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Aberrant: 200X - On A Chamber Door


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OOC: I'll be posting this one over a couple of weeks, just because it ends with some xp being spent that I haven't got yet laugh



The words, but far more the concepts they implied, swirled in Chang's mind as she began to stir from her morning meditation. Her node felt warm and full, pulsing with the raw energies of the universe.

Chang had kept the quantum flow through her flesh, enhancing her perceptions. She could hear the morning radio station, recounting survivor stories of The Crush. People walked and talked beyond her studio flat, cars crunched along the roads and gravel driveways.

She had turned off the light, closed the door and done her best to enfold herself in darkness, so that her only awareness of the room around her came from the periodic sonar pulses she emitted.

Step by step she brought herself up out of the trance, its last steps a blur of raw sensation and feeling as Chang focused her attention on two nights ago when she relaxed her controls and allowed her instincts to guide her.

Slowly, thought and perception gained grounding in the solidity of her flesh, rounding out her existence.

Ten minutes later, Chang stared at one of her hands, balling her hand into a fist one finger at a time and then opening it in the same manner. She flexed her node and felt that delicious rubbery softness overcome her. Chang whipped her arm out, stretched it across the bathroom and turned on the light.

She compressed inwards, her whole body folding into a shapeless, flexing mass, then stretched up into a pillar of flesh that refined itself into her standing form.

From there she moved to the computer desk and swelled her buttocks out, forming them into a round, pliant balance ball she used as a seat while looking over yesterday's security footage.

Her thoughts, though, were split between watching yesterday's self, and thinking about her most recent OpNet chat.

She had never been accused of navel-gazing before.

Chang found amusement in the knowledge that she yearned for such criticism. By no means had she known she sought it, and had she been asked any day prior to this she would have said she believed herself to be on the right path and in need of no real assistance or guidance.

Einherjar's words reminded her, though, of the null manifesto's wisdom. It had been explicit in stating that novas should seek each other's company. Here she saw part of the reason for that.

Her meditation, likewise, had confirmed a truth to her.

"I am lonely," she said, the words a warm, harmonic whisper in four parts.

The realization worried her. Not because she feared the desire for companionship, but rather the chance that her meditations had been faulty, ineffective. Einherjar had put it well; 'Too much introspection leads to stagnation, a paralysis of thought and action as you chase the tail of your thoughts in circles that neither increase or decrease.'

In fact his words mirrored her own concerns back when she first tried to learn Teras, long before she had taken her first shaky steps on the path and felt that 'click' inside, that feeling of would-be taint becoming something else, the fuel of future possibilities, of impending change.

The trick was to make the introspective process into a spiral. Teras was designed to be one, in truth, either upward or downward. The philosophy offered only two outcomes: success and glorious evolution, or failure and monstrous devolution.

Chang would not allow herself the latter option.

She knew now that this whole sex issue would not be settled with thought alone. For this she needed input, communication, community. In an ideal world she would have shared this with her nova peers, but as yet she felt none of the connectivity or closeness needed for such a talk. That left the rather undesirable alternative of baselines.

Still, Tsao Tsao built the kingdom of Wei not with the perfect tools, but by making the best use of that which lay in reach.

Chang compressed and stored yesterday's footage, wiped the banks and set the cameras going for the new day, then rose and headed out to the main room, sucking her buttocks back in to their normal proportions.

She could feel the music stirring again. Words knitted together into a tapestry in her mind, not one but two songs linked together by theme and progression.

Chang stretched up the stairs, spiralling her body around the central pillar then gripping it and contracting before kicking onto the upper area of her flat.

The songs took three seconds to write, in total. A quick blur of a hand for each, and nothing more needed. She flicked through the four pages of her notebook, running over the words and singing in her mind to see if there were better words. She put together alternate versions of the two new songs, running through all the languages she knew.

Her hair snaked out and enwrapped her guqin, began to tune and test the sound across all of its seven strings. Chang listened with a precision few machines could match, and with a level of discernment almost nobody could equal, picking the exact right sound.

She cradled the guqin in her lap, already reshaping her legs to form a flat, wide table to give the zither a perfect balance.

The guqin bore three thousand years of history, the oldest known instrument of her ancient homeland. They called it the instrument of sages. Issues of sex, and sexuality, of destruction and rebirth, were just as old. She could think of no more perfect instrument to go with this song.

