User:Hawl/Intended Side-Effects

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Intended Side-Effects

Author: Jessica Kylie Nichols-Vernon aka HawlSera

First off a special thank you is in order Revisions and Editing done with assistance of Dediles

Author's Comments

This is the official first story in the reboot of “Together We RIDE” , originally I wanted to just re-edit As A Woman I RIDE to be more lore friendly and easier to read. However as I started doing that I found it to be a boring task, and one that wouldn’t prove fruitful. Most people who would be interested in reading As A Woman I RIDE have already read it and likely wouldn’t want to re-read a story that was just the same thing with a few details switched around.

The Director’s Cut of Integration was well received, but that was different. Integration was already a complete story or close to it by the time DC rolled around, my reboot is a new story with the same characters, similar themes, and altered events. So it makes no sense for a re-edited As A Woman I RIDE to lead into new content. So I’ve opted to do a remake instead, with the far more subtle title of Intended Side-Effects.

The original As A Woman I RIDE was written at an interesting time. It was both done in FreeRIDE’s infancy when few plot details were solidified and around the time I experimented with stimulating drugs in order to get more writing done. This is not a good combination, as a result the Together We RIDE stories are just plain weird and honestly I don’t even think I could follow them if I tried to read them again.

It also helps that the original As A Woman I RIDE is one of the only two stories in Together We RIDE’s original run that are first person, the other one being Bob’s Origin (The worst story I’ve ever written period), which just isn’t consistent.

The original version of this tale had been inspired by a fantasy of mine when I was young, the idea that there would be a way to perform my transition from male to female by “Accident” To avoid coming out to my family, just throwing my hands up and saying “I guess I’m a woman now, what can you do?”

Well I don’t live on Zharus, and unless both Reincarnation and Multiverse Theory are real things, I never will. So I had to come out of the closet.

Over the years I’ve grown to love the characters I created for FreeRIDE almost as much as I love FreeRIDE itself, and they deserve a story that makes sense. So without further ado, here is Intended Side-Effects!

148 AL - Planet Zharus, Polis of Venars, Continent of Laurasia

Paul Reverbek woke up as he always had, even back when he lived on Earth, disappointed at the prospect of his conscious mind returning to his body. Most frustrating was the fact that he, like many nineteen year olds, had morning wood he never asked. Worse still, morning wood not caused by anything specific besides being male.

Everything about his physical existence was nothing but pain. Pain existed even in Paul’s most joyful moments. This was not the kind of agony that hardens one to the horrors of the world, but a deep cut that leaves one mentally bleeding out; slowly seeping one’s soul into what was to many on Zharus, a long forgotten madness known as gender dysphoria.

It may seem queer to have this problem on Planet Zharus after the world got rocked by the adaptation of Sarium and Qubitite. Though the progress of society cannot be measured in technology alone, but also a list of what one considers to be a social taboo.

Humanity and the gender binary have an interesting and detailed history, many conclusions were reached on the subject by differing worlds and eras. Thanks to the Post Oil Dark Ages many of these views were lost to time. As a result, Modern Earth decided that men were men, women were women, and anyone who wanted to change that would have to fight a corrupt system of gatekeepers every step of the way. Questions about one’s self were highly discouraged as the Earthlings of the 25th Century were practically molded on an assembly line.

To live on Earth for Paul Reverbek was to be in an iron box with a thorn in his side sunk so deep within him that it drew blood, the box suggested Paul ignore the wound; as it continued to get deeper and deeper still. To remove the thorn Paul would have to stand strong and tall, yet never on Earth could he do so. How could he? The blood was almost gone leaving behind Paul, cold and alone, dried up husk.

Upon moving to Zharus it became apparent quite quickly that things weren’t even remotely similar on this new planet. The human homeworld was a cold desolate place, infrastructure was a lot like plant life in that it was practically non-existent. Old wounds from conflicts and tyrannies ran deep over the planet, entire cities laid abandoned. The vestiges of human life on Earth find themselves over-policed by the frightened descendants of lawyers, billionaires, and congressmen lustful for power. Tyrant kings desired to be as their ancestors; standing tall above all others during both the Post-Oil Dark Ages and the days that lead to it. The steel ruin, the rampant poverty, selective law enforcement, and overwhelming despair were all the Reverbek family had ever known.

Once all three members of Clan Reverbek fully awoke from cryosleep all three of them believed it was just another of many dreams cooked up by their inactive minds. Upon looking out the window towards the domed Landing City each member of the trio was instantly flabbergasted. Not only did the dome appear structurally sound, but so did the town within it. It appeared to them as a snowglobe depicting a perfection that could never be, though this one was large enough to walk into. The majestic city, both inside and out, was celebrated by emerald blades and wooden towers. What twisted Zharusian science was this? Could they be grass and trees? No impossible, grass wasn’t this green, and trees weren’t this vibrant or alive.

There were so many people going through the town below them, all of various shapes and sizes. Some of them even had tails, some with exotic pets like lions, tigers, and bears following behind them, and a few went beyond that being metallic human shaped animals. Nothing about this motley crew impressed the immigrating triad more than the fact that so many of these people seemed happy, upbeat, or at the very least as if nothing was wrong. No one looked hardened, downtrodden, depressed, or even hungry. Was this Zharus, or another dream?

That magic moment had been a little under a year from this morning, a morning for Paul that was like any other in his new normal. Paul threw the covers off his naked frame and furrowed his brow upon witnessing his own involuntary erection. The blood that rushed to his phallus every morning was emotionally jarring as it was physically uncomfortable. What was Paul to do with this? There was no desire to touch or even acknowledge this thing. Luckily the morning was the only time his masculinity got hard as his libido did not exist. This wasn’t because of his gender issues, not even remotely, he just didn’t get randy was all. So Paul did what he did every morning, bar his eyes away from the horror between his legs, and keep the tower pressed against the collar of the boxer shorts he’d be wearing that day to minimize the visibility of the awkward organ.

Life on Zharus brought obvious improvements, Paul had a comfortable bed to sleep in, accessible healthcare, three square meals a day with whatever snacks he wanted from the fabber, and even a decent paying job he would be heading for after breakfast with the family. It seemed as though Paul had it all now, but it wasn’t until the knife was removed did he one notice the wound was infected.

After grabbing his commpad Paul adjourned downstairs to enjoy breakfast with the three other members of his family, his mother Amelia Reverbek, his father Derek Reverbek, and the RIDE to which he was currently fused, a pronghorn buck named Clyde. Breakfast consisted of steak and eggs, at least it had for Paul and his mother. Derek had undergone genetic alterations from fusing with Clyde, with these came not just a tail, but also the inability to stomach meat. He didn’t mind his forced veganism that much, even with a new palette Derek enjoyed grilling as much as before.

Once Derek handed out the plates, it happened once more, his wife looked at his own meal with complete and utter disgust. Upon Derek’s plate laid bare a white tofu steak pale as a ghost, accompanied not with eggs, but a salad made of various herbs. Too many it seemed like a standard vegan diet, but to Amelia it symbolized loss of that which was familiar, what was comfortable.

Paul had been shoveling fried eggs into his face hole when it began, the morning conversation.

“I still can’t believe you, Derek Reverbek, Derek Dermot Reverbek, eat this kind of stuff.” Amelia said with utmost repulsion.

Derek didn’t even stop or slow the cutting of his steak to bother reacting to his wife’s comment. It had been one year on Zharus, eleven months with a RIDE, and five since the nanites finally changed his tongue this way; five months of having this conversation every morning without fail. Attempts were made by all parties to not have this dialogue, but that was proven a fool’s errand.

“Darling, I’m the one eating the faux meat, not you, why does this continue to bother you?” Derek didn’t know why he asked the question, perhaps it had become a reflex in all this time, but he already knew that his wife would respond by saying-

“Because if there’s one thing I’ve known about you Derek Reverbek, it’s that you are the afficendo when it comes to meat. Even during the worst of the shortages on Earth you knew how to make burgers tasty and plentiful, and now, you’re a vegan who dresses like a deer! What else about you has changed? Are you even the same man? How can I possibly know that?”

“Does your steak taste off?” Derek asked, Clyde actually stepped in to prevent this comment from being more sharply pointed.

“No it’s delicious as always, what’s your point?” Amelia asked

“Beethoven was deaf, dear.” Derek had never been that passive aggressive with his wife before, but one hundred and fifty days take their toll.

“I can’t stand here and be insulted while you wear that… that THING! That took my husband! I… I think I’ll eat in front of the TV” Amelia left taking her food with her.

Paul always hated this conversation every morning. It was true that if he fused with a female RIDE he would become she. A gender bend would be a permanent and glorious end to the curse of gender dysphoria. Though the question raised was would his parents’ marriage survive a second changed family member. If his mother couldn’t handle her husband enjoying a salad, what would happen on the day that she literally had no son?

“Do...does it scare you wh-when she gets like that?” Paul said with a noteworthy, yet characteristic whimper

“No, your mother’s just been quite sheltered her whole life, it can take her time to adjust to new things. If we weren’t at our very wits end I don’t think I could have gotten her to leave our hometown, much less the planet, but she’ll come around eventually.” Derek smiled at his offspring, he didn’t want to worry Paul but the truth of the matter was far more serious. Inside of Clyde he was browsing marriage counselors in the area, he had been doing so for the last week not having made a selection nor found a way to tell his wife.

The whole affair, once again spoiled Paul’s appetite. To the kitchen fabber he went to make a tupperware container for the remainder of his steak and eggs. As he grabbed his comm pad from the kitchen table his father stopped him.

“Paul, I know Zharus has a lot of ways of changing a person, even physically. I know how your mother has failed to adapt to all this. I don’t want you to feel like that should tether you.” Derek spoke softly and solemnly.

“Well thanks dad…. You know I.. I…” Paul smiled, a spark had been lit in his soul. Perhaps now he would have the courage to confess how he felt about his gender. If only he could force the words through his mouth.

“I just want you to know that no matter what happens, you will always be my son, and I love you.” Derek smiled hoping that would reassure his son, instead it hurried him out the door.

Paul jumped to his hoverbike hoping to lose himself in his work down at Le Wrench De Paris.

Le Wrench De Paris was a hybrid RIDE Dealership/Mechanic Shop, doing both was one of the few ways her boss, an albino man in his mid fifties named Simon Adonais Bertrand found himself turning a profit. The lease on the place was owned by a RIDE Factory local to Venars called ACE Evolutions, run by an eccentric billionaire named Aristo who never understood that RIDEs just weren’t as popular as Micro RIDEs, at least not in Laurasia. Still Simon was confident in both his skills in engineering and selling anything to anybody.

Once Paul arrived at his job, his home away from home, he saw the place charasitically empty. Simon himself stood outside with a vacant expression on his eyes as if staring into the distance in deep contemplation, a usual thing for him when he was smoking.

Simon took a deep puff of his cigarette, closing his eyes and savoring the flavor for a bit. Once Simon was satisfied he blew out three rings of smoke, each smaller than the last, each penetrating the previous ring.

“Salut Paul.” Simon spoke without turning to face him, nor even moving his eyes from the invisible void between him and the pizzeria across the street. This wasn’t because he disrespected Paul but because of how deep in contemplation he was. Simon would never intentionally disrespect Paul, over the months he had gotten to know the latter quite well and had begun thinking of him as the son he never had. Given Simon’s history with women it was likely he did have a son somewhere either on Zharus or on Earth that he did not know about. “Tell moi, do vous ever think about man’s greatest mystery? Beyond sexual fantasy, but into zhe very mystique for which she represents?”

“Uhh, what?” Sometimes Simon got in these philosophical moods, when they happened only Simon could truly understand what came out of his mouth. Not that that was much different from usual, although Simon knew much about Paul, the same could not be said vice versa. “I’m sorry I don’t…”

“Women, Paul, women.” Simon said looking his cigarette over wondering if he could get one or two more puffs out of it. “To man, zere are trois grands mystères; what happens aper mort, when will the hommes blancs see châtiment for his actions, and what creature est femme?”

“I’m pretty sure the three great mysteries are a bird to air, a fish to water, and humanity to itself.” Paul replied, hoping to find a way to change the subject sensing this conversation may soon become uncomfortable.

“Mmph, maybe so.” Simon threw his cigarette on the ground where it was immediately collected by a cylinder shaped trash drone that placed the spent tobacco within itself. “Human is a being of duality, a coin of two sides, et mon coin is soon to be flipped and the burden of revelation will be upon me. There est far more joy at times in not knowing somezhing, when you know the ending to a film the magic is over. You may now know le ending, but at what cost? It is no longer a great unknown”

“I’m not sure I follow…” Paul sometimes had trouble understanding Simon and not just because the latter had sometimes tenuous grasp on the English language. When Old Man Bertrand, as Paul’s father usually called him, was in one of his moods he spoke quite pretentiously.

“Paul your family celebrates Christmas, non?” Simon asked as soon as he found a combination of words he believed would get his point across.

“Of course, both now and back on… ya know…” Paul replied not wanting to say the name of the Hell humanity once called home, not wanting to bring back bitter memories, not now.

Simon waved his index finger as if to say “Gotcha!”, but said nothing at all. “When you were a child, where did you think your toys on December 25th came from? Did vous think Maman and Father bought them at a store? Non, I think not. You believed that your amusement was constructed by an elf in the coldest reaches of space, for a long deceased Saint to deliver to you and other children across the galaxy specifically out of the goodness of their hearts, did you not?”

The words of the older man rang true in Paul’s mind as he remembered what it was like to be a child. The ruined birthplace of mankind that was Earth was a terrible place to raise a family, but the universe is kind enough to allow there to be some positives to any situation. Christmas was one of these times, to see Santa at the mall and make a request knowing that it would be fulfilled in exchange for good behavior, to see the desolation that once was a city centuries before lit up and people give an actual effort to spread cheer on the sorry mudball. When Paul was a child, these things happened because of a mystical contract made with forces unknown, powers that persisted throughout creation just to make him happy. Who could resist a promise such as this?

Of course as Paul got older, he learned the truth, that his parents bought whatever overpriced toy or gadget he had asked of Santa, that there were no elves or magic, and that the universe offered nothing to curry Paul’s favor. It was all people going through a yearly ritual because someone that no one can remember, said that they were supposed to.

This did not mean that Christmas was not sacred to Paul, or that he no longer saw reason to do as his religion asked and to commemorate the birth of Christ with merriment. However the celebration had something missing from it, a wonder, an intrigue, some unkowable presence, that nothing in Heaven, Earth, or Zharus could ever return to him.

“Well, yeah, things change, we learn more about the world, and that can make the world seem smaller. What does that have to do with women Mr. Bertrand?”

“Sacre bleu…” Simon threw away his expended tobacco into a nearby trash receptacle, hoping that would make his facepalm less obvious. The Frenchman didn’t think he could have laid it on any thicker without outright saying it. “New orders from Aristo, sales are down and he wants everyone working for his dealerships paired with a RIDE featuring his brand name. Apparently it’s difficult to move a product when it’s obvious vous don’t use said product.”

Simon playfully put his hands behind his head and wriggled them, pantomiming the animal ears that fusing with a RIDE gives a person, to better highlight that he did not have any.

“And… you think you’re going to end up… with… uhh…..” Paul couldn’t bring himself to say it, the name of the device that could end his own gender dysphoria dilemma.

“Une RIDE femme? Oui, I know so. The order came with a free RIDE for moi and a note saying I have at most two weeks left to walk upon three legs before he pushes the issue. Her name is Lucille, Shyver’s inside getting her ready.” Simon explained before reaching into his shirt pocket for an excuse to extend the smoke break he had been taking, and the lighter needed to ignite that excuse.

“I have lived on Earth et Zharus with a reputation as somezing of a how-vous-say, stud? Playboy? Oui I zink zat’s the term. There are few hommes and fewer maidens I have failed to conquer sexually, in fact it is easier to remember the names of the women I have not slept with. Each time I undressed une femme for la first time it never failed to astound me, women have a beauty, an elegance about them, an enigmatic brilliance? I know you’re not really into women Paul, but do vous know what I mean?”

Paul knew exactly what Simon meant, though he did not share Simon’s sexual attraction to them, nor Simon’s sexual attraction to men for that matter, Paul knew precisely that unknowable something. Everytime Paul looked at a woman, he could feel that elegance slapping him in the face. That taunting hourglass shape that personified perfection, that concave cameltoe showing that they were free from the toxin of the male phallus, the unapologetically long hair, those legs that go up to a beautiful bubble that made up a lady’s butt. Yeah Paul knew, and every woman’s body he ever saw mocked him for he would never be allowed to possess such splendor for himself. Even here on Zharus, where female RIDEs were plentiful. Mrs. Reverbek was at wits end over Mr. Reverbek being vegan, how could Paul betray the stability of his family even for something as perfectly soul-restoring to him as a vagina of his very own.

“I… women… and I… uhh…” Paul tried to form the words, maybe a connection could be formed between him and Simon. The right words could alter the paradigm into one where Simon was one he confided his dysphoric secret one. “Uhh… I…”

Simon’s face twisted and turned, what was Paul trying to say? It seemed important whatever it was. Simon looked at Paul as though the latter were a child working up the courage to admit he broke his father’s favorite chair.

“I don’t know what you mean, I don’t think about girls much.” Paul stated this and then quickly looked away from Simon, Paul had no idea what faces he was making, only that no one should see them.

“I have a lot of thinking to do Paul, it may seem absurd, but I’m about to lose a blissful ignorance that I’ve grown fond of. Shyver paid us a visit and he’s inside working on Lucille. We’ll open for business when she’s up and running.” Simon said closing his eyes trying to find the headspace he was in prior to Paul’s appearance. The person Simon referred to as Shyver being the corporate manager of all ACE Evolutions authorized Dealerships, which of course Le Wrench De Paris was one of.

“You’re crossing over now?!?!” Paul asked with uncharacteristic outrage.

“Non, but Lucille is as of today une member of Team Wrench De Paris, et as of today moi personal assistant. So we need her up and running.” Simon answered as he lit his fourth cigarette of the morning.

Paul could feel his contempt for Lucille building up in his gut like a boiling bile bringing destruction from within, and he hadn’t even opened the door.

Through the door was a spacious garage, half of it devoted to various inactive RIDEs standing on display ready to be activated if a customer desired to see a demonstration or, the option preferred both by RIDE and garage, make a purchase. There were more orthodox and popular choices, wolves, vulpids, the big cats like lynxes, leopards and tigers, exotic choices like chameleons, minks, and birds of prey, but the most unusual had to have been the spiky bat-like creature in the corner. Aristo called it a porcubat, a hybridization of porcupine and bat. Several revisions had been ordered for this creature, including a complimentary hardlight generator, but there were no takers.

The other half was full of empty spaces for repairs and the construction of custom-orders. For the latter of which all spaces were empty save one, a female mule, a jenny. Paul knew who ordered it and had tried to forget all about it. Between this jenny and Lucille it seemed like it may be a long day.

“Paul, can I see you for a minute?” Called out the voice of an older man, not as old as Simon, but definitely older than Paul or his father. This was the familiar voice of Shyver, not an employee of Simon but rather the assistant and errand boy for Simon’s boss Aristo, though with the lights off all that could be made out of him was his chubby rounded silhouette.

At first the youth found it most strange that Shyver was here in the dark, but as the lights came on the reason why revealed itself. Shyver was present warm and snug inside of his Panda Fuser known as Prometheus. Prometheus had been named for the fact that this panda RIDE was one of the first RIDEs ever created by the billionaire who owned the lease on Le Wrench De Paris; Aristo Crescendoll Enroygall, often nicknamed “ACE”. Much like the Titan of legend, Arstio saw himself as something of a God of Creation.

Being inside of his RIDE it didn’t even occur to Shyver to flip the lights on as the optics of his fuser suit lit things up well enough. Shyver had a habit of skipping the small stuff. Paul could say that Shyver always seemed distracted, but it was more accurate to say that he anticipated greatly. What exactly it was that Shyver anticipated? Whatever he believed his master, Aristo, wanted of him.

Shyver and Prometheus stood in front of a vaguely animalistic looking quadruped, though the shape of its tail made it clear it was supposed to be a skunk. Sometimes it’s not actually clear what animal something is supposed to be when it’s both unmoving and covered in unpainted metal.

This was Lucille? Paul had salvaged Oil Age animatronics more impressive than this hopeless RIDE. She could see every screw, nut, and bolt that held this thing together. Simon was expected to wear this to attract new customers? Clearly Aristo had to have been smoking that pack.

“Meet SKN(f)-PSA-817, also known as Lucille.” Shyver said, gesturing to the RIDE. The model number was shorthand for Skunk, Female, Pleasure Support Armor.

“817? I haven’t seen a RIDE with that designation before.” Paul tilted her head, there was 001 for prototypes, 002 for consumer models, and various codes for military use. Yet none of those codes was 817.

“I am a RIDE with that designation, and you’ve serviced me before.” Shyver spoke, but not with his own voice. It was Prometheus himself who had made that comment. “Admittedly, only for minor issues that Shyver was too lazy to fix himself.”

Shyver, the real Shyver, not his RIDE added on. “817 is a designation you’re not going to find on any military or consumer grade RIDE. It’s the personal coding Mr. Enroygall gives his passion projects. Each 817 Unit is one of a kind, and there are collectors who’d offer a king’s ransom to get their hands on one.”

Paul did not doubt that was true. While the ACE Evolutions brand never had mainstream appeal, not even in the neighboring landmass of Gondwana; the man himself was noted as a rich eccentric and all too skilled with his hands. A surprisingly large portion of profits came from special orders of parts and mods. There were a few gimmicks and unorthodox methods that only ACE Evolutions thought pursuing, and if used the right way they could make one most formidable; Ultimately ACE Evolutions was a specialty company, not a mass producer. Yet still Aristo was rich enough to start a planet colony of his own if he wanted, though he preferred to stay in the most conspicuously massive skyscraper in the normally quiet rural one horse town of Venars.

Getting back to the subject at hand Paul’s gaze went straight back to Lucille. He thought he saw signs of rust, though double checking showed that some of the bolts were off-color; likely some kind of metal Paul had never heard of from Planet “Godknowswhere”. That sounded like the kind of thing some rich guy would do just to flash his cash.

Tact failed the young Reverbek, and his question came out negatively impacted by this failure. “So uhh, is Lucille… Supposed to be…”

Paul looked again at the metallic monstrosity, and then back to Shyver and Prometheus. “Supposed to be stupid?”

Shyver laughed aloud. “Lucille’s not stupid.” After tapping twice on the iron skunk’s forehead and then once on her nose, she spontaneously grew fur all throughout her body as her eyes beamed on an exotic, yet dangerous looking, crimson coloration. “She’s advanced”

Lucille proceeded to look at Shyver/Prometheus and Paul with sapphire blue eyes, the color of water, the color of serenity, a deception as serenity was not a word that described Lucille well. After getting a good read of them she said something in french that neither of them could understand. Something that sounded so incredibly lewd that not only did Shyver’s nose start to bleed but Paul found himself turning a bright red.

“Ahh…” Shyver grunted before grinding his teeth and folding his legs to hide his erection. “She can speak at a frequency that.. Stimulates the libido… It’s to help Simon with tricking people into buying more than they need.”

“I noticed! I don’t swing… ANY WHICH WAY, and I flipping noticed!” Paul rarely felt himself getting hard being as asexual as they come, but he despised the feeling as the sincerest form of torture that he knew. “Make her stop, make her stop!”

“That setting is restricted, we don’t have Admin privileges. Not unless you want to fuse with her to set those privileges.” Shyver scrambled as Lucille walked up to him and affectionately rubbed up to her legs, just following the programmed fetters of her display model mode. “If you want to step up and grow a pair that’s fine with me!”

“What? That’s stupid…. Well turn HER off then!” Paul yelled, while covering his ears in case Lucille said anything else sexy.

“There’s a sex joke in there.” Prometheus added, though he did have a sex drive, his was artifical and not easily swayed by this specific frequency.

“Right…” Shyver said as he booped the promiscuous nose of the sultry skunk. “Of course the nose being an on/off switch is just a display mode feature. Simon will have the choice of re-routing the nose button’s function to something else.. Knowing him, probably a vibrator.”

“Or a cigarette lighter.” Paul added playfully

“Yeah he was really going to town on the winstons out there, and I know they taste good like a cigarette should, but is he okay?” Shyver asked adding a joke for levity, though it came across as deadpan due to the naturally monotone way in which he talked.

“Just.. anxious about becoming a woman…” Paul looked away not wanting to face Shyver in the eyes, this was not a conversation he either desired or needed.

“That does make sense, I figured he’d be more the type to be gung-ho about it. Given his infinite penchant for both curiosity and hedonism.” Shyver looked down at his panda fuser’s codpiece which he had to over extend because of recent developments. “Look, you can handle opening, I gotta… I have to…… uhh… The phone is ringing, I should answer it.”

“Right the phone, I’ll just get started working on today’s repairs” Paul laughed nervously, of course the young man had not actually seen a telephone anywhere of any kind outside of Oil Age Viddy Shows, but he knew what Shyver meant; asexual does not mean naive.

Paul looked at his commpad, this was not a good day for his dysphoria. The reminder that he was incomplete, and his very existence was an insult to the reality that should be. The condition of gender dysphoria often left one standing in the eye of a storm; the safest place to be in a storm, but still not a desirable location. Anything that reminded Paul of this location was sure to cause panic, and anything that forced him out of the eye and into the surrounding hurricane was a bad time. While it’s rarely true that work would set one free, doing something, anything, to get Paul’s mind off of the recent happenings and the throbbing of that erect penis-tumor he had been told was something to be proud of by the entire male gender; sounded like one of the best ideas.

Sadly, work was not the productive kind. Most of what Paul had lined up were simple anti-malware treatments to RIDEs that the user could have done themselves if they had any know-who or bothered to google the symptoms. Hell if these RIDEs had not been fettered they could have fixed themselves. For most a soft reboot, an antiviral scan, and of course the installation of some overpriced deluxe edition anti-malware programs would satisfy the customers who had more dollars than sense; or in this case more MU than CPU? Paul had skills, puns were not one of them.

The mundanity of it all did help for a time as Paul found himself in a robotic dullness as he scanned for malicious code to annihilate and for drivers to update. The world continued around him, the fact that Simon entered into the shop and had a quick discussion with Shyver was a mere cliffnote registered only inside of the lad’s subconscious. Paul did his best to stay in what had been for hundreds years known as the zone. Tiebetan Monks from centuries prior would look in the future and see Paul’s dedicated zen with wonder and envy.

Simon had approached Paul in this state, Lucille walking beside him. The shop owner and his pet skunk looked at each other, and then to Paul. They thought about saying something, but dared not risk ruining this burst of productivity.

So Simon got to work on the hardware problems while Lucille, skillfully brandishing a feather duster in her maw, cleaned the display models and called Simon to the front anytime a customer came in to place an order.

With the exception of some Claude Debussy compositions playing from an overhead speaker for ambience, the store was mostly quiet. Lucille commented that the tunes played seemed more appropriate for a museum of art than a RIDE Garage.

To this Simon said “À chacun son goût”, a francais phrase meaning “To each, one’s own taste”

Paul was not listening to Simon’s rebuttal, or the music that he wasn’t even aware was playing. He did however pay attention when a man in a suit came.

The man’s suit was fabricated by a glorified 3D Printer known to Zharusians as a fabber, it looked expensive but only from a distance; when one got close they could just tell the suit was off. If asked one couldn’t be sure how, just that it was. Looking at this suit was like playing a video game and noticing that one character’s model is just slightly off-key from the intended feel presented by the art-style in every other ounce of the game world.

He had seen it on the itenary, 17:45 WLT, Western Laurasian Time, two and a little over half hours past what Zharus considers noon. That’s when the jenny would be sold, Paul had dealt with this customer once before and found him problematic.

“Cute little thing, do you spray?” The man said looking down at Lucille who had walked out to greet him.

“Only perfume, mon cheri.” Lucille gave a girlish giggle followed with a come hither stare. The skunk lifted her tail and out from her rear exhaust came a visible pink cloud with cherry blossom petals thrown in. Of course the visible aspect of this perfume blast had been nothing more an illusion generated by Lucille’s internal hologram projector for show, the gaseous nature was quite real. It was hard to pinpoint what exactly Lucille’s skunk spray smelled like, one could make an argument for flowers, melted gummy bears, maybe the bitter scent of wine, or a perfume aisle and they wouldn’t be wrong. The tincture was made by Aristo who wasn’t really sure what a woman should smell like.

Still the scent was pleasing to the customer who only grew further infatuated by Lucille’s charms.

“You know I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to fuck something that walked on four legs before.”

“I’ve had a few fantasies that involved une centaur or deux.” Simon replied as he walked forward to greet his customer, sliding Lucille back with his foot. “Desolee about any inconvenience, la RIDE she est new.”

“‘La RIDE’ has a name.” Lucille said, looking up annoyed at Simon.

“Oui, where are mon manners.” Simon smiled at Lucille before leaning down to pet her. “This est Lucille, J’ai literally only known her for a few hours, but it seems she’ll be quite la troublemaker if I fail to keep mon oeil upon her. In a fews jours je will be crossing over into le realm de femme and we are inviting our customers to attend la cérémonie de crossover.”

Simon slid a V-Card from his commpad to the stranger’s, one containing details about the Crossover Party.

“Huh, neat. The guys at the office were talking about throwing me one. Apparently that’s the custom around here. Seems weird to me.” The customer admitted, revealing that he was a newcomer to the planet Zharus.

“Le way je understand et. Is that it’s supposed to be somezing of a how-vous-say therapy de immersion. Une jour de plus femme grande, so grande that vous get used to le idea zat vous are femme and answering to la pronouns woman before votre hangover ends.”

“...I think I got the gist of what you’re saying, and that makes sense.”

Simon looked to Lucille who had a stronger grasp on the english language. “Voulez-vous l’esprit?”

“I got you Simone.” Lucille stood on her hind paws and gave her human something that a being without thumbs could pass for finger guns.

“My name is Simon” Simon thought about kicking Lucille, but he only thought about it. Even if he wasn’t going to be one for much longer, and the other party is a skunk robot, a man does not strike a lady in anger. That said he wasn’t sure about this robot who acted far too much like himself in a chipper mood.

“It won’t be when you’re inside me…” Lucille laughed for a bit as she teasingly rubbed up against Simon’s legs playfully before continuing to speak again. “Simone here doesn’t speak english that well, but what he meant is that a crossover party is supposed to get you so drunk and girly that you have no choice but to accept the reality of your femininity.”

“No no I got that, his english was good enough. I meant I got the gist of the concept. Though I’m surprised it caught on. For most men I know that would drive them to drink. If living the foreseeable future, not just some bi-curious afternoon, but the next three years at minimum has to make sense, I’m not sure many would want to be sober.”

“You should see those who became women in an accident or coercion by extraneous circumstances, I have an extensive database full of the profiles.” Lucille bragged.

Simon considered sarcastically asking if Capitalism, unrealistic demands by lease holders, or a desire to remain somewhat self-employed were extraneous circumstances, but his sense of self-control didn’t make this a serious consideration. “Vous know, je have to admit, that sounds like a fascinating read.”

“You won’t need to read it, I’ve compiled documentary style re-enactments from the description. It’s just how I’m built. I’m designed to turn people into curvy sexpots! Men especially! I know all the angles and how to make them erotic, comedic, and comfortable.” Lucille purred as if giving a sales pitch on herself, possibly because part of her software was still set on display mode. “I can even give your entire personality and memory-set a full do over in the Polises where it’s not specifically banned!”

“Oh God that must be so hot.” The customer admitted, biting his tongue and leaning forward as if compelled to by a spell. “To be honest, there is a reason why I’m crossriding and why I wanted a female donkey RIDE.”

“Color me curious.” Simon said scratching the soul patch on his chin, white just like all of his hair. “Mules are non commun choices for a Crossrider, for country types oui, et fans of 20th Century Political Theory, oui. People like you though, tend to envie la exotiques. Most commonly je see la chat grande.”

“Big cats if you don’t speak Francais.” Lucille clarified.

“Well, if you must know, back on Wednesday, the planet, not literally last Wednesday. I had this coworker, I’m an accountant, anyway I had this co-worker named Jenny.” The customer started breathing slowly and hotly, just thinking about her got him all worked up.

“Oh I think I get it! Jenny is also what you call a female mule! How fun!” Lucille’s sapphire blue eyes shined brightly as a few holographic screens projected from her eyes showing various statistics and graphs concerning those who had their gender bent by a RIDE. “I have a few possibilities, but I’m going to say based on prior experience and collected history of Crossriders…. That you… Think fondly of this Jenny and…. Hmm I’m seeing four possibilities, but the most likely one is that you value her as a person, that she..”

“I’m going to stop you right there, Jenny was a real C U next tuesday. I absolutely hated how stuck up she was focused on her career and wouldn’t know a good time if it walked up to her and bit her on her big fat butt!”

“I see.” Simon made no judgements, but raised an eyebrow.

“But, hehe, butt, but this isn’t about her. It’s about her big fat butt. Just, that ass of hers would always drive me crazy. I tell you Casual Friday, when she wore that mini-skirt every week without fail; greatest day ever and yet.. One of the hardest on a man if you know what I mean.”

“Oh I know what you mean.” Simon was human and had many of his cybernetic implants removed shortly after arriving on Zharus in order to regrow his internal organs at a nano clinic. So he didn’t have the software to rearrange data into an audio/video format like Lucille did, but he had the next best thing; his imagination and libido. “I’m so white that if I didn’t use a sarium based sunscreen it would literally burn like hell. I mean, vous see mon oeil rouge. J’ai un…. How-vous-say, albino… but damn. Je amor big butt et je ne lie pas.”

“He likes big butts and he cannot lie.” Lucille cocked her head to the side, experiencing literally one of the first bouts of confusion in her entire life, though she was only two years old. “Okay how do you know that song, but not enough english to say that? Are you just screwing with everyone?”

“Petit.” Simon said, holding his index finger and thumb together to make the little bit gesture.

“Well she had a badonk.. And I’ve always had this fantasy of waking up in that bitch’s body, and with these RIDE creatures I can. Just live that fantasy of being stuck with Jenny’s big butt, I’d have to see her every day… but… damn that ass would be all mine to play with”

”Oh that’s actually kind of hot” Simon said thinking about it. “It reminds me of the old days back on Earth in V-Life. The illegal servers. I’m getting riled up just thinking about it”

“Never been, but I’ve seen Memory Recordings of V-Life womanizing sessions that would teach a thing or two to the manliest man in Cape Nord on how to handle his sluts.” The customer replied. “Glad to see not everyone on Zharus is fooled by this Egalitarian Rap, just something to tell the natural girls why the guys who left them for RIDEs don’t need them anymore. And this planet’s better off keeping to that code.”

“Okay that’s a bit far, I’m going to have to ask vous to tone it down if vous désir votre Jenny.” Simon brought himself to the current moment and in doing so pulled up a sleeve slowly to show he stood firm. “We were having fun, et vous ruined it.”

“Wait… what? That doesn’t make any… I thought hetero guys liked women.” Lucille’s baby blue eyes became entirely blue with white text laced over them.before changing to the color of a soulless void. What little remained of Lucille’s conscious mind found her fur fading away leaving her the vaguely animal shaped rust bucket she had been this morning.

“Whatever, so, how much is left on the bala…” The customer looked over to Lucille, being taken out of his anger and disappointment by confusion. “Is she supposed to be… like that?”

At this point, Paul, who had been overhearing the conversation desperately waiting for it to be over had heard enough as well. Paul returned to the entrance of Le Wrench de Paris with the Mule RIDE behind him and he did not look happy. All this trivializing of a condition so painful, as some fetish, some crossdressing fantasy taken to its extreme by two cisdudes, one of whom likely couldn’t tell a vagina from an asshole. It broke something inside the little 19 year old Reverbek, though an adult by Zharus standards, still a teenager by Earth’s rules.

“FFF… Fu… FUCK YOU!” Paul said pointing right at the customer before turning to the mule behind her, the machine that could make him sane but would instead be used to fuel an autogynephilic fantasy.. “FUCK YOU!”

Simon had never heard Paul cuss in the year and a half of knowing him, especially not the f-bomb. So to say this had come as quite a shock would be something of an understatement.

Before Simon could say anything, Paul pressed his finger right into Simon’s chest. Reverbek was about to say something to Bertrand, but upon locking eyes with his employer he remembered the simple life as farmers on their own land his family enjoyed because of Simon’s kindness.

“You’re cool…” Was all that Paul could bring himself to say.

“Well, zat’s a relief.” Simon said in a deadpan tone beofre lightly shoving the uncharacteristically frantic Paul back a bit.

Paul’s rage returned when he looked towards Lucille, one of the greatest gifts of all which Simon could never appreciate even if he lived forever. Paul knew the maternal blessing of womanhood would be wasted upon the hedonist. “And especially… fuck you!”

Lucille, though inactive, received the full force of a kick from Paul. Since Lucille was made of sarium and steel all this accomplished was Paul nearly breaking his ankle. Paul collapsed and began inhaling and exhaling in a rhythmic motion.

Simon placed his hand upon Paul’s shoulder and offered the most sincere, yet frantic concern, he could summon. ”Paul Reverbek what has gotten into you!?!?”

Paul Reverbek, that name. That horrifying name. Throughout all of public school and his time reading it in records, hearing it from friends and family, that name, Paul. It always felt wrong, as if it was a clerical error or the name of someone else. Not until Zharus did Paul know the reason why and in this moment of nothing else was he more lucid.

Paul slapped Simon’s hand away and using pure adrenaline, rocketed out of Le Wrench De Paris with no idea on God’s green/brown Zharus if he’d ever return.

“If this is how you soyboys talk to people, then you’re lucky my jenny’s a custom order. If you fucked her up like you fucked up your skunk pal…”

“500 MU, pay moi et sod off.” Simon narrowed his brow further.

The customer did just that and Simon used his commpad to transfer ownership protocol over to the man standing in front of him. The mule accompanied the man outside, turned into a skimmer, and the two left.

Simon breathed in, taking a moment to digest everything that just happened as he booped Lucille’s nose to reactivate her. “Je hope zat jenny isn’t all ass-focused. If her boob template est on point, that guy might do something he could never do as an homme. Grow a pair.”

When Lucille’s eyes came on and her fur lit back up, her facial expression seemed blank “Hello Simon Adonais Betrand, my name is Lucille Skunkette. I am a product of ACE Evolutions designed by Aristo Crescendo Enroygall himself. As the original prototype for the Cross Convience Line of Reticulated Intelligence Drive Extenders, it is my privilege to….”

Simon immediately knew what this was about, Lucille’s short term memory hadn’t properly loaded due to her OS crashing. That would be something he’d have Paul look at, if Paul still had any desire to work here.

“Lucille, load the most recent restore point prior to crash.”

Lucille’s eyes shut off and then turned back on, she looked embarrassed for a second. “Oh right… We’ve already met. Right that was hours ago. I’m sorry, my proper first time setup-”

“-Has to be done while in Fuser Mode, je sais.” Simon responded. “Vous told moi that already as well. Listen j’ai going to exigent votre services, zat est is to say, require zhem. So I’ll require vous to entrance mode de passive so that je can store within vous some of ma souvenirs.”

Simon tapped his head as he said “souvenirs” to pantomime that he meant the french word for memories.

“I speak literally every human language, and several non-human languages, like Javascript as well as Klingon. So the only thing I need you to clarify is… If you need my services, why are you setting me up for Passive Mode? My mind needs to be active as well or else I can’t change you and you’ll have to compile the memories yourself.”

“Je ne désire pas to join la femme as of yet Lucille. I’ve never seen Paul so upset, Hell, zat that the first I’ve seen him show anger… and it had something to do with that crossrider. You know all zere est to know about crossriding and zhose Reverbeks have become quite le hobby de moi.”

“I thought I did, that guy was weird. He didn’t like women, but he likes women, but he doesn’t like women… but….” Lucille became dizzy, the quadruped losing her balance.

“Lucille stay with me, we’ll talk about that when your systems are a little more stable. I don’t want to see vous Bleu Screen de Mort again.”

“Okay… I’m gonna deactivate my mind and my nano… what happens from there, happens.” Lucille said.

“Yeah…” Simon said, watching Lucille’s eyes shut off yet her Hardlight fur stayed active this time. The skunk re-shaped herself to a bipedal form looking like a glorified mascot costume before opening up.

Simon looked at Lucille’s insides with all the equipment inside carefully arranged until it looked like a person could barely fit inside Lucille, at least a person of Simon’s build; under normal circumstances Lucille would just change her human to match the build and even then some of this stuff likely folded itself away when Lucille’s OS detected a human inside.

“Sacre bleu” Simon cried, he wasn’t sure he trusted Lucille not to activate and make a woman out of him while he was inside of her. Hell with how cluttered Lucille’s insides were he wasn’t convinced he’d still have much more than his eyeballs and teeth after being shut inside this literal iron maiden. Even if Simon still had his neural implants he wouldn’t be able transfer memories to the extent he needed. If he wanted to use Lucille’s database he’d have to trust her.

