The Improbable Tale of Colonel Reginald Leyton-Smyth (ret) (Mrs)

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The Improbable Tale of Colonel Reginald Leyton-Smyth (ret) (Mrs)

By Aardvark

Colonel Reginald Leyton-Smyth sat up, erect and still in the rickshaw under the noonday sun, as the driver navigated the way through the noisy street. Under his crimson coat trickled lines of sweat, which he refused to acknowledge. To do more than unbutton his collar, which he had already done, would be a sign of weakness before the locals. At fifty, his hair was solid gray. Tall, with a resolute chin and uncompromising mustache, he cut an impressive profile. As an English officer, he could bloody-well sit and swelter for as long as required.

It would have been easier, however, if his new interpreter and guide, Ananda, did not walk alongside the rickshaw under the same burning orb with all the ease of a spring stroll in Piccadilly Square.

Bombay was not London, and Indians were not English. He granted that it was logical that a man should wear baggy dun pants, light blouse, and a turban to protect himself from the sun. Most of the laborers on the crowded street were similarly attired. The women, too, seemed comfortable enough in bright saris and loose, layered dresses.

Well and good. Further, after years on the sub-continent, he would admit that many Indians, as individuals, possessed superb qualities. Yet, the way they moved, leisurely, paced, and totally removed from the strict demands of Queen and Empire, set his teeth on edge. A proper society was based on discipline and correct behavior. Advancing civilization, it seemed, was to be a burden borne by the British.

And Bombay in the summer was insufferable. Lately, even the nights were barely tolerable. Naturally, as an English officer and representative of the Crown, he could hardly complain about that to a local..

"Confound it!" he muttered before he could stop himself.

"Yes, Sahib?" Ananda looked up, and managed to bow, smile, and walk at the same time.

Reginald glanced over and down, wondering if this sunny countenance was the guide's way of making light.

He brushed his mustache and tapped his hat precisely with the baton. "I'd like to see something new. The Track, Bar, and Gymkhana are stimulating diversions, but not adequate fodder for the imagination."

Ananda smiled, believing he understood. "Ah! Sahib, there are lovely ladies on Falkland Road."

Reginald frowned. "I am a married man, and even if I were not, it is not the place for a proper gentleman at all."

"A delightful view, then. The Sahib might consider a drive along the Back Bay. At night..."

"No." He sighed, deciding to admit at least part of it. "What I would like is to visit a fine establishment or locale, cool, and out of the sun."

"The Flora Fountains are nice."

He dismissed it with a wave of the baton. "A man who dallies at fountains is effeminate."

"The Hanging Gardens are beloved by the British, and lovely ladies – high quality -- are often..."

"Ananda, I told you, I am not interested in women!" He instantly regretted his outburst, as several of the locals looked at him strangely.

Damnation. It must be the heat.

The guide was barely nonplussed. "Malabar Hill has an amazing temple. Oh, Sahib!" he said, brightening. "Let me tell you a true story about the old temple. When the three goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi..."

"Spare me your tall tales of the so-called Gods and Goddesses. I'm an enlightened gentleman and won't pretend to be awed by them. Besides, I've been there. That temple has a certain charm, and the statuary, with its twisted limbs and placid faces is interesting, but it is not cool enough."

Ananda muttered something that ended in something like "ass."

"Eh? Speak up. What did you say?"

The slim brown man abruptly revealed a set of brilliant white teeth. "Oh, I told myself that the Sahib has class."

Reginald leaned back again, suspicious but not willing to press the point. "Ah, yes – thank you. Well, keep thinking. Somewhere on the seven islands of Bombay there must be a place I haven't been to where a man may be comfortable in this weather."

Ananda thought for a moment. "There is a place I know, not a part of Bombay, exactly, but not far. A cave on an island less than an hour from here."

"A cave?" Reginald exclaimed, imbuing the word with bat guano.

"Oh, no, Sahib! It is a pleasant place on the water. Cool and dark, it is a cavern with carvings of, well..." He stopped, not wanting to remind him of the Gods and Goddesses he had just disdained. The Sahib, although flawed, wasn't really a bad man, and he paid better than most. "Tucked away in niches and coves are statues and carvings aplenty, arranged for the eye's pleasure. The cave is unique and not to be missed! If you desire, I could arrange a boat tomorrow afternoon."

It seemed like a lot of bother just for a brief span of relief, but the thought of enduring another day of sweltering decided it, and it did sound intriguing. "Very well, as long as the fare is reasonable." Reginald rested his hand on the small box wrapped in a neat red bow. Lucy's taste for gold and jewelry was costing him more than he liked to admit.

***

Three of the old crew, through incredible luck, found themselves together on Gis. Maya discovered the coincidence and arranged for them to meet. The lounge, in sunset now, was, for the moment, transparent. Under the pale yellow sky of methane and sulfur compounds stood the copper-based trees and blue flora that distinguished the planet from others in the sector.

"It would be like coming home, home," said Maya, a slender, bright being. Her shifting garments were speckled red, an indication of her excitement. "Oh, remember, remember! It was a glorious game, and like all the best games, we enjoyed ourselves and hurt no one. I'm sure that we improved the local species."

"I remember it somewhat differently," replied her friend, Shiva. More dour now in his male phase, he was not so enthusiastic. One of his four arms lifted a drink in Maya's direction. "As the engineer, I was responsible for repairing the ship. I recall a hundred years of searching for ore, and then centuries of refining and manufacturing. When we left, despite your assistance, I was in dire need of rejuvenation."

"You were not alone, nor were you always so preoccupied," breathed the third being, Shakti. She was a female of the Verge. Excellent traders, they were graceful bipeds known for their ability to bond. "You and I were lovers once. To me, it was not a lost millennium or misfortune, but one of unique growth and stimulation. Who can say who we might have been without it? I am gratified to be me, and pleased to see you both as you are." She touched Shiva's neck with two fingers on an erotic place to show that she had not forgotten him.

