He woke to the noise of sparrows wrangling on the terrace outside of his sleeping room, the early morning clamour so loud there was no need for any alarm clock. Rubbing the grit from bleary eyes he heaved himself upright, only to agree with his bladder it was high time for a leak.
Still dog-tired in spite of what must have been several hours of sleep Straker stumbled into his bathroom. When had he finally gotten home? Before or after midnight? He could not remember, it had been more than a 36-hour shift anyway. He pushed up lid and seat, and with his other hand grasped ... at nothing!
It did not immediately make it into his conscious thought processes. He was way too beat for that. Instead he groped and searched for the one implement he knew was necessary to relieve the steadily and sharply rising need to empty himself, as if it were capable of hiding itself. Still nothing. In fact, more than just no cock, there were no balls either. His fingers found bushy hair, further down between his legs soft, empty folds and nothing else.
The shock was too much right then, he felt the control over his sphincter go with sudden finality. Instinctively Straker swivelled around, sitting down hard onto the cold porcelain, eyes wide and pulse racing, a steady stream splashing into the bowl below him.
Just how in the hell did this happen?
He groaned and ran a shaking hand across his face, trying to wake himself enough to gather coherent thoughts. Maybe he should simply go back to bed, sleep until he was not that tired anymore. Maybe then he would wake up to a normal world. Yes, he decided. He would do that. More sleep. It was just frayed nerves and exhaustion. That could happen. Nodding to himself he weaved back to his bed, slipped between the sheets and drifted off within seconds.
Two hours later the insistent buzz of the alarm clock woke him to what promised to become a sunny, warm day. Straker squinted into the bright light streaming into the sparsely furnished room and stretched. What a hell of a nightmare, he thought, remembering, and listened into his body, his complacency quickly fading. It still felt wrong. There still was something lacking. Something he was utterly accustomed to.
He could not quell the shivers which chased through him in the wake of a rush of fear so harsh it closed his throat. He inched an unsteady hand towards his genitals, not above noting how hairless his skin was under the tips of his fingers. Still no penis, where of rights there should have been one. Nor the weight of testicles between his thighs. As if the center of his physical being had suddenly gone.
Warmth rushed through his whole frame and produced a fine sweat on his skin. Female. He was inside a body which was female. Yet he knew beyond doubt that he should be male. Straker fought down the impulse to jump out of bed and hunt for a mirror. Instead he raised himself on his elbows and folded the duvet away, eyes closed and took a couple of deep breaths.
When he finally felt collected enough again to survey what had happened, how ever and whichever way, he looked down a narrow, slender frame not that much different from what he was used to.
He had been taut with fear inspite of his attempt at a calm, scientific stance, no sense negating that to himself. No one else was there to witness his distress. Yet on seeing that not really that much had changed in ways of basic looks, in how he identified with his own physique most of the initial rigidity left him. He sagged a little back onto the bed and simply, yet quite intensely, inspected himself.
The same spare built, a bit more delicate, but not that much, and to go by how he still filled the length of his bed he could not have lost much height. He lifted a hand in front of his eyes, turned it this way and that in close examination. The same elongated form, still looking capable of a hard grip, though more elegant and quite a bit narrower. The same short, no-nonsense nails however, well manicured and clean.
He swallowed and finally allowed his eyes to swivel to where he expected major differences, and yes, he had breasts. Sized merely a handful, on each side and he could not keep himself from touching them, from running his fingers over the soft flesh. It felt quite different from what he expected, undefined, vague even. Yet the skin under the tips of his fingers was as fragile and subtle as he remembered touching as a lover. If anything he was relieved that they were neither heavy, nor likely to distract him too much. Instead they felt ... natural for this slender, so similar body.
He trailed his hand down his belly, less muscled, hairless, but still flat and firm. His hips were broader by a small margin and differently angled, and there was - he could not deny it now - this mound, covered with hair coloured the same light blonde that he was used to, yet so different.
Feeling shy all of a sudden he sank back into his pillows, clenching his trembling hand to his chest. It was his own body after all, he thought. However, somehow things did not work like this. It took him another quarter of an hour before he had calmed himself enough to continue his exploration.
It had been a long time ago that he had touched a woman, and Mary had not liked being touched just there. There never had been much more than fleeting impressions when adjusting himself to entering her. Already the simple idea of any caressing or touching her genitals had been met with scorn. It was a sin after all. Not that he had still believed that, even at the time. But he had not gone past her wishes either. If she hated that, that was that and he had accepted it. If much later he had realized just how repressed and prudish they had been, it had been too late to do anything about it.