'Red Tomb' - in its chinese form - came out part poem, part song. It told its story of sexual loss and rebirth through the allegory of a buddhist nun climbing a mountain in Tibet through all the months of winter, and reaching the summit in spring. The partner track, 'Burn of the Firefly', picked up the pace with a more direct story of a girl liking boys and somewhere along the line forgetting how to and not knowing why. 'Red Tomb' emphasized the music more, 'Burn of the Firefly' her voice.

However, the english variant of the songs did not work with the guqin. For those versions she used the six string, backed up with two voices with different tones, and sang them out like a conversation between two people.

Chang sat in silence for more than a minute when the recording was done, before a tendril of her hair flicked out and hit stop. She reformed her legs, put the guqin and guitar back to their places, then rewound the tape and listened again.

"Good," she said to nobody in particular, and rose. "The juices are definitely flowing."

Three songs in four days. To date, a personal record, and she still had not been down to The Crush site. There would be a lot of material for inspiration down there.

She cartwheeled off the upper floor, landed on one foot and pirouetted on landing. From there she cartwheeled and flipped across the room towards the door, with grace that would have saddened any gymnast.

Chang doubted her form was as good as theirs, of course. She had not a lick of gymnastic training, but the eruption had granted her such grace and ease of movement that she could outdo them anyway. Some day she thought she would get some training. It would not do to have potential unrealized.

Einherjar and Brawlzilla had both been keen to tell her to follow her instincts. Valid advice, perhaps. They did not know of her secret desire, though. In truth, Chang did not know if she even knew. Yet she could never forget that time with Olga. She had stretched around her, contained her, swollen her belly with the woman's presence, and her belly's skin had been so sensitive afterward...

It seemed quite indicative. Another one of those unsubtle hints her body had been giving her of late. As if to further emphasize the truth, Chang felt an erection coming on, and watched herself lengthen and swell beyond disproportionate into ridiculous.

Yet she had been burned for that night of instinct and passion. Burned worse than ever before. That had been the start of this hesitation, this 'navel-gazing' if she had indeed succumbed to that detestable practice.

Now Olga wanted to talk. After cursing her, accusing her of rape, suing her. She would be coming into the city soon.

Chang considered it a good sign that she did not feel angry, or wronged, or vengeful. A sign that she had begun to change on a deep level, on the level where the changes were most needed.

The time had come to pressure herself to change even more. She walked to the door, squeezed herself paper-thin and slid out under it. On the other side she wound her hair tight about her body and shaped it into a modified crop top shaded deep scarlet and patterned with multicoloured butterflies. She added a mesh undervest covering her flat belly and a little of her arms, plus thigh-high leather boots and black shorts, the latter stretched unnaturally far out around her over-sized member. She styled her hair into pig tails, and dozens of tattoos fluttered into being across her skin in shades of red, green and orange.

Her body gave a little jerk as Chang adjusted her proportions somewhat, making herself leggier and emphasizing her slender build. Then she walked off into the gathering dusk, aiming straight for the gay bar known - to women at least - as The Female.

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The Female looked every bit the popular nightclub. It had that feeling of comfortable decadence that could only come with an established venue and regular custom.

Chang did not often frequent bars or clubs of any sort, save back in the day when she had played at them. Nonetheless she could see the difference between The Female and most 'straight' clubs. There was a feeling of comraderie, of oneness here, a unity of experience and desire that lacked the judgements they had all experienced sooner or later.

Beyond that crucial difference, the club set few new grounds. It played the same sort of sexy, pacy dance music, people picked each other up at the bars and canoodled in quiet, private spaces set aside from the rest of the club by curtains or clever angles.

Chang resided, alone, in one of those spaces.

She sat upon one of the couches which surrounded a low table on three sides. Beads of moisture dotted the table's surface, the legacy of a recent but ineffective clean. Baseline eyes would pick up little, but Chang could see every tiny stain and missed trace of alcohol. Where she could not see the difference, she could smell it.

Through the open door she could watch the club and the three large TV screens above the bar that showed constant entertainment for those patrons not intent on dancing the night away.

Everybody who passed her area at least glanced in. Word had passed around in minutes that a nova had come into the club. The usual game of mass interest had already played itself out, with baselines at first ready to swarm for her attention before their instincts and her own seeming disinterest created distance.

In truth Chang felt more interested in baselines than she had in years. She had been watching all of them all around her, and so not thinking to turn her eyes - purely an ornimental feature - to look at anyone or anything in particular.

