The next day, after we got home from church and lunch (we usually ate out after church), I checked the news to see if anybody had learned anything more about those machines. And there was almost nothing. None of the major news outlets were reporting on them, only a couple of tabloids. Our local newspaper’s website had a short article about sheriff’s deputies fencing off an illegally installed, unsafe vending machine at the library, and that the county would be filing charges against the manufacturer when they were identified — but nothing about the fact that it was a transformation booth with technology decades or centuries too advanced for us.
The people on the new /r/vennmachines subreddit were talking about a government conspiracy to cover the things up, which seems pretty plausible — the claim that none of the reputable news outlets thought the stories were plausible enough to investigate doesn’t hold up. On the other hand, nobody made any attempt to censor the forum or social media posts about the machines, either.
Over a hundred of the machines had popped up in small towns like ours all over the world, and nearly all had been cordoned off by the authorities by the end of the day Saturday. And what’s more, some of the first transformations had worn off, the people who’d pressed the icons we now know to represent a third of a day, or a day, having changed back to their normal selves when the time expired. That strengthened the theories people had put forward on Saturday about the meanings of those Earth, Moon, and Sun icons.
So, I figured, if I broke into our machine at night and got Sophia or Andrew to change me into a girl, I’d have to do it again a year later, and a year after that... We didn’t know yet that you could press the duration icon you picked up to three times.
People on the trans teens chatroom I frequented were talking excitedly about the machines, too; none of the regulars had been lucky enough to get access to one of them before the authorities closed them off, but some of the older members were already talking about driving as far as necessary and getting past whatever security the local authorities had set up to use them.
Monday morning, Caleb gave me and Sophia a ride to school as usual. We took the bus home on days when he had football practice after school. I didn’t have homeroom with Andrew or Evan, but I did share my first class of the day (Biology) with Andrew, and he wasn’t there when class started. He arrived about twenty minutes into class and handed a note to Mr. Collins, who stared at him in astonishment for a moment and then said, “Ah... be seated, Mr. Patton. — As I was saying, eukaryotes aren’t just a kind of single-celled life; fungi, plants and animals are also eukaryotes...”
I didn’t get a chance to talk to him until after class, and then only for a couple of minutes, because we needed to go in different directions for our next classes. “Why’d you get here late?” I asked him.
“Trying to prove to the school administration who I was,” he said. “It was a lot harder than convincing Mom and Dad. Evan and his mom were there, too. I wish we’d exchanged phone numbers with the other people who were there when we transformed, but oh well... I finally suggested they call the library and talk to some of the librarians who changed, or saw people change, and they did, and finally let me attend classes as myself provisionally until they have more evidence.”
By lunchtime, there were rumors going around school about Andrew and Evan. Evan joined Andrew and me for lunch, as did his closest friends, who usually sat with him at another table.
“Convincing the admin and the teachers that I’m me was a hassle,” Andrew said as we dug into the cafeteria’s approximation of food, “but it’s been worth it. You had any girls notice you who didn’t before, Evan?”
“At least four,” he said with a cocky grin. “How about you?”
As Andrew listed the girls he’d caught staring at him and whispering about him, and the girls who’d actually come up and talked to him between classes, I silently wished I were one of those girls. Before long, we had other people coming over to our table to talk with Andrew and Evan — girls who didn’t know who they were but saw we had a couple of hot new guys, people who’d heard the rumors about their transformations and wanted to know if they were true, people who wanted to get rocking new bods for themselves and were disappointed to hear how the Sheriff’s Department had fenced off the weird machine at the library.
But Tuesday morning, half a dozen other students and one teacher showed up changed. Some just better-looking versions of themselves, but a couple had weirder changes: there was a guy with ears like an elf or Vulcan and a girl with green skin she said was photosynthetic. And they told us that a new machine, just like the first, had shown up outside the library — just on the opposite side of the front doors.
“Hey,” Andrew said to me, “that’s great news! Let’s get you over there right after school, before the sheriff’s deputies fence that one off too.”
“They’ve probably already done it by now,” I said, trying not to get my hopes up even while my heart pounded at the thought of finally getting the body I needed — and the prospect of telling Andrew what I wanted him to change me into. “But yeah, let’s go over there as soon as we can, just in case.”