Simon entered, he’d have to live with Lucille, whether or not the skunk bot would follow his orders was something to find out early on. At least, that’s what Simon told himself to get his feet moving towards this mephitis exoskeleton.

Paul ran as fast as his feet could take him. The youth wasn’t consciously aware of it being fueled by bottled up rage and dysphoria at all, but his feet were taking him to the tourist hotspot of Venars. The sky bridge, a high point over the Venars City district where one could see everything. It was the one place he could be found went anytime he was upset. Naturally he was here every week.

Once high above the city, near the top of the dome Paul looked over the city, escalated beyond the rooftops all from the railing in a small platform outside of the designated tunnel area; one placed there specifically so civilians and tourists could see Venars below.

The skybridge had no use outside of a tourist trap now. The skybridge was used to reach the higher points of the dome for repairs. Workers didn’t need the skybridge as it had been rendered obsolete by the increased access to flying machines and vehicles. Not that anyone had to go to the top of the dome to fix it anymore to begin with..

At one point the Dome had been made of glass, though over the years it had been replaced with Hardlight Generators many of which had been created by Aristo. Some suspected it was the Dome Project that made him so rich. The secret of where Aristo’s wealth came from was between him and the Venars Revenue Service.

Paul didn’t care about Aristo’s cash or the history of Venars, that was not important. What was important, was the fact that Paul could climb atop the railing and barrel towards one of the rooftops below. If metaphorically one took this action they’d likely fall far too quickly for someone to notice and safely catch them, leading towards their neck being snapped in the rescue attempt or a spectacle of blood and broken bones being the defining trait of their corpse. If Paul jumped from this height, nothing would stop him from being utterly destroyed.

From there, who knows what would happen. Perhaps Paul’s consciousness would be able to live on separately from his body, maybe he could form a new body in another reality where he’d never have to reveal his secret to anyone. Maybe nothing would happen, maybe Paul would cease to exist, or perhaps it would be more like sleep only the dream never ended. No matter what, jumping from this height meant Paul would be at peace forever.

The problem with that is that it would DEFINITELY hurt his parents, because they cared about him and would be devastated if something that gruesome happened to their offspring. Many believe suicide takes the pain away, but really it just gives it to everyone else.

Yet that’s what Paul liked about coming up here. Not only was it a beautiful place, not only was Paul fond of heights being more acrophillic than acrophobic, but it reminded him that there was good in the various worlds. Paul could never be brought to reduce the amount of that good.

After bringing his mind to a state of calm Paul walked back inside the sky bridge where he found two young adults his age. An older boy, and a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The two both had Micro RIDEs, one was an otter with a white head and limbs connected to a blue torso, the young lady’s RIDE was more a traditional wolf.

The two metallic animals were chasing each other on the sky bridge, luckily the floor was made of a durable material that absorbed sound well preventing any cling-clangs from polluting the wide berth of the sky bridge.

“Heh, Woshalott and Jamie get along so well.” The young man said catching a translucent ball from the otter RIDE which Paul assumed was Woshalott. Upon closer inspection the ball looked like a giant glob of water, mostly because it was. The ball would even cascade down itself like a waterfall if you squeezed it. Each drop reabsorbed into the ball no matter how violently you shook it.

This is because the ball was mostly water being held in place by nano, you wouldn’t even get wet if you touched it. Yet you could drink it if you placed a straw inside of it. The nano would become inert upon exposure to human bodily fluids and casually exit the body the same way all fluids do.

This was a construct created by the Micro RIDE Otter by simply collecting the moisture in the air.

Paul had heard of this functionality before, but this was the first time he had seen it in action. Something to encourage kids to play outside, yet stay hydrated.

“That’s an interesting ball there. I’ve read about RIDEs that can make AquaBalls but this is my first time seeing one in public. I imagine it would come in handy if you ever toured Gondwanna. My family’s been considering a vacation in the Dry Ocean since we landed here from Gaia.” Paul said, trying to make conversation.

“I’ve been to Gondwanna before, sand, sand, sand, oh and sand. Can’t say I miss it. Those upsized RIDE models are pretty cool though, and they’re even bigger on TwenCen than Laurasia is.” The female of the two humans said. “Honestly I think I had more fun checking out the themed restaurants. I mean we have a Freddy’s Pizza, but Uplift straight up has a Good Burger, a Bob’s Burgers, and both kinds of Krusty places! I mean, yeah they don’t have Skeeball, but…. I’d consider jumping off this bridge for just one more bite.”

“Sounds like you want a burger, well we did skip lunch and it is about that time. Hey you there, why don’t you join us. You seem pretty cool.” The young man invited.

“I don’t want to intrude, I mean, you guys are lovers right? I’d hate to be a fifth lifter on your date...” Paul declined nervously.

The duo turned to face one another, the boy placed his hand on the girl’s cheek who reciprocated his affections by looking down, overcome with nervousness. The two leaned closer together, their eyes locked and their mouths scrunched up for a kiss. Then a chortle was heard, which then turned to rapidly breathing out and in through the nose. Neither party could continue the illusion for a second longer and both burst out laughing. The whole routine had been nothing more than a comedy act between friends to screw with Terran Expectations.

“Right Earther, even without the walking sex-change booths Gondwana has, we don’t think much of gender. Might as well not exist to us, you’ll find a lot of the people born here can be friendly without trying to get into each other’s pants.” The male clarified, offering his hand. “Maybe we can show you some things about Zharus you haven’t picked up there….. Uhh what’s your name?”

“Reverbek, Paul Reverbek.” Paul answered, shaking the man’s hand.

“Oh cool, my name is Victor, this is Regina. We were born here in Venars. So if you’re a Reverbek, ah I thought you were a little familiar. You must be from that new farm that opened up a year back.” Victor then gestured to the two RIDEs playing as he tossed the water ball back to them with an underhand throw. “Those are our RIDEs, not as big and bulky as those in Gondwana, not as useful either, but we wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Maybe this was a good day, Paul had mostly stayed cooped in his house when he wasn’t at work or visiting the skybridge. This meant he didn’t really know much of anyone on this planet except for Simon and Shyver, and even those two weren’t Native Zharusians. Simon and Shyver both came to Zharus from Earth, and Shyver had originally come to Earth from his birthplace of Proximia. It was past time to learn to enjoy life like the locals do, and gender didn’t matter to them. Maybe Paul could learn that from them, could learn to let it not matter.

Before another word came from anyone a hologramatic screen popped up in the skybridge. The skybridge was free to all visitors, though to pay for its upkeep it played ads from time to time. Since the skybridge wasn’t required to maintain the dome anymore the Venars found people just weren’t willing to pay taxes on it yet no one wanted to see it go. So selling ad space was the compromise.

On the hologramatic screen appeared a short fellow with a blue shirt and the ears of a red panda, though the most interesting feature was the large claw-like grey metallic arm he had on his left. This was Aristo himself, or at least a close facsimile. It was hard to tell, but if one looked closely they’d know this was CG..

“Attention Venars: Even with all these machines, daily life can be quite a chore. So why leave them with all the work? Put yourself at the heart of Quantum Power with a Reticulated Intelligence Drive Extender! Don’t want to say goodbye to your Micro RIDE? You don’t have to! Have your RIDE upsized”

Playful graphics accompanied this spiel, one of a farmer hitting a Fabber with his rake another of the same farmer entering a generic looking RIDE that resembled an animal, (but not a specific animal, one could assume it might almost be a fox or wolf) and raising the to sky where lightning struck him and went through his fingers; shocking a field which sprung to life with all sorts of crops.

The appropriate disclaimers were present, though weren’t on screen long enough to be read in full detail. The next showed a tiger kitten resting in a recharge bed while a cartoon burglar tip-toed by it, then the kitten was upsized to a full on tiger which growled at the burglar with a gatling gun protruding from his back. The robber threw up his hands and dropped his plasma pistol.

“A Micro to Full-Size conversion is a reversible and inexpensive process that can be done at any ACE Evolutions authorized dealer or mechanic shoppe. Such as those to my right! For a limited time we offer this service at half-price. Included is some complimentary new C-Cap technology plus a VR Games and Holo Novels package on us. So get armored up and join the Quantum Singularity today!”

The cartoon Aristo raised his dominant flesh arm as six names alongside the compass direction they were in with a readout of how many

Le Wrench De Paris

Honest Sal’s New & Used All-Laurasian Transport

The Sarium Zoo:Skimmers and RIDEs

Cyberpunks’ Garage

Atherton Robotics

Paul’s eyes opened wide at the top of the list. “Oh my goodness gracious! I have to get back to Le Wrench De Paris!”

Paul had been away too long and this break was not only unauthorized, but started off with him cussing like a sailor. Would he even still have a job waiting for him when he got home? How would he explain the fact that he cussed out the man who gave the Reverbeks their farm because he was in a bad mood?

“Well, it’s been nice meeting you Paul.. I may see you later today. Regina and I have been thinking about having our RIDEs upgraded, perhaps running into you.”

“Yea… yeah…”

Woshalott looked up at Victor and spoke in a female voice. “You do realize that if you turn me into a Full-Size RIDE, you too will need a change of equipment.”

“Looks like we’ve got a crossover party to plan eh Vicky?” Regina joking

“Oh you two.” Victor just laughed along.

It was just an amusing jest based in truth for those four Zharusian Born, yet a joke based in something Paul didn’t think he could ever have. This inspired Paul to run faster towards the exit. Once there, he found himself pressing the down button on the elevator door over and over again, even after the voice of the AI who maintained the elevator asked him to stop doing that.

Once back on the bottom where Paul parked his hoverbike he showed his eye to a retina scan above the hoverbike’s rear view mirror and activated it. After checking his commpad which had been left attached to the hoverbike’s dashboard in order to charge he saw several missed calls from someone labeled Lucille Skunkette.

“That’s weird, why would Lucille be calling me?” Paul realized the only reason would be if Simon himself was hurt and immediately hit the Call Back button on his commpad’s touch screen before throwing on a set of headphones physically connected to the bike.

Paul had already been drifting back to Le Wrench De Paris, when Lucille answered on the first ring, a 3D Rendered Image of Lucille’s head was displayed on the commpad screen, autopilot automatically engaging as it did when a call was made while in operation.

“Oh Paul! Thank Goodness you’re here! Listen, don’t worry about that screaming you did earlier. Simone and I are willing to overlook it. There’s bigger things to worry about.”

“Simone? He didn’t…” Paul said with his hand over his mouth.

“I told you there’s bigger things to worry about. We were fine-tuning one of the display models, a hybrid Flier, it was a porcupine-bat hybrid creature; The label called it a porcubat! There was a virus in it! It has gone berserk! You’ll have to stop that thing! It’s too powerful for me!”

“Well if Simon and you couldn’t bring it down. AHHH!” Paul lowered his head, he was about to run into a flying delivery truck and braced for impact. Paul got up confused when nothing happened, having forgotten about the whole emergency autopilot for phone calls. “I don’t exactly see what chance I have.”

“I found a type of Mega Weapon called the Tiresia-PP, two plasma pistols tuned to a frequency that the thing can’t stand. I’m sending the blueprints. You have fabbers at home don’t you? Hurry! It’s headed for Reverbek Ranch!” Lucille was hyper-ventialating, that seemed unusual for a creature that didn’t need to breathe, and given that Lucille didn’t have lungs, one that couldn’t breathe.

Paul would almost think this was some kind of prank. However the blueprints came and it wasn’t any kind of weapon Paul had seen on any of the RIDEs he had ever worked on.

Once Reverbek Ranch was visible to Paul, a large batlike creature with spiky points protruding from its body. That seemed to fit the definition of a porcubat to him.

“I guess this is legit. Tell my parents I’m ten minutes from Reverbek Ranch and not to worry or engage. I’ll be on this thing like meatballs on spaghetti! Reverbek out!” Paul hung up and loaded the blue-prints to get them ready for the fabber. There was a fabricator device in the cow pasture for printing feed. The Flier was headed for the garden, so as long as Paul was discreet there would be no problem getting the weapon.

The sun had started to go down when Paul had arrived at the ranch. His mother Amelia was shaking as she gnawed on her index finger. Derek and Clyde were battling the creature. The Rider duo had no guns and we left swinging a hoe at the beast. This proved ineffective as it took the sky with a turnip and threw it at the duo along with suppressing ammo fire. The turnip hit, but luckily it seemed as though the bullets did not.

“I have a weapon that can stop it!” Paul said, parking his bike. The young would-be hero was holding two white pistols held together by transparent tubing. The weapons looked more like squirt guns than the real thing yet the schematics seemed solid from what Paul could make of them. “It’s an experimental prototype called the Tiresias-PP”

“Paul STAND BACK! Those guns look like toys.” Derek held out a hoof. “Clyde’s not made for fighting, but I have a better chance.”

“No Mr. Bertrand said these things could stop it!” Paul said firing one of the weapons towards the attacking Flier, firing an orange beam that made a direct hit. The antagonizing RIDE’s flight pattern became more disorientated as a result. As if it were drunk.

“Then give me the…” Derek was about to say his arms out in a catching pose.

“DAD! LOOK OUT!” Paul screeched.

The RIDE screeched louder, much louder, so loud that the vibrations of the scream were visible. No, it wasn’t the volume, the porcubat had some kind of sound based energy weapon and it left Derek’s RIDE Clyde dancing like he was a seizure.

“You!” Paul narrowed his brow and continuously pelted the invading RIDE with jolts of orange plasma from her pistol.

It was working, the porcubat was treating and making the most strained faces. Though there was no visible damage to the beast’s chassis Paul did not let up. The Flier took off spiraling upward, it went past the clouds and to the roof of the dome.

It seemed though the terror was over, and with the foe at bay Paul went to help his father who had come out of that dance and quickly diffused with his RIDE.

“Dad, are you o… KAAAAY!” Before Paul could finish his sentence the RIDE had returned and literally implanted Paul inside of its torso. In the shock of what had happened both of the Tiresias-PP guns fell to the ground.

By the time Paul realized what was going on he was seeing his home become smaller and smaller as he was launched vertically upward. “Let me go, I mean, don’t let me go… I mean hold on tight, land on the ground, and then let me go. You better not drop me you beast! Or… or the next time my father comes at you there won’t be enough left to sell for scrap!”

“Oh I wouldn’t want that to happen baby.” The bat-like thing said in a feminine voice that sounded sincere and somewhat motherly, it kind of reminded Paul of a talking whale he saw in an Oil Age cartoon. “So I’m gonna do what you said and hold on real tight now, child. So just relax and try not too much for about, ten minutes flat.”

“Wait wha…” Is all Paul had time to say as panels began closed over him, anesthesia being administered once Paul was locked inside.

The next thing Paul knew he found himself on Earth, back in his hometown of what was five hundred years ago Murder Beach, South Carolina and what was in modern day the charred and flooded remains of various nukes, hurricanes, nuclear hurricanes, and the host of what was known as a wet drought. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

The place had once been known as Myrtle Beach back in Earth’s prime, but as the bodies began to pile up the name became more macabre.

“I’m on Earth? But how?” Paul asked, this was Murder Beach alright. A beachfront full of debris never properly cleaned from wars no one could remember. Frequent acid rains and makeshift houses from water damaged parts. A lovely scenic view of dead plant life, mutated aquatic life, and a big toxic ocean smelling of salt and cadmium.

This is the terrible place where Paul grew up. The lack of people made it a calm place of odd quiet despite how terrifying the place looked to Paul now. This once homely place was a fright to one who grew used to the warmth and serenity of Venars. How very much Paul would like to be back there enjoying the cozy farmhouse in his big glass dome surrounded on all sides by a lively jungle that Zharusian Beetles made their home.

“You prefer the world of RIDEs, of qubitite and sarium. The land of the immigrant's impossible dreams made reality, the world of escape. It feels more like a home to you than this dump.” The same motherly voice that Paul heard as he rose to the sky.

“Who said that?” Paul asked, looking around. “Is that you God? Did I die fighting the RIDE?”

“In a manner of speaking, you died, so that you could be reborn. Tell me, how does your dysphoria feel?”

Paul thought for a second, he still had a male body which felt the usual paradoxical feeling of familiarly foreign yet there was no pain. No awkward feeling, no distress, nothing. That little voice that told Paul that everything was wrong had left him, could he even remember what it sounded like? Vaguely, if he tried to listen, he could hear the faint echo of it.

“The world of RIDEs hurt you, so many people could have anything they wanted. But not you, not poor little Paul Reverbek, so close to the world of tomorrow, seeing the happy people, and yet missing that joy, that sense of completion they took for granted, in your own life. It could drive anyone crazy, especially if they were already crazy. Not that you were.” The voice called back. “But that’s what I’m giving you, the ability to look into Zharus and not have your dysphoria destroy you. That world needs a brilliant mind like yours to show them the things that they cannot see.”

“I do feel a bit better actually, but I’m still a guy.” Paul shouted into the sky at whoever this was.

“Oh yeah about that. That’s only because that’s the you that you remember. None of this real, in more ignorant times this would be mistaken for something like an out of body experience. This is just an intense lucid dream, it reacts to your mind. Go into any of the houses that did not once belong to you or a friend. Come on try it.”

It wasn’t as if this purgatory was going to give him, well, her according to the voice, anything better to do. So Paul found an old casino near what had once been a boardwalk that he never worked up the courage to enter due to how unstable it looked. Inside were various lines of code, missing texture notifications, vague outlines of things Paul imagined might be inside like slot-machines and craps tables, but they were all intact as though Paul forgot to consciously envision them aged. These relics of the past had no consistent coloring to them and their shape kept shifting every time Paul blinked or looked away from them. After closing the door, Paul heard the voice once more.

“Now this time, think of somewhere you’ve been before that you want to be. Don’t set your sights too high, we’re working from your memories, so don’t go making some place up.”

Paul thought of a few places, the skybridge? No, Reverbek Ranch? No not there. “Got it!”

After opening the door and stepping through Paul found himself aboard the starship that brought him to Zharus. This was a memory from the day that the Reverbek clan was defrosted so that they could stretch and get their bearings before the ship left Zharus-Space for Zharus-Land.

If the memory played out as it did before the ship would be landing in the creatively named “Landing City where the family would spend a few nights before a fateful breakfast encounter with Simon Bertrand. After getting to know him Simon would mention not being sure what to do with his old farmhouse now that he had bought a lower maintenance suite in downtown Venars.

Paul found himself flashing through key parts of the events that followed as he thought of them. Simon mentioning how Paul reminded him of his brother when the two were kids, witnessing his father fuse with Clyde for the first time, the first time he repaired a 2119 Error Macro on a shark micro RIDE that took offense to being reminded how cute he was. Once Paul became aware of his surroundings warping like this he thought back to the ship and was suddenly there.

“This place is a head trip!” Paul said aloud as he rubbed his head, all that warping through set pieces was dizzying.

“That’s the idea, you have synthetic morphine rushing through your system, I’ve injected tons of small robots into you that for the past three minutes have been using my calculation to rearrange every molecule in your body to match an alternate path your flesh could have taken if the 23rd Chromosome had been differently formed. In accordance with drug laws though, the high will be gone by the time you wake up.” The voice came from the porcubat that had taken Paul into herself, it had perched itself on the shoulder of the ship’s captain who mostly ignored her despite her size. A subtle reminder that none of this was real. “Part of why you don’t hurt as much is because your phallus has been evaporated into nothing in order to make room for a vulva. Your mind never had something like that in your neural blueprint of your body, so when it saw you had one it freaked out and demanded you do something even though you couldn’t. Quite an uncommon condition, but one as old as humanity itself.”

“I can’t thank you enough whoever you are.” Paul was about to say something else but was cut off.


“Well I can’t thank you enough Ruby.” Paul revised his sentence. “But what am I gonna do when I wake up and everyone sees I’m a she and not a he?”

“You were attacked by an infected RIDE, but while you were inside of me you erased the virus with your knowledge of software protocols. I was bad, but now I’m good and so sorry about all the trouble.” Ruby advised. “So you took me in since I had nowhere else to go, the damage has already been gone. Turning me into the authorities or whatever would be like closing the barn door, after the horses done genderjacked your children. It’s all on me, and I’m REALLY sorry about all this.”

Paul beamed the biggest grin ever in his, soon her, entire life. “Whoops, I’m a girl, can’t do anything about that. I guess I’ll have to think of SOME way to learn to live with that.”

“Exactly!” Ruby flew off the captain's shoulder and Ruby wrapped her wings around Paul. The Captain walked away to fade, as memories often do.

“This is the nicest thing anyone’s done for me.” Paul said, burying his face into Ruby’s. “I’m speechless.”

“You’ll get to thank those responsible in a bit, I just want to rehearse what we’re gonna say to your mom and dad.”

“Right! We should be convincing!” Paul said with a cheer.

