140 Choices and Consequences

I had arranged for Brian to wait with Terry and Lee Ann in the hall lounge during our meeting; since nobody outside the Strangers was likely to recognize him, I figured that would be safe. So he was knocking at our door thirty-seconds after I called him.

The room fell silent when he first walked in. Along with him, I studied their faces, seeing hostility, fear, and confusion. I could almost hear them asking, who is this monster who did this to us? He looked at me, uncertain. I nodded, hoping to give him confidence. We’d discussed the first things he would say, but he was pretty much on his own after that.

I watched him take a breath and let it out slowly. “My name is Brian Harlan,” he said. “I’m sorry. I… really didn’t know what was going to happen. And… when we first found out, well, we were ordered to close up and hide. Obviously, it was… it just made things worse.”

Nobody had interrupted him, but the silence was too perfect. Normally, an audience makes some noises: coughing, shifting positions. When they don’t, it means that they are paying extremely close attention. When you’re working from a script, that’s great – you’ve got them really into the show. When you’re trying to keep them from lynching you, that’s a horse of a different color.

“By now, Marsh has told you that you were mistaken about what we did. Thing is, we knew what you thought because of that article, and we didn’t say anything. I don’t know if you would have felt better if we had, but we probably should have tried.”

“So why didn’t you?” somebody snapped. It was one of the boys who had started arguing near the end of my own talk.

Brian flinched slightly, and looked toward both Luke and me before answering, “Because we were being threatened by the administration that they would cut off our funding if we did,” he admitted. “I don’t know, maybe we could have tried to find money elsewhere, but it’s really hard to walk away from years of work like that.”

“So now you’re screwed, huh?” his challenger asked. “Why the change of heart?”

Brian was starting to remind me of the proverbial deer in the headlights. “Um. I don’t want to sound like I’m claiming to be a hero. The truth is, Marsh finding us sort of forced our hand. My advisor called the administration and told them what had happened, and I didn’t like the deal he worked out with them. So… I’m hoping to come up with something better.”

“And you expect us to help you?” a girl sneered.

If there’d been any place to run, I think he might have tried. “I’m just hoping that you’ll see it in your own best interests to go along with the lawsuit that Mr. Steen is planning, and that that’ll work out better for me, as well.”

“They’ve already agreed to the lawsuit,” I reminded him.

“Then just tell me what I can do to make things better,” he pleaded with the crowd. “I know I messed up. I’m still hoping I can find a way to save my thesis–”

“Over our dead bodies,” somebody muttered.

“Um, excuse me?” Ben said from the back, raising his hand timidly and standing up. Everyone had to turn to look at him, which made them face away from Brian. “I know I haven’t exactly been active with this group…”

Several people assured him that it was OK, that he had had reason to be uncomfortable. As I’d hoped, many of the Strangers seemed to be protective toward him.

“Marsh actually told me… what you guys heard tonight… a few days ago. Um. If it’s true – well, I guess it is true, at least it makes sense and she sort of showed me, well… I was supposed to be this big jock, OK? And she… well, Marsh had it a lot worse and… I felt really bad. Embarrassed, you know? I shouldn’t be showed up by, well…” He wasn’t looking at anybody, but at least he was forcing himself to talk.

“So, I don’t really know who I am. I liked the idea of being the guy I remember being, only… I guess he’s not me. I don’t know if I’m going to like being who I am, but my sister says I used to, and… well, Marsh tried teaching me to the play the guitar like… like I’m supposed to know how, and it did feel almost like my hands knew what they were doing, so anyway… I think we should try. To listen, I mean. And to see if we can be what we used to be, if that’s what we want. This guy messed with us, so I don’t really want to cut him any slack, but if he didn’t do what I thought he did, well, I think he owes us, and I want to know what he plans to do to help.

“I don’t know if I’m making any sense at all, but I think I want to hear what this guy can tell us. Don’t kill him, OK?” His face reddening, he sat down.

I watched the faces of the rest of the Strangers as they turned back to Brian. I’m not saying that they were mollified by any means, but I thought they looked a bit embarrassed over their hostility. The boy who had spoken up earlier certainly sounded calmer. “OK, look,” he told Brian, “we’re not going to assault you or anything, but as Ben says, you owe us. So what are you planning to do?”

“Well,” Brian offered, “did Marsh tell you about our idea to maybe help you guys recover memories?” He got plenty of nods, and hesitated. “Um, well…”

“Tell us what went wrong,” Ian suggested. “What did you expect to happen, and why didn’t it? I’m pretty sure you never warned us about massive memory loss or identity loss.”

