"Alex," I said, and paused for a moment, seeking the most diplomatic way of pointing out what I'd noticed; "you're really... buxom."
"Yes," she said, glancing my way. "Have you just noticed?"
"Actually, yes," I said; "and... stop me if this sounds crazy, but were you even female when we got here?"
"Of *course* I --" she began, annoyed, then stopped suddenly, her mouth open. She closed and opened her mouth a couple of times. Then -- somehow sounding more puzzled than frightened or worried -- she said, "Well, no, actually I wasn't. When did this happen, and how?"
"I can't remember," I said; "I only just now noticed that's you'd changed, but I can't recall when it happened."
Tracy had heard us talking and come over to listen, then started looking carefully at Alex. "That is pretty weird. I remember Alex being a man, and now she's a woman, but I can't remember when or how she changed either. What's --?"
I interrupted (a bad habit, I know -- but how long have I had this habit?). "Tracy... do me a favor. Say the word 'remember' again."
Tracy looked at me. "Remember."
"Again, stop me if this sounds crazy, but... I think you pronounced the first 'm' in the word with your lips."
"And then the 'm-b' cluster with your... *other* lips."
She looked down at herself. "That *is* odd, now that you mention it. How --?"
"And I don't think you were speaking like that before, because if you'd been talking partly with your mouth and partly with your vagina, half of the sound would have been muffled by your pants. I'm sure you had pants on before; I've never seen you without them before."
Alex suddenly got a lightbulb-over-the-head look on her face. "And other women don't speak through their privates, right? I don't."
Tracy nodded, afraid for a moment to speak, perhaps; but then she recovered. "And I never noticed until you pointed it out, and even now I can't remember when I changed. Something weird is happening to our memories."
"I think it's more than just our memories," I said. "We're accepting ourselves as normal until someone else notices something odd about us. Do either of you notice anything different about me? And another thing -- where are we?"
They studied me carefully, and I studied our surroundings.
After a minute or so Tracy shook her head. "I haven't noticed anything changed about you, except... I can't quite remember. Were you wearing those three different plaids before? Or if not, can you remember when you changed into those clothes?"
I looked at myself. "No, actually. I was wearing all black before, I'm pretty sure. And do any of you ever remember seeing plaid shoes before, on anybody?"
"Maybe on a clown," Alex said dubiously. "Now that Tracy points it out I remember you were wearing black last time I paid attention to what you were wearing, and now you're wearing plaids, but I still can't see anything else different."
"And..." Tracy turned to Alex. "How many fingers does Lee have? I keep getting a different number every time I count, eleven or twelve, but I think you and I only have ten. I'm pretty sure Lee only had ten before, although somehow I've never felt any urge to count them until now."
"You're right," Alex said after a few moments' counting under her breath. "Lee has at one more finger than before, but -- wait, which hand was it on...? Damn it, I'm no good at this... Let me try staring at something else for a while, then suddenly look at Lee from the corner of my eye."
"Try looking at that," I suggested, pointing.
"Hey, that's weird," Alex said.
"Right," Tracy said; "why is there a urinal in the ladies' room?"
"The real question, I think, is why do we assume we're in a ladies' room when there's a urinal here? Instead of, say, a men's room, or a co-ed restroom, or --" I thought hard, trying to imagine other possibilities. "-- Or some totally different kind of room that just happens to have eight toilet stalls, a urinal, an Attentionex dispenser, four sinks, a microwave oven, soap dispensers, hand blow driers, and a long mirror...?" I frowned. Something didn't seem quite right -- besides the anomalous urinal, I mean -- but I couldn't place it.
"Because," Tracy said, in an it's-so-obvious tone, "we're all ladies."
"Because a men's room this size should have five or six urinals, at least," Alex said. "I know, I've been in plenty."
"Because a co-ed restroom would be decorated in more neutral colors, not all pastel like this," Tracy said after a few moments' further thought.
"Because the sign on the door said 'Ladies'," Alex said, after going to check.
"OK," I said. "So we're definitely in a ladies' room. And while you've been figuring that out, I've thought of a couple of possibilities for why that urinal might be here."
"Enlighten us," said Alex, turning toward me. She got an "aha!" look on her face, but didn't say anything right away.
"What?" I asked.
"Go ahead," she said smugly. "Finish what you were going to say."
"One, it might be for the use of women who are in a really big hurry and have some limited shapeshifting abilities."
"Oh, right," Tracy said. "Why didn't I think of that?" She looked a bit squicked, though.
"Two, it might be for women like me. I mean, pseudo-hermaphrodites, not pure women, but female enough we can't go in the men's room."
Tracy looked shocked. "But... You weren't a hermaphrodite before!"
"You just now noticed, did you?" Alex said to her.
"Hmm," I said, trying to check my memories for consistency. "This is weird. Alex, once I pointed it out you suddenly remembered you used to be a man, right? And Tracy, after I noticed it, you remembered you hadn't always been pronouncing half of your bilabial consonants through your vagina? And once you remarked on it I realized I'd absentmindedly changed from blacks into plaids at some point without noticing it. But I still can't remember being a standard-issue woman before. Or a man, for that matter. Are you really sure I wasn't a hermaphrodite until just recently?"
