it, and find out what was happening with their galactic neighbors. He pushed his pass card into the newly-installed security lock of Main Mission.

His card bore little resemblance to the standard-issue cards. For a long time now he had quit using his real card, though he still carried that around for identification purposes. Instead he used a card of his own construction. The magnetic dots on one side could be raised and lowered as dictated by a small microchip, whose sole programmed function was to open virtually any lock in the complex.

After inserting his card in the lock, the pressure door rolled back smoothly. No angry buzzers or pre-recorded warnings greeted him: the mindless machine had been fooled.

He walked in and noted the increasing number of military personnel taking up functions that civilians formerly handled. There were also no terminals with touch-screen or VR pads – the military preferred “clickable” keyboards which gave a more tactile feel with the all-important haptic feedback that they needed, especially during battle situations.

The military’s virtual take-over annoyed him but he held his protest in check. He was still in the Navy, after all, though inactive in the Reserves now. His military background was one of the few things that the public knew little about, save for those officers and soldiers who served with him, and it was this background that made him appreciate the military.

He went to A-station, which was Phase-Wave planetary monitoring, and tapped the skinny lieutenant who was currently manning it.

"Good morning. Anything new out there?" he asked good-naturedly.

The officer swiveled around. "Oh," he said. "Doctor Steele. The commander was just looking for you. I think we finally have something via the new Phase-Wave detectors. Look." He pointed at his screen.

Bill bent over and surveyed the dots on the screen. "Hmm," he murmured softly.

"As you can see," the officer said, "they're in two groups, coming from two different directions. We've been running some computations. One of the two targets has come from somewhere inside the Arm. At least we've traced them as far as the Outer Rim. Data indicate that they have been decelerating at a very rapid rate, and the Brain says that the two targets' destination is here. The Solar System. Just within Pluto's orbit at the plane, in fact."

"Have you identified them, yet?"

Commander Thackary came over. "No, we haven't, but we're working on it, though. Hello, Doctor."

"Good morning, Commander," Bill said. He pointed to the screen. "Any new info?"

"Nothing. But we expect to get something soon. Some of the boys are having difficulties."

Bill frowned. "It's probably not that much of a problem."

"Well," the commander said, "at this time of day, the system's usually overloaded, and we've been having some problems with -"

Bill grunted in suspicion and turned away, walking to a vacant terminal. "Somehow, I don't believe that."

He inserted his homemade pass card and punched a high-level User Password. He addressed the terminal's microphone and spoke in crisp and clear syllables.

"Priority alpha-delta three. Accept emergency manual override to the operating system, category security officer."

The terminal responded after a few seconds. "Priority override accepted. Proceed."

Key terminals started shutting down. The exclamations of various operators all over the room could be heard as the system started shutting them down to prevent others from being able to take a look at whatever Bill was doing.

Bill punched in a linkage between his terminal and the system's random-query data retrieval subsystem. No one but Bill and Walter knew of its existence, because they were the ones who installed it in the system in the first place.

Bill started a dialogue with the computer, his queries displayed in capital letters, while the computer answered in lower-case.

"QUERY - IDENTIFY TARGET IMAGES ON A-STATION TERMINAL. ARE THEY OR ARE THEY NOT NATURAL SPACE BODIES I.E. METEORITES. ELABORATE"

"rqdrs - images not of natural phenomena. images consistent with spacecraft- type profiles"

"QUERY - ARE THE TARGETS CONSISTENT WITH EARTH SPACECRAFT PROFILES. ELABORATE"

"rqdrs - images inconsistent with earth spacecraft profiles. interrogation of database shows no earth spacecraft possible to be in that sector. further interrogation shows no current earth spacecraft type capable of such maneuvers"

"QUERY - IDENTIFY TARGETS USING NON-TERRAN SPACECRAFT PROFILES"

"rqdrs - first target consistent with profile for galactic federation military spacecraft. second target consistent with tiros empire military spacecraft"

Bill stared at the last line. He started typing furiously.

"QUERY - BREAK DOWN TARGETS TO INDIVIDUAL BODIES. IDENTIFY EACH AS TO SIZE AND TYPE"

"rqdrs - first body composed of 9 spacecraft consistent with battle-cruiser configuration. second body composed of 22 separate spacecraft: 13 battle-cruisers, 7 heavy-escort ships, 2 fuel carriers"

(Since EarthForce was not fully aware of all the current Federation and Empire ship types, most Earth military people would use terms like “warship,” “battleship,” “cruiser” and battle-cruiser” interchangeably. The computer was therefore programmed to generically refer to them as “battle-cruisers.”)