“Oh! Well, the experiment, right.” He summarized what he’d told me about discovering that people exposed to their device had come away with new memories that clearly didn’t match reality, and his conclusion that he’d stumbled onto a ‘Many Worlds’ alternate universe. “What we didn’t realize was that younger subjects might have a different response.”

He explained how they’d concluded that the alternate reality must have split off before those of us in the Strangers had been conceived. “As far as we’ve been able to tell, nobody with a group 2 response was born before October 4, 1993.”

“What do you mean by a ‘group 2 response’?” The girl who’d sneered earlier asked, only this time she sounded curious, not hostile.

“OK, let me back up a bit,” Brian said, sounding more comfortable. First of all, I should note that we interviewed everybody – and that includes you guys, although you don’t seem to remember it – immediately after subjecting them to the device, and the responses were fairly consistent – 78% of our subjects were able to find something in their memories either then or in the next week that didn’t match reality – our reality. One thing that was different was that about one in ten had a memory of being the opposite sex. Not all the time – it was easy for them to identify it as a new memory, since they were clearly different in it; still, it was something we hadn’t seen at Rocky Lake. The bigger change, though, was something that happened a couple of weeks later.

“We had two girls come in, a bit confused. They remembered the experiment and remembered that they were supposed to be interviewed, but didn’t remember having done so. Further, they claimed that their appearances had changed, and they were happy about it. One girl said she was thinner than she remembered being, and the other claimed that she looked ‘prettier’ in ways that she couldn’t quite remember. Neither had reported anything of the kind when we’d interviewed them initially.”

“So what happened to them?” another girl asked.

“We spent a fair bit of time interviewing them, and we found some curious things. There were a lot of things that they remembered differently than the first time, and differently than we could verify independently. We asked them about a lot of events that we knew about happening at Piques since we’d gotten here, including the big welcoming program at the start of the school year, and we caught a break. One of the girls told us how she’d developed a bit of a crush on the guitarist who’d opened the program, but I didn’t remember him. I even checked the program the school had put out, but the first act was a duo. As it happened, the other girl had the same memory.”

“But we already know about that,” somebody pointed out.

“We do now. This is how we found out about it. So we decided that their response was different from our initial subjects that we called them ‘group two’ but didn’t know why they had reacted differently. We did find some evidence, though, that their memories had changed since the initial exposure.”

“Why?”

Brian looked uncomfortable. “We have some guesses on that point, but we don’t know yet. We’re working at an empirical level here. Theory will come later. At any rate, when we went back and analyzed our Piques data from earlier, we realized that every subject who reported memories of being different, not just remembering different events, had been born after September of 1993, so we called the rest of those with differing memories, ‘group three.’

“Then we started hearing some alarming things from the administration. Some students had come to them, claiming that we had changed them and disappeared. They were really hazy about exactly what we had done, or who we were, but they remembered doing an experiment and then couldn’t remember where we were. We were ordered to shut down everything and disappear for real, and threatened that if we did not, our grant money would not be paid out, and the College would deny any knowledge of our work.

“They didn’t even give us time to take our equipment with us, and we’d brought that from Rocky Lake. They ordered us not to have any further contact with anyone from Piques, to take down all public accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. But before we were done what little packing they permitted, Luke came in.”

Everyone turned to look at Luke, who gave them an innocent, “who, me?” look in return. This time I could feel the interest intensify as they looked back at Brian, expectantly.

“Unlike the two girls,” he continued, “Luke was not happy about the change, and wanted to know if we could undo it. Well, we’d already had knew that we were going to need to defy the school on the no communications with students thing if we were to get to the bottom of the whole ‘group two’ phenomenon, so we suggested that he start the Strangers in the Mirror and report back to us on certain observations we wanted him to make.”

That started a firestorm. “What? Luke knew?” “This was your idea?” “You knew about us?” “What did he tell you?” A few of the guys actually stood up and took step towards him, but were immediately stopped by the others. I think everybody wanted to know what was coming next.

“And of course, there was that article, which completely mischaracterized the experiment. We did learn of a couple of students whose remembered lives were noticeably different from their real ones, and that group two was a lot larger than we had realized.”

Vicky asked, “So what actually happened? Are you saying that we swapped memories with… with the people in the other universe? That some girl out there no longer remembers dating, um, the guy I thought I’d been dating?”

“I have no reason to believe that we had any impact on the other reality,” Brain said. “And I don’t think you have all of their memories, anyway. Now they could have your memories if the same experiment was done there, but I think in that case, you’d all remember their experiment, which you don’t.

