137 Confusion and Persuasion

My dreams were more confusing than usual that night. It seemed to be me as Marshall arguing with myself as Marsha over something. The only part I really remember was mocking (or was it being mocked) for wanting to wear dresses. The problem was that although I knew I was Marsha, my memories told me that was wishful thinking, and that I was and should have been Marshall.

Philosophical ruminations get confusing in the early morning, but I started to wonder: did Marshall’s memories in Marsha’s body mean that I really was Marshall in some sense? Did Marsha’s reactions and skills mean that I was Marsha, no matter what else I remembered and believed? And which one of us was in love with Jeremy? I decided that I was going to want hurt Brian if he didn’t have a credible answer for me.

As curious as I was to hear what he had to say, I’d made a promise to Nikki, and that had to happen first. My Marshall memories suggested that just showing up looking nice would make it more likely that Ben would at least listen to me. That meant that I needed to be in full ‘girly’ mode this afternoon.

Right after lunch, I searched through my closet for something appropriate: something a bit dressier than my usual accoutrements, but not so much as to seem obviously flirtatious. I took special care with my makeup, trying to make it look as though I weren’t really wearing any, but just naturally had perfect features. After months of practice, apparently my old skill was coming through.

I examined the result in the mirror careful, making minor adjustments until I was fully satisfied. Then I started thinking about how Jeremy would like the way I looked, and starting wondering why he hadn’t called me. Sure, it had only been a day; maybe he needed more time to think things over, but I did wish I knew what he was thinking.

Entering Ben’s dorm, I slipped off my coat so that he could get the full effect of my appearance. When I knocked on his door, a pair of boys who seemed to be in a really good mood opened it almost immediately. “Hey, it’s a girl!” one of them laughed. “Jimmy, did you order a girl?”

The other one looked past me into the hallway. “I ordered three of them,” he answered. Then he asked me, “What did you do with the other two?”

I’m afraid I stiffened in response. This was not what Nikki’s description had led me to expect, and all that came out of my mouth was, “Uhhh…”

“Well, you know,” the first one grinned at me, “it’s share and share alike, here. We don’t like to play favorites.”

I stammered, “Is… I’m looking for Ben Forsberg…?”

“No accounting for taste,” he snickered. Then he spoke into the room, “Hey, Ben. You’ve got company.”

I looked past him and saw a typical freshman dorm room, with two beds, desks, and dressers. Sitting at one of the desks was a boy, who turned upon being addressed, letting me see a definite resemblance to Nikki. In a voice much more subdued than those of the other two, he asked, “Can I help you with something?”

That brought more laughter from the other two. “Whoa! What a way to seduce her, Ben!” and “Oh man, she came right to your door and that’s all you can say?”

I winced and I caught Ben rolling his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. Then one of the jokesters, the one who was not Jimmy, said to the other. “C’mon, let’s clear out. I need to beat you in Halo. And we can let these two be alone…” Still laughing, they strode past me down the hallway.

Ben shook his head and muttered, “Don’t mind them.”

“I’m just ignoring them,” I assured him. “Hi, I’m Marsha Steen,” I said cheerfully holding out my hand. “I’m a friend of your sister’s.”

He furrowed his brow and shook my hand warily. “Yes…?”

He really wasn’t making this easy. “Well, she’s worried about you.”

He gave me a long stare before grumbling “She needn’t be. I’m passing all my classes.”

“But…” I tried to remember what Nikki had told me about him. Why hadn’t we planned this out more carefully? “She’s concerned that you’re not happy.”

“Happy?” he barked. “Happy? Did she tell you what those monsters did to me? I used to be taller. I’ve lost six inches!”

“I lost eight,” I told him, calmly.

He’d clearly not expected a response like that. He blinked at me in surprise and it seemed to take him a few seconds to find his voice as he looked me over. “That would have made you pretty tall for a girl.”

“I didn’t say I was a girl.”

His eyes widened and for the first time, he looked interested. Well, maybe shocked would be more accurate. He opened his mouth and closed it. Opened it again, but all that came out was, “What?”

I know an attentive audience when I see one. Taking my time, I pulled out the other chair and sat down. “In my memories, I used to be a boy.”

He stared even longer before managing, “Why aren’t you catatonic?”

“Well, being an actor does help; I’m used to pretending to be other people.”

He gasped. “That’s why you look familiar! You’re that girl – you were in that play Nikki did!”

“I played Mollie in The Mousetrap, yes.”

“You were great!”

“Thank you.”

“I still don’t understand how you’re not going insane.”

