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It was a small mob, just a few dozen young people with a smattering of other ages. Most of the young ones had that almost unbearably healthy look that told me they had recently gone through a sex gate. Leaning forward on the lounger in our media room, I watched as the events outside unfolded on the screen. Beside me, Rita reached for my hand.
"Why is this happening, Lee?" she asked. Her voice was level, but the guarded look in her eyes said she knew something was wrong, and it encompassed more than the mob gathering in front of our gate.
I shrugged, and tried to sound bored. "It seems that the news that we're Seconders has gotten out. We'll have to stay tight in here and ride out this demonstration."
She cast a stricken look at the wall screen where people shook raised fists at our entrance gate. "Why do they hate us?"
Hate wasn't something Rita understood despite her years of studying psychology. There was too much love in her heart. She couldn't grasp the anger and jealousy that surged through the excited mob. I tried to maintain a calm exterior, although I was plenty worried.
"It's a small demonstration -- probably bored Fourth Worlders with nothing to do, incited by the Church of the Gates' propaganda against Seconders. It'll turn out to be nothing."
Rita faced me with a frown. "You don't really believe that."
I rubbed my throbbing temples. "I get a sense that the pattern surrounding the sex gates is shifting, that's all."
For once, I hoped my gift of sensing patterns in unfolding events was wrong. The sex gates and the events triggered by their appearance had dominated our lives from the moment onematerialized in front of us years ago. We were inexorably linked to their fate.
Rita's hand gripped mine, and I knew she felt the same way.
This day had started like any other. The first sign that it would mark a turning point came around noon. As a compulsive news junkie I always have the wall screen tuned to at least one all-news station, and the computer is programmed to scan for items of interest. So it wasn't surprising when the program was interrupted.
A voice proclaimed, "We will take you live to breaking news in Ruston, Texas."
We live just a few miles outside of Ruston, so I watched with interest. The graphie on the screen dissolved, and the next thing I saw was the Ruston sex gate. Demonstrators were gathered in front of the glowing green arch. They had their arms linked and were chanting.
"Once is enough! Once is enough!"
It was fairly obvious they were there to stop someone from going through. I couldn't believe someone had been stupid enough to let it be known that they were going through the sex gate a second time. I watched a car pull up, and a young man hopped out. His spiky brown hair blew in the wind and his thin face blanched with fear as he eyed the crowd between him and the gate.
"That's Lisa Turner!" Rita exclaimed. "Or Larry Turner now. You remember. She was injured in a farm accident last week, and they rushed her through the gate to save her life."
I remembered. She was a seventeen-year-old who was fifty years away from even considering a trip through the gate until her accident. I wondered what made him desperate enough to risk the dangerous second trip through the gate. Surely, at his young age, he would find it easy to adjust to his new sex. As Lisa, now Larry, moved toward the gate the demonstrators closed ranks in front of the green arch.
The chant, "Once is enough!" grew louder.
The graphie broke into the feed with a voiceover to let us know that the pictures were coming from a spectator. He was filming an elderly relative who was going through the gate when the demonstration started. Seeing a chance to make some money off this unexpected turn of events, he was uploading his shots to the web via satellite.
Larry stopped, his fear of the angry crowd plain.
"He should leave and come back when they're gone," I said.
"I hear he's in love with Brad Mason." Trust Rita to be up on the latest gossip. "You know how earthshaking love is at seventeen. He must be desperate to turn back into a girl."
I had to smile. As usual, the sex gates were playing hob with someone's love life. Meanwhile, Larry had second thoughts. He backed away and jumped in the waiting car. The Texas dust flew as the car screeched away from the scene.
"Well, that's that," I said, but a sharp pain in my temples told me otherwise.
My gift of pattern analysis warned me that there was more to this demonstration than met the eye. I was not surprised to see the demonstrators turn from the gate in a disciplined group, and get back in their cars. Nor was I surprised when those cars showed up in front of our massive iron entrance gate ten minutes later. Now, Rita and I were trapped inside watching our gate through surveillance cameras, and wondering how these demonstrators had learned we were Seconders.
Outside, the hot Texas sun blazed out of a clear blue sky. I saw sweat beading the faces of the crowd milling around in front of the gate. More than ever, I was grateful for our state-of-the-art security system, and the thick walls surrounding our house.
After surviving a Gater attack on this very house several years ago, I'd spared no expense. This place was a fortress, and we kept enough supplies on hand to withstand a long siege. It was not only fortified and electrified, but also wired for sound and movement. It also warned intruders that it was a licensed militia residence, meaning that I, the homeowner, was allowed plenty of legal leeway to react violently to intruders.
I noticed that several of the young people out front walked in a slightly jerky, somewhat uncertain way on the uneven ground. I recognized the symptoms. They were adjusting to bodies that didn't move in the way the mind commanded.
The memories of my first passage through a sex gate are as vivid as ever, despite the numerous transformations I've gone through since then. I experienced an identical awkwardness after I was transformed from a man into a woman. As I staggered out after the change, my mind tried to operate my body in the same way it always had. But the body that responded to the brain's commands was now female.
