Gender Bending Entry #4 by Jackson Harris

Some of you have questioned whether we (the authors) are deliberately trying to trick you, so for the record:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have something lying around, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

Untitled Entry #4 by Jackson Harris

Chet hung his EVA suit up in his locker, checking over it to make sure there were no new signs of fraying. The far end of the locker room had a group of newbie passengers crowded around Brokedown Sal.

"Reliable." Sal nodded his head ominously. "That's what we all thought of Starky. When the dude missed last night's roll call, therewas more than panic, there was fear. Yousee..."

"Oh, what utter bullshit," Chet said. He slammed his locker door, holding a handstrap so the momentum wouldn't push him across the room. The clang echoed through the room. "You aren't going to start the newbs out on the station with a freaking' ghost story are you?"

One of the newbs had drifted free of his footholds and was pawing at the suit of a friend, trying to pull himself back down to the floor. The station wasn't zero g, but it was close enough this far in to the hub that it would take him a long ass time to fall back down.

Sal folded his arms the way he always did when he got stubborn. "Dude. Not a ghost story."

"Dude. Starky is in his bunk nursing a hangover." Chet said, pushing off. He aimed his long leaps for the door. "Teach your passengers how to hold on instead of trying to scare them."

He should not let Brokedown Sal get on his nerves. The man couldn't help being a chronic liar and it didn't interfere with his skills as a shuttle pilot, but still, it made Chet crazy. Especially when rotation put Sal in charge of giving newbs the tour. Chet hop-floated through the corridor until he got to the down tube. Snagging a rung, he started climbing down to the next level. He wanted some real gravity and a drink.

#

Crammed into a single room on level 4, the Sheltered Fish had tried to create the ambiance of a down-planet bar through a clever use of paint. If you didn't look too closely, the plasteel counter gave the impression of a fine oak grain and the ducting overhead could pass for brass. They'd painted the airlock dog wheels to look like giant gears so the whole thing almost, almost looked like it was a genuine steampunk bar.

Chet sidled up to the bar and ordered a wetpack of brandy. They couldn't do anything to disguise the serving containers. Even in the gravity portions of the station, everything came in low-grav packaging, just in case they lost spin. He hated drinking beer with a straw, so brandy had long ago become his drink of preference.

Drink in hand, Chet turned to see who else was holed up here. Across the room, Mbali stood at one of the bar tables talking to Gerhardt. Even from here, the way the slender black woman leaned back, arms crossed, obviously meant that she wanted to escape Gerhardt's company, but on a station with a population of 352, you couldn't risk alienating anyone. Not even a sixty-year old physicist who would hump a water line.

"Howdy, folks," Chet said, sliding between Mbali and Gerhardt as unobtrusively as he could.

Mbali latched onto him like a shuttle to a loading door. "Chet! Gerhardt was just telling me that Starky saw an alien last night."

"Been talking to Brokedown Sal, huh?" He sipped his brandy, trying to pretend that he could smell it.

Gerhardt shook his head. He said, "Heard it from Starky."

Chet squeezed the wetpack in surprise, spraying his drink in his face. "You're kidding me."

"Nope." Gerhardt put his hand on Chet's chin, delicately wiping the brandy off. He licked his fingers, smiling at Chet. "Come back to my bunk and I'll tell you all about it."

At least the man was equal opportunity. Chet exchanged glances with Mbali. "You know I wish I could, but seeing Mbali has reminded me that we need to prep for the influx of newbs. When you have time?"

"Now's good." Mbali said, pushing away from the table with a tad too much eagerness for subtlety.

Chet capped the straw on his drink and slid it into his pocket. "Great. Come on."

"Anything I can help with?" Gerhardt rested his hand on Mbali's shoulder. "You let me know." He just brushed her breast as he pulled his hand away.

She smiled tightly. "Great. Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

The moment they were in the corridor, Mbali let out her breath in a long string of curses. Chet raised his eyebrows appreciatively. "How many languages was that?"

"Six. If you count Middle English and Early Modern English as separate languages." She ran her hand over her cropped hair. "Which you should."

"I'll keep that in mind. That's the second time I've heard Starky's name today."

"Where've you been? It's all over the station."

"I was out doing EVA repairs on the solar panels for most of the morning. First I heard was from Brokedown Sal."

"Yeah, well, he's telling the truth for once. Probably. What did he say?"

"Just starting to tell a bunch of newbs that Starky didn't show last night."

Mbali's eyes lit up. "I'd forgotten they were coming on board today. Sam Brooke is supposed to be in this batch."

"And he is?"

"She. She is the other prog--"

A klaxon sounded and the hall jolted under them. Chet grabbed for a handrail, but inertia hurled him away before he could. Mbali grabbed his foot as gravity faded and died. Up and down the corridor, people cursed and shouted questions.

The intercom cut in with a buzz of static. "All hands. All hands. Unidentified boarders. Recommend full EVA gear. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill."

Mbali hauled him in so he could grab the handrail. He clenched it, palms sweating. "You said aliens?"