I stood up. “Then maybe we have something to discuss?” He nodded, and I was sure he was hooked. “Besides, I have some important news for you, and a suggestion. But not here. Let’s go somewhere a bit less private, if you don’t mind. This isn’t a seduction.”

He laughed and stood up. “I guess not! Um, we can go to the Grill, if you like.”

I nodded, pulled on my coat and waited for him to grab his. Then he held the door open for me, only to apologize after I’d gone through it. “It’s OK,” I laughed. “I’ll explain as we go.

“So what’s this been like for you?” he asked as we walked. “Actor or not, this has to be really… odd.”

“You have no idea,” I said. “I… might not have been able to do it, only I sort of got mad and made it a question of honor to go through with it.”

“Huh.” He looked at me sideways. “You’re not making this up, are you?”

“You think so? Do you remember the test the Strangers have for people who did the experiment?”

“The guitarist? Yeah…”

“Do you happen to remember his name?”

“His name?” he echoed. We walked on a few paces while he seemed to be trying to remember. “I don’t know that I was paying that much attention. I think it was sort of a… military name?”


“Yeah, like he was called… General, or… something like that?”


“Yeah! That’s it. His name was Marshall. Why?”

“Marshall Steen,” I said.

“Could be.”

“And now I’m Marsha Steen.”

He stopped and stared, his eyes bulging. “Wait! Are you saying–”

“I was the guitarist, yes. That’s why nobody remembers him in this reality. In this reality, I’m a girl and I don’t play the guitar.” I looked at him and kept on walking. “Coming?”

He hurried to catch up, clearly off balance from my revelations. Good. I wanted him focused on me, not on his self-pity. Taking him out of his room was helping me break through his shell.

“I don’t get it,” he reiterated, slowing down again to walk with me. “You seem so… natural. As though you really are a girl, and have always been one.”

Ah ha! I thought. “I didn’t really have the option to do what you’re doing, living in denial. It would have been way too embarrassing if people thought of me as a guy wearing a dress. Plus, I found out that I’d been cast in Mousetrap, and I didn’t want to give that up, and I needed to sew to get money, and I’d never learned how.”

“The whole thing sounds impossible.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” I admitted. “Did you even try?”

“Try what?” he asked, as we walked into the Grill.

“Nikki says that she remembers you as a fair guitarist, yourself.”

He stopped just inside the entrance and looked at me as though I was stupid. “Do you even listen to yourself? I don’t know the first thing about playing the guitar. I was a basketball player, not a musician. Me playing the guitar is about as likely as you sewing.”

I smirked as I said, “I’m actually a pretty decent seamstress now. You’re laboring under a bit of a misconception.” I saw that I’d confused and intrigued him even more, so I headed to the counter. “That’s why I can afford to treat you. I’m having hot cocoa; what about you?”

I did let him carry our drinks to a table, at least. I could see a thousand questions in his eyes, but he waited until we were seated before speaking. Although we were in public, the noise level in the room was sufficient that, as long as we didn’t shout, nobody at the nearby tables was likely to pick up on our conversation.

“Am I crazy, or are you?” he finally asked. “What am I missing?”

“Well, as I said, I couldn’t afford the luxury of not trying to sew. I had a backlog of items waiting for me, with students expecting to pay me for my work; I had to learn how, and that’s where Nikki came in.”


“She started to teach me, and we discovered something very interesting. Even though I had no memories of sewing, once she showed me, my hands seemed to know exactly what to do. I had the skill, but not the knowledge. My memories were Marshall’s but my reactions were Marsha’s. On the other hand, guitar playing was a disaster; probably as bad as what happened when you tried to play basketball.”

“Oh. Nikki told you about that,” he said ruefully.

“Mmhmm. It turned out that it was much easier for me to be Marsha than to try to be Marshall in Marsha’s body. I’m even attracted to boys and not to girls, and let me tell you, that was a real surprise.”

“Huh. Weird.”

“But I finally got the most important piece of the puzzle yesterday.” I deliberately paused until he was about to ask and then gave it to him. “I found Davis. I found the guys who did this to us.”

“How…? The Strangers looked for them! How did you find them when nobody else could?”

I grinned. He was well out of his sullenness and into outright curiosity. It looked as though this was going to work, after all. “The Strangers had mostly given up, Ben. As far as I know, nobody was changed nearly as much as you and I, and you didn’t even try.” That I had gotten a lucky break wasn’t really relevant.

“It’s not that I didn’t try,” he responded hotly. “I just didn’t see the point. It’s not as if they were going to change us back or anything. You’re still a girl, I notice. So what does it matter, even if you did find them?”

