Thanks to my publisher, Cameron Pierce of Lazy Fascist Press for throwing Norma and the gang into the ring. The James Tiptree Jr Award is named after the pen name of the feminist sci-fi writer Alice B. Sheldon, and is “given to a writer who explores and expands our notion of gender.” Norma’s up against some pretty fierce contenders—William Gibson’s Peripheral, for instance, one of my favorite books for 2015—and to be honest, I’m not sure how the process works, but it’s nice to be a part of it. To celebrate, here’s a gender bending excerpt:
“There was a collapsed building between the Bakersfield Greyhound and a windowless tavern called The Trap. A curtain flapped from one of the broken building’s upper floor windows. Norm found a relatively sound room on the top floor with a bunch of jerry-rigged bolts on the door, some of which still worked, and a hole blown out of the ceiling where the rain came in. There was a mattress on the floor that would come in handy to recuperate on, and Norm lugged it away from the hole. Half of the building was rubble, the rest about to be, so the smell and the noise from the protocol would not around suspicion.
Norms were horn hunters, each identical to yet logically discernible from the others. Mommy had many Norms in the Before, all named after the set of algorithms or prohibitions that constrained the hunter from turning against and hunting down its maker. Mommy selected this Norm for its appetites, its sensory acumen—in particular its sense of smell—and its physical stamina. But in the misguided notion that it would take one to know one, Mommy had given the horn hunter a horn of its own.
Nothing worked like it should. Long-limbed and haunted, wrong in this flesh, not knowing what to do with itself, it had taken some doing to convince Mommy to change the program.
“Being throttled by a trucker for looking at him the wrong way in a jakes, saving a sixteen year old transvestite from a New Westborian flaying, and having your face licked by a mail-woman is enough to confuse anybody, Mommy. Just saying.”
“Maybe I should try being female for a while.”
Norms came with a bio-switch around their necks that functioned as an organic command center. From this the Norms could generate the selected re-sequencing protocol. The procedure would in this case be made simpler by the fact that Norm’s tissue had already been processed. Most of its human dermis was already in place as a response to the UV bombardment procedure after falling through the earth’s atmosphere. Everything else, Norm found at the local drug store. Bandages, codeine, penicillin to stop infection from the relocated implantation device. The dentata.
The hunter, Norm, even managed to source, from a part-time veterinarian mud wrestler, some equine estrogen to stabilize the transformation.
It was an unexpected agony. The hunter’s screams echoed up and down the lonely halls, drowned out by a throbbing bassline from the Trap. The hunter woke sprawled and sobbing in a pool of matter beneath a hole that opened up to a starless sky, and then he was a she.
The walls around the mattress were smeared with bloody hand prints. The hunter’s shoulder blades burned with an intolerable heat. Before she blacked out again, her trembling fingertips traced the splintered protrusions that had rent the skin. Hours later, when she came to, nothing remained of those but an intermittent burning sensation and hard nodules across her shoulders, tender to the touch. A remnant, or memory maybe, of the wings repressed in the initial program.
Cramps racked her new body, And the formless shadow that rose from her arced and buckled form like steam from a kettle was a remnant also, or a memory of the being she could never be again and the hunter felt as though something in her had died. She thought about this during the long days of her recovery, how it was a part of herself from which she must flee but which could catch up with her in the end. If she let it.
But if one thing had died, another had been born from the blood of the hunter’s horn, and in its place was something mysterious and whole. When Norma, as she was now, emerged from the broken building a week later, she never felt more alive. Like she had it all under control for the first time since arrival. She was wearing her old clothes, the boys’ jeans and shirt she’d stolen from a surplus store in Barstow, and they were more than a little small for her. The denim shirt buttoned tight over her breasts. That would take a little getting used to. Everything else fell into place. She picked up a young farmhand at The Trap. This one’s for me, she thought, astride him on a couch in Elmsfield. And the next time, too, a Consortium goon’s vast body pinning her to a waterbed and Mommy’s dentata yet to be activated, and Norma crying for the part of her that was born anew and the part of her that was unendingly lost.”