Maya extended her arms and brought her hands together under her chin, an appeal for universal agreement. "Friends, I asked you here that we might return to that planet. We have the time, and I, for one, am curious to see it again. Will they remember us, and, if they do, how? How?"

They left that evening in a shuttle. The familiar blue ball brought back bittersweet memories. The world had changed almost beyond imagining, but, to their delight, they discovered that the passage of time hadn't erased their onetime presence. New temples had replaced the old, but their faces and aspects existed past any of their expectations. They landed on the the old soil, breathed the familiar fragrance of Earth, and sent out probes to various temples to hear what the descendants of those they had known thousands of years before were saying.

Maya, especially, was entranced:

Listen, dear friends, listen!

***

As such affairs occasionally progress among men who have measured themselves under fire, one story of courage became another, until the essence was sought.

"The measure of a man," Major Moore declared, "is his strength, his will." He raised a pint in his powerful sun-browned hand.

Major Cobb, the more stolid and senior of the three Majors, shook his head, declining to accept his toast. "No, sir. I cannot agree. You may as well describe a charging elephant. A man's gifts may vary; he is nothing without character."

Major Cuthbert laughed. The blond officer had a reputation away from the fort, and his words were predictable. "What you say is true, but you spare the heart of it. A man is his physical 'capacity,' and I defy you to convince a woman otherwise."

Colonel Leyton-Smyth looked askance and snorted. "Folderol."

Cuthbert turned to him, surprised. "Sir, you disagree?"

Reginald regarded him with a firm gaze, then expanded it to encompass them all. "You attempt to describe a magnificent work-of-art with words. It can't be done." He thrust out his hand. "Behold, a man, distinct and yet, beyond measure. Look at him, gentlemen! The appearance of a woman defines her: mammalian and soft, nature has equipped her with a gentle spirit to match. The man, by contrast, is strong, dominant, and aggressive. The inner man is, by and large, the expression of the outer, and the Englishman is the finest of the lot."

"Well said, sir." Major Cuthbert said with open admiration. He raised his glass. The others followed in unison, and all drank the ale with manly gusto.

The Colonel wiped his mustache. After consulting his pocket watch, he rose to his feet and brushed his coat immaculate. "Major Cobb, I leave the regiment in your hands until I return tonight. Good afternoon, gentlemen." With that he left the Officer's Bar. Ananda was already outside with the rickshaw, and together, they rode and jogged to the small cove below Malabar Point.

After paying a dozen rupees to the boatman, they left the tiny harbor. The boatman maintained a steady stroke, and the slender craft cut a swift passage through the waves, thankfully low that afternoon. As they rounded the island, the opening to the cave came into sight.

Ananda pointed to the torches just inside and to a minor temple atop the rock. "The Brahmans maintain a small presence here, but, as long as we do not touch anything, we are free to explore and worship as we desire."

The Colonel nodded, impressed. "I must admit that I've never seen the like."

The boatman rowed slowly through the entrance, the oars dipping softly. Darkness and reverence discouraged conversation, and the only sounds were the waves lapping the inner walls. Reginald inhaled the salty air; it was humid, and the rock walls oozed slickness in the faint light, but it was cooler, delightfully so, as much as ten degrees. Rounding the first corner, a pair of torches lit the first scene. A blue being with four arms sat upon a coiled snake, a woman in bright headdress massaging his feet.

Ananda leaned close to catch the Colonel's ear. "Sahib, this is Vishnu, with Lakshmi, his consort, attending him. He is the protector of creation. He is filled with goodness and mercy, and maintains the cosmic order, Dharma."

The Colonel let him go on even though he was already aware of the story and basic principles. One could not be an effective administrator in India without knowing something of the local customs. He simply did not believe a word of it.

He shuddered as an odd sensation settled between his shoulder blades. The admittedly magnificent carvings seemed, for the briefest moment, to spring into life. He rejected it instantly. It must be a trick of the light.

New delights appeared round every turn. Then, when the tunnel brightened and the end was in sight, the last marvelous vignette appeared. The Colonel simply could not help himself, and laughed.

This was the Ardhanarisvara, Shiva's hermaphroditic form, half male and half female.

Ananda, furious at his disrespect, nearly said something that would have cost him his job. Just in time, he reflected on the British: their society, the laced-up women, and peculiar customs. He grew saddened. The Sahib did not understand, and likely never would.

Unknown to either, although vaguely felt by both, other presences hovered over the scene:

Oh, the arrogance, Shiva. This was one of your aspects.

Hardly a crime, Maya. The race is young, and this one's ancestors were scrounging in the northern forests when we were here last.

Not a crime, but the red one is begging for instruction. See how the smaller one pities him. See. See.

If anyone should be offended, it is I. I think this is the beginning of one of your games.

It has been so long. So long. I would not hurt the being.

I'm inclined to stay the course fate has set for him, but I'm willing to let the majority decide. What do you say, Shakti?

My bond love of the moment, as soon as Maya spoke, another path opened for the one in red. He is poised to travel either road. I prefer the one Maya is preparing.

My dear, that is metaphysical sophistry. By that definition, anytime Maya goes gaming with primitives, "fate" is altered, but I will accept your decision.

Oh, the game is on! This will be fun. Fun.

Colonel Leyton-Smyth slapped the back of his neck. He thought nothing of it – just another blasted biting insect in a hot and muggy land.

At five-thirty, to the sound of Revelie, the Colonel rolled out of bed in his home in posh Breech Candy. It was like any other morning. He stretched, scratched, and filled the basin with water. After ablutions, he whipped up a lather and dragged the straight razor across his face. Shaving seemed easier than usual, but he thought nothing of it.