“It matters, because we had it all wrong. I had friends who should have known telling me that it couldn’t have been time travel, and it wasn’t.”

“Then how did they change us?”

“They didn’t. That’s the point. We’d been figuring on time travel plus some kind of memory manipulation, and it turns out all they did was the memory manipulation. Our memories are false – I was never a boy, and you were never a basketball player.”

“Oh come on! Are you telling me that I made up all the games I played in high school? Or that they did? Why do we all remember you playing the guitar, if it never happened?”

“It did happen – it just happened in a different reality. That was the experiment – they gave us memories from a different reality.”

“You’re telling me my whole life is a lie?”

“No. I’m telling you that most of what you remember is not your own memories. Think back. Are you sure you have no memories of ever playing the guitar? Or not being so tall? None at all?”

He looked at me suspiciously, but I thought my challenge had hit the mark, because he looked a bit guilty. “So… so what if I do? Maybe one or two things. But most of what I remember–”

“The point is, those are your own memories. You can play guitar, and you can’t play basketball, because that’s what happened in your true life, just as I can sew, but I can’t really play the guitar all that well.”

“You… I… am I just supposed to accept this… this fantasy? This bullshit? I know what I remember, and it isn’t… what you’re telling me.”

“You also remember being six inches taller,” I reminded him. “I remember being a guy. But we’re dealing with people who have given us new memories. Why do you believe your false memories? Why is it easier for you to believe that they changed your body and your reflexes and your past and somehow managed to keep your memories mostly intact than to believe that all they changed was your memories?” Never mind that I’d believed exactly that for months, but I’d accepted the alternative when offered it. “Ask Nikki. She was there on the phone right when I heard it from those guys. She’s known about me for months.” Still no reaction but a cautious stare.

“I need to think about that,” he finally said.

“Will you try something, though?”


“Let me teach you to play the guitar. I have memories of being this great guitarist, right? It would probably take me years to build up anything close to the level of skill I remember, but you have it right there in your fingers. It would make your family happy, and I think you’d really enjoy it.”

“I… I don’t know how–”

“Try it,” I said, cutting him off. “Prove to yourself that it won’t work – or that it will. If you seriously try, and it doesn’t work, I will apologize and admit I’m wrong. But if it does… I mean, seriously, you don’t have anything to lose here, do you?”

He looked at me for a long while before asking, “So… where are we going to do this?”

“My room, of course,” I smiled, feeling that I’d made that breakthrough. “I’ll explain to my roommates.”

“You’re sure?”

“Very sure,” I grinned. “I’ve wanted to for a while and never had the chance.” Well, technically, it was Marshall who’d wanted to, but I still felt some of his eagerness.

“You’re on,” he grinned back. Then suddenly he looked uncertain. I followed his gaze and saw Jeremy standing behind me, his face white with shock.

“Jeremy?” I said. “Is something wrong?”

He didn’t answer, so I excused myself and stood up to hug him. Or tried to. He was looking back and forth at Ben and me.

“Is something wrong?” I repeated.

“Can I talk to you?” he asked, urgently.

“Sure…” I turned to Ben. “I’ll be right back.”

We walked a bit away, but he didn’t seem eager to speak. He kept looking at me as though not exactly sure what to say, or whether to say it. It took me a moment to recognize the expression, but then I seemed to remember Marshall being so hesitant – he was afraid of me! I was sure of it; he was afraid that I was going to berate him.

Swallowing hard, I put my hand on his arm. “Jeremy, whatever you want to say, I promise that I won’t yell at you.”

He winced and took a deep breath. “I was thinking about… what you told me yesterday.”

I had to bite my lip to keep from interrupting him; he was going to break up with me, I was sure of it.

“It… explains things I hadn’t understood about you. How you could seem…” he lowered his voice, “so eager to have sex and still be a virgin.” He reddened, presumably at the idea of mentioning something so intimate in public. “And I realize that must be from those memories you have. I take it… this boy you remember being wasn’t a virgin?”

I shook my head.

“So maybe if I’d met you before, you might have reacted very differently, in… intimate situations.”

If he’d met me before. I was sure that was what he wished: that I didn’t have this boy’s memories in my head. “My last boyfriend broke up with me because I wouldn’t sleep with him,” I admitted.

“So now you feel as though I’m being unfair to you.”

That wasn’t where I’d expected this conversation to go. “What are you talking about?”

“I came over to talk to you, and… I overhead.”