They felt different. Even though their eyes usually fixed on her triple breasts or her cock, their responses differed to the usual. She had expanded her perceptions to the point that she could pick up on every conversation happening in the club, and so she knew her cock had become a popular topic. Some joked. Some used it as a conversation opener to lead into seductions of their own. One or two wondered what they might do with it.

Baselines rarely talked openly about taint, about how it made them feel. For some reason Chang had never quite discerned, taint had become some sort of taboo, something private.

Not here.

More than a dozen conversations were happening about 'that feeling' they got from Chang. And just as her cock had become an opening line, so too had 'that feeling' become absorbed into the baseline's evening, as a way for experienced regulars to get conversation rolling with shy first-timers who had caught their eye.

In an odd sort of way Chang felt accepted, because this felt very Chinese to her, very familiar. It was as though the club had bowed and said 'Yes, stay. You do not belong over here, but you do belong over there.'

That had been how things were in China. Everything had its place. How did the old proverb go? The peg which sticks out gets hammered down. Society made for a complex tapestry, with every culture and subculture just another stitch in the whole, each assigned its proper shade and place and position of prominence.

Chang had always felt that elements of that would creep into whatever nova nation might emerge. How could it be otherwise? Novas were so extreme in nature, and so different from the world's other inhabitants.

A smile crept across her face as she thought of this. For all that they struggled to break away from their baseline roots, she and the other Terats had a great wealth of baseline life to evolve away from. Were her thoughts the sign of weakness? An indication that she had yet to really grow psychologically?

Perhaps. She would think about it in her evening meditation. Not now. Even thoughts had their proper place.

Chang's attention shifted to the TVs as an XWF commercial began to play, showing the formerly male and now female megastar Bombshell building up an old fight that The Female intended to show soon. An audible cheer rang out when she appeared, and for a time everything stopped.

Nobody danced. Nobody talked save in breathless whispers. The music played to unhearing ears. Every thought, every effort turned to perceiving that unperceivable perfection.

Tears came unbidden to her eyes. Beauty such as that validated the world. They all felt it, even if their flawed perceptions could not hope to encompass Bombshell's elemental sex appeal. Chang could hear, smell, even feel in her skin the change in atmosphere inside the club. Lovers began to touch each other, to talk dirty, to begin roleplays where one or other was Bombshell.

For the entire length of the commercial the nightclub became a fanclub, and even when the commercial ended and took away Bombshell's godlike visage, her touch left the evening forever changed.

Chang's cock jutted out now, almost spike-like, close to three foot long. Her nipples were no less stiff. She stroked herself a little, for her flesh had become sensitive, alive, ready to receive pleasure.

But what interested her was the way the baselines reacted now Bombshell had gone.

Arguments sprang up here and there. Boyfriends grew incensed that their boyfriend lusted over a woman, girlfriends jealous at their partner's sudden arousal and frustrated at their own inadequacies. That rush of pure, positive, inspirational lust and love and desire eroded over half an hour into a smoother mix of extreme emotions.

Chang listened with interest to a lesbian couple in the toilets, one weeping uncontrollably, overcome with self-disgust in the wake of that perfect vision while her lover tried to soothe her. She failed, and stormed out minutes later to get a stiff drink from the bar.

Baselines could not help but have extreme reactions to novas. Someone like Bombshell gave them no other option. Her name seemed so obvious, just another way to refer to a great beauty. But it meant more. Her beauty, perfect or not, hit with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It violently kicked its way into the mind and the soul and took over. An explosion of lust, leaving shock and awe in its wake.

Bombshell seemed a humble soul from their few interactions to date. Chang wondered if she often considered the occasional adverse effects she had on baselines, if she - quite rightly - dismissed the few negatives in favour of the overwhelming positives, or if perhaps she felt a little guilt.

For her own part, Chang felt only purest delight at seeing that face, that body. She had no delusions about ever touching it form, save through brush or camera lens, and even then she doubted it.

After all, she had made a few enquiries in one of their talks. Bombshell had the look she wanted, presented herself as she desired. It seemed awful to Chang, an almost criminal waste of Bombshell's qualities that utterly failed to emphasize or accentuate her attributes. Unfortunately, life was filled with little crimes, and visions of beauty sullied by a lack of inspiration.

Unbidden, Olga's face swam back into view, then that whole smooth and athletic body lounging by a poolside. She had been wasted as well. Chang had fixed that.