"By God," Bill murmured.

"QUERY - COMPUTE COURSE OF BOTH TARGETS RELATIVE NEPTUNE"

"rqdrs - targets will rendezvous within 600 million miles of neptune"

"QUERY - EXTRAPOLATE FROM ALL PERIPHERAL DATA TO GET OBJECTIVES OF ALIENS, DISPLAY MOST PROBABLE COMBINATION"

"rqdrs - insufficient data to achieve 90% accuracy. most probable combination indicates that targets will rendezvous with planet earth after imminent battle engagement"

"Jesus," Bill cried.

"QUERY - INTERROGATE CURRENT FILE, CROSS-REFERENCE A-STATION IMAGES. WHAT ACTIONS HAVE BEEN TAKEN REGARDING ALIEN SPACECRAFT"

"rqdrs - inter-system defense craft has been scheduled to arrive at triton center within one-point-nine months for refuel and resupply. spacecraft will then rendezvous with targets at moment of engagement three-point-one months later. mission orders are to intercept and repel hostile intruders prior to reaching inner system boundary"

"Goddammit. Who's the jackass..." Bill choked himself off and continued typing.

"QUERY - CONFIRM MISSION ORDERS"

"rqdrs - mission orders confirmed as: intercept and repel hostile aliens prior to reaching inner-system boundary, by order of commodore karpatov, upon recommendation by commander thackary, neptune command"

Bill swore and signed off. He whirled on Thackary. The commander looked away.

"Well, Commander? Do you want to tell me about it?" Bill's eyes flashed angrily.

The commander stammered. "Well, uh - it is, after all, a military matter. I did what I thought best in the interests of the System."

"And you never once gave a thought to the general directive ordering you to inform and consult with CETI Central about any matter touching on extraterrestrials?"

"Well, you see, Doctor, I -,"

"Never mind," Bill said angrily, gestured him aside and walked over to the comm console.

"Get me an open line to United Earth Defense Forces Headquarters," he said to the young officer operating the console.

The junior officer glanced nervously from Bill to the commander.

"Did you hear me, soldier?" Bill said angrily. "I said get me an open line to headquarters. Now!"

“Damn smartass son of a bitch,” Thackary thought, “but never mind.” Better this than him causing a scene. "It's all right, lieutenant. Let him through."

Bill nodded in angry satisfaction. “All right,” Thackary thought. “Let's see you get through. And even if you do, the commodore will back me up a hundred percent.” Thackary smiled a small knowing smile, and waited.

The operator's fingers flew over the keys and a face soon appeared on the screen that promptly responded, thanks to Phase-Wave.

"United Earth Defense Force Headquarters," the young ensign on the screen said. "May I help you?"

Bill leaned over the screen. "Please connect me to the Fleet Admiral, ensign."

Thackary and the console operator were taken aback. The Admiral! “Who does he think he is,” thought Thackary, but the ensign on the screen just flashed her practiced, professional smile. She was used to turning down cranks.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said blandly, "but Fleet Command communications are restricted to priority military calls, or to authorized personnel only." She moved as if to break the connection.

"Wait!" Bill exclaimed, and brought out his long-unused pass card. "I think you'll find me to be one of those authorized people you were referring to."

He inserted his card into the terminal and punched the Transmit button. The ensign on the screen leaned over to someone out of range of the picture. "Crackpots," she muttered to the one off-screen, but turned back to face them.

"I assure you, sir, your identification code will not help you to- ,"

Bill waved her down. "Even so, humor me. Even crackpots pay their taxes, you know." The ensign gave him a sour smile but bent over to her right and read the thin flimsy that extruded out of her printer. It serves as a physical receipt that she can file in the non-volatile records.

Her eyes grew large and gasped with surprise. She fairly goggled at Bill's priority access level - the highest she'd ever seen. “He must be the Admiral's fair-haired boy,” she thought incredulously, but she still went through the motions of confirming the code.

After a while, she said, "Priority six access confirmed, ahh, Captain." She was a little red with embarrassment. "Just got caught off-guard for a moment. Very few official calls go through the front desk, sir. I am clearing you to block one, Fleet Command." She smiled nervously at Bill. "I'm sorry, sir, but it will take a few minutes. Please stand by."

"That's all right, dear," Bill said.

The ensign smiled in some relief. "Thank you, sir." The screen was replaced by a color test pattern.

Thackary's eyes were raised in surprise. "Captain...?" he asked a little lamely.

"I was with the Navy a while back," Bill said in calculated nonchalance. "I'm in the reserves now."

The screen came alive again. "Fleet Command, EDF Headquarters," said a stone-faced Marine.

"Please connect me to the Fleet Admiral's Office," Bill said. "I want to talk to the Fleet Admiral."

Thackary's eyebrows were fairly climbing up into his hair, but he kept his mouth shut. He never thought that Bill might actually get through. And to the Admiral himself!

"Level six clearance is confirmed, Captain. Connecting you now to the Admiral's private circuit."

Soon, the picture coalesced into the craggy features of Fleet Admiral Benjamin Silverman. The gruff Englishman was frowning.

"Alright, alright," he said without preamble. "Who's there? What do you want?" But his eyes soon smiled in recognition. "By Jove, it's William!"

"Bill smiled.” Hello, sir."

"By God, this is sensational. How have you been, old boy? Been keeping well, I trust."

"Quite well, sir. And congratulations, by the way."

Silverman laughed. "Nothing like a bloody emergency to speed up the promotions, eh?" He laughed again.

"You've earned it. You've gone a long way since I was under your command."

"I suppose so. Yes, a long time since I've had you under my command. But enough of this chitchat. I trust this call is an official one, or else I'm going to have to ask you to get off the line. What is it?"

"We have a problem, sir," Bill said, and quickly outlined what was happening.

The Admiral mused for a moment. "Yes, we've picked up those blips here as well. But that's as far as I know." He looked up. "You know, none of this has reached me, yet. Hold on a moment." The Admiral leaned back and rifled through a very thick sheaf of papers – a concession to the coalition forces’ still-nonintegrated systems.

"Yes, here it is. Quadrant A42. Unidentified bodies, suspected to be natural phenomena..."

"But it's not. We could have gotten the information to you sooner, but the base command here has been less than cooperative. Getting anything from this bunch is like trying to pull out teeth."

"And you say that an intercept force has been arranged already," the admiral said, and looked up to the screen. "Let me speak to the commander, please."

Bill stepped aside for Thackary.

"Aye, sir?" the commander said.

"Commander," the admiral said, "I would like to know the reason why I was not informed of this matter immediately, and why Doctor Steele here has been having trouble getting information out of your people. Have you, by any chance, forgotten EarthForce's agreement with CETI that, in turning over to us their facilities, we would, in good faith, inform the CETI staff of matters such as these, immediately as they come?"

"Sir, please," Thackary pleaded. "I thought it best if I kept this matter confidential. You see, I-,"

"You take a lot upon yourself, don't you, Commander? Did it ever occur to you that such a decision is not within the limits of your command? That disobeying a direct general fleet command makes you liable for a court martial?"

Thackary shrank back. "Sir, I assure you that my actions were approved by the sector commanding officer."

"It was, eh?" Silverman turned to his desk intercom. "Evelyn? Would you please find out who is holding down sector operations for Neptune?"

"That would be Commodore Karpatov, sir," the admiral's secretary answered. "Commanding officer for Sector Seven."

"William," the admiral said, "I will have to get back to you on this. I have to, ahh... how do you say it, I have to 'kick some butts' down here."

"Aye, sir," Bill said, smiling.

"And enough of that 'sir' rubbish, all right? I'll call you up soon. Commander, I will be calling you back in fifteen."

"Sir!"

"Endit."

"Endit," Bill agreed, and the connection was broken. Bill pulled out his card, thanked the lieutenant politely, and walked out of Main Mission. Thackary and his staff officers followed his exit with something more than stunned surprise. Bill hid a smile, rather enjoying the feeling.

That smile faded, however, as his thoughts went back to his earlier discussion with Marc and Walter.

-----

"So what's this all about, Marc," he had said just a couple of hours before, when he and Walter were sitting in Marc's office sipping coffee. "I appreciate this a lot - we needed a break. But we're really just too busy..."

"Bill," Marc said, "I needed your opinion on an idea that the kids in the CETI alien encounter group came up with. I thought it a little off-the-wall myself, but I was all ready to sign off on it. Then again, I thought to ask you first."

"Walter and I are all ears. Shoot."

"Here are the preliminaries - based on the current CETI research, some of the major races in the Federation seem to be matriarchal in nature, that is to say, their societies are dominated by females. At least some of those races with male and female genders."