At mess with the other officers, he discovered he wasn't hungry. Again, he thought little of it; he felt strong and well. At supper, when he still didn't feel like eating, he began to worry.

The next day, his trousers fit loosely around the waist, and he didn't need to shave at all. Concerned now, he forced himself to eat. Then, after breakfast, Major Cobb met up with his superior outside.

"Sir, I didn't want to mention this around the other men..." He hesitated.

"Yes?" the Colonel replied, although he had an inkling what he was going to say; he was losing weight.

"It's your hair, sir. None of my business, but have you noticed that your hair is growing in black?"

"What? My hair has been gray for years. You know that."

"Yes, sir." Cobb saluted and walked away, leaving Reginald staring.

He strode angrily to the lavatory. Although Major Cobb wasn't known to be a jester, he was nearly certain that he had to be mistaken, but the evidence was clear to see. Even the thinning areas seemed affected, renewing growth where none had grown for a decade or more.

"My God," he muttered. "What in blazes..."

He held off until the afternoon, determined to supervise drill, and reported to the Regimental Surgeon immediately afterwards.

"Colonel, this is serious," Doctor Geddings said, from the hang-dog lines in his face, meaning every word. "Whatever it is, it is advanced. You should have come to me before now."

"Advanced? I just noticed a loss of appetite two days ago. Jack, what is it?"

"How much do you weigh, Reginald?"

"You know as well as I -- until lately, I dare say. I've weighed precisely fifteen stone for years."

"You are now fourteen stone four, two hundred pounds even. You've lost ten pounds and, according to my records, you've also lost an inch of your height."

"Nonsense. Impossible!"

"I'm inclined to agree. My records must be off. Only a degenerative disease could cause that, and I've seen no trace of it. As for the rest, it could be a chemical imbalance or something you've been ingesting. But otherwise you seem as healthy as the mule you've always been."

"Seem?"

Doctor Geddings paused, and then just said it: "It could be a cancer. I don't like this weight loss one bit. Reginald, you must return to see me tomorrow."

The next day, despite forcing himself to eat every meal, he had lost three more pounds and another half-inch. Doctor Geddings sent him to three specialists in Bombay.

It was fruitless. After a battery of tests, they had no idea what it was, only that he continued to lose weight and height. Reginald had told no one, had barely believed it himself, but there had been further changes. He had his uniform re-tailored and boot heels heightened, and still appeared at morning drills from afar, so the men could see him, but his command was aware, from subtle changes in his face, that something was wrong. Fearing contagion from whatever it was, they avoided him.

Doctor Geddings discovered the rest of it as soon as his shirt and pants were off.

"Reginald, you are growing ..."

The Colonel squirmed on the examination table and gritted his teeth. "Do not say another word, Doctor! I forbid it."

"... breasts."

"Damn!"

"I'm sorry. Some men do, you know. It's just that there is nothing in medical science to explain this – the speed of it is quite simply unheard of. Then there is the matter of your bum, your developing posterior, as it were."

Reginald sagged. "I'm aware that it has expanded. I had hoped that the matter would be resolved by now."

"I think you should know that others have noticed. The men, well, they call you 'Colonel Pretty.' Perhaps it would be best if you remained in your home for a time."

"'Colonel Pretty'? They called me that?" Reginald bounded to his feet and paced, furious and shaking his fist, which wasn't quite as large as it was the week before. "I'm not giving up my command, Doctor. My bum is larger; I am growing breasts; my equipment is, well, diminished; I may look as much like a dolly as a man, but that is what I am. I can still pull my weight, and..." He stopped and grabbed his throat. His voice had just shot up an octave. "Oh, come on!" he cried out to the heavens, his voice breaking again.

Doctor Geddings put his arm on his shoulder. "Reginald, go home. I'll see you every day until this stops. I am convinced that this is somehow benign, and I'm sure that you aren't contagious. There is a bright side, you know. You look at least fifteen years younger. Some would pay a million pounds to be 'ill' with whatever you have."

"Ha! Women, Doctor, women. For a man, I'm too feminine by half." He removed the doctor's arm from his shoulder, which seemed too familiar.

Two days later, the doctor could only report further regression. Reginald had lost an additional five pounds and another inch, which made him five feet nine and ten stone, a loss of a third his body weight, and certainly none from his breasts, which continued to grow at an alarming rate.

In desperation to get out and about and not be recognized, he had a pair of civilian trousers made to his specifications, bound up his breasts, and sent for Ananda. By now, he looked little like his former self. He decided that he would pretend to be Reginald's younger brother.

Ananda arrived in mid-afternoon. Reginald opened the door and spoke in his best low-voice, "It's nice to meet you."

Ananda wasn't fooled, and smiled brilliantly. "So, the rumors are true, Mem Sahib. You have become a woman."

"I am not a mem sahib," he said icily. "I am a man, though I grant you that I may look indeterminate, and if you call me that again, I will thrash you."

Ananda bowed his head, still smiling. "As you say, Sahib, although the matter of who would thrash whom is not so clear anymore. Please, Sahib, I did not come here to gloat or to take your money. I am truly grateful – beyond measure."

Reginald considered him for a moment. He looked painfully sincere. "Then come inside, Ananda, and kindly say what you mean to say." He opened the door wide and offered him a seat and cool drink, which he accepted.

"Thank you. I am not displeased that this has happened, although, not for the reasons you may think. I sympathize with your misfortune."

"That's vague enough. I don't suppose you can explain what's happening to me."

"You were touched by the Gods, Sahib. You laughed at them, and they changed you. I expect they will finish what they started. You will be quite pretty when you are done, I think."

Reginald ground his teeth, but Ananda hadn't meant it maliciously. "I don't believe in your Gods."

"With all due respect, I don't think belief is required in this case. I speculate that the changes occurred very soon after the cave, not before. Scientific man, enlightened British gentleman, what do you make of that? Please offer me an alternative if you have one."

Reginald sighed. "I cannot, but I still don't believe it happened that way. Just for argument's sake, perhaps you can tell me why you think the 'Gods' did it?"

"You laughed at Ardhanarisvara, ridiculing the concept of male and female balance. The Gods are proving a point with you. I thank you profusely for the demonstration, although I regret your pain."

"Why do you thank me?"

He smiled beatifically, and tears began to spill forth. "Because when you become a woman, you will prove to me that my belief is the true path. Do you have any idea what it means to know that the Gods are real?"

The "Gods" want me to be a woman? We'll see about that! Reginald stood abruptly. "Thank you, Ananda, but I don't believe I will be going out this afternoon."

Ananda rose and bowed yet again. "You have much to think about. I understand. Call on me, and I will guide you anytime, free of charge."

The Doctor arrived the next day in mid-morning, as usual. He examined him as before in the most embarrassing detail.

"Colonel, I regret to say that you are forming a vagina. I suspect that you shall complete the process in the next few days."

Reginald, after the conversation with Ananda, had anticipated this, and the blow was somewhat mitigated. Already furious with the way he was being manipulated, he determined that when the time came, he would not cry or do those female things that would be expected of him.

Reginald affixed the doctor with a frosty glare. "Doctor, I shall be discharged soon. Since I am incapacitated and rendered unfit for further service through no fault of my own, I hope you will fill in the details so the Home Office will recognize my pension."

Doctor Geddings looked back, startled by his vehemence. "I ... I don't know what to say. I will do what I can, of course, but the Home Office may find it irregular to assign a pension directly to a young, healthy woman."

"Confound it, Doctor, I will never be a woman," he snapped. "I was born Reginald Leyton-Smyth, and whatever happens, that will be my name. I am merely a man with a deformity, rendered impotent, and weakened through illness of an undetermined nature to half my former strength and size. Put that way, the Home Office cannot refuse."

"I'm sorry, Reginald, I should have known. I shall do as you say."

The Doctor's prediction was accurate. Three days later, Reginald lost his last bits. He, because he refused to allow himself the female pronoun, sat down to execute his business for the first time, and fumed. Wearing male clothing and a wrapped bosom, he boarded a ship back to England, pension in hand. He didn't look like a man. His face was too feminine, his curves too profound, but his attitude was all male. No one bothered him.

From Portsmouth, he took the train to Chichester, and from there, a cab. He had wired ahead of his arrival. Despite his anger at his diminished state, he alighted onto the grounds of his house, a modest estate, glad to be back home. Lucy was outside looking for him, but only when the cab pulled away did she give him a second look.

"Who are you?"

"I am Reginald, Lucy," he said in his woman's voice. "I did send you a telegram that I had been grievously deformed. This, unfortunately, is who I am now."

His wife of twenty-five years looked on in utter disbelief.

"I realize this is a shock. I will explain when I come inside."

He did not expect her to bar his way. After leveling off at five feet six inches, it was his turn to be surprised. His wife was an inch taller than he, and considerably larger, having thickened during his last tour in India. She confronted him with arms on hips. "You will explain yourself, young woman, right now and outside."

It took some time before she was convinced, and even afterwards, he caught her looking askance. He could understand her dilemma – to a point. He put down the Times and said, "Lucy, I understand your confusion, but all shall be righted in time. We rarely slept with each other, and I know you prefer to sleep alone. That will likely continue. All that I wish is to retire to the pleasant conversation and household we've always had."

"You ... you come here looking like the daughter I never had, and speak this way to me?"

"I may look like a woman, but between these breasts beats the heart of a man."

Her eyes kept glancing down between his legs. "And ... and your Johnson. I want to be sure..."

"Gone. There will be little need for modesty in this house. But I am determined to live my life as a man as much as possible. They tried to make me a woman, but I won't play their blasted game."

She rose slowly, breathing hard. "Get out! Get out of this house. How dare you come here like this. You will be hearing from a solicitor."

"But Lucy..." But there was no reasoning with her. Within two hours of his arrival, Reginald was out in the street again with all his belongings. Sadly, he gazed back at his home as another cab took him back to town, where he rented a room overlooking the village square.

Inside the flat, alone, he had time to think. It was selfish of him to try to make it work, he decided. From the looks and leers he had received from both men and women on the walk in the park to clear his head, he understood that she would suffer a burden of embarrassment she'd never counted on. Just because he was willing to bear it was not reason enough to inflict it on his wife.

Over the next few days he found that he didn't mind, particularly, being away from her. The love they'd shared was mainly in the past. In fact, he wasn't even sure that he loved her at all. The old stirrings were irretrievably gone. Her breasts were simply that, and now, having one of his own, the woman's feature wasn't particularly interesting either.

When the time came, he gave her what she wanted with no fanfare, signing over the house and grounds. Afterwards, now divorced, he walked with her outside the solicitor's office and apologized.

"Reginald," she said, now somewhat more amiable, "I don't think you quite understand. You're an obscenity. You don't mean to be, but by existing you violate everything a woman stands for. You are more than pretty, young enough to pass as twenty-two and, having freely what any woman my age would kill for, you reject it. Husband or not, I could never live with you this way. Please don't try to see me again."

He honored her request, and moved away to Essex, partly because they had a regiment. He found that he missed the old life. It was hard seeing them, the horse and foot drilling on the practice field, and yet he couldn't stay away. He would stand, arms crossed under breasts and watch, mainly in the afternoon.