“What I think is going on, is that your lives and those of your counterparts are similar enough that what parts of your memories you retain fit well enough with their memories, that you concluded that those memories were your reality – anything you remember makes enough sense that you’ve constructed them as though they happened to the people you think they are. Even though group three includes a fair number of people with memories of being the opposite sex, those memories are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, we’d figured that the group two response was impossible with cross-gender memories.” He looked over at me. “Then we met Marsh. We haven’t interviewed her in detail yet – and I hope she’ll allow it later – but I suspect that we’d find a lot of similarities between her life and that of her counterpart – more than for most brothers and sisters. Or alternately, that the memory-transfer was a lot more complete in her case. That might do it as well.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So why was I different from group three? Why did I get so many of… of Marshall’s memories?”

“Marsh,” he said, “I just don’t know why. I’m guessing right now that some of you found it easier to assimilate those extra memories than others. Maybe you pulled in more than others, or everybody pulled in a lot and stored them in your brains somewhere and then were able to recover them. I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting problem, and one I wouldn’t mind helping with, but it’s probably way out of my field. But you said that you ‘woke up’ with this boy’s memories in your head over midterm break and that was a lot later than everybody else. It might be that it just took time, but once you’d reached some tipping point, it was just easier to treat your own memories as things that Marshall had experienced.”

“And suppressing my own as not consistent with them?”

“I would guess so. As I said, there’s a lot more work to do, here?”

Ian stood up. “So after all this, how do we get our own memories back? Marsh said something about a psych experiment.”

“Right. We had somebody do some experiments and they were able to help those first two girls recover some of their memories. It is possible that the same techniques will work with you guys. It is also possible that your memories might simply start returning as you encounter more and more things that don’t make sense in light of the memories you have. I don’t know; this wasn’t part of the things I was looking for, but now… I’ll do whatever I can to help you guys, and I know it’s probably not much.”

That was my cue. “How many people can you get into this psych experiment?” I asked. We’d discussed this in advance, so I already knew the answer.

“Right away? Well, I’m pretty sure they’ve got room for two more right now. Not sure they have the resources for more.”

Luke stood up. “OK, folks. Looks as though we need two volunteers. Who wants to be a test subject again, only this time with a guarantee of no untested scientific equipment?”

I would love to have volunteered. I really did want those memories back, but the goal right now was to get the group committed. And as I’d feared, nobody moved, at first. But after a few minutes, Ben put up his hand. “If nobody else is interested… I mean, I won’t push anybody else out…”

“That’s great, Ben,” Luke said. “Anybody else?”

Silence.

“Vicky,” I whispered, but she turned her face away. I whispered again, “Vicky,” and knelt at her side. “Do it, please. I want you to find good memories, so you’ll feel better about yourself.”

“What if all I have are worse memories?” she whimpered. “What if all I ever dated were creeps.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said watching everybody else. Then a girl did finally put her hand up and claimed the last spot.

“I’m just not ready, Marsh,” Vicky told me.

“OK, we have our volunteers,” Luke said. “We still need to meet with the rest of the group, but I think we’ve made some real progress. Any more questions?”

There didn’t seem to be any, so the meeting broke up.

As people started to leave, I followed Vicky out. “I’m just too confused, Marsh,” she protested. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. As you said, I don’t know who I am anymore, and I’m really afraid to find out. I thought I was learning to like myself; you really helped me there. But now, you’re telling me that the self I was starting to like isn’t me.”

“Vicky, that’s not true. The only you that I know is the one you’ve been since we met for the first time when we thought we already knew each other. I think you’re a lot nicer than the other Vicky, at least based on the way Marshall remembered you.”

“Marshall loved the other me!”

“Yes, yes, you’re right. I just–”

“It’s this me that’s not nice, then.”

“Wait… Vicky, let’s try something else, OK? Tell your roommates about the experiment. I have. Tell them that you don’t remember your own past, or at least that you don’t know how much of what you remember is true. Ask them what you were like before you did it; what they thought of the guys you dated, and so on. OK?”

“What if I don’t like the answers?”

“At least you’ll know the truth.” She looked at me, a look of doubt in her eyes, but she gave me a hug and headed off down the hall.”

I went to the lounge to let Terry and Lee Ann know that the meeting was over; when we got back to our room, Luke, Ian, Brian, and a couple of other guys were left. Ian and Luke seemed to be getting along a bit better, and the conversation between Brian and the others seemed very civil; in fact, the guys seemed to be very interested in what he had to say. By tacit agreement, three of us chose not to interfere, but started tidying up the room around them.

Finally, the conversations started winding down and I introduced everybody. “We want to thank you ladies for letting us borrow your room,” Ian said. “Is it all right if we meet with the rest of the Strangers here tomorrow?”

My roommates agreed, and the meeting the next day went off even easier. Luke and I split the initial speech, with him apologizing up front for having hidden the fact that he’d been in touch with the missing professor. It was pretty clear that the first days attendees had passed on the word to the second group, since there was no surprise when I spoke of the lawsuit or introduced Brian. Everybody signed on pretty quickly.