I was completely baffled. “What are you talking about?” I repeated.

“Well, once you suggested that if you weren’t a virgin, that I wouldn’t be hesitant…” He took a breath. “I overheard you talking about meeting that guy in your room… to do it. That you’d really wanted to for a long time, but…”

I had to bite my lip. I really didn’t want to laugh at him out loud in the middle of the Grill. “We were talking about guitar lessons!”


“That’s Nikki’s brother, Ben. It’s his guitar that I borrowed and have in my bedroom.”

Now he really turned red and my chest was trembling with silent laughter. I could barely speak, I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud. “I have no…” I gasped. “… no desire….” Tears were streaming down my cheeks. “Come meet Ben,” I managed.

“Now I seem like an unreasonably jealous boyfriend,” he moaned.

I wrapped my arms around his bicep and leaned against him. “It could have been so much worse.”



  1. Russ says:

    Sorry for the delay, folks. My DNS provider switched me from their “legacy” system to their new system, and something didn’t quite work. I spent a bit of time tracking down the problem, and then I wound up switching providers for this domain name. It should all be working again.

  2. TJ says:

    Now he really turned red and I my chest was trembling with silent laughter.

    I guess I should be now.

    Great Chapter, worth the wait i think. I found my self getting though silent laughs, hard to explain why i do, but this chapter did it. Mostly with all the differnt path Marsha and Ben took in there talk, it was fun.

    I also like how the start was her wondering, what makes her who she was, nice going.

  3. von says:

    Who is this new ‘Marsh’ person? It’s unfair of the author to throw someone new in so late in the book. Altho a little of the old Marsh showed through with the clueless and tactless invitation to ‘come up to my room and I will teach you to play the guitar while wearing something I put on to deliberately attract (if not *obviously* flirtatious. Gag.)

    I liked the suggesting at the beginning… but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. Ben didn’t react anything like I thought he would; or hoped he would.

    Jeremy was/is way too rational at the end.

    Not sure what this chapter was meant to accomplish, will wait and see.

  4. scotts13 says:

    Will she make a similar visit to each Stranger? She doesn’t even know this guy… Ah, got it – a small genre change. Marsh must “puts right what was once wrong” before she can leap into the setting for the next episode, while uttering a dismayed “Oh, boy!”

  5. von says:

    @Scott Huh? What is the new genre? For that matter, what was the old genre? Russ and I have been having quite some chat about that. My theory is that when you start with a sci-fi premise (transferring memories/changing time lines/many worlds hypothesis) and keep it in the sci-fi setting (ie there was no magic involved, etc. ie vs Misfile) and make a mystery (who dunnit, why?, how?) then he you owe it to your readers to have the story ‘care’ about the science… with at least an occasional, logical, consistent ‘bone’ thrown to the techys.

    Personally I can reconcile some parts of what happened in the book with one theory of the science… or I can reconcile a different part with a different theory… but I am finding it impossible (and private conversations with Russ aren’t helping) to reconcile both parts with any theory. And Russ’s response is ‘the story isn’t about that’.

    Well, it is. Sci-fi books can, indeed do and have to, include lots of other elements, including the kind of soap opera elements we get here. But it is a real bummer to the sci-fi part of the audience if (for space opera, ala Star Wars) the science doesn’t play a larger role in setting the scene and (for hard sci-fi, think ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ etc.) the various events and explanations for those events don’t at least make a pretense of fitting together.

    And, annoyingly, they are easy fixes. A couple of waves of the pen and he can fix most, if perhaps not all, of the inconsistencies I see.

  6. scotts13 says:

    >> @Scott Huh? What is the new genre?

    (GRIN) Von, you didn’t watch enough bad 90’s television Sci-Fi. I thought everyone would recognize a reference to “Quantum Leap.” In that show, a researcher accidentally has his personality and memories transferred into the bodies of various characters (many of the opposite sex) in recent history. “Fate” then dictates he has to fix the timeline by helping various people out – allowing history to become what it “should” have been. Supposedly after he does all this, he gets to go back to his own body.

    Questionable science, memory transfer, cross-gender awkwardness; and now going around adjusting the lives of people she’s never met. The comparison writes itself.

    More seriously, both you and Russ are right. I’ve read Russ’ “Misfile” fanfic, and the aspects he concentrates on are different from those of most other writers in the ill-defined “magical cross-gender” genre. In the Misfile comic, the main character fights changes to his core personality and behaviour tooth and nail; Russ’ version is much more accepting and adaptive. Since the element of “I have to fix this!” is almost absent, the mechanics behind the change are almost inconsequential.