"Uh huh," Alex said.
"Positive," Tracy said, bobbing her head vigorously.
"Have you ever seen me with no pants or skirt on?"
"No," Tracy said, looking disgusted, and oblivious to her own state. "We're friends, not lovers. I... I can't remember how we met or how long we've known each other, but I'm sure of that."
"How about you, Alex?"
"No," she said, looking annoyed and puzzled. "But... as long as we've known each other, I'm sure the fact that you're a hermaphrodite would have come up in conversation sooner or later, right? And besides, I would have noticed that bulge in your pants a lot sooner, if it had always been there. I mean, we used to be better at remembering things. I think."
"You're probably right," I said. "It's probably my memories that are wrong. So was I a man or a woman before?"
"You were a woman," Alex said, at the same time as Tracy said, "A man, of course." They looked at each other, surprised.
"Well. At least *two* of us have had our memories tampered with."
"Just on that particular point," Alex said sourly. "We've all been messed with in some way or other. So how can we figure out who or what's doing it, and stop it?"
"Let's try backtracking our steps," Tracy suggested, "and see if we can get out of range of whatever it is... and maybe we can get more clues if we find discrepancies in our memories of how we got here, hmm?"
"Good plan," I said. "So, first step: we came into the ladies' room from the hall there, right?"
"Um, not quite. Why did we come into the ladies' room in the first place...? Before this conversation started we all came out of one of those stalls --"
"Except Lee," Tracy said.
"Right. I was using the urinal."
"And then we were washing our hands, and Lee suddenly noticed I was female -- OK, I think we've got that down. Shall we go out into the hall?"
"Just a minute, please," I said. "That's almost right, but I still feel like we're missing something. Let me try something."
I went to the hand drier, then walked carefully backwards to the sink I'd washed my hands at, the one one the far left of the row; mimed washing my hands, then walked backwards to the urinal; mimed peeing; then walked backward to the Attentionex dispenser, fished a coin from my pocket and held it toward the slot... Suddenly it hit me.
"Wait a minute. Did you both take a dose of Attentionex when we came in like I did?"
"Sure," Alex said, in a tone that implied "so what?"
"I think... yeah, now that you mention it I did. Oh, of course..." said Tracy.
"What are you two getting at?" Alex asked us, looking frustrated.
"I was feeling a bit sleepy and I'd failed to notice two of the last five K-levels coming past my station. And you ragged me about it, and said it would suck for people in Tifton and Ocilla and Engima if I was that far off my game during a real attack, so I said I would see if a dose of Attentionex would help. And then Lee said she was feeling the need for an attention booster too, since she felt her mind wandering during that long period with no attacks or even feints; and you said if we were going to be boosted, you might as well take a dose too because otherwise we might gain on you in the rankings."
"Right," Alex said. "Okay, now some of it's starting to make sense. But only some of it. So the Attentionex helps us notice things we'd otherwise overlook, check; and it focuses our attention outward and makes us so present-focused that we temporarily lose track of some of our memories, also check. But there's at least one weird thing the Attentionex doesn't explain."
"What?" I asked, trying to think of what I'd missed.
"I must have already been a woman before I took the Attentionex. Otherwise, why would I have come into the ladies' room with you? But when and how did that happen? Attentionex doesn't cause sex changes, even with a ridiculous overdose."
"Come to think of it," Tracy said, frowning, "it doesn't make people grow extra fingers, or start talking through their vaginas, either."
"Back to square one," I said unhappily. "Unless..." I put the coin I'd been holding in the slot, pushed the button, and then carefully examined the packet that fell from the dispenser.
"Aha!" I said. "It's not just Attentionex! It's thiotimoline-laced Attentionex!"
Alex and Tracy looked shocked. "Damn," Tracy said, "that's not supposed to be in restroom drug dispensers! It's prescription-only!"
"We'd better write an out-of-order warning and stick it on the dispenser," Alex said. She got out a marker and a pad of post-it notes from her purse. She hadn't had a purse when we came in, I realized, but now wasn't the time to point it out.
"And we'd better tell Dr. Wentworth about it, and have him assign somebody else to take the rest of our shifts until this wears off. We can't go back to work like this."
"And," Alex said, suddenly remembering Tracy's state of undress, "maybe you'd better stay here until we scout around and see if we see any more people with no pants or skirts on. We can't tell if the thiotimoline-Attentionex affected everybody's sense of propriety or just ours until we look."
"I guess you're right," Tracy said. "I'll stand guard by the dispenser and warn people, in case the post-it falls off... Hurry back and tell me what you find out, OK?"
"I will," I promised.
Tune in next time when you'll hear Dr. Wentworth say:
- "Wait, who authorized the money in the budget for a microwave in the ladies' room?"
(c) 2009 by Trismegistus Shandy
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