Vicky called me afterwards. “Looks as though you were right again, Marsh,” she said, sounding a bit happier than I’d heard her in some time. “Mandy and Christine were practically raving about a couple of the boys I’ve dated. So… maybe I’m worth something after all.”

“I always knew you were,” I said.

“Thanks for believing in me. Um, if any spots in that psych treatment thing open up, do you think I could get in? I’d kind of like to know my secret!”

Dad’s negotiations apparently went off without any problems. Shown photos of the old and new labs and videos of the experimenters emptying the old lab, the administration caved and gave us what Dad had hoped for: the scholarships were the least of what they should have done, and with the additional money they provided, the psychology professor, who turned out to be located at a university just twenty minutes away, was able to include three more subjects, and promised to bring more in the following year. We held a lottery for the places, and Vicky got in, but I didn’t – at least this year.

As for my relationship with Jeremy, I really can’t complain. He’s seemed a lot more amused than disconcerted at the things I remember. “So you were how tall?” he’d ask, and I would remember him that I wasn’t, I just had the memories of a boy who was. I made it a point never to mention Marshall’s sexual history, suspecting that if we ever did achieve a sexual relationship of our own, he’d be intimidated at the prospect of somebody a lot more knowledgeable watching him fumble his way toward a satisfactory result. I suppose if it ever came down to it, I could tell him about Marshall’s first and very embarrassing time, but silence has seemed the wisest policy.

I try not to be amused myself at his boyish propensity to exclaim over unique rocks and stones he finds on the ground. He recognizes all of them and explains to me their properties, or how they’re formed, or where appropriate their use as semi-precious stones, and has continued to shower me with his own creations. I’ve struggled with reciprocating; it’s so hard to find things that he wants or needs. I’ve finally realized that my listening to him and learning to appreciate his hobbies and creations is one of the things that makes him the happiest.

His rock collecting led to, or rather was an excuse for a very exciting incident that the two of are going to remember for a long time. It was just after his graduation that he’d come over to have dinner with my family, and even apparently managed to be polite to them when Vicky called me in a panic, and needing to talk right away. The subject turned out to be, to my surprise, her nascent romance with Brian, of all people, and her guilt at enjoying the company of a young man who had caused all of us such grief. I had to remind her that most of the Strangers had managed to, if not forgive him, quite, at least tolerate him, and that if she was happy, that was what really mattered.

When I got back, I discovered that the family had decided that Jeremy and I should go pick up some ice cream, and that given the light and the weather; we should walk to a nearby convenience store and take our time. I certainly had no objections to a romantic walk.

“So what did you guys talk about while I was gone?” I asked as we walked across the field just outside of our development.

“Oh, different things. Where I’m going to live while in business school next year, what I’ll be studying… you… Mostly, you, actually.”

“Well, that’s kind of embarrassing,” I said.

“No, it seems to be one of your parents’ favorite subjects. I know it’s one of mine.”

“Mmhmm,” I smiled. “So where did you decided to live? Have you found a roommate yet? Are you going to have a place for me to stay when I visit…?” Suddenly I realized that I was talking to the air.

“Come look at this,” he said, kneeling on the ground again.

Rolling my eyes, I turned and stretched out my hand to receive his latest find. “I don’t even know how you can see rocks in this…” Then it registered. Him down on one knee, holding out his hand, and in his hand something that sparkled a lot more than any found semi-precious stone had a right to.

I don’t know that I was even aware of conscious thought any more until he asked, “Jennifer Marsha Steen, I am very familiar with gems and precious stones and have never found one as precious as you. Will you marry me?” and I was hugging him and crying. And kissing. And hugging some more.

And then I winked and said, “So, you think this would be a good time for me to start sharing your bed?”

Of course he whispered back, “Wedding night, hon,” but that wasn’t some remote might-be time anymore.

Or so I thought. When we got back to the house and everybody congratulated us (they’d known all along that he was going to ask me) I discovered that my parents and my new fiancé had agreed that we would be having a June wedding – after my graduation, two years hence.

“It makes perfect sense, Babe,” he said, trying to placate me. “I’ll be in school a couple hundred miles away. Then I’ll graduate from B-school when you graduate from Piques and I can look for a job near your Med school.”

“And I have to be celibate for two more years, even when we know that we’re going to be together?”

“But we’ll have the whole rest of our lives together…”

So. It looks as though happily ever after is going to take a bit more work, but considering where I started on that horrible lemon of a morning in the fall, I’d say the lemonade tastes pretty sweet.

 

49 Comments