Thus it was with quite some trepidation that he pushed his hand down to meet the thick wiry hair. He had a fairly good idea of general anatomy, there were books and as a young fiancé and later as a husband he had read a few of them. Yet theory and practice were quite different things.
The skin under his fingers felt delicate, almost fragile and he sensed the touch, nerves reacting in a flutter as he pushed the tips of his fingers through that ample hair. However, these responses were not engendered in his hand, they fountained from within the flesh he was exploring. They travelled through his frame, pooling somewhere inside him, in a place he could not pinpoint and had no prior experience with.
Shocked he withdrew his hand. This was not what he had expected. More of a response than he had counted on, yet without the immediate arousal of the male body.
Intrigued he again stretched out his arm, pushed further downwards, and opening his thighs slightly, his fingers moving ever so gently, he examined himself in detail, spreading and tracing outer and inner folds. He was not prepared to do more than that, he suddenly found, unable to invade himself with as much as the tip of a finger. The thought sent another surge of blood through him, and turning shy again he could feel his face burn with another flush.
The alarm went off again, and with a start Straker realized he had been lost in self-exploration for over half an hour. Whatever he was, he had to leave bed. In fact, he was due at HQ by ten, which left him less than two hours to deal with this problem, one way or the other.
He swung his legs out of bed, and contemplated them. Not what he would have done on a normal morning. He still had the long scar down the inside of his thigh, from his bicycle accident, though for some reason it looked as if treated with much more care prior to healing. No whorls and puckered flesh anywhere, instead a long meander of suture dots with a fine, smooth line of scar tissue between them.
The legs themselves were as long as he was used to, only more shapely, and less hairy. The fine, ash-blonde down covering them was barely visible. Like his hands his feet were narrower, but still their basic size. Which was a relief he realized all of a sudden, because, though he had changed, the clothes he saw where he had draped them across the chair the evening before were what he had last worn as a man.
Straker resisted the urge to compute the unlikeliness of the situation he was in; instead he rose to head for the bathroom. As before he swayed, feeling as insecure on his feet as if on a ship in a rough sea, losing that weave only after he concentrated hard on what he was doing.
He kept his head down, careful to avoid the large bathroom mirror, and stepped into the shower. He was not yet prepared to look at this female body like that. Stark and under bright lights. The deluge, soaping up and washing himself, that was a soothing ritual which not even further contact with soft breasts and female genitals could mar. He discovered that his hair was just as short as it had been the night before, it had the same cut, only the texture was somewhat finer.
No sense in delaying this any more, he decided and closed the faucets, water sheeting off his body and collecting in soapy rivulets at his feet. He steeled himself as well as he could and walked over to the sink. Slowly he lifted his head and looked at himself.
It was not as bad as he had feared. He still recognized himself, even though the face that looked at him from out of that mirror was, like the rest of himself, unquestionably female. They were his features, like everything else. More delicate, refined. Even the vague androgynous ambivalence that had characterized his former, his male face, still was there, in different places. Suddenly his full lips were proper, just as the large, expressive eyes, arched brows and long lashes. Now it was the decisive, cleft chin, the cheekbones, the straight nose and his wide front which gave this female self a more than just subtle hint to the male.
Supporting himself, both hands on the cool porcelain of the sink, Straker sagged against it, relieved beyond measure that this was not some stranger he had to confront. It still was his own and unique self. Quite lost in these thoughts he picked up his razor, only to chuckle mirthlessly a moment later. No stubble to shave. That was a boon. He could not help grinning, and was startled by the flash of an even row of teeth. He approached the mirror, then peeled back his lips: yes, even teeth, as if he had worn the brace he had so rejected as a child. At the time the taunts had been too much, but the woman he now was must have been more compliant. He ran his tongue along the outside of his upper premolars, and it was a curious feeling to sense none of the crooked, canted teeth he had lived with all his life. So, not everything was exactly the same.
Straker took a fresh towel and dried his hair, then combed it in his usual style, though on the female he now was, it looked softer, different. His shoulders still were very broad, and spare, the breasts he somehow had acquired, firm for a 39 year-old woman, and pert.
The phone startled him out of his reverie, ringing with patent insistence and not something he had ever been able to ignore. He made for the nightside table in his sleeping room and picked up the receiver.
"Straker," he snapped, a splitsecond before becoming aware that his voice as well was female now. A deep, throaty contralto, but female nonetheless. For a short moment his stomach clenched and did a slow queasy roll, as he prepared himself for the assault of whoever was calling, possibly even detaching a security commando with such an unexpected female voice responding on his phone.
"Colonel Straker," Ms Ealand said in her usual unruffled and calm voice. "Sorry to disturb you, but Mr. Freeman asked to remind you to pick up the memorial badges he ordered for Sir Esmond's staff tonight. You still remember the address of the engraver in Slough, I take it?"
Straker blinked in surprise. Not only that Ms Ealand appeared to have expected his feminity, somehow his whole life appeared to have taken a step sideways. Why was she addressing him as Colonel? And why did Alec ask him to do what Colonel Lake had been scheduled to pick up? It had been her suggestion to use the shop in Slough.
Today was the most inopportune of days for something like this to happen, he thought, the most inopportune day any which way.
There was the bi-monthly staff meeting before noon, not just of SHADO's senior staff, but also including the IAC, and Mayland's ranking medical officers. Always an uncomfortable affair, and one likely to have dire consequences if things went wrong: cuts to the budget being the lesser evil, major shuffling of personnel he needed in HQ or on Moonbase had happened in the past and needed to be avoided.
And then there was the studio event this evening. The latest of Sir Esmond's documentaries had won a César, and there had been no way they could wriggle out of having the necessary festivity, with the full board of Alec, Foster and himself needing to show up at a party to which everybody who was anybody in British filmmaking had been invited. The badges would be handed over to all the department heads of the movie crew during a short ceremony.
"Yes," he answered, caution keeping him from questioning her. If anything Ms. Ealand always was on top of what she dealt with. He had no reason to doubt that somehow she had the right of it. "Yes, I will collect them on my way in."
"Great," Ms Ealand said. "Just bring them along to my office before your shift begins, Ma'am."
He grunted an affirmative into the phone and replaced the receiver, his thoughts racing. Something was not right. It was not just that he had woken up in a female body, more things were out of kilter than just that. Like his teeth being straight, or that Ms. Ealand treated him - differently.
It took him a moment, but then he realized that she had treated him like one of the line officers. She had not expected him to end up in her office the way he would have done as the Commander. In fact, she had addressed him as Colonel and she had never done that in all the years before.
He had to find out what was wrong with his life, he decided, his heart pounding again in his chest with unresolved dread. What else had changed?
For that he had to get dressed. He opened his wardrobe, which was filled with his suits, a neat row of sober shoes and boots, shirts and turtleneck sweaters. A couple of jeans he wore in his leisure time or for gardening. No female clothing at all of course.
Undergarments. First. He shied from the Y-fronts, but then found a stack of spandex boxer briefs without fly. The fit was sufficient, he thought with a wry smile, wondering whether he was the only female in the region wearing male underwear at that precise moment. There was nothing similar to a bra of course, but when he gave his shoulders a tentative roll, his newly acquired breasts did not indicate any need for one. So he chased down one of the tighter tank tops, which seemed up to the job of curbing free movement.
Finding a suit which did not look out of place was more difficult. In the end he decided on a dark grey jumper he had ceased wearing, because it had been a size too large lately. However, now, the wider hips filled it just right. He added a grey turtleneck in a lighter shade and shrugged into his charcoal suit jacket, the one which always had a bit slack across his chest and came down to his thighs. His ankle boots still fit, even though they felt roomier than normal.
He surveyed himself in the floor length mirror fronting his wardrobe. Nowhere near fashionable for a woman, but given his still rather spare, tall built the male clothes did not seem as awkward as he had feared. It would do. Yes, it would do alright - until he had come to an insight, or a solution, of this curious situation he was in.
The band of his wristwatch had to be shortened by two holes from what was the usual girth, and after a moment's reflection he put his wallet into the briefcase rather than his breastpocket.
He did not feel much like breakfast, a coffee later at work would be enough, given that he now had to detour to Slough. Palming the keys off his kitchen table he walked out to his car, finally adjusting to the change to his centre of gravity.
Outside it was a glorious day, the sun brilliant on a blue, wide sky with but occasional puffs of candyfloss clouds. The air fresh and clean and invested with a heady tang one normally could not find anywhere but close to the coast. A day like straight out of the mint. No wonder the birds had been that lively. What a pity he would have to spend most of it indoors.
The Saab needed a notch less on the seat, he discovered, another sign that this change had come overnight and rather suddenly. He pulled out onto the county road, and fed smoothly into the heavy traffic at the turnpike, his thoughts revolving around what had changed and what had not. By the time he passed the city limits of Slough he had gathered his wits enough to note on the fact that so far everything dead and physical was the way it had always been. He had male clothes and toilet items, nothing about the furniture had been changed, all those inanimate things were still geared to his former male body.
His brain also still held a male personality for some reason, whereas his body was female, even in how old injuries looked, and his secretary, or former secretary if he interpreted the way she had addressed him right, treated him as if he had been a woman all along. It irked Straker that there was no time to explore reasons and background of what had happened. He had never been someone to simply go along with things without analysing them, without finding a reason. And here his life had fundamentally changed and he was behaving more or less as if he were just along for the ride, the pressures of work and schedules keeping him from looking closer at what was happening to him.
Straker turned into the side street cutting across a minor gap in the oncoming traffic, only to be honked at loudly. He glanced into his mirror. The blunt snout of a white van obscured his rear window, the Transit all but shoving him, so close that he was unable to get a look at the driver.
He started scanning the curb, and located a free space not far from the engraver's shop, set the signals and turned, one arm along the back of the passenger seat, to reverse into it, only to discover that the van had pulled up too close for easy access. It took him three attempts before he made it without scratching anyone's paintworks, including his own, and he had to bite down hard on his temper by then.
It did not help that the young driver parked in second row right beside him the moment he had left his car and moved onto the pavement, nor that young man followed him, then sprinted ahead and held the door open, an insolent grin on his face. Irritated Straker scowled.
"Ta, luv, don't pull such an ugly face," the driver said, "once I break for a blonde, I get polite. We could see us some fun, eh?"
When Straker flashed angry eyes at him, the man's smile if anything deepened, flashing an even row of very white teeth. With a theatrical gesture he held the door wide open and ushered him in, then followed him into the shop. Straker felt the small hairs in the nape of his neck rise with his deepening aggravation.
The shop was old-fashioned, quaint in a way, with shelves and a counter straight out of Queen Victoria's times. Everything looked authentically old, used and in places polished clean by human touch. Between shelves an open door led towards a workshop with both modern and quite ancient machinery, a grey-haired man sitting at a lathe, concentrated on something he was polishing.
Another elderly man leaned against the counter spanning the width of the shop. He was talking to two visitors, who appeared more like fixtures of the shop than customers the way they answered him. The place bled testosterone from every nook and cranny, whether the no-nonsense tools filling the displays in the front of the shop or the bare, stark looks of the workshop, or what looked to be typical customers.
Straker would never have expected Colonel Lake to choose or even know such a small, antiquated firm, he'd have thought her precise engineer's bearing would have preferred one of the modern, laser-cutter equipped firms in London.
He also was uncomfortably aware of getting the once-over from four different pairs of eyes, all of them slowly crawling from his hairline down to his feet and back up, lingering in places he felt distinctly vulnerable having stared at. It was not even as if he had never been treated to close visual inspection, but it was definitely the first time he had the impression that he was meat on the slab and its class was being graded. He shuddered and pulled himself as straight as he could.
"How can I help you, ma'am?"
"I'm from Harlington-Straker, we ordered some engraved memorial badges," Straker said and pushed the order receipt across the counter.
"Ah yes," the old man said. "But that's for Harlington-Freeman, are you sure it's supposed to say Harlington-Straker?"
He closed his eyes. Of course. He breathed in deeply to calm himself. "My mistake, yes, Harlington-Freeman, my mistake," he answered. Someone in his back snickered. "If you please...?"
But the shop owner already was through the door and into the workshop, returning with a crate double the size of a shoe carton. He set it onto the table and opened the lid, extracted one of the badges and held them out for his inspection.
Straker needed but one glance to take in the consummate craftsmanship which had gone into cutting, engraving and mounting the badge. Everything was smooth, perfectly beveled, polished and satinised to perfection. It looked reputable and solid. Staid and worthy of the occasion. Lake had chosen perfectly. The substantial sum on the bill the man had laid out smoothly onto the counter along the crate's side, the right way around so he could read it, was earned.
Normally he would have handed over his own credit card, but one glance told him it still was made out to Ed Straker. For a split second he wondered what a reaction he'd garner using it, but something in the behaviour of the men around him made him reconsider. This was not the right place to test such things. Instead he dug into his wallet and came out with the studio card, which, though still carrying Harlington-Straker as company name, worked without problems when the man ran it through the slot.