Unknown to him, he acquired a reputation. As he was about to leave one day, a young Lieutenant approached him riding. Reginald had noticed him before. One of the better riders, he approved his style and, as always, was more than a bit jealous of his sex, which he emphatically no longer shared.

"Hello, I've seen you here before," the Lieutenant said, a clumsy opening line and not particularly original. Still, Reginald understood the difficulties a man had talking to a woman; he'd had them himself, once upon a time.

"I'm not surprised. I've been here five days a week for the last month. Sir, I'm not likely to be the kind of girl you'd want to talk to." Reginald continued to walk; so did the Lieutenant, following him on horseback.

"It could be, on the other hand, that you might be precisely the kind of girl I'd like to meet."

To Reginald, he seemed friendly enough, if a bit persistent. "I'm neither feminine, nor am I interested in dance, nor sharing a meal, nor men in general. I enjoy talking tactics, rifles, horse, and a thousand details of army life. Is that your sort of girl, sir?"

"It could be. May I invite you to share some tea tomorrow, and talk of our mutual interests?"

Reginald was trapped, and could only acquiesce. He sighed. "Very well. I will talk with you, but I will pay for my own tea."

"That would be fine. My name is Harold, by the way."

"I am Reginald."

Harold laughed, sure it was a joke.

Despite his initial misgivings, Reginald walked to the corner tea shop, a bright, gay establishment. He was flattered that Harold would risk seeing him. Although he was a man inside, in society he was a woman of dubious reputation. Because it was an open place popular with the officers, he arrived early and chose a booth close to the rear.

He wore what he usually did, a pair of trousers widened and drawn in the correct places to fit his rounded bottom, constructed in a loose style of his own design, made to neither emphasize nor deemphasize the sex of the wearer. Anything less than a dress was still scandalous, of course, and half-mumbled comments of "Turk" and occasionally worse followed him, which he chose to ignore. His blouse was basic white cut in a woman's pattern because a man's shirt would not have fit. His green waistcoat matched his trousers, and he wore a utilitarian black overcoat, which he had set aside once indoors.

Reginald, by this time, had given up binding his chest – besides being uncomfortable, it hadn't fooled anyone – and wore his hair in a simple style a hand's-width below the shoulders, not too far from a male norm.

Harold arrived at the tea shop, stepped inside and removed his hat. A woman might have waved to gain his attention; Reginald stood. The young man strode confidently, Reginald noted, the picture of a sturdy young officer.

"Thank you for coming," Harold said before taking a seat. He ordered tea for both, and turned around, folding his hands on the table with only a touch of a glance toward Reginald's breasts, a look the former Colonel had encountered so often he barely thought about it any more. "So, what do you think of our little Regiment?" he asked.

Reginald smiled. Although Harold was being polite, following the agreed upon protocol, by dint of a gleam in the young officer's eye, he clearly thought that this "woman's" military knowledge would be cursory, at best. Reginald took ten minutes to disabuse him of the notion, relishing every second of it.

"My word, you have an eye for these things. You astonish me. Was your father an officer?"

Reginald's father had been an officer, in point of fact. "Something like that. It is an interest of mine."

Tea came and went, and more tea arrived. Reginald barely touched the second cup. His reduced capacity and the inconvenience of the woman's facilities had given rise to the habit early on. For the next hour, Reginald forgot himself, and spoke as he hadn't been able to since his return to England. Harold listened and, after a time, began to share in a way that showed his respect. To Reginald, it was so gratifying that he felt tears welling in his eyes, an unfortunate female trait of the body he inhabited. He suppressed them with difficulty.

Long after the third cup arrived, Reginald stood, knowing the moment was over. "Thank you for a most enjoyable afternoon, Harold, but I must be going."

Harold came to his feet as well. "I've enjoyed our time, Reggie, very much. I'd like to do it again."

Reginald paused. He hadn't been called Reggie since he was a lad in school. He didn't like it then, and still didn't, but supposed that Harold couldn't very well call him "Reginald" in public. He considered the offer. "Same ground rules, Harold?"

He smiled. "Whatever you wish. Two days hence, same place and time?"

"Yes."

They met twice more. The third time was hardest, for Reginald was determined that it would be their last.

At the end of another enjoyable hour, Reginald turned quiet, then: "Harold," he said, "what you see is a fraud. These breasts and my bottom are illusions. What I am, in fact, is a man." He blushed at Harold's look of utter shock. "Not the way you think. In all ways physically, I am female, but what you see is not me."

He explained while Harold sat silently, thunderstruck, and then showed him his discharge papers and medical notes. "So you see, while I have greatly enjoyed our time together, I can't be the person you think I am. You would be far better off with a real woman, not this chimera." He rose and bowed his head. "I'm sorry for wasting your time."

Reginald made it outside before Harold caught up with him, taking the sleeve of his coat.

"Wait, Reggie. I, too, have enjoyed our meetings and talks. You promised me nothing more than that."

"That's not entirely true. A woman of suitable age with a handsome officer is not just a talk. The potential for more is what makes it thrilling."

Harold smiled. "Well, I am not offended."

"Perhaps you should be. I know how an officer's reputation is largely that of his friends. I like you too much, Harold, to put you into further danger."

"Let me be the judge of that."

Reginald, after many years of command, was not used to being contradicted.

"Dash it all, don't you go all noble and gentlemanly. Young man, it's simply not worth it. A whiff of scandal with me could end your career before it starts."

"Scandal? I wonder what it could be? Holding out on us, old boy?"

It was a new voice from the side. Two officers had just appeared around the corner. Reginald marked them both from their attitudes and uniforms, recognizing their type from long experience. They were both senior Lieutenants, superior in grade to Harold. It was also plain that they didn't care for him.

"Reggie," Harold said neutrally, "These are Lieutenants Farworthy and Bean."

Bean bowed mockingly. "We've seen her. She watches the practice field like a camp follower but dresses like a man. Undoubtedly, she wishes she were one of us. At the very least, she is a Sapphist. You should leave her be, Harold."

Harold stiffened, and Reginald knew trouble was to follow. He had the gist of Harold's character, and an idea what he would do.

"I am not a Sapphist." Reginald took Harold's arm before he could do or say something he could never take back.

My God, what I am about to do.

Reginald reached up and pulled Harold's head down, and kissed him, making it last. Harold's face was slightly scratchy, but not so unpleasant. His arms and back seemed supernally strong compared to what he had grown used to. His breasts pressed flat against hard chest. He pressed and held, a lie, but a necessary one. Suddenly, as swift as thought, expedience became reality. Harold pressed back. His hands, so much stronger than Reginald's own, brought the former colonel in, and Reginald, taken by surprise, let go, for a glorious moment forgetting why he was there and what he was doing.

Long seconds later, Reginald broke it, but not before impacting a force at his stomach, one he knew well but never in his wildest imagination thought he would encounter in such a way. When Reginald opened his eyes, he saw Harold looking back, and it was impossible to tell who was more astonished.

A feminine panoply played up and down Reginald's body, a myriad of elements amazing, mysterious, and confusing -- and an utterly new sensation, a sort of hunger, in a place where before he had never had anything at all.

"Well, maybe she isn't a Sapphist after all," Bean allowed grudgingly. "Are you going to bring her to the ball?"

Harold turned towards the senior Lieutenant. "Now that's crude, even for you, Bean. The lady is right here and has her own mind."

"That would be interesting, though, wouldn't it?" he said, filling it with ugly insinuation. They passed on, leaving Reginald and Harold behind.

Reginald, still shocked at what he was feeling, touched his lips in wonder.

Harold whirled on him. "What the Devil were you doing?"

"I beg your pardon? A bomb was about to explode. I pulled the fuse."

"It wasn't your fuse to pull. I suppose you think I should thank you. First you dress me down like a subordinate, and then you 'save' me from two men who I could have handled easily. Considering what you've just told me about yourself, the kiss must have come at considerable cost. Well, thank you." Harold wiped his mouth angrily.

That last wounded Reginald more than a blow to the stomach. Worse, he wasn't completely sure why it did, or if he wanted to know. Thoroughly confused and so angry that he could barely see, for a moment Reginald had trouble breathing. "Good day to you, sir. I ... I don't believe I want to see you again," he said, and turned away before Harold could see the tears that, for once, he couldn't hold back.

"Now wait a minute, Reggie." Harold caught him by the arm. Reginald looked him in the eye with such overwhelming loathing that Harold let him go. "Good Lord," he said.

Back in his room, Reginald dried his tears, made himself some tea, and tried to sort it out. It wasn't hard, not really, just painful. From Harold's point of view, a snip of a woman had insulted him three ways. He had wounded Harold's pride. It was always a risk when dealing with men, he had found. He lacked the proper reflexes.

Reginald went to the mirror and had a good look. To others, this was what they saw, a rather pretty young woman. For a brief, unforgettable moment, this was, he understood, how he had seen himself. It wasn't a safe feeling. It was alien, and, with who he had been, he knew very well that it had the potential to drive him mad. And yet:

What does one do after Pandora's box is open?

Sometime later that evening, Mrs. Rutherford knocked on the door.

"You have a gentleman caller," she informed Reginald. She generally disapproved of visiting men, and this announcement had that tone.

"I'll be right down, Mrs. Rutherford. Thank you."

There was only one man it could have been, and it was.

"Harold."

He held a dozen roses in his hand, a new experience for the ex-colonel. He nodded, not sure if he should be pleased, but it was a gesture, and the young officer looked woeful.

"Come up, Harold." Turning to Mrs. Rutherford before she could remark: "We shall only be a few minutes."

When the door was safely closed behind them, Harold offered him the flowers, which must have cost him a fair penny. Reginald took them and put them aside, but respectfully.

"Thank you for the roses, Harold. What can I do for you?"

"Thank you for seeing me, Reggie. I am terribly sorry. I have an idea what I have done."

"We both made mistakes. I should know enough to let a man be a man. I interfered, although I'm not sure I was completely wrong. I'm willing to forget about it if you are."

He sighed. "That's just it. I'm not, at least, not yet."

"Yes?" Reginald's heart abruptly increased its pace.

"I'm leaving myself as open as a barn, and you may slap me around for impertinence if you wish, but I must know. When you kissed me, I felt -- something, and I wonder if you did, too."

"You mean besides the Johnson in my stomach?" Harold winced so badly, Reginald nearly laughed. "Yes, I did, in the same way, I think, and it shocked the blazes out of me."

"Then here is another shocker, and you may answer any way you like ... I am asking you to the Regimental ball. I hope you accept."

Reginald stood and immediately started pacing, hands behind his back as if he were on parade. Some of what he'd felt returned, and he was now, more than ever, conscious of how female he was. "Oh, my. Oh, Harold."

"You're considering it, I hope."

"I've been to these affairs, although never from this side. I know what it means."

He smiled. "You haven't said no."

Reginald laughed, a little desperately, Harold thought. "No, I haven't. Could you give me until tomorrow?"

Harold nodded, disappointed. "Of course, Reggie." He began walking to the door.

Reginald met him there. "Thank you for asking me. Whatever my reply, I'll cherish the question." On impulse, Reginald reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm really going to have to think on this."

Harold looked down at this exceptionally pretty young woman in mannish clothes, so much of a contradiction. He had never seen this combination in a woman's eyes before: warmth, sincerity – and raw panic. He risked a light touch on her hand.

"Please do think on it. Good evening, Reggie."

Later that night, after tracking a precise path around the carpet, Reginald went downstairs and knocked on Mrs. Rutherford's door. She had always disapproved of Reginald's conduct and manner of dress, and her face was not particularly welcoming.

"Yes?"

"I 'd like to get your advice, Mrs. Rutherford. You see, I'm going to the Regimental ball next month."

She smiled. "I just knew you would come round someday. You're far too pretty. Please, come in."

***

It was a quarter till the hour, and the ball neared its end.

Reginald said, "I'll meet you outside in a moment, Harold. I have something to do."

Harold, resplendent in crimson and gold, nodded. "I'll see you soon. Have I told you that you look devastating this evening?"

Reginald smiled. "A dozen times, almost enough to believe it. I'll be along soon. Go ahead."

The mirror at the end of the hall beckoned. In it Reginald saw a young woman, her raven hair pinned and teased beyond what was practical, save perhaps, for a single special evening. Her dress was light chiffon. When she moved it was a soft flow. Her gloves were white and ran nearly the length of her arms. She also wore a wry grin that looked distinctly out of place.

The young woman sighed. "All right. I have a feeling that you can hear this, whoever you are. You win."

She turned, passing through the hall, nodding politely to a few of the ladies on the way, and escaped into the cool night.

Harold collected her hand, and they walked through the garden.

"Harold," she said, "do you know that except for the fitting, this is the first time I've worn a dress?"

"I noticed. For a while, I wondered if you were to be announced in pants. I hope it isn't the last."

"It won't be. I held off until tonight, a last goodbye to my old life. Now, I can tell you what it's like -- sort of an open-air feeling beneath your bum. Not bad, once you get used to it."

He chuckled. "You are going to have to clean up your language. Society won't change for you."

"I know," she sighed. "It's not going to be easy. I am – I was a curmudgeon. I was in the Queen's Army longer than you've been alive."

"So you keep reminding me."

"I'll do my best, Harold. I will. There is one thing I must ask from you."

"Oh?"

"'Reggie' brings back memories of snapping towels. I'd even rather you called me Reginald."

He shook his head. "Reginald? Absolutely not. And I enjoy calling you Reggie. It fits you. But I assure you that when I say 'Reggie', I refer not to the name, 'Reginald', which is a man's name, but to its feminine equivalent, which I shall call you in public."

"Regina? That's horrible."

"Would it sound better if I said, 'I love you, Regina. Will you marry me?' ... Are you all right?"

"Harold, if you're joking, I'm going to go to the armory, get one of those new Martini-Henry IVs, insert a cartridge, shove it up your rectum, and then..."

"You're going to be a smash at the Officers Wives Club. Is that a yes?"

"Well, you know it is. Yes!"

Some time later, she stopped him reluctantly. "Someone may see us. Your reputation."

"It's considered normal to kiss one's fiancée. Besides, the rest of the Regiment knows enough to stay away from this portion of the garden."

She smiled and relaxed back into his arms. "Superbly done, Harold! Well planned and executed."

"Now that sounds like a colonel."

"Believe me, I've never felt less like a colonel in my life."

He brought her closer, and slid his hand down, slowly, gently, until it rested at the point where waist flared outward to hips. The former Colonel, late of the Bombay Regiment, made the smallest sigh.

"My exact thought," he said.

***

Fun. The being is wise. Wise.

She guessed right, too. That's the first time that's happened. This world is becoming sophisticated.

I agree, my bond mate. In a hundred years, they could detect us. We should depart. Our time here is over.

Oh, but this being is fun. Fun! What if...

The being has learned enough. Let her bond and grow.

No, Maya.

Oh. Oh, but what if...

No!

The End

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I have got to read this one

aardvark, have you been watching Monty Python again?

Your title sounds like one of those outraged letters to the show, usually read by John Cleese. The sort that ends something like, Captain B. J. Smetheg, in a white wine sause, shalots, mushrooms and garlic.

Must go and read now.

Oh, Conversion Tables is in edit so I should have one entry up is a few more days, maybe.

John in Wauwatosa

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine)

Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine) Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

Monty Python

It does indeed come from Monty Python.

IIRC, it is from the fake protest letter protesting the Lumberjack Song. The end was something like: Colonel so and so, a string of honors, (Mrs).

Aardvark

We have a winner! This is fantastic, I vote it #1...

Aardvark, this is simply superb writing and captured me right from the start and held me to the very end. Wonderful!

Thank you so much for this!

Huggles Aardvark
Angel

"Be Yourself; So Easy to Say, So Hard to Live!"

Thanks, Angel

I'm *blushing*

Thank you for your very nice comments.

Sure, I'd like to win (wouldn't we all). I have to say that here, as in the holiday contest on TC, there is a LOT of talent, and superb stories seem to pour in daily. There are at least four stories so far that I could mark as top without a bit of conscience. I hope my story is well received, as I always do, but I'm sure as heck am not counting on anything. :)

This was an experiment, an understated tongue-in-cheek affair, and I'm glad you liked it. I must confess, I was a bit worried. Was it too understated/pretentious/tongue-in-cheek/corny?

What else is new, though. Everyone, including you and me, have these fears whenever we post stories. When it works, great. When it doesn't, it's like eating oatmeal without raisins.

Thanks again, and i'm glad you liked it.

Aardvark

Cute - Is way too much of an understatement

Dear Aardvark,

A question before I comment further; Did you choose the on-line pseudonym in order to be first (or close) in any alphabetical list of writers???

Lovely story, well thought out and very well written. I liked the capitulation scene. Interesting use of sci-fi/gods. Good insight into 19th century British thought. All in all beautifully executed.

Thank you.

with love,

Hope

Thank you

I chose Aardvark so long ago that I can barely remember, but I have to admit, way back then the alphabet was a consideration. Lo and behold, for a very brief time, Aardvark was the first name under "A" on FM.