    If adaptation and acceptance are what he wants to explore, a magical mechanism would have made far more sense – if you start with “a wizard did it” the reader accepts it and moves on. But if the ENTIRE STORY was set up as a mystery – I amusingly note “The Mousetrap” as the play depicted – you have to have the solution of the mystery airtight. One could point to Larry Niven’s “Gil Hamilton” stories of a high-tech detective to show how it’s done.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the story, I really do – it’s much better than I could write. But I’ve always had trouble getting inside Marsh’s head, always had trouble rationalizing her behaviour, always been frustrated by her apparently low intelligence. That kicks out a tripod leg. Then the science-mystery aspect largely fails; and personally, I’m having a very large problem with Marsh’s final acceptance. That’s all three. It leaves me with not a story, but a series of behavioral vignettes – Marsh’s interaction with various characters. Perhaps it’s just that I’m too asocial to find that, alone, satisfying.

  7. von says:

    Yes! The difference between this story and Misfile and Quatnum leap is that they settle the ‘science’ right in the beginning. We know what happened, we can move on to why it is happening. And even then, in both misfile and quantum leap, we have the ‘science’ still popping its head in from time to time… the new leaps in Quantum leap and the ‘guy from back in the lab’. In misfile (which was good only in the beginning IMO) we have the angels.

    I, too, like the way Russ writes individual chapters and scenes. But I, too, hate it when he sets something up as really important and then, when I am disappointed by the revelation, tells me ‘the story wasn’t about that’. Time after time I would say ‘tell me what is going on so I can tell you whether this will lead to that well’ and he would decline, claiming the importance of the ‘mystery’. So when the mystery turns out to be something I guessed in the first couple of chapters (see my book for proof) and the things didn’t turn out to lead very well there, and then he says, “well, the story wasn’t about that…” well, since he won’t let me say ‘sigh (c)’ any more I will say ‘Aaaargh’.

    I was disappointed with many motivations as well, but some of that, IMO, has to do with the very issues we are discussing. Other of it, well, may just be a difference in personality or whatever. Some of it has to do with the raison d’etre of the book itself.

  8. scotts13 says:

    >> Yes! The difference between this story and Misfile and Quatnum leap is that they settle the ‘science’ right in the beginning. We know what happened, we can move on to why it is happening.

    I believe you’ve stroked the nail DIRECTLY on the head. I haven’t re-read TaL from the beginning, but I believe all through it, I was winnowing through the chaff of characterization, looking for the kernel of “what happened”. Now that you point it out, I most likely missed the entire point of the story – it doesn’t MATTER what happened, or even why it’s happening.

    Explains why I found the stage play stuff so tedious, and why characters and sub-plots appeared and disappeared for no apparent reason. They weren’t stage dressing, they were POINT of the tale. Marsh could have been a girl with a more conventional form of amnesia, or a fresh facial scar – anything to make her alienated and awkward, and which she’d have to learn to live with.

    I’m anxious now for Russ to tack on the last chapter or two, regardless of what they are – so I can re-read from the beginning, and see if I can turn my perspective 180 degrees. It’s ironic that in ShadowDragon’s Misfile fanfic, the parts that I ignored in TaL – the relationships between the characters – are what I enjoy most. Precisely because, as you point out, the what and why are out of the way. Only the solution – which TaL doesn’t even have – is left open.

  9. von says:

    My earlier post, which Scott understood anyway, should have read, … and so now we can move on to ‘what happens because of it’ and ‘how do the characters cope’.

    In my case, if I had thought that the sci-fi bit was ‘not the story’ I would have dropped out fairly soon… especially as, for me at least, there is no strong secondary tension. I think there could be, and I think Russ could write it well into the story, but I don’t think there is.

  10. BMeph says:

    @scotts13: Kind of a tangent to it, but a favorite radio show host I listen to has a catch phrase that I think sums up your observation of the story’s flow:
    “It’s not about ‘why this’ but about ‘what next’.”

  11. Michael says:

    I enjoyed this chapter! I agree with Scott that Marsh accepted the “reality” too easily and am still hoping for another twist, but this was fun.

  12. von says:

    My theory is that Russ has died. Or else he has no idea where to go next 🙂

  13. Russ says:

    Sadly, I am knee-deep in taxes. The story will resume when those are done.

  14. TJ says:

    It fine russ, we miss the story of course, but take your time to get done what is needed to get done.

  15. Michael says:

    I wonder if there is a parallel universe where Russ has already finished his taxes, and the story.

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