A song stirred in her heart, all about Bombshell, about beauty that both relieved and brought annihilation. Something grand, and unique, and powerful.

One of the baselines approached the doorway into Chang's private space.

She was quite pretty. She had short, red hair, dyed over blond so it seemed it had been coloured that way by blood. Thin makeup covered some spots and freckles, easy for Chang to see through. Her teeth seemed to shine in the low light, betraying a recent brush. Subtle, elegant jeweled earrings hung from her lobes, framing an almost elfin, high-cheekboned face. Her clothes were similar to Chang's with a heavier leaning toward the punk subculture with leather and symbol patches worked into cloth.

The young woman - Chang estimated nineteen or very early twenties - paused at the entrance, trying to hide her nervous trembles. She seemed to be hoping that Chang would look at her, not realizing that Chang could see her just fine with her eyes fixed straight ahead at the opposite wall.

After a minute, the woman finally said, in a high-pitched squeak, "Uh, hi?" She looked embarassed immediately, and put a hand to her mouth. Then she repeated, her voice more controlled, "Hi?"

"Hello," Chang said, modulating her voice to be as soothing as possible. "You may come in if you wish. I am Chang Zha-Yang, otherwise known as-"

"White Rain. Yeah, I know and... oh god I interrupted you. I'm so sorry." She held a drink in one hand, and took a big gulp of it.

"You are trembling. There's no need to try and hide it if the effort is too much."

That seemed to take her by surprise. She looked deflated, as if she thought she had been doing a good job and now felt foolish for even making the attempt. Nonetheless, she stepped inside, moving a little closer. "Can I, um, close the door?"

"I would prefer that you didn't. I'm curious to see what else they'll show on the television."

"Right." She shifted from foot to foot. "Oh god I'm being so awful! My name's Leanne. Leanne Chambers. Can I sit down?"

"Of course you can," Chang said, and gestured to the couch opposite. "Please, don't apologize or take the lord's name in vain on my account. I'm not offended. Rather I'm honoured that you make this effort. I can tell you're uncomfortable."

Leanne put her drink on the table, and studied Chang's face. "You're beautiful." She closed up on herself when she said that, as if this were some incredible, painful confession. "I like you. Man, I'm so awkward! Normally I'm not so bad. It's just-"

"Your teeth shine," Chang said, deciding that perhaps it would help her relax if they switched topics a little.

"Excuse me?"

"Do you use one of those 'guaranteed whitener' toothpastes?" Chang made herself look directly at Leanne now. If the baseline had the nerve to visit her, it seemed only fair to make a few concessions for her comfort.

"Yes, actually. Doesn't everyone?"

"Most," Chang said. "That's why most people's teeth shine, though they don't know it."

"I don't understand."

"The toothpastes create an artificial image. They don't actually whiten your teeth at all, they just slather it with an ultraviolet dye that seems white under the light. My perceptions have changed enough that I can see what's actually there instead of what seems to be. And so people's teeth seem to shine to me." Chang had long ago saved this nugget of information, for the precise reason that it had a quirky aspect to it, and few people knew or were interested enough to care. She considered it her secret weapon where small talk was concerned, the ultimate ice breaker. In its defense, it had never yet failed her.

Leanne put a hand to her mouth, then took it away, revealing a lopsided, half-incredulous smile. "You novas are real scary sometimes, you know that? God. That must look so weird to you. I guess most novas don't clean their teeth, huh?"

"Some do. Some don't. The majority don't. They have no need. And no, it doesn't look weird anymore. It's a normal, everyday thing. But I remind myself that there was a time when it wasn't, when I didn't even know why, because I want to understand how I've changed as the years have come and gone."

The conversation may have been silly, but Leanne's trembles had reduced to a slight shake. "Okay, I'll just ask. Are you gay?"

Chang smiled. "Probably. Yourself?"

Leanne put her drink on the table and leaned back. "Bi. Used to be bi-curious, took the plunge a couple of years ago and never looked back. I heard you had a girlfriend once. Sounds sort of familiar."

Chang watched the condensation gathering around the base of the glass, adding a fresh stain to the surface of the table. "Yes, I did. Believe it or not I never thought much about my sexuality during that time. It was a union born of artistic principle," she smiled. What a bizarre way to describe it! Yet it seemed accurate. "Looking back, I can't think of anything I really liked about her. It's what she represented that mattered."

"Wow. So you didn't like her much?"