Andrew didn’t have a new cellphone yet, but he borrowed a phone from Evan’s friend Ian to call his dad. He asked if he could ride home with me and get a ride home later, but no dice. Caleb didn’t have football practice, so Sophia and I rode home with him. I told them what I’d heard about the kids who’d transformed with the newly-appeared machine.
“Yeah, some of them are in my classes,” Caleb said. “I’d kind of like to try it out, but I’d better check with the coach first. I’ll bet once the athletic association finds out about that thing, they probably won’t let anyone who’s used it play. Seems like cheating, kind of like steroids.”
“And there’s that lady who got turned into a doll!” Sophia exclaimed. “Don’t, Tyler! It’s dangerous!”
“That reminds me,” I said. “I forgot to ask Andrew if he knew what happened to that doll-lady. Did the sheriff’s deputies take her away or did her friend turn her over to her relatives to bury, or what?”
“Way to be morbid, Tyler,” Caleb commented, and I realized I was freaking Sophia out, so I shut up.
After the way Sophia had reacted when I mentioned the machine, I didn’t think I wanted to try to talk her into going to the library and changing me that afternoon. And Andrew’s parents wouldn’t let him come over again until Friday, at the earliest. So I bided my time; I figured if the sheriff’s department hadn’t fenced off the new machine by now, they probably wouldn’t do it before the weekend, either. Or they would, and whoever was making and installing those machines would put in another one, at the library or somewhere else in town.
But since the prospect of getting my new body had come closer, my intermittent dysphoria had gotten worse. Looking down as I peed or showered and knowing I could be rid of that thing so quickly and easily, without needing a letter from a psychologist or tens of thousands of dollars or my parents' permission... that made it harder to bear. All I needed was to trust someone. I couldn’t wait until the weekend. Wednesday afternoon, after I’d helped Sophia with her English homework, I said: “Can I tell you something and ask you not to tell Mom and Dad or Caleb?”
“Of course,” she said. “Do you need me to help you find out if a girl you like likes you or something?”
I smiled wanly. “No, that’s not it. It’s really important that you don’t tell anybody. It’s not something bad, but Dad would think it is, and I think probably Mom too...”
Her eyes went wide. “Are you gay? Like Austin Hoffman?” He wasn’t the only out gay guy at our school, but he was probably the best known — a track star who’d gone to state competitions two years in a row.
“Not exactly. Do you know what ‘transgender’ means?”
She nodded. “So you want to be a girl...? Oh! You want me to go to that machine at the library with you and change you, don’t you?”
I started to say something, but she kept going.
“But what if it turns you into a doll or something instead? You’d be dead and it would be my fault! I’d go to jail, but that wouldn’t be the worst part, it would be losing my favorite brother!”
“Listen, it’s okay,” I said. “People have been figuring out more about how they work. There was a guy in Fort Dodge, Iowa that got turned into a little plastic figurine of a dwarf a couple of days ago, and everybody thought he was dead, like the woman here who changed into a doll. But then yesterday he suddenly changed back into himself, like a lot of other people have done. I’m sure the woman who changed into a doll is going to change back, too — after a month or a year, whichever button she or her friend pushed, or maybe sooner if whoever has her puts her in the machine again and goes in the other booth to change her back. And you can do that, too; if you accidentally change me into the wrong thing — if you make me a pretty boy or a grown woman or a kitten or a doll, we can just go back in the machine and you can change me again and again until you get it right. A girl the same age as me, who looks like she’s your big sister.” My eyes were tearing up as I visualized what I hoped to look like. “Please?”
“Okay,” she started, but then she said: “How do you know all that stuff about the plastic figurine changing back into a guy is true? It’s just people talking on the Internet.”
“Yeah, but that’s the only source for this stuff, because the government won’t let the media cover it.”
“I guess,” she said. “I’d feel safer if we’d heard it directly from somebody we knew.” Her eyes lit up. “Oh, we can be scientific about it! We can get a mouse at the pet store and turn it into a catnip mouse or something and wait and see if it turns back —”
“Unfortunately, no,” I said. “A couple of people have tried transforming animals, and it doesn’t work.”
“Do you believe everything people say on the Internet? Scientists are supposed to check each other’s results, like trying to do the same experiment other scientists did and see if they get the same results.” She was better at science classes than me.
“You’re right,” I said. “Let’s do that. But I think we can test it cheaper than buying a mouse at the pet store.”
You can find my earlier ebook novels and short fiction collection here: