Agent Finch was every inch the stereotype of a man in his position. He stood at six foot one, with square shoulders and a crew cut to match. Both eyes and lips were but narrow slivers on his face, while his nose and cheekbones were sharp enough to cut concrete. He wore an American cut black and white suit in tints and shades as bland as the rest of him. One glance was all it took to recognize his most prominent trait; that he was, as many had said, an irredeemable ass.
He, along with a convoy of black vans, sat on the roadside between the pines. Before them was an electrified fence surrounding a three story compound. The building was square and featureless save for the sparse warning signs along the ground level. Yet for all its drabness the building was conspicuous. An unsettling aura neither seen nor heard rattled the atmosphere. Not even birds dared to approach.
Soon they were joined by a second set of cars. Agent Finch didn’t smile at the figure in the passenger seat of the front car. He folded his hands in front of him and braced for the force of a ten foot woman compressed in a five foot body. The car pulled to the scanner, and the purple haired scientist reached to touch her card.
“I’m afraid I can’t let you inside, ma’am.”
She roared at him. “The hell you can’t!”
There was little Agent Finch could do save for wielding an intimidating stature. Stefanie Storm, however, would not be deterred. The gate buzzed and rattled open. She and her team entered with Finch and company in tow.
No small talk. No niceties. All business.
A dozen persons loaded into an industrial elevator. They stood side by side, silent. Anything they could say was said weeks ago when the project began.
Dr. Storm grit her teeth, not bothering to hide her disdain. “You’re playing with fire,” she said.
Women like her had no sense of daring, the agent thought – a poor trait for a scientist. She favoured regulation over innovation, and swelled oversight committees that neutered the progress of a nation. She was, in Finch’s assessment, the antithesis of American ingenuity; one of many who polarized Theodore Fellows until he turned radical.
The air tickled during their descent. Fine hairs stood on end. A wave coursed through their collective bodies. Most jarring of all was the low frequency hum that rattled from below. It churned their stomachs, and plunged like a spike through their heads. The force grew the further they went, but neither Finch nor Storm balked in the face of it.
After gruelling minutes the elevator shunted to a stop. The doors opened to a room illuminated by cool lights shining with the full gamut of the spectrum. Arcs of lightning poured out of the swirling mass looming over head and into the shifting rings of a machine on the ground.
Agent Finch stumbled against the force surging from it, and dashed to the protective barrier with Dr. Storm and the other scientists. He stared through the transparent shield, mesmerized. It was truly a marvel; the dream of Theodore Fellows realized only months following his death. This, he knew, was the future.
Dr. Storm screeched over the omnipresent hum. “Are you insane?”
Whatever reasons the ground crew offered were drowned out by the machine, not that they would have swayed her. Dr. Storm had made her objections known at every stage. ‘Proper shielding doesn’t exist for this kind of tech,’ she’d said, again and again, and once more for effect. But eager minds were determined, as was the US government.
Finch lunged to draw her from the panel, but Dr. Storm fought her way free. Only by stretching her squattish arm did she manage to strike a large, red button – the emergency kill switch.
The machine released the power flow in an instant, and lightning tendrils curled across the laboratory. They pulled into the vortex, which then swallowed itself into nothingness. The great hum eased, and with it the ill feeling in all their bones.
Agent and engineer locked in a furious glare.
“You’ll answer for this,” he said.
Dr. Storm shoved past him. “That’s for me and mine to worry about. We’re here to better the world; not play mad scientist.”
Loathe as she was to answer to bureaucrats, her actions had greater consequences than even she knew…
* * * *
Just when you thought it was safe to use the bathroom…
“Have you heard of Bill C-149 that will give sexual predators access to women’s private spaces? We need your help to protect women and girls!”
She appeared between my English Lit lecture and the next building with a clipboard and pen. On any other day she would have been like any other student with frizzy hair and wide, round glasses. But the determination in her voice, fear multiplied by misinformation, left an imprint I wouldn’t soon forget.
The message was clear; in her world trans people were monsters, wolves in women’s clothing. I could argue the point, that I was a girl like any other in most ways, but she wouldn’t be convinced. The way she forced the clipboard into my hands said as much.
Venom dripped as I pushed it back to her. “No, thanks.”
That should have been the end of it. There were better ways to spend my time, like proofing a three thousand word assessment addressing the metatext of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’. Instead was the inevitable confrontation with a radical that parsed just who and what she was talking to.
“It’s people like you that rape women’s spaces by colonizing our identities,” she spat.
‘People like you make my life hell,’ I didn’t say. If only Tanya were there to… no, that wasn’t fair. She’d been hurt enough for my sake. It wasn’t the first time I’d weathered words of hate. I told myself they were just hot air, and a confrontation between classes meant nothing. Or maybe I was too sick of fighting, sick of hurting, to return fire.
I walked and she followed, shouting epithets no-one should have to hear. Strangers looked on, some sympathetically, but nobody stepped forward to help. They watched this vulture tear into me with words; this vulture who projected her oppression onto my life.
Whatever. I could throw her into space if I wanted. Not that I ever would, but in a twisted way that power was a comfort.
She followed me into the bathroom. The girls leaving reeled at her display. Don’t ask me why I went in; maybe as a ‘screw you’ to the loudmouth ideologue who didn’t know when to quit. The school was on my side. They had trans-affirming policies. I know, because I checked. But that didn’t stop the woman and her aggressive agenda.
“Can’t you let a girl pee in peace?” I said.
“You are not a female,” she said. “You don’t belong here!”
I closed the door and listened to her bang against it. Kind of hard to go under the circumstances. So I sat, waited, and closed my eyes until it passed.
It did pass… but then so did the walls and the floors. The wind beat against my face while my stomach did somersaults. Without any kind of warning I was among the clouds, falling. The familiar face of Milestone City twisted in the distance as gravity drew me toward it.
Glimmer Girl burst to life, her uniform replacing my clothes. I soared to the ground at top speed. One moment I was in the bathroom, the next I was placed in the sky with nothing at my feet. But how?
I hated this kind of mystery; the kind where I had no control.
* * * *
Flying through the city I could sense something off. Nothing major, but the little things. The shapes were uneven somehow, and the colours different. I flew by a bridge downtown and stopped at a billboard. Signage comes and goes, but what I saw appeared as if overnight. Stranger still was the image it depicted.
It featured a male model, half naked, his body turned away. His face looked back coquettishly. Painted lips shone with a bronze tint. The curves of his smooth, slender back ran to where he thumbed a pair of jean shorts – very short jean shorts – down his hips. It revealed the advertised product; string like underwear in a cut and material that men never wore on billboards. The garment ran between his cheeks in a way that some might find enticing. I’d never seen anything like it, at least featuring a man. Gods, not even a man – practically a boy!
I turned to the inner suburban street below, and to the slack jawed bypassers who had no idea what to make of a floating girl. I’d become so used to smiles and waves that their confusion put me ill at ease. Something was definitely wrong, but what I couldn’t say. It wasn’t just the billboard, but the people.
If you’ve ever been down Silvera Avenue on a Saturday night you’d know that Milestone wasn’t a stranger to men with makeup and women in suits; but so close to the city, in the middle of the day, and in so many numbers? They weren’t there to party; they were dressed down in what appeared to be everyday clothes. It would have seemed a queer paradise, and yet…
I burst into the air and rounded toward Centenary Park. At its heart was Eli May, the turn of the century industrialist whose workforce first populated the city. Despite a spotted history, his status was more than enough to cement a statue in the gardens; except there was no statue, at least of Eli. In his place was the likeness of a woman with a long skirt and jacket, staring into the distance with familiar purpose. Almost like a twin.
“How is this possible?”
I collapsed on a nearby bench. This place was my home, except it wasn’t.
A blaze of fire shot overhead, and I was back on my feet. It rounded the statue and landed on the brick path. The fire died down to reveal a thin blonde man in a red and orange suit, domino mask, and a crisp, clean haircut. He couldn’t be any older than I was.
“Didn’t anyone tell you that these are my skies?” He snickered. I didn’t.
“Who are you?”
He leered at the question. “You don’t get out much, do you. Blitz Boy? Milestone’s number one son? Hero adept, shoots lasers, blah blah blah.”
The realization struck like a cold slap. Sure, the costume was different, and he was shorter than me, but the lasers? Plus he could fly. The golden aura around him was too familiar to be comfortable, and with the kind of changes I’d seen…
“My name is Glimmer Girl,” I said. “This morning I was Milestone’s only hero.”
He frowned in amusement. “Never heard of you.”
I considered my surroundings. Eli May was still a woman. “I think I’m you from another universe.”
Blitz Boy’s eyes lit up. At least one of us was having a good time.
* * * *
We flew across the city. It was a place where the binary sexes were reversed; the men I knew were women, the women I knew men, and non-binary people were probably the same. Mirror worlds work in opposites, after all; even if that opposite is a social construct.
Blitz Boy was full of questions, mostly to determine if I was friend or foe. I think he was disappointed in not getting to fight an evil twin. Gods, can you imagine that universe? What a nightmare that would be.
“So…” He paused. I braced myself. “You’re me if I never transitioned.”
He looked away. “Never mind.”
Off all the odds, that myself and my gender-swapped copy should have that in common. “You’re trans too?”
Blitz Boy’s eyes near burst from his head. “What do you mean ‘too’!”
“I’m a girl, assigned male at birth,” I admitted. “I’m guessing you went the other way.”
He thought about it for a moment, and laughed. “And here I thought it was obvious!”
“What was obvious?” I asked.
“You know. Short, high voice. I always thought everyone could tell.”
“Well, I didn’t,” I said. “I guess you didn’t clock me either.”
That was a small comfort, at least; the first in this strange world. The distance could neither be measured in time or space, and I had no idea how I’d come to be there. Gods, not even a clue where to start looking! At least I had one ally, even if he was myself.
I looked to him and forced a smile. “My name is Kaira,” I said.
Blitz Boy furrowed his brow. “Kevin,” he admitted. “Kevin Cade.”
“What?” he said.
“What are the odds that both our fathers have the same last name?”
‘Kevin’ appeared confused. “It was my Mom’s,” he said. That made sense, that in a gender swapped world husbands took the names of their wives. It was definitely one way to maintain a uniform cosmic order.
We followed a path I knew well; back to Milestone Academy and the third level dorm room I used to share. Inside was a different mess to the one I’d left behind, and the metallic stink of boy sweated into the sheets. Shifting back into our civilian guises I did my best to ignore it.
“Sorry,” Kevin said.
Out of costume he was an ordinary guy; cropped hair with some length up top, a few strays curling on his chin, and unkempt eyebrows to lay some weight on his appearance. He dressed in layers with an open shirt over his tee, and loose jeans, though they weren’t too baggy. Like me he was straight out of high school, and still finding himself as a hero.
He was nothing at all like the boy I once pretended to be. Maybe it was his confidence; the fact that he liked, even craved, the expression forced on me for all my life. That alone set us worlds apart.
Kevin was also fascinated, but tried to play it cool, staring into his phone. Did he see the kind of girl his parents wanted him to be?
“He should be here any second,” he said.
That ‘who’ pressed through the door as if he’d timed it. The resemblance was uncanny. Even with the beard and the eye shadow, the tight pink t-shirt with a butch woman printed on it, there was no mistaking Tanya entering a room.
“Tony,” Kevin said.
He batted his lashes and smiled. Even if he wasn’t Tanya’s exact double he appeared like a close relative, maybe a cousin. If only she were there to see.
“And you must be Kevin’s curious little lady clone,” he said, and placed his hands on my arms. “Well, not so little it turns out. Geez Louise, you are tall! I’m glad one of him is, at least.”
Kevin sneered. “Jerk.”
“Never mind him, sweetie. He only thinks he’s cool.”
It took a while to relax and wade through the small talk. After a while it was like talking to my own Tanya; or maybe Tanya in drag. I couldn’t stop thinking about her at home, in another dimension. We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. No, it was too soon to think like that.
We sat on one of the beds and compared notes about our worlds. Celebrities, history, even what it was like growing up. How strange it was that so many things could stay the same, even with one massively altered variable.
Then Tony hit the nail on the head. “So instead of a matriarchy like we have here, you have a patriarchy, right?”
I blinked. “Uh…”
“Your culture undervalues the contributions of women, ours undervalues the contributions of men,” he explained. “Physical labor in male dominated fields and paternal caretakers have difficulty advancing, largely in part given the negative social attitudes toward men. One binary gender dominates the capitalist social structure, and gears it against the other for their own means. Then they wrongfully hold them to account for their own oppression.”
“Our worlds have that in common,” I said.
Kevin hummed. “As you can see, Tony’s big into social justice.”
“That’s not a bad thing.”
Tony leaned closer. “Do you have, like, a female version of masculists on your planet?”
“Masculists are men’s liberation campaigners,” Kevin said. “You know, fighting for men’s sufferage, getting us the right to vote, that kind of thing.”
Tony shook his head. “That sounds so fake.” Like everything in this upside down world.
A cell phone vibrated from Kevin’s pocket. He scrolled through his feed and frowned. “Duty calls.”
“Do you need some help?”
A wry smile curled his lip. My first team-up, and it was with a version of myself. This was going to kick ass.
* * * *
It was a lonely drive to Milestone Academy with only a foiled plate of eggplant parmigiana for company. Tanya’s Mom insisted on leaving it in the mini-fridge for Kaira; she was, after all, her surrogate daughter.
The knot twisted in Tanya’s stomach. Stepping onto campus was like returning to disaster, returning to heartbreak, and she’d had her fill. A part of her wondered if she needed to be there at all; the same part that wondered how much she owed a friend.
Or maybe she needed space, like she’d said. It was too early to tell.
Time skipped between the parking lot and the elevator, as Tanya was lost in a haze of half thought. All she had to do was drop by with some food, then leave. After that was a first year developmental psych lecture, and the million and one references to Piaget that came with it.
She came to the old door with bubbles under the paint and fumbled for her keys. Tanya stopped when she heard something. At first she thought it was Kaira talking on the phone or to herself, but it wasn’t her voice. Someone else was moving through their room.
Bursting though the door Tanya was ready to tackle whoever was inside, but stopped when she recognized the green haired person in a denim jacket. As though the presence of Trix weren’t unexpected in itself, there was also the object they held in one hand.
The device was egg shaped and filled their palm. It glowed with a soft, white hue that filled the room, even in daylight. Stranger still was the ghostly figure projected from it; a woman in a crisp suit with a bob cut and straight bangs. She seemed familiar.
Tanya caught herself. “What the f-”
“I can explain!” Trix said.
The ghost rolled her eyes. “Good luck with that,” she said, and blinked from existence.
Caught between welling anger and confusion Tanya pressed the door closed. Her frown fell as deep as a frown could fall, while she fed the plate she’d been carrying into the small fridge by the door. For Trix to appear like that, and with that weird device, stirred feelings that defied words.
“Okay,” Tanya said. “Explain.”
Trix pulled their arms close. The typical sheen of confidence melted under the light of interrogation. They hardened their resolve. What was done was done. No point in backing away.
“I was tracking the remnants of accelerated neutrinos,” they said.
“With that… thing.”
“It’s called Z-Gi,” they explained. “It’s a sort of a sequence marker, I guess. It’s all I have left of my home.”
Tanya stopped and sat on the bed. She was pissed, but screw it; this needed an explanation. Maybe she should have been shocked, but she wasn’t. A lot of weird things were happening, one after the other, leaving her numb to the strange.
“Are you from outer space? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Trix said.
“So you’re an alien.”
Trix shook their head. “No. That’s not important. What is important is Kaira. Glimmer Girl is no longer a part of this universe, and if we don’t find her the results will be catastrophic.”
A cold chill seized Tanya’s chest. They knew about Glimmer Girl? For how long? A million and one questions flew through her thoughts before processing the second half of what they said.
No matter how hard she tried there was no escaping the weirdness.
* * * *
Just how fast can one person move on a pogo stick? If you guessed ‘not very’ then you’ve never seen Jumping Jack in action. The red-green harlequin cackled with glee with each hop through the midday traffic, sometimes off the roofs of unsuspecting vehicles. They collapsed under the impact, shattering windshields, and veered from the road after he sprung ahead.
The streets were mayhem!
Blitz Boy and I soared between buildings and followed the trail of wreckage through the metro district. Drivers climbed out of their cars by the dozens to inspect the damage. They looked more scared than hurt, thank the gods. All the same, we weren’t about to push our luck.
“What can you tell me about Jumping Jack?”
My counterpart curled his lip. “Manic adept with comical gadgets. Former member of the Society of Sin. Delusions of grandeur; easily swayed, but full of surprises. Kicks like a mule on steroids if that mule could kick through a concrete wall, so watch his feet!”
Images of Punching Judy flew across my mind. Gods, what a pair these two would make; tomfoolery cranked past the safety limits with no care for the aftermath. How either of them ever slipped under the radar remains a mystery.
It was on the corner of 25th and Bennet, over a dozen blocks from the obliterated jewelry store at the start of it all, that we finally made Jack. He bounded with greater strides than any police car could match, but not fast enough to evade us. We flew to either side and boxed him between.
Blitz Boy called out. “Give it up, Jack! You know I’ll only beat the tar out of you!”
He turned to the other side and flashed a grin. “Who’s your sister? Hey, sexy legs! What’s your name? What’s your number? I’m an empowered twenty-first century kind of guy. Doesn’t have to be serious-”
Ugh, as if I hadn’t gone through enough with vampire boy.
I blasted at his feet, only for Jack to maneuver out of the way with inhuman agility. This was a game to him, like everything.
Blitz Boy flew into a tackle, but was met with a furious kick from our foe. He collided into the side of a building and exploded into sparks, only to reconstitute, dazed, but otherwise unharmed.
The clown scoffed. “Well, it was great to catch up, but this is my stop!”
A plume of green smoke exploded across the street. Poison? No, just a lot of confusion from below; cars skidding to a halt, pedestrians losing their way. It was too dense for my enhanced senses, and made the perfect cover for a thief.
I charged, but only managed to snag the pogo stick and a baggy clown costume from out of the air. The smoke dissipated in no time at all, but by then it was too late. Blitz Boy landed by my side and saw what I was holding. That was all he needed to know what happened.
‘Damn it’ pretty well summed it up. Lost in another universe, and the bad guy got away? Some first team up that was.
To be continued…