"Well, that's a bit of a slippery slope. For example, statistically, if you are looking at the slightly higher number of males of influence in human society compared with females, you could probably say humans have a patriarchal society. Although there is some superficial truth to that, in this day and age, there are no real preferences in roles for genders forced by current human mores, except those that individuals prefer for themselves, and neither gender has any dominance over the other, at least not anymore.

"But... until we actually visit Elyra ourselves, Marc, we won't really know anything for sure."

"Good argument, Bill. However, the analysts say that, at least with the Elyrans, and they think the Detterex as well, their society is indeed matriarchal. Or as sure as they can be."

"As it happens, I agree with them, actually. So what?"

"So... we also know they have a feudal system running, and you know how that went for us."

"I don't understand what you're getting at, Doctor," Walter said.

"Counting coup, saving face, loyalty to one's liege, caste systems, social classes, slaves, serfs, noblemen et cetera, et cetera."

"What?"

"That's what goes for normal in feudal societies. I doubt if our own present social system would be acceptable to the Elyrans."

"Doctor, I don't under..."

"As technologically advanced and as old as their civilization is compared to Humanity, their society doesn't seem to be quite so progressive. They seem to share many parallels to our older eras, except that the more dominant gender is the female."

Bill sighed in exasperation and looked to Walter. "See this, Walter?" He gestured to Marc. "This is the good doctor's lecture style that everyone who has had to sit in his class knows oh, so well. He will draw out the discussion, doling out the information piece by piece until..."

Marc laughed. "All right, Bill. Simmer down. Here's the idea that the kids came up with. It was their thought that it would be best if all of our personnel who would be in positions of command should be female."

"Huh?" Walter said. "Female? What..."

"Would Attila have been able to rule the Huns if he were female? Would the French army have followed and died for Napoleon if he were a woman? Would Guinevere have been able to create the Knights of the Round Table instead of Arthur?"

"But that's no longer true," Walter argued. "Look at Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, and Margaret Thatcher. Hell, look at Secretary-General Romarkin."

"Indeed," Marc said. "But as far as our information shows, Elyra is more like England of the middle ages. And, in medieval England, would a woman even be able to ask for the time of day? Do you see the point?"

"So what they are suggesting," Bill said, "is that all of our people that are supposed to work with the Elyrans should be women?"

"That is hardly possible, of course," Walter said.

"They know that," said Marc. "So, instead, what they are suggesting is that we load our crews with as many females as possible, especially in command positions."

"I can just imagine the recruitment posters..."

Walter laughed. "How about, 'we are looking for a few good women?'"

"Or how about, 'one small step for woman; one giant leap for womankind...'" Bill volunteered.

"Hey, how about this? 'To boldly go where no woman has gone before!' Good God, Doctor, isn't the Human Race done with all of this gender nonsense?"

Bill patted Walter on the shoulder. "Hold on, Walter," he said.

"You can laugh about this all you want, Walter" Marc said, "but Silverman is about to issue the order."

"Silverman?" Bill said, surprised. "You don't mean Benjamin Silverman?"

"Yes. He was appointed by Allie as the new Fleet Commander just a month ago. He's well regarded by the military on both sides. Allie told me he was the only choice that was acceptable to all the major powers."

"Silverman's a good man. He was my commanding officer during my mandatory service. Good choice."

"Well, good choice or not, he's the fleet admiral now, and he is about to issue this." Marc handed Bill his CC. On its screen was a Fleet Command Memo.

Bill read it quickly and passed it on to Walter.

After a bit, Walter looked up. "Hmm. Listen to this: 'It shall be the responsibility of all commanders whose units will come in contact with non-terrestrial personalities, entities or units, to insure two thirds of their units shall be under the command of a female officer, and this ratio shall be maintained in all command structures, from platoons or wings up to fleet-size forces.' I wonder how he intends to enforce that."

"You're forgetting, 'units under a female commander are the only units that can be assigned missions that will expressly engage non-terrestrial forces,'" Marc quoted from memory.

"Yeah, that, too," Bill said. "Well, all I can say is, good luck to him."

"But you agree, Bill?"

"Sure."

"Silverman doesn't like it but he has no choice. The whole point of the joint military is to defend against the aliens..."

"Not necessarily defend against..."

"Don't split hairs, Bill. You know what I meant. The CETI kids won't sign off on the fleet without this, so Silverman has no choice. He did say that he wanted three things that the government has to guarantee, though."

"Which are?"

"That any political fallout from this will be managed by the civilian authorities, that this policy will be in force for a limited period only, and that this is not to be kept confidential since there is virtually no chance of this being kept from the public given the size of the new fleet."