The first thing I noticed was how top-heavy my body felt. I soon pinpointed the cause -- a pair of bouncing new breasts that threw everything off balance. My legs seemed out of place, too, attached to inordinately wide hips. When I tried to move my female body, nothing worked quite right. While I pride myself on the sexy sway I eventually developed, that first walk on my female legs was laughable. Women who go through the sex gate and become men experience similar problems in reverse. A lurching walk was a dead giveaway that someone was wearing a new body fresh from the sex gates.
The leaders of the mob unfurled a banner. The sight jarred me out of my memories. Rita wrapped a lock of her thick black hair around one of her fingers, an old nervous habit. Neither one of us said a word, but our minds touched. I slipped an arm around her, and drew her closer on the lounger. She caught her full lower lip between even white teeth and nibbled on it. Her dark eyes watched every movement on the screen while her face reflected her anxiety.
Outwardly there was nothing to cause so much alarm. The media room with the main wall screen was located in the center of the house. We were safe behind thick walls. The only mob sounds we heard came through the audio pickups. Moreover, the security system sent the video feed straight to the police station. I expected the local cops to appear at any moment.
Rita's nails dug into the muscles of my upper arm, and her voice was tense. "Shouldn't we call the chief and ask him to get them out of here?"
I turned away from the screen to reassure her, and was sidetracked by the sight of her long, tan legs in thigh-high white shorts. Her breathing was faster than normal, too, and her breasts, barely concealed by her silkskin blouse, rose and fell in a distracting way. She gripped my arm harder, her nails digging in, and my mind came back to our problem.
"I'm sure help is already on the way. In the meantime, let's see what they want."
I wasn't too worried. People who have passed through a sex gate might look young and immature, but they are fairly responsible individuals. Their youthful appearance is deceptive. Because of the risks involved, not to mention the sex change, most people put off going through the gates until they are old and sick and the gate is their only chance at life. When they emerge they are young again -- most people look about eighteen years old. And they are a different sex, of course. But they still possess their memories. They can call on the maturity and wisdom they developed over a long life.
Besides, the gates themselves cull the herd, so to speak. Not everyone who goes in comes out -- some vanish. No one knows where. It's part of the risk of going through. The corollary is that the people who emerge seem to belong to the more stable portion of society. Extensive studies have shown those who vanish are undesirables in one way or another -- too old or sick perhaps for the regeneration process, or defective in some way that produced criminal behavior or an unalterably rigid belief system.
Still, that didn't mean I was relaxed about the mob outside. Despite the Fourth World appearance of the demonstrators I suspected the event was highly organized. Someone had found out about Larry Turner's intention to try the gate a second time and used that as an excuse to bring demonstrators to Ruston, all with the object of moving on to our house. Someone wanted to expose us as Seconders on the tabwebs that were carrying a broadcast of the event.
A car drove up to our front gate and a trunk popped open. Inside was a pile of signs. A tall man handed them out. A young woman thrust one in front of one of the cameras mounted on the outer walls surrounding my family homestead. It read: SECONDERS ARE THE DEVIL'S SPAWN.
A couple of people grabbed the iron bars and tried to pull the gate open. The gates rattled, but I had no fear that the lock would give, and no fear that the mob could force it open. It was made of a super-strong alloy. It would hold.
I gave Rita a reassuring squeeze. This was our home. I was proud that my preparations were keeping it safe from this unprovoked attack.
Originally, the house had belonged to my grandfather. It was located in a grove of piney woods a few miles outside of Ruston. I was the homeowner of record now that my parents -- young again after their own sex change -- were back in the military. Years ago, I remodeled the house to accommodate our new family, but it was forlornly empty except for the two of us. Maybe we should have been frightened -- the two of us alone -- but I didn't expect the demonstrators to become violent. They were the frightened ones, people who wanted answers to troubling questions about the sex gates. Unfortunately, we couldn't provide those answers, even if we wanted to.
Rita laid her head on my shoulder. Her liquid black eyes were filled with the compassion that was as much a part of her as her breathing.
"Jackson Lee Stuart, you know what they want."
By her use of my full name I knew that she was in a serious mood.
"Yes." I couldn't help sharing her sadness as I watched two men hold a banner high. "They want what they can't have."
I spotted another sign printed in red block letters against a black background. The two women holding it were wearing ersatz Fourth World jumpsuits. That told me they weren't really Fourth Worlders. I've never seen a clean Fourth Worlder jumpsuit with creases. Their banner read: SECONDERS! REVEAL YOUR SECRETS!
I understood why they felt the way they did. Most of the people in the mob had gone through a gate through necessity, rather than choice. Because of the risk of vanishing, only the old, those with incurable illness, or bodies broken by accidents were willing to take the chance. Of course, with society in chaos, there are always those who are tossed through by rival gangs or competitors of one ilk or another. A trip through the sex gates is even considered a punishment for male criminals in certain countries. But most of the people in these last two categories vanished when they went into the gate anyway.