On the other hand, I chose Aardvark before I wrote my first story, or even, I think, before I had an idea for a story. So was it that much of a consideration? Don't remember. Maybe I was thinking that I would write a story?

Vain, huh?

I also liked the name, which I thought was cute. For the life of me I can't remember if I chose the name and then thought of the alphabetical considerations, or if it was the other way around.

BTW, I do not have a big nose. :)

Thanks for the kind comments. Danged if I ever know how these things are going to be received, and feedback is the only way I know anything. I thought it came out all right, although I'm never completely satisfied. I could have made the Colonel more of a caricature and played it strictly for laughs, which was my original intention. It would been a lot of sputtering, "preposterous!," "Your hand, sir, is on my breast!" and so forth. :) It was not to be.

I sort of like the 19th century British attitude, and the Brits, and I was reluctant to make too much fun of it, and them. Sure, there was racism, arrogance, superiority, as there was in practically every country on Earth at the time (and usually a great deal more of it), but there was also a hefty dollop of honor, integrity, and fair play, too. When Great Britain left India for good, many of the Indians turned out and cheered them, an extraordinary honor for an occupying power. Although the Indians wanted them gone, they also recognized the, by and large, excellent qualities of the British.

The absolute nail in the coffin of the caricature version came when I began to feel sympathy for the Colonel. From then on it became a romance, more or less, which all my stories seem to turn into.

Dang romantics, they just can't help themselves. :)

Aardvark

Sweet!

Aardvark you hit just the right tone for this tale. The only criticism I could make is you have enough materials for a trilogy of books not just a short short about the adventures of Reggie!
Hugs!
grover

Plan? Ain't got no Plan!
"Beyond Thunder Dome"

Plan? Ain't got no Plan!
"Beyond Thunder Dome"

Stiff Upper Lip

I very much enjoyed this story. Specially the way you treated the concept of the British stiff upper lip. How you started by making the ridiculous aspects of it ridiculous, which led to Reginald's predicament. And yet the nature that placed him on the spot is basically what made him succeed in the end. After all "tis but a flesh wound" and it is only proper that a young, pretty lady should wed a dashing young officer in the Queen or King's cavalry.

Arcie

Delightful

Is your tale Aardvark.

Thank you for sharing it with us.

Hugs, Fran

Wickedly funny AND romantic

Spot on!

At first I thought the coronel was a characature, then I realized he was trapped by expectations. Arcie Emm has it, the very dutiful stubornes that got him in trouble with the gods/advanced space-travlers is what made him suceed as a woman. Reggie with be a remarkable woman. It is his/her very willfulness that allows her to adapt where the wife could not.

Only a *proper* British officer could respond in this way to losing height, weight, developing a woman's figure and breasts, shrinking genital, femilzing face etc. His responce is, to try and shake it off like some minor annoyance ...

>>"I'm aware that it has expanded. I had hoped that the matter would be resolved by now."

This is the sort of thing Monty Python parodied in M.P. and the Holy Grail, The fight with the black knight where after one or more limbs have been hacked off and blood is pouring out like a faucet, the Black Knight says "It's only a flesh wound, " or " I've had worse."

In your story when his translator suggests it's the revenge of the gods for his insulting them ...

>>"I don't believe in your Gods."

"With all due respect, I don't think belief is required in this case.

The reply by the translator was priceless, I'm snickering as I type.

Reggie will suceed. I suspect she'll be a suffragette. At a minimum she will shake things up. She's truely a woman in the end but will always be a British officer. Her surrender was a favorite bit.

>>The mirror at the end of the hall beckoned. In it Reginald saw a young woman, her raven hair pinned and teased beyond anything practical for a single evening. Her dress was light chiffon. When she moved it was a soft flow. Her gloves were white and ran nearly the length of her arms. She also wore a wry grin that looked distinctly out of place.

The young woman sighed. "All right. I have a feeling that you can hear this, whoever you are. You win."

Funny, romantic, historic -- who could ask for more?

John in Wauwatosa

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine)

Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine) Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

Well done!

What a delightful little romp this is. Just the right feel for the times.

And I'd just love to know about some of Maya's previous "games."

Amelia

Well Done, Indeed!

Of the contest stories so far, this is by far the best!

Would you consider doing a sequel?
(Please...pretty please...with sugar on it?)

I really want to know what those *gods* would do next.
Seems to me that Regina and her gods could wind up changing history, if they stayed around much longer. :)

Just the right touch

Too much would not be enough. Just right is just right.

Hugs,
Erin

Pip, pip, and cheerio...

What a fun read!! I have to admit I wondered how an old codger would take to becoming a woman. Not too well I would say. :-)

It gives new meaning to "what goes around, comes around." Keep up the great writing.

Paula

Cute and very enjoyable!

This was a fun character piece. I could very easily see this as a Merchant Ivory film. Although it also makes me giggle to imagine Reggie's stiff upper lip attitude continuing in other inappropriate settings, like her wedding night: "I say old bean, that is a rather pleasant sensation, what. Husband, you will remain at attention until you have been dismissed!" or childbirth: "Infant, your arrival is scheduled for five o' clock, and we will not accept tardiness within this family. I daresay your egress is quite uncomfortable." I'd also love to see what her technique would be as a mother, but they're probably upper-crust enough that Nanny would do all the real nurturing.

Outstanding Aardvark!

The style and feel, the flow of the dialog- everything was spot on. To top it all off, it had a wonderful, sweet and romantic ending. Three cheers!

Sincerely,

Scott

~If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.~
Lazarus Long
Robert A. Heinlein's 'Time Enough for Love'

Sincerely,

Scott

Calvin: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last-minute panic.