"That's the Silverman I know! He is the best person for the job."

"You agree?"

"Hell yeah, I agree. Silverman's right - no secrecy. Send a communiqué to him, and suggest the following changes: add the phrase, 'These general directives shall be in force until the current xenological crisis has passed,' as well as 'to be strictly complied with,' and at the end, include the phrase, 'all inquiries regarding these directives are to be directed to the Alien Threat Assessment Command, Triton Base.'"

"Uh, Bill," Walter said, "Alien Threat Assessment Command? There's no such thing..."

"I know. So you and Marc and maybe Admiral Silverman, too, should get cracking and make up this new command right away. I suggest you start picking people from CETI you think would be appropriate to draft into the service." Bill smiled mischievously.

"And what, pray tell, would this command be doing?"

"Why, to educate the military about the aliens, of course. What else? And to handle the press and to act as buffer for the military in case anyone raises an issue."

"What else, indeed," Marc said dryly. "I better get on the phone to Allie and the admiral then."

-----

All these things went through Bill's mind as he thought of what he had just seen. "Aliens are a-comin’,'" he whispered to himself, half excited and half worried. "Woohoo..."

The purpose of the original transmission was to get these aliens to come. And here they are. But who'd have guessed Federation and Tiros ships would come at the same time. They thought that was virtually impossible, so no one ever planned for this. The only conclusion here was that maybe both groups found out about the transmission at the same time. And maybe one or both groups found out what the other was intending to do. It seems everyone underestimated the impression that the transmission would make... So here come the aliens, in force, racing to make sure they get dibs on the new planet. The computer was probably right. Fireworks...

Bill made the decision. He wanted to be part of the group that would be meeting up with them, but, more than that, he wanted to be in a position to influence events. And besides, this was all his fault. He'd be damned if he'd be the cause of interstellar war.

He stepped to the side to let the foot traffic pass him by. He punched the speed dial for Sahsha on his chronometer - an interplanetary call as easy and as cheaply as any local call - something that would have been unthinkable before, but thanks to Phase-Wave, making such a call now was something that people took for granted.

"Hey, Bill," Sahsha's tiny image said.

"Hi, Sahsha," Bill answered. "I got a question."

"Shoot."

"How do I go about getting a sex change?"

-----

Bill looked at his reflection in the Crystalline mirror, feeling slightly foolish in his brand new uniform. Not because of the uniform, really, since he'd worn military clothes before, but more because he was wearing shiny black high-heel pumps and tights instead of dress shoes and socks, and a short skirt instead of pants. And the shirt and coat felt different somehow, since they were tailored to accommodate his new feminine curves and bustline, with darts sewn into the blouse to accommodate his bra, his newly-grown breasts and surgically-altered waistline. Still, they felt comfortable enough.

The four silver braids glinted prominently on his sleeve-cuffs, complementing the four silver stripes and blue sunburst chevron on each of his shoulder-boards: insignia of a navy captain, but in the design of the new United Earth Defense Forces Fleet.

He adjusted his shoulder-braid and prepared for his debut. Except for a few people, no one in the CETI staff knew that he was ever in the navy. But with his new look and identity, that hardly mattered now.

He picked up his cap and briefcase, and was turning to leave when his door swung open.

"Hey, Bill, I - ," Jerry Singh was saying, then he caught sight of him.

"Whoa," Jerry exclaimed. "You're lookin' real hot, Bill... I mean Mia. And nice set of threads, too... Captain." He laughed.

Mia (she resolved to think of herself as a female from now on) made a dismissing, irritated gesture. "Alright, Jerry. Cut the crap. I don't need you to finish off this lousy day for me." Besides the good-natured kidding, there was a lot more that had contributed to her foul mood... Hormones.

Old man Silverman, quite aware of his appointive position, and very anxious to keep it, ran over to his de-facto commander-in-chief, U.N. Secretary-General Alexandra Romarkin, and informed her of the situation. They conceded that the case in point was in fact a military situation, and is therefore off-limits to civilian interference. To allow them to interfere would endanger the delicate balance they had been trying to maintain to keep the United Nations' United Earth Defense Force in existence. The flag officers of the new navy were very touchy as it was.

However, First Contact was another touchy matter best handled by the most qualified person - someone who knew as much as anyone about the aliens, but had to be in the military as well, AND was even-handed at diplomacy and protocol. And it had to be a woman.