"I thought I loved her, actually. But now I wonder. Perhaps not. I have to admit that matters of the heart are not my speciality."

Leanne seemed a little flummoxed by this. She chewed her lip, as if something lay heavy on her mind and she wondered if speaking it might come back to haunt her. "Seems a bit odd. Just thinking back to your fifth album."

"Ah. 'Bare Bones', yes?"

"Yeah! That was such a total love song. I made love to it once," Leanne said, and punctuated the words with a charming giggle.

Chang made a slight alteration to the angle of her head. Baselines constantly adjusted the angle of their head in conversation. Most novas did, too. She found it hard to remember, and doubted this little effort would help. Better little than nothing, though. "Thank you. I'm glad my music means something to you. It does not always mean the same thing to me as it does to my fans, however. 'Bare Bones' was a sort of self-love song. Not masturbation, more egomania. When I wrote the album I was nine months out from my contract, and had been enjoying a number of arguments with my former studio executives. I'd begun to wonder if I had become selfish and egomaniacal. 'Bare Bones' was a meditation on that. To me, at least."

Leanna accepted this with wide-eyed fascination, and smiled. "That's so cool. I'll have to listen to it again and think about that. I can sort of see what you mean, though."

"Don't let it change your interpretation. Please. My music means one thing to me. There's no need for it to mean the same thing to everyone. I think it'd be rather sad if it did."

"No, I never would! That's what I always liked about your songs. Me and my friends used to talk about them for hours. You're kind of vague." She laughed.

"Yes," Chang said, smiling, "I am. It makes sense to me though."

A vision appeared on the television screens. Not the ravaging beauty of Bombshell, but a shining star nonetheless. A slender white-haired, white-eyed woman, leggy and clad in shining leather. The thing that grabbed Chang's attention, though, was the grace of the woman's movements. She danced, and in moments showed a completely unnatural flexibility, making exaggerated three hundred and sixty degree circles with her hips.

"Who is that?" She asked, not thinking to turn her head. Seeing Leanne's confusion, she pointed.

"Oh. Her name's Zhana, she's a dancer from one of the russian federation states. The Ukraine, I think? Might be Russia itself. Real name's Svetlana or something. Just watch, she's only getting rolling."

Chang found out what Leanne meant a few moments later. Zhana began to contort and twist herself, not in the rubbery, smooth way that Chang did, but in ways that looked positively fatal. She rotated one of her arms two hundred and seventy degrees at the shoulder, bent the elbow backward, and winked at the camera before bending halfway down the forearm.

She felt another erection coming on.

"Remarkable," she said. "The manager knows how to pick her entertainment."

"Oh yeah," Leanne said. "Everyone's looking forward to that XWF match. I bet they have to pay major rights fees to show that though. Bombshell's really hot property. And local, too. Have you met her?"

Chang shrugged. "We have chatted online. I think we walk in different circles."

"But still, you talked to Bombshell!"

Leanna developed that starry-eyed look which baselines often developed when talking about famous novas. At the same time it was tempered by a look of distinct alarm as Chang's cock grew to full prominence.

Chang felt waves of fresh inspiration working through her, watching Zhana contort and compress. Between her and Bombshell she felt that this evening could not possibly end up a waste. Images and sounds blurred through Chang's mind. She wondered what would turn up. Paintings? Sculptures?

"The things I could do with her and a camera," she mumbled.

"Yeah," Leanne said, her voice a touch tremulous. She had paled, too.

"My shaft. It makes you uncomfortable."

Leanne stiffened up, almost as if she had been electrified. Then her shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice small. "I wanted to keep you company. People don't often want to, do they?"

"Not especially. Now you know why."

"I still think you're hot. It's just. I don't know. There's something about you. It feels like spiders." Leanne downed her drink, and began to rub her forehead, looking down at the floor.

"It's fine," Chang said, "I'm not offended, or upset. I've changed, and I want to change. But change comes with a price. It'd be childish of me to complain that I have to pay it, and churlish to blame you under these conditions. Answer me a question, though. What would you do if I took you as a lover? How would you pleasure me, do you think?"

Leanne looked up at her, eyes shining. She answered. It took a long time, and the words were complex, almost poetic. They were an ode to lust, framed by the sort of obsession with touch she might have expected from a potter. Chang's skin came alive as Leanne spoke, almost as if the words themselves were enough to touch her.

By the end, her breath came a little hesitantly. "You have been with women before, I think."