Hours of discussion passed over the next seven minutes thanks to the fact that Paul’s brain chemistry, much like his entire DNA structure, was being played with like a ball of string in a kitten’s paws, or in this case a porcupine-bat’s wings.

When Paul finally returned to his, no HER, body proper he stretched out his arms, wings dangling underside, now dressed in Fuser. Aside from some spikes protruding from her upper back and her hair, the latter of which made her look like an anime protagonist.

Paul fell to Zharus in a slow dramatic descent to the ground aided by the lifters on Ruby’s wings and two on the boots of her Fuser. She fell like an angel descending from Heaven and upon touching her feet to the soil she took a bow.

“Mother, Father, I did it! There was a virus in her, but I was able to bust it when she snatched me up.” Paul announced taking a bow. “Ruby will harm you no longer, in fact, she’s real sorry about what she did and she’s agreed to be my RIDE to help make up for all the scares tonight.”

“Another one?” Paul’s mother Amelia brushed the hair out of her face, not liking the idea of this “Well at least come out of it, that RIDE’s armor makes you look like a girl.”

Paul’s father Derek had a far more concerned face, mostly because he knew the family wasn’t out of the clear yet. Derek chewed on the knuckle of his index finger for a good eight seconds.

“You wanna tell them or should I?” Asked Clyde, Derek’s RIDE

“Paul doesn’t just LOOK like a girl in that armor....” Derek said, nervously.

“WHAT!?!” Amelia asked as she threw her arms up frantically.

:If you’ve ever taken Drama Classes in that Earthen High School of yours honeychild, now’s the time to put them to work: Ruby sent telepathically straight to Paul’s own noggin.

“Whatever do…” Paul was about to ask what her parents were referring to, trying to claim she had no idea what they were talking about. The voices in her head did not like this.

:Free tip sugar, it may seem tempting to play dumb. But that’s not the move you want to make right now. They bring up that you work with RIDEs daily with Mr. Betrand, as you call him, and it’s how you white humans put it. Goodnight Irene: Ruby warned Paul who quickly started to revise her act.

“Oh right, the anesthetic hasn’t worn off all the way. So I almost forgot” It had actually, Paul was as sober as a man who truly found God for the first time, but Paul’s parents had no way of knowing that. “I’m still a little dizzy, but Dad’s right.”

Paul slowly raised her hands and sent Ruby a command to return to her more animalistic appearance. Ruby opened her front chassis and pushed Paul to the ground, something they agreed on to make more of a show of it.

“Ooof…” And out of the porcubat fell a girl three inches shorter than the 5’6 she had been twelve minutes ago, one with a tail that protruding out of one of many holes in her pants, one with slightly longer hair made up of pointy spikes, and most interestingly a leather membrane under her arms resembling bat wings. “Yeah… I’m a woman now, it was unavoidable, the second I was sealed inside… the nanites… that made me like her… and she is a her.”

:Went a little far, but I think you sold it.: Ruby praised her human.

“My baby!” Amelia’s heart sank as she approached. “What has this planet done to you…”

Amelia picked up Paul off the ground, though quickly abandoned her once she got on her feet to yell at her husband.

“Are you happy? Those RIDEs have made you a plant eater, and then they done dropped the pre-tenses and made our son a girl!”

“Woman, the boy just lost his pecker trying to save our lives and you’re turning it into an attack on me?” Derek spoke with obvious disgust.

“Clyde, make yourself useful and re-man my little man!” Amelia screamed, ignoring her husband.

“Are you trying to kill her?!?!” Clyde refused this order. “Her body is so full of active Nano still making changes to her beyond a genetic level, and even if they weren’t.. The functionality and genetic make-up of her entire body has literally been reversed. We try any big changes like that any sooner than 2.5 Zharisuan years, or 750 days at the least, she will die. Given the non-human elements like the wings and spikes, she may need even more time than that.”

“Him, his, and of course I’m not, but… there’s gotta be a way to fix this. Take the nano out! Reverse the polarity!” Amelia was speaking pure gibberish, but she had no idea what to do outside of string words together and hoped “Reticulate the Driver Extender or something”

“Mrs. Reverbek, I am programmed to put this as nicely as I can.” This was Clyde’s way of saying, he desired to non verbally eviscerate this woman, but thanks to a little thing called a fetter he could do no such thing. “I cannot through a direct order or my own will bring harm to a human, neither can I allow through inaction, a human to be harmed. I am a tractor that your idiot monkey-brained species decided needed to be able to talk. I can’t work miracles and I’m not going to kill your daughter trying.”

“Both of you be quiet, we’re not asking Paul what…” Derek paused for a second to think of which pronouns to use and failed to come to a decision “Paul thinks.”

“I think..” Paul looked down to see a large pair of breasts and a valley of cleavage to go with them. It felt weird, yet, oddly right to grab them, she wanted to squeeze them, not sexually, but just to know they were truly hers. That would have to wait, as Paul observed that her clothes had various holes in them with no pattern, though luckily nothing X-Rated was exposed. “I may need new clothes.. And… Good gravy am I curvy?”

“Yeah sorry about that.” Ruby held out a wing. “You’ll need some Fuser friendly clothing, my nanites got confused and used parts of your clothing to build your body explaining how you wound up like this. You were supposed to be a B-Cup not a D-Cup, and them thighs.. Wow this awkward… if you had a sexuality and an audience that wasn’t related to you this would be quite a show.”

“I mean beyond that, are you… fine with being…. Like this?” Derek asked, it was dark so he hadn’t noticed the holes in Paul’s clothes before but now that attention was called to it he tried his best to look away.

Paul thought for a second, this could be a chance for a dialogue between father and ex-son, a chance to lift the weight off her shoulders and admit to having been in eternal agony even at her most joyful until just recently when that dark clouded was lifted forever. Maybe it could lead to bonding on an even closer level, maybe it would snap some sense into her panicking mother. Maybe is just a layman’s term for hypothetical, and Paul had to work with the fact. If she let her parents know that this had been just a show penned by Simon’s pet skunk they would not be in a good humor. So Paul stuck to the script she and Ruby made.

“We are a Christian Family and God calls on us to make sacrifices to help others. This RIDE does not have a home. Let’s not put her back on market, I mean she’s been through so much you know. With the virus and all.” Paul moved back to hold her arm around Ruby. “I think I can help Ruby here out, and I'm quite different now and well I’ll need someone to teach me about… me?”

“That sounded… rehearsed…” Derek said blinking a few times. “But, true nonetheless. We should be proud to, as you say, make sacrifices to help those less fortunate, just as Mr. Bertrand helped us when he gave us this farm, Clyde, and your job. That is God would want of us no matter what planet in his vast universe we draw breath on. Right now I think it’s been a long night and we should get to bed. I have a spare RIDE Sized Recharging Bed, Ruby can use it and maybe we can find her a new home if Paul decides that at the end of three years she wants to be a man again.”

“He bought that?” Ruby said allowed, but quietly. “How?”

“Yeah, yeah, let’s do that… We’ll just put this day behind us.” Amelia wanted to argue more, but she couldn’t deny that she was tired with her unable to think of anything productive to do. “And Paul, in the morning, you should fab yourself some new clothes, it’s going to be a long seven hundred and fifty days.”

“I am a machine and it’s debatable if I have a soul or an afterlife or a God or anything like that, but amen to that.” Clyde said as he trotted into the house, it had been a long day and he was hankering for a battery recharge.

Paul would have loved to stay up all night and obsess over the fact that she had done it, Lucille’s con paid off and the blessing of femininity was now hers to behold. Never again would she be forced into a panic when she sat down the wrong way and felt that thing that was not there anymore between her legs, never again would the mere sight of a woman force her into an existential crisis.

The temptation to enjoy this was cut short by the sounds of her parents arguing in the other room, parents that her big floofy bat ears could hear crystal clear in ways his human ears could not.

“You got that prancing pony of yours out of here, I don’t even wanna see that small cow one we have in the pasture! I’m done with RIDEs and their bullshit!”

“I’m a pronghorn buck.”

“Clyde, wait in the living room… Look, this is why I kept putting off that Gondwana vacation. Though I can see you’d be right at home with Sturmhaven the way you’ve got my balls in a vice, Karen!”

“That’s not my name and you know it!”

: I think I’d like to go to bed like Dad suggested, can you fuse with me and knock me out? I don’t want to listen to that…: Paul thought in Ruby’s general direction with communicative intent, and it seemed like that worked.

:I was about to suggest some games, I’ve got this VR adaptation of one where you’re a lady making portals to get some cake. I think you might like it. It’s a Science Fiction thing… You can play that till you’re tired.:

“Oh I know that game, been meaning to try it out! But it’s from five hundred years ago, so it's kind of just a fantasy game or a science fact game, I don’t know enough about portals to be able to tell.” Paul realized she said that aloud. “Uhh wait, I meant to think that.”

:You’re not used to a little Quantum Telepathy I see, we’ll work on that:

There are those who would have liked to say that the next morning was full of mature responsible adults that were just happy that they were together with a roof over their head. There are those who would have LIKED to have said the previous sentence, but instead the breakfast table had Derek inside of Clyde, yet no Amelia.

Derek’s demeanor was not of a family man enjoying his hobby and sharing the fruits of his labor with those who meant most to him. Instead he just sat there with an empty plate in front of him as though he had been setting the table for breakfast but lost heart in this task halfway through, his hands on his cheeks. The man hadn’t noticed Paul coming in with Ruby crawling behind her, in fact he wasn’t aware of anything in the physical world at all.

“Dad?” Paul was naturally scared out of her wits, doubly so when Derek didn’t answer.

“He’s in a VR world, fuse with me and I’ll try to get you where he’s at.” Ruby offered.

“Good idea, let’s do it.” Paul stretched out her arms to prepare for Ruby’s embrace.

Paul closed her eyes before the fusion began to brace for an impact she never felt. Before she realized she was inside of Ruby, Paul found herself falling into an endless black void. Paul’s consciousness had left her body and found itself inside of a section of Ruby’s RAM that was blank as it was being prepared to load software. Somehow Paul had been loaded here first. Was this a glitch?

:Yeah it’s a glitch. I loaded you before the program, but while I have you, Would you kindly fly upward. I opened a door to your father’s VR session: The voice of Ruby could not be physically heard. The voice appeared in Paul’s head as a foreign thought, but one somehow outlined to her as being of another.

“I can fly?” Paul said as she fell further and further from the door that opened in what seemed to be several yards above her. Paul pushed forward into the sky against the non-existent inertia of the void until she could grab the floor of the door Ruby opened. “I guess I can.”