Given the choice, the majority of those who survived the first trip would love to go through a second time and come out with bodies of their original gender. But the second trip through a gate is more risky than the first. The first time, you have a pretty good chance of coming out, but the second time chances are about a million to one that you will vanish.
Yet a handful of people do succeed -- people like Rita and me. We are called Seconders. It is not a term of endearment. The world resents those who can come to the table for seconds while they are denied that same privilege. Some of them resent us so much they want to forbid a second trip through to everyone.
Seconders have the enviable ability to pass back and forth through the gates at will, changing sexes each time. This means we are theoretically immortal -- when we grow old or sick we can replace our ailing bodies with a brand-new model by going through the gate again. That alone would be enough to make lesser mortals hate us. But passing through a gate the second time brings other changes as well. Changes we Seconders are careful to keep secret. Of these, the most important is that our mental capabilities expand with each trip -- a process we are still trying to understand.
Outside, the demonstrators shouted and shook their fists. Most of them were convinced there was a trick to successfully making successive passages, a trick that we Seconders selfishly kept to ourselves. That made us evil in their eyes. If such a secret did exist, it would be extremely valuable. The wealthy would gladly sacrifice a fortune to gain effective immortality. And to make that immortality fun, you could change your sex whenever you got bored and enjoy swinging both ways. For a Seconder, it was as easy as walking through one of the ubiquitous sex gates. But there was no secret to sell, and nothing we could tell this mob would appease it. Neither Rita nor I had any idea why we could pass through the gates safely while others vanished if they made the attempt.
She jerked her head up from my shoulder and looked around. I caught the touch of fear in her mind. Although I was sure we were safe, I pulled her tighter against me and voice-activated my computer, disguised as a gold sand dollar pendant hanging from my neck. But before I could connect to the police station, the big red cruiser pulled up outside. It was an old gasoline-powered vehicle, but heavily armed and armored, as most official cars are these days.
I let out a breath and relaxed. Unless those kids were carrying concealed weapons, the police would disperse the mob. There weren't going to be any nasty confrontations.
I should have been more alert, but I felt safe. These were my stomping grounds. Ruston was a rural town in East Texas, not Houston proper or what was left of L.A. Between global warming, rising oceans, and the social chaos brought by the gates, most big cities were dangerous. But in Ruston, I was a local boy. It was hard to believe anyone would harm me here. The townspeople hadn't shown much resentment toward us for being Seconders -- at least so far. These demonstrators had to be out-of-towners brought in by some pressure group. I wondered which it might be, though it really didn't matter. There have always been groups and cults who oppose those they consider outsiders. They are usually driven by a few demented individuals who think they have the answers to all the evils in the world.
Rita beamed at the screen, pleased to see the police car. Then she wrapped her arms around my neck. She was in a mood to celebrate now.
"Kiss me," she breathed.
I didn't have to be asked twice. I leaned forward and the fresh scent of her lustrous hair filled my nostrils. Her sweet, full lips made a pleasant target. As my mouth touched hers the mounting sensual hum of her thoughts was interrupted by a flash of annoyed tolerance. The curve of her breast had touched the butt end of my little handgun, the one I kept concealed in the side pocket of my jirt. Rita didn't approve of weapons.
I twined an amused appreciation of her tolerance around her thought. I loved the way our minds interplayed since we'd become Seconders. Even if it was only surface thoughts -- passing emotions really -- we were so close it felt like mind-reading. She moved her upper body, shrugging the bulge of the gun out of her way. Our kiss deepened. As my eyelids drifted shut, a bright explosion flared on the screen and blotted out any further thought of making love.
Rita tore herself from our embrace. On the screen, metal rained through the air as the police cruiser settled back down on its base. It no longer had wheels and the interior was enveloped in flame. Both of us leapt to our feet. Bodies in the cab were twitching and jerking. Then the gas tank went with a huge roar, and all we could see was a tower of twisting fire and smoke.
"Oh, my god, no!" Rita screamed.
My first thought was to protect her. Her first thought was to help the men caught in the explosion. I grabbed the back of her blouse as she ran for the front door. She struggled from my grip, desperate to see if she could help those still alive around the cauldron of the cruiser's remains.
The delicate silkskin fabric of her blouse ripped down the back. As she whirled around her eyes flashed with anger, and the remnants of the material slipped down, baring most of her breasts. I grabbed her upper arms and held on. She wriggled for a moment, and then shivered in my arms as I forced a thought into her mind. At the same time, I said it aloud.
"That was a missile! Those demonstrators didn't plan that! Another one could hit at any moment."
Copyright © 2003 Darrell Bain and Jeanine Berry
Posted July 17, 2003
The sequel to my favorite book - The sex gates, is just as awe-inspiring as the first! With writers like these creating stories like this, I need never watch television or film ever again! This book continus on from the first is in an almost seamless manner, that makes this series, one of the best. My praises to the writers! - Whom I have emailed my thanks to!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 15, 2012
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Posted October 1, 2010
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