"Plenty of times." Leanne smiled, shy now. "Never talked dirty to a nova before. You should definitely get someone who's bi. You know, someone who'll appreciate all of you."

"Thank you, Leanne. Perhaps I'll see you around here again."

They both knew that the time had come to part. Chang stretched one arm over to Leanne and stroked her cheek. A small token of possible affection, and a thank you for their discussion. Leanne seemed happy when she left, and thoughtful, and energized.

Overall, Chang thought, it had been one of the most successful meetings she had ever had with a baseline.

Her body felt alive now. It needed something. And nobody else was on hand.

Chang unwound her hair, exposing her throbbing shaft. Time to try out a little of what Leanne said. She remembered that brief talk of 'widening canals'.

Why not apply that to something else?

Chang opened her mouth, stretching it wider and wider, gaping cavernously, and slowly began to force it around her cock. She knew after only seconds that this was going to go down as one of her better ideas.

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For now, Chang decided she had turned gay.

Her body embraced both masculine and feminine elements, but her desires seemed exclusively

angled towards other women. If nothing else, that seemed to be a good hint. Even attempting to fantasize about men resulted in her feeling sexually blank. The thought of sucking them inside her body made her think of the practicality of suffocating them unconscious rather than the lust which came when she thought of doing it to women.

The moon hung high over Vancouver, shining and full. Her body felt more alive, more aware than ever before. She had been feeling strange since her orgasm twenty minutes ago, a little dazed and confused. As if she were a little drunk.

Now outside, Chang realized that the haze in her mind came from her node. "I've grown," she whispered. Her voice sounded small to her ears, confused, even scared.

She could feel the breeze caressing her skin, and with such precision. When she concentrated on it, really paid attention, the sensations doubled and redoubled in intensity. She stumbled against The Female's wall, and jerked away from it the moment the stone brushed her hair-turned clothes.

That touch, just a brief tap really, caused an explosion of tactile feedback in her mind. She had picked up every tiny crack and graze in the stone, the minute changes in texture from one kind of stone to the next which betrayed some sourcing difficulties back when the building had been constructed.

Gasping, Chang looked around her. All of her senses felt dulled but for her touch, the wind on her skin overwhelmed them all. She could feel the baselines around her by the way they moved and disturbed the air, the cars streaking by beyond them.

Her tastebuds burst to life, as if only now opening their blossoms to the sun. She had pleasured herself to climax in the club, and could still taste her ejaculation on her tongue. Now that flavour took on new dimensions, as she could sense every little element that made it up, pick out every mineral and protein in its composition.

Chang took a deep breath and sat down on the curb. She blinked, as if to clear her vision.

Her skin had been her eyes for some time now. Every bit of her could see. With this sudden surge of sensitivity, no wonder she had been blinded.

The world seemed a blur occupied by shadows. A baseline turned to look at her, and Chang knew it only by the tiny stir of air that the movement caused, by the subtle change of the pattern in the air as it brushed over her body. She rubbed her face.

"I've changed," she whispered, and a grin reshaped her lips. It had been a while, and it felt wonderful.

All her doubts faded in this glorious moment. It validated her, it validated everything she had struggled for since meeting Scrambler, joining the Teragen, and striking back out on her own.

"Hello, there," said a deep, warm female voice.

Chang focused her senses in that direction. More precisely than ever, she could feel how they had changed. Her skin held everything now. The only purpose her head served was as a well-shaped housing for her mouth.

"Hello," Chang replied.

She concentrated, and squeezed her head inward, collapsing it, sucking it back into her neck and pulling her neck back into her shoulders. After a moment or two she had reduced her head to a slight bulge, with her mouth stretched across it.

Nothing changed. She felt the wind shift as the baseline lurched backward, saw the vague shadow of her movement, heard her gasp of horror. All through her skin.

"Beautiful," Chang said.

"W-well," the woman said, "quite. C-can I ask you a question?"

"Of course. My apologies if I sound distracted. My senses appear to be re-orienting. It may be a short while before things have settled." It had been so when she first began to see all around herself, and when her ears had spread and their precision intensified. In truth she had been terrified at first, on both counts, for then she had not quite understood the change.

This time, she knew. She exulted.

"My name's Laura Baines. I own Chromozone. That's the proper name of 'The Female' or 'The Male', whichever you prefer and I'm not saying you need call it anything else."

"I see," Chang said. She stretched one of her arms out, offering her hand. "Pleased to meet you."

