Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
 
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Switcheroo

by C.E. Gee





Sharon parked her pickup truck at a pay lot, four blocks south of the clinic. She sat for a moment, listening to the crinkling sounds the fuel cell's cooling fins made as they contracted. For the last time, Sharon pondered her decision, worried she was about to make a mistake.

After fetching a receipt and placing it on the truck's dash, Sharon walked across the lot. She glanced back at her truck; it was such a cliché. Sharon wondered if after the procedure she'd ever again love that truck in the same way.

She walked off the lot, around the corner of a large office building. There weren't many people on the sidewalk, but up ahead, near the clinic, there were mobs of people. Sharon could hear the music.

Tentatively, Sharon walked toward the clinic. As she neared the crowd-control barricades, she confirmed what she expected.

The mob was divided into two distinct groups. To Sharon's left were followers of the Antichrist. They had hooked arms at the elbows, were swaying back and forth in rhythm as they softly sung a hymn.

To the right were followers of Lucy, the messiah. Tin whistles, Irish frame drums, flutes and fifes played a lively Irish jig -- a paean to Lucy's Irish Gaelic surname of Fhir. Some of the male followers of the messiah were attired in kilts, some wore tamoshanters. Many women were bare-footed, wore ankle-length dresses, sported Celtic jewelry.

The two groups were kept apart but within a perimeter by sawhorse-like crowd control barricades. The space between the two groups was patrolled by numerous city police officers.

Sharon smiled at the sight of the police. Her first lover had been a police sergeant.

Intermingled with the police were saffron clad Buddhist monks. Several Divine Humanists, identified by their red and blue striped lapel ribbons, shared space with the monks and police.

Sharon knew the Buddhists and the Divine Humanists were attempting to calm the protesters, thus were allowed by the police to be in the area between barricades.

Two police officers approached Sharon. "You here for the procedure?" asked the smaller one.

Sharon nodded an affirmation.

The officers moved one of the barricades aside enough for Sharon to step through.

Sharon walked toward the clinic. Her appearance and action sparked immediate reaction from both mobs, for Sharon could not have been more obvious; she definitely was not a lipstick-lesbian. She wore clunky hiking boots, baggy jeans, and a flannel shirt. Sharon's hair was arranged in a mid-twentieth century rockabilly pompadour; she displayed no jewelry; she wore no makeup.

To Sharon's right, the followers of Lucy cheered and clapped their wild enthusiasm. The music became raucous, assumed a quicker tempo.

To Sharon's left, followers of the Antichrist began to pray and weep and wail. Some of the followers of the Antichrist dropped to their knees as they prayed.

The two police officers escorted Sharon to the clinic's door. On the way to the door, Buddhists and Divine Humanists smiled at Sharon as she passed them by.

An elderly, bespectacled and bearded Divine Humanist standing next to the door said, "Namaste."

"Namaste," replied Sharon.

With a soft and low voice, as he pulled open the door, the man added, "Good luck to you, sister. You have my blessing."

Sharon entered the spirit reassignment clinic.

It being early morning, the clinic's reception area was empty except for the receptionist, behind the counter.

Sharon walked to the counter. The receptionist coldly smiled, said, "Good to see you again. Everyone else is here and ready for your final check-in. You're in room 17."

In room 17, a stern-faced, middle-aged man was seated behind the desk. Behind him, in a chair pushed up against the wall, a woman about the same age but much more pleasant looking sat primly.

At the front of the desk was the room's only other occupant. Larry turned sideways in his chair. His hands fluttered to his cheeks as he shrilly exclaimed, "Sharon! You're here! Oh, I'm so happy you showed up. I was beginning to feel so abandoned."

Sharon glanced at her wrist-cell. "I'm right on time," she announced.

Sharon and Larry were old and dear friends, had attended school together.

Larry patted the seat of the empty chair next to him. "Come. Sit."

Sharon came, sat.

The stern-faced man announced, "Sharon -- my name is Frank Marshall. I'm the clinic's patient advocate. Behind me, my associate, Ms. Taylor, will serve as our witness.

Sharon nodded.

Frank continued, "State law requires both a final confirmation and a brief review of your previous lecture classes before the procedure. Be aware, this entire session is being recorded."

Frank gestured toward the room's cambots, all of which were suspended from the ceiling.

Sharon nodded.

"Do you, Sharon K. Montgomery, consent to the spirit reassignment procedure?"

Sharon nodded.

"Please speak up," said Frank.

In a loud, firm voice, Sharon said, "Yes."

Larry began to sob.

Frank pushed a box of tissues to the front of his desk.

Larry grabbed a tissue, wiped his nose.

Frank said, "Do you Lawrence C. Lewis, consent to the spirit reassignment procedure?"

His voice weak and trembling, Larry replied, "Yes."

"Speak up, please."

"Yes."

More crying; Sharon rolled her eyes. Frank glanced at Sharon, said, "It's all right; happens all the time. Sign here please."

Frank passed a clipboard to Sharon. She signed the paper, and then passed the clipboard over to Larry. He signed, placed the clipboard on the desk.

Frank smiled a warm and comforting smile before saying, "You both received very high scores on your final test, but the law requires me to briefly reiterate what you've learned here.

"The current prevailing theory is that our spirits -– or souls, as they're often called –- our spirits inhabit a dimension in which there is no matter. Therefore, our spirits, having no physical body, have no gender.

"However, we suspect that when spirits transmigrate from being to being, the spirits each have a gender preference.

"Nonetheless, from time to time, spirits -- we assume mistakenly –- spirits incarnate to the gender opposite their preference.

"That's why you're here and that's why you're receiving the spirit reassignment procedure."

"Okay," abruptly announced Frank. "Ms. Taylor will escort you to the equipment room."

As they entered the equipment room, Ms. Taylor said, "You may call me Mary if you like. I apologize for Frank; he can be a bit formal."

Mood much improved, Larry happily replied, "That's perfectly all right, dear. You're very professional here. Given the circumstances, I feel it's necessary."

"Our technician today is Dan," said Mary.

His back to the door, bent over a table filled with electronic gear, stood Dan.

Dan was clad in dark blue medical scrubs. His head was clean-shaven. He was slender, short, arms heavily muscled.

Dan spun around, smiled a broad smile, spread his arms wide. "Ta-da!" he exclaimed.

"Oh my," saucily said Larry. "Where have you been all my life?"

Dan replied, "Cool it big fella. I'm just here for the free coffee."

All laughed except Mary. Sharon wondered how many times Mary had heard that quip.

"If you two will be seated, we'll get started," said Dan, patting the backrest of the left one of two adjacent chairs. The chairs were plumply cushioned, comfortable looking easy chairs equipped with plastic slipcovers.

Sharon and Larry sat.

Using Velcro-covered straps, Dan secured his patient's arms, legs, and upper chests to the chairs. "For safety," he announced. "We don't want any interruption of the procedure. If you move around something might get lost in transmission."

Dan went to the left of the table, grabbed a couple of what appeared to be salon-style hair dryers, the hoods of which were mounted on stands equipped with casters.

Dan rolled one to behind Larry, one to behind Sharon.

"You're my first two today," remarked Dan. "It'll take just a moment to get set up."

Dan went back to the table. From beneath it, he uncoiled a thick, black cable. At its loose end, the cable split off into two smaller cables, which terminated to large and bulky connectors.

Dan screwed the connectors to the back of the hoods, and then returned to the table, which was piled high with equipment. He threw some switches, turned a knob, stood back, and crossed his arms.

Equipment began to whine and hum. LCD and LED and plasma displays danced with data, then settled to steady indications.

"Okay," announced Dan. "Here we go."

Dan went back to the chairs, lowered the hoods.

Dan retreated a step, and then said, "Last chance to back out."

Firmly, Sharon said, "No."

Larry closed his eyes, whined, "Just do it," and then bit his lower lip.

Dan turned, went to a sloped panel on the table, flipped up a plastic, orange-colored switch-cover. He paused a second, then pushed down on a large, red button.

There came brief hums from both hoods. Larry opened his eyes.

Dan lifted the hoods, unfastened the straps.

Sharon and Larry stood, faced each other.

Sharon's lips trembled. She lifted her hands to her face, cupped them over nose and mouth. "Oh my God," she softly said, her voice muffled by her hands. For just one moment, she stared at Larry, and then shyly looked away as her eyes teared up.

"It's okay," said Larry, in a deep and smooth voice. "It's okay."

Larry stepped forward, wrapped his arms around Sharon, and pulled her into his chest.

After a pause, Sharon pushed away, looked into Larry's eyes. "Now what?" she asked.

"That's it," announced Mary. "You can go home or whatever."

Larry snorted, replied, "And I need to get out of this ridiculous outfit."

"You know," said Sharon, "I might just have a couple of things that would fit you. We should go to my place."

Larry smiled broadly. "Sounds like a plan."

With just a bit of a blush, Sharon returned Larry's smile. "My pickup's down the street a few blocks."

Sharon patted her do. "Maybe after we get your clothes changed you can take me shopping for some new outfits, and I need to do something about this hair. I must look a fright."

Around a sly little smirk, Larry firmly proclaimed, "Not to me."

Together, Sharon and Larry left the room. At the door, Sharon turned, waggled her fingers at Mary and Dan. "Bye," Sharon said. "Thank you so very much."

In unison, Dan and Mary said, "Bye."

Mary gripped Dan's shoulder as she said, "Next appointment's in about half an hour or so."

Dan nodded. As usual, Dan's eyes had a wicked sparkle.

Mary went back to room 17.

Frank had opened the window slightly, was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, listening to the music.

Mary closed the door. She strolled over to Frank, looked out the window.

Sharon and Larry came into view, boldly marching arm in arm between the two mobs, police officers in escort.

The music, the cheering, and the wailing all became louder.

Frank and Mary stared out the window for a while, enjoying the spectacle.

"Kinda romantic, eh?" said Frank.

"Very much so," answered Mary. "I'll never ever forget the day we got the procedure."

Frank snorted, said. "I won't either; hope those two will enjoy their lives in the way we have."

"You know," continued Mary, nothing about me really changed all that much. Except, you know, I feel different inside somehow."

"Me too," replied Frank. "Especially how I feel about you."

Mary glanced at the closed door. "Dare we?"

"Why not? Cameras are off. Better get away from the window though. This is still a workplace, after all.

Mary pressed up against Frank. The kiss was passionate. It lasted a long time. Above the cheers and the wails, an Irish jig played on and on.


THE END


© 2016 C.E. Gee

Bio: C.E. Gee (aka Chuck) misspent his youth at backwater locales within Oregon and Alaska. In his days, he answered many callings: logger (choker setter) meat packer, Vietnam War draftee infantryman, telecom technician, volunteer fireman/EMT, light show roadie, farmer, businessperson, sysop/webmaster. He is currently retired, a disabled veteran, and now writes SF stories. Chuck maintains a blog at http://www.kinzuakid.blogspot.com. His last Aphelion appearance was Neil's Captsone in our November, 2015 issue.

E-mail: C.E. Gee

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