After pulling herself inside it was soon discovered by the newly crossed woman that she was in the middle of a battlefield with weird aliens all around. Each of these monsters with strange weapons, the most disturbing of which looked like living, breathing, organic creatures that expelled acid when their triggers were pulled.

In the middle of these monsters and their impractical creature weapons, laser swords, blue glowing explosive spheres, and an Oil Age idea of plasma weapons stood Paul’s father. Paul’s father had not yet noticed his daughter as he screamed at this oncoming onslaught

“SUCK MY THROBBING MUTANT CERVINE COCK YA UGLY SONS OF BITCHES!” Derek Reverbek screamed, he looked like an anthropomorphic prairie antelope wearing a Late Oil Age US Space Force uniform. The loud decibels of his voice were accompanied by the sounds of the assault rifles in his gloved hands.

“Dad.. Are you.. Okay?” Paul called out to her father trying to keep a safe distance from the action. Unfortunately not safe enough as upon hearing it, the aliens of all shapes and sizes descended. “Oh no… DAD! HELP!”

“PAUL!” Derek gritted his teeth as he threw his weapons down and ran towards Paul’s location with superhuman speed.

Now throwing one’s weapons down to save one’s offspring may sound like one of the worst ideas anyone has ever had, but Derek knew what he was doing as on the way to Paul there was a parked jeep with a minigun mounted upon it. After tearing off the minigun with his bare hands he continued on his path to save his brand new daughter.

“GET AWAY FROM HER YOU BITCHES!” Derek shouted as his tool revved up and continued spraying, himself and Paul becoming coated with the blue and green gunk that made the life juices of whatever creatures these were. Derek huffed and puffed.“Oh my God, son… I mean… Paul.. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.. just a little… Shell shocked…” Paul held his head feeling dizzy from the sheer overload of what just happened. The aliens all around, the sound of the minigun, the smell of the gunpowder, the corpses falling, so much action happened all at once.

“It’s interesting that you came here as a girl. You do realize you can be anything in here?” Derek spoke with a slight, but clear, layer of accusation. “You could have easily crafted an avatar that looked like the normal you. Normal as in, the way you were when, you know before last night.”

“I didn’t feel like doing that…” Paul kicked herself for not just saying she didn’t know she could do that, which wouldn’t even have been a lie.“I just wanted to come in and see if you’re okay. You looked a little down in the dumps when I came into the kitchen.”

“Didn’t feel like doing that..” Derek said under his breath, scratching his upper lip so that Paul couldn’t read his lips. “Yeah, your mom and I were arguing pretty hard last night. I needed to get away and just shoot something in the face.”

Derek and Paula stopped to look over the horde of corpses that lay dead all around them.

“Several somethings.” Derek clarified

Ruby flew in carrying Clyde by the antlers, which Paul found pretty funny actually with the way Clyde spazzed out throwing his legs in the air.

“Sorry Agent 3317 aka D-Man.” Clyde said, speaking in character briefly before getting to the point. “You left your LAN settings on and when I tried turning them off the bat showed up.”

Paul just stood there, shaken, for about three seconds before rubbing the alien gunk off of her face. “Dad, saved me… Even though I look like this, you just jumped right into action.”

“Well yeah, those things are pretty violent. I didn’t want them to hurt you…” Derek started to catch his breath before licking some of the extra-terrestrial goo off his arm. “Their blood is delicious though you should try some.”

“What?” Paul licked her hand and found the blood tasted like blueberry jam, she didn’t even question why she didn’t hesitate to do this. Perhaps her own palette was affected by Ruby’s nanites, or, maybe it was the fact that this stuff didn’t look or smell much like blood. “Hey it’s just like candy.”

“Yeah. That’s a mod, your dad likes to keep the realism setting high as possible, but the scent of blood everywhere is just unpleasant. Especially to someone with cervine blood like him. Quite a few mods are in effect actually. This game’s five hundred years old, I mean the game, not the RIDE VR Conversion mod obviously. If your dad played by the rules he would be a faceless human in green armor.” Clyde explained.

“I’m used to having antlers, it just feels off if I play a game without them… Plus it’s fun to jab ‘em into a guy's face. You can really mess someone up with this headgear, I could have had Clyde’s nanites toned down and these removed, but I just like them too much.” Derek smiled as he grabbed his powerful masculine head protrusions.

“Speaking of, this was a game. You two drama queens looked real adorable with the whole rescue routine.” Ruby laughed to herself, Clyde and the humans soon joined.

“Heh, I guess it’s like a dream. Sometimes you forget it’s not real. Well it is like a dream, RIDEs use the same parts of the human brain that dreaming does. It’s how they can throw you into other worlds. Back in the old days they’d call something like this Astral Projection and it would involve a lot of practice and meditation.”

“I mean the pain settings aren’t even on every user by default. Worst that would happen to Paul here is that her mind would be booted to the lobby or spectator cam while this digital representation of her body fell to the ground devoid of life.”

“That kind of sounds like normal death, but, like, you know where I go when I die… I dunno.” Paul added as she practically licked herself clean.

“Huh, sure Ruby’s a bat and not a cat. With tongue work like that my boy, I take it you’re ready for real food. Just think about being back in the kitchen, back home on Zharus, in the Reverbek Ranch.. Back to those yellow walls and tacky tan tiles... And poof!” With that Derek and his RIDE Clyde vanished off the suspiciously ring shaped planet this all went down in. One minute they were there and the next millisecond they were gone.

“Did he call me his boy?” Paul asked, slightly disheartened.

“One of the most major identity factors you have reversed itself literally overnight, well actually more like over ten minutes last night. You’re gonna have to give him time to adjust. The take away you should be running with is that he clearly still cares a great deal about you. Now let’s get to breakfast, I think Lucille and her human are anxious to see the new you.”

“Right.” Paul nodded as she vanished out of existence from one world and into a body of flesh instead of code in another. “WOAH!”

Paul instinctively tried to fall to the floor in shock of just how fast the transfer was, though Ruby took over. Even the gravity felt somewhat different “What the.. We’re back?”

Derek chuckled to himself. “Yeah my first time in RIDE VR was even more of a mindscrew. Old Man Bertrand was laughing his Euro-Trash ass off. It's quite a step up from that Virtual Life stuff they had back on Terra.”

“Yeah, though that was actually my third time. Ruby showed me this game about a cake, but it turned out there was no cake.

“That was the second, the virus-busting was the first I take it?”

“Yeah…” Paul looked at the time inside of Ruby’s HUD. “I’ll get something on the way, besides, I don’t know what kind of foods I like now, with the ya know.”

Paul rubbed down her newly-developed curves to emphasize what she meant without actually saying it.

“It is about that time. Well I’ll see you after work, son….” Derek paused for a second. “Gonna take me some time to stop saying things like that.”

As Paul left on her hoverbike, having gotten at least a kilometer away before remembering her RIDE could fly, Amelia entered the room having opted to sleep in that morning hoping in vain things would be back to normal when woke up.

“I’m still mad at you, you know there’s no public law enforcement in this Polis and you don’t even have a gun to shoo-away angry automatons.”

“It just seems so peaceful here, I didn’t think we’d need anything but farming equipment.”

“And now our son has to pay the price.”

“I’m not so sure he’s paid anywhere near as much as you think she has.”

“Are you saying he WANTED this to happen?”

“I don’t know. I just have a hunch that there’s something that bo… girl’s not telling us” Derek said as he pushed a button on his fabber to place an order in for a peppermint latte. “Do you want any coffee honey?”

Ameila sighed, she didn’t believe what her husband was saying no matter how true it was. At this point in time Derek wasn’t sure he believed the words that came out of his mouth. “If you’re gonna keep Clyde, can you at least fit him with some weapon?”

“Alright dear, I’ll pop in by Old Man Bertrand’s after tending the fields for some Second Amendment action.”

“If you didn’t keep calling him that I’d forget he was in his 60’s. Not that that’s very old up here. Just make sure you say hi to Paul for me when you do.” Ameila forced a smile. “I may hate RIDEs, but I saw you two this morning, laughing and talking. I don’t know what you four were doing in your machines, but I don’t think I’ve seen you and our youngin’ get along like that since I could still hold him.”

Derek smiled at his wife, despite their rough patches as of late they did truly care for one another. Perhaps today would be the day Derek would tell his wife about the marriage counselors he was looking up


“Votre late Ms. Reverbek. Now votre new here so j’ai going to let it slide, but my old employee Mis-TER Reverbek had a habit of being early and je expect to hold vous to zat.” Simon said with a smug smile on his face.

“Mr. Betrand you’re a guy!” Paul said in some degree of shock as she parked her hoverbike.

“Yes, J’ai été un homme for quite some time, about 64 years. I was hoping to break zat record, but it doesn’t appear likely.” Simon said

“But on the comm, Lucille called you Simone.”

“Oui, she did zat all day. Not big surprise.” Simon crossed his arms.

“Oh what did you think I went and threw Simon across Mars and into the gates of Venus while no one was looking? That’s not the Lucille Skunkette way baby, when I make this frenchman into a proper lady I’m going to make a big show of it. No ‘poof’ transformation here, step right up, step right up. See the event of Simon’s lifetime! Going from one pair of lips to two and getting that E, Simon wants the E, don’t you Simon!” Lucille cuddled up to Simon’s legs as if she were a housecat.

“Two weeks…” Simon glared before surrendering to Lucille’s charm and rewarding her with a scritch behind the ears. “So je will have to update le roster de schedule with votre new name, and vous will need a new ID Card. So, what is your name?”

“Well I was kind of, I never…. I mean is there no real reason why I can’t just go by Paul… uhh…” Paul said scratching the hardlight fur on her Fuser’s arm.

“Paula! Perfect I love it! Paula it’s so simple, and sometimes less is more. Paula, Simone, Paula, Simone. It’s genius it won’t be confusing all the regulars will know exactly you two are. You two are like a perfect duo! Paula Simone, like, like, Paul Simon, the musician! Paula!” Lucille started during some of the best dancing one could do on four legs; accomplished by bouncing on a front and hind paw, jumping, and bouncing again on the opposite front and hind paw.

“That’s not what I…” Paula was about to object, but she couldn’t disrupt the great joy that the robotic animal was experiencing as Lucille broke it down like a mad lad. “You know what, sure. Call me Paula.”

The Fright of Venars
Preceded by: Aloha 666
Succeeded by: [[]]