Laura hesitated before shaking Chang's hand. "I was wondering," she said as Chang retracted her limb, "are you gay?"

Chang chuckled. "It is a gay bar, is it not? For now I'm going to assume so, though I am not completely certain. My next sexual experience should be illuminating on that front, whenever it comes. I'm rather looking forward to it, even though I don't have any condidates lined up right now. Perhaps I'll look on the OpNet for a nova dating site. I do believe they exist." She gave a soft, melodious laugh in all four of her voices. "I'm rambling, sorry. I'm in a good mood."

"Look, may I be frank, and perhaps a little undiplomatic?"

Laura's features came into a little focus. Chang's senses were beginning to rebalance, and adjust to their new sensitivity.

"Please do," Chang said, "it may be quite refreshing."

The feeling of her mouth moving on the bump of her neck was unique, interesting. But she quite liked having a face, and a neck. Her lips pouted out, and she formed a crane-like neck, and blossomed her head back into being. She had no need of it, but she liked it. Maybe that would change one day, and she would never again bother to waste the space. She turned her head to the left and right, twisted it a full three hundred and sixty degrees and then wound it back again.

"So?" She asked.

Laura twitched. "Y-yes. Look, I was wondering if you intended to 'come out'? Your name isn't listed in the QNA - that's Queer Nova Alliance if you hadn't heard - member list. It's just that it would be great for publicity."

Chang stayed silent. She cared nothing for the club's publicity. Though perhaps she ought to. The baselines were interesting for a while but they would grow tiresome swift enough. Laura's mention of the QNA, though, raised some future possibilities.

"Are you alright?" Laura again, her voice halting and hesitant.

"You spoke of the QNA. Do its members frequent Chromozone?"

"Sometimes, yes. We get some of the membership up here on skiing holidays. Vancouver's a popular stopping off point."

Not often, then. No surprise. Chang felt undecided. Laura seemed to think the conversation was over. She fidgeted, making dozens of little movements and shifts that churned the air up. It amazed Chang to realize how easily her body interpreted those little shifts.

The greyness of the world began to sharpen up a little. She could make out the irritation on Laura's face, see how she had put her weight on her back foot, as if ready to run.

Chang thought of Leanne, and those kind, poetic words. They had meant something to her.

That decided things.

Laura turned to walk away, muttering 'freak' under her breath, a little exhalation that contained a world of disgust, confusion and frustration.

"I could make a little art for the club," Chang said, without turning her head. "To spruce the place up a little. Could even do a bit of interior design if you're willing."

Laura Baines paused , then turned around. She had a look on her face that seemed close to offense. "Nobody's ever complained about the club before. What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing is wrong. It's no amp room, though," Chang said, a vague smile spreading across her lips. "It's fine, Laura. Your establishment is quite sufficient. But wouldn't you rather it was better than that?"

An owner's pride shone in the baseline's eyes. Every line, every table, every inch of Chromozone had been designed as Laura wanted it. "And if I say 'no'?"

Chang shrugged. "I hear the word 'no' and we part ways. I solemnly swear to hold no grudge. Still, you have sufficient. I'm offering amazing. You don't have to accept, of course. I'm going to make the art anyway, and I'll probably draw up the designs as well. If you don't want the art I'll just sell it for a couple of million dollars. Really, however it works out is irrelevant to me."

At the mention of selling the art and the money it could bring in, Laura seemed flabbergasted, as if selling it was the only option that made the slightest bit of sense to her, and the idea that Chang didn't care about the outcome was incomprehensible. "I don't get it."

"The question is not 'do you get it', it's 'do you want it'?"

"Well. Yes, I suppose."

"Art. Redecoration. One or both?"

"Start with the art. We'll see about the other one."

Chang nodded. "I'll contact you via OpNet when I've got something for you."

Laura passed over her OpNet ID - a business address of course - and then made her excuses.

Chang remained on the curb for a time, waiting for her senses to reallign completely. After ten minutes or so, she determined that she would need a good stretch of time, and decided to wander. Maybe the extra stimulus would help to provide a jumpstart.

She walked off into the night, the world a mass of faded colours and sounds, leavened by vivid feedback from her skin.

The balance would come eventually, but until then Chang intended to revel in these strange, unbalanced sensations. After all, no moment came twice, and one like this could not be allowed to go unremarked.

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5 xp spent to acquire the Analytic Taste/Touch enhancement
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