That was how Bill, now Mia, was transferred from Reserves to active service. Silverman "accepted" Bill's proposal. Bill's new assignment: to assume command of task force 41/18, intercept the alien fleet, and to take steps as necessary to insure the welfare of the race. But he would do so as a woman... So goodbye, Dr. William Charles Steele. Hello, Captain Amelia Catherine Steele.

-----

Changing sexes had its real beginnings in the first half of the twentieth century, to address what they used to call gender identity disorder which, though it wasn't widespread, it was common enough that people knew about it. This disorder was probably due to the rigid norms surrounding old twentieth and twenty-first century gender roles. In Twenty-Fourth Century Earth, though, a more relaxed and tolerant society prevailed, and GID cases were very uncommon (at least those that weren't genetically caused).

Still, it was easy for present-day medicine to accomplish what surgeons could only dream of before. Cloning new, genetically compatible... "spare parts" was pretty straightforward nowadays, as well as surgically transplanting them into people's bodies (computer-assisted micro-scalpels and other instruments made the surgery so much easier). And although creating equivalent parts in the opposite sex was slightly more difficult, it was extremely do-able, so sex-changers now had the benefit of full functionality.

For Bill/Mia’s transformation, force-growing the parts needed took less than a week, and the surgical operations needed to replace his male reproductive and glandular organs with female ones even less time.

Making Bill a functional female was comparatively straightforward. What took some effort, and the skill and… “artistry” of skilled surgeons were the procedures to make the new Mia look believable.

Strategic bone decalcification made Bill's bones pliable enough that the doctors were able to change his skeletal structure into a more feminine configuration, and re-calcification permanently fixed them that way, giving Bill a permanently wide-hipped stance, along with the appropriate hip-swinging walk that men find so attractive. His wide shoulders were narrowed, his legs, arms and neck lengthened into the female ideal, his eyes were made to appear larger and his forehead made smoother, his nose made appropriately smaller, his cheekbones built up, and his chin reduced.

Additional surgery to shave down his Adam’s apple and to modify his voice box (which gave him an incredibly sensual, low, but undeniably feminine voice) were the last of the major surgeries. Minor chemical and electrical skin treatments followed, which removed hair follicles where they were not wanted and left them where they were. And liquefaction and relocation of adipose cells made it easy to change his body measurements to the ideal female measurement-ratios. His now-longer (and slimmer) arms, legs and very elegant neck gave her a couple more inches in height. Her updated medical charts now had her height at six feet seven inches: her final physical attributes were now in line with BuPers’ “design” for the ideal female, which was based on the current surveys and the prevailing mores. Mia was too tall, though, but that couldn’t be helped.

The chemical and hormone treatments that followed took longer than the time it took to grow the parts, complete the surgical procedures and finish the calc/decalc & fat mobilization treatments combined, but they were necessary to soften his skin appropriately as well as change his muscle density closer to female configurations. In the end, all the procedures made her one of the most attractive women ever to enter military service. By design.

Most of the scientists in CETI tended to anthropomorphize the aliens, and they argued that similar-looking species with similar needs would have similar aesthetics. (Spectral analysis of almost all of the Federation and Tiros worlds showed they had oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres in ratios similar to Earth's, with chlorophyll-based flora in quantities similar to pre-21st-century Earth, as well as similar ambient temperatures, color spectra radiation levels, and with gravity ranges near Earth-normal.) The doctors from BuPers and BuMed thought that was a specious argument, but since studies showed that soldiers tend to more readily obey attractive people, they agreed to Bill's "redesign."

BuMed did insist on one final item before they would allow BuPers to clear the new woman for military service - a psychological test, conducted by the famous civilian psychotherapist, Doctor Isabella Puerrot.

After telling the military to get her all the information they could get about Bill, as well as all the details of Bill's transformation, the legendary doctor shut herself in her office for a day, and then afterwards asked to meet with Bill, now Mia.

She met Mia at the Bethesda Military Medical Center, which was just a few minutes' from Washington DC by jumper belt. There she met with Mia, who was undergoing the last of her physical therapy. During one of Mia's therapy breaks, they indulged in small talk.

Dr. Puerrot told Mia a riddle. "A man goes to a bar," she said, "goes to the bartender and asks for a glass of water. The bartender brings out an old-fashioned shotgun and shoots at the man. Why?"

That basically was the extent of her evaluation. Puerrot laughed with Mia at the joke, and noted down Mia's answer.

Before leaving the hospital grounds, Puerrot called Admiral Silverman as she waited for a taxi.

"She passed," she told the admiral, and disconnected without any more explanation.

Not sure how to interpret that, Silverman had her summoned to his office.

"Mademoiselle Steele passes with flying colors, Admiral," Puerrot said in the admiral's office. (As soon as she got out of the taxi, she was kidnapped, very nicely, and brought to the admiral.) "She is as sane as you or I, and she is adjusting well to her change. I guarantee that she will have no psychotic breaks, nor will she experience any kind of break from reality as a result of her transformation. No doubt she will have momentary difficulties from time to time, but she will get over these minor troubles quickly. And I am sure she will excel in this new journey of self, as she has always done with all the things that she has set her mind to do. She is an impressive, remarkable, brilliant, and quite attractive young woman, Admiral. Take my word for it: she can be relied upon."

"Doctor, your exam amounted to you asking her a single question - a riddle. That's your so-called examination?"

"Well, that and an exhaustive review of his background, history and files. And I spent an hour in the company of the new, lovely young woman, and I got to know her."

Silverman sighed and gave up. "All right."

As the doctor stood to leave, Silverman asked her a final question. "I am curious, Doctor, how did she answer the riddle anyway?"

Puerrot smiled. "She said, 'the bartender took a shot at the man because he had the hiccups.'"

"Eh? That's it? What does that prove?"

"Think about it, Admiral."

She shook his hand one last time and left.

He did think about it, and he agreed with the doctor. Silverman had also raised an eyebrow at the word "attractive," but after asking the hospital to send him some pictures and video of Mia later after the doctor left his office, he had to agree with that, too.

-----

It was like a whirlwind. It took a week and a half to travel to Earth, a little over five weeks for the surgeries and medical procedures, and another week and a half to travel back to Triton. Just in time to meet up with Intercept Fleet 41/18. This made Mia a less-than-happy girl.

The other reason for Mia's foul mood was that, since she was now officially "non-civilian," she had to give up her post as a CETI member. CETI's present policy was that, under no circumstances would any military personnel act in any capacity for CETI whatsoever. It was the only way to keep CETI free of the military's claws.

Bill/Mia had already found her replacement in her assistant and friend, Walter Thorpe, and had already removed all of Bill's things from his office so Walter could move in. The only thing left to do now was to tell the people.

It was time to lift the veil of secrecy over the matter that had, in its own way, created more problems. Sure, the arrival of three space cruisers had caused more rumors than the truth, for, though it was easy to hide the departure of DSR Seeker, Hermes and Constellation down on Earth, where dozens of spacecraft arrive and depart every day, it wasn't so easy to hide their arrival in distant Triton. But that seemed so minor compared to the uproar within the CETI organization that was caused by the drafting of Bill and several important CETI analysts.

"Time to go now, Bill," Jerry said to her. "I mean, Mia." Jerry smiled sheepishly.

"I guess it is," she answered her friend in her new, melodious voice, and tried to smile. She sighed and picked up her briefcase again. The other CETI anthropologists and linguists that she'd had commissioned for the intercept fleet (which sounded better than saying she had them drafted) had gone on ahead, and it was time to join them.

As she turned to close the door, they heard the fast tap-tap of high heels approaching. It was Sahsha. The high-heeled shoes she preferred to wear (probably to offset her height) and their tap-tap-tap was very much the trademark that the people in the base had come to know her by.

"Mia!" she cried.

-----

Seeing Sahsha again was good. Bill/Mia always had to smile. Every time he saw Sahsha, he/she just had to. He'd always been attracted to the petite little lady, and perhaps his, now her, feelings for Miriam were all that was stopping him/her from pursuing the relationship. But Miriam, after her numerous trips to the hospital to visit Bill, had made her feelings clear.

They would always be best friends, she said, but she could never love a woman. In that way. Mia didn't argue the point even as she hugged little David and his twin brother Peter to her and looked out her hospital room window in silence. After a while, she turned back to Miriam, eyes bright, and smiled sadly at her and nodded her acceptance. Miriam's visits tended to be short, as her spacer's physique made her uncomfortable in the slightly higher Earth gravity. (It was too late for Miriam, but she was making sure her kids would not have the same problem, and brought them to Earth as often as she and Marc could as well and had their spots reserved an the school in Triton’s new Spin City.)

The sex change had made Mia give up so many things, so many relationships, so many friendships, and her unrequited love for Miriam was one of these things. In a way, it was a good thing, because she could now close this part of her life, and allow her and Miriam to move on.

But now that her thoughts shifted to Sahsha, she prayed that Sahsha wouldn't be someone she would have to give up as well.

-----

Mia and Jerry stopped to wait for her. Mia smiled in greeting, and waved for Jerry to go on ahead.

"The Seeker's here," Sahsha said.

"Yes, I know," answered Mia as they linked arms.

"You're leaving pretty soon, aren't you?"

"Yup. Just going over to Main Mission now, to watch Jerry make the announcement."

They walked in companionable silence for a while.

"You’re going to miss... Miriam, aren't you?" she said suddenly, breaking the silence.

Mia stopped and turned her around. "Hey, what is this?" she asked and lifted her chin, a faint smile flitting across her lips. "Don't tell me you're jealous. Nothing's going on between me and Miriam and I. We're just friends."

"No, I'm not," Sahsha said defiantly, turning her too-bright eyes on her. Bill could always read her like an open book, an ability she sometimes loved and sometimes hated, and Mia was no different. "I'm not," Sahsha repeated.

Mia placed her hands gently on her shoulders. "Yes, I'll miss her," she said, and bent down to kiss her softly on the lips. "But, I'll miss you, too. Even as I am now. Very much."

"Oh, Mia," she cried softly and wrapped her arms around her neck.

"Hey," she said, "It's not as if I'm not coming back." She rubbed her back gently, soothing her. "Lighten up a little, huh?" She pulled her into her arms.

Passers-by raised their eyebrows in curiosity but they both ignored them.

The Base P.A. suddenly boomed to life, breaking their shared moment of intimacy. They needed Mia in Main Mission, the voice said.

Wordlessly, they turned, still holding hands, and walked in the direction of Main Mission, each wrapped in private thoughts.

-----

After Jerry's presentation, Mia stood in front of Main Mission's master console, her back to the large Mission Screen. “At least Main Mission's been cleared of those uniformed jokers,” she thought, and addressed the whole of CETI. She looked around for Miriam and Marc, but they had said their good-byes already. Probably didn't want to be there.

All the people in Main Mission were friends, and she could count on them keeping his/her... change secret. Though she knew that wouldn't be for long, and it would eventually leak out. Mia just wanted to make sure the ships would already be out before the story leaked.

"Many of you," she began, her face and voice reaching her people through the P.A., "have no doubt been hearing some rumors flying around for some time, by now. Well, let me put all of them to rest."

She then gave them a short summary of the discovery of the alien spacecraft, adding to the information Jerry gave, the spacecrafts' probable origins and intentions, and that they were less than three months away from Neptune. She told them about the three ships that had just arrived from Earth and their mission orders. And then she told them about the role she was about to play.

"Few of you know that I was formerly with the Navy, as an officer in the American space fleet, working with the Allies, and that I fought in the Asteroid Wars. But that was a long time ago, and I resigned from active duty. Now, this emergency has come up, and the Secretary-General has seen it fit to draft me back into active service … In the form you see me in now."

There was a lot of murmuring. The people had already found out what had been done to Bill, and the large turnout was partly because of the curiosity they had about the new female Dr. Steele.

"Let me first tell you that I volunteered for this change,” she continued. “All of you know why it was necessary. But know also that I was not forced into this. I did so willingly. I hope this doesn't affect your perception of me. I am still the same person, except for the obvious changes, of course." She humorously gestured at herself, especially at her new chest. Most laughed with the new Mia - who still had the same wry humor that Bill was known for. Many were pleased to know that underneath it all, it was still Bill.

"I'd like you to keep this quiet for now,” she said. “I don't mean that you should keep it secret - just don't tell anyone anything unless they ask." She paused a bit as many nodded in agreement. "Now, on to the main subject - as I have just said, I have been ordered to take command of intercept fleet 41/18 as soon as possible, and because of this, I have to leave CETI. I have therefore appointed Dr. Walter Thorpe to take over in my behalf." She gestured for Walter to join her in front.

"So," she continued, "Starting now, direct your wonderful little problems to him. I am now officially resigned.

"My best to you all. And my heartfelt thanks."

She put on her uniform cap. It was a significant gesture - a punctuation.

In front of everyone, Mia shook Walter's hand. "Congratulations, Walter. And good luck." She gave him a friendly sock on the shoulder and a light kiss on the cheek, and then walked out of Main Mission.

"Bill," Walter said softly, but Bill/Mia didn't turn around as everyone followed her with their eyes as she left.

"Bye, Bill... I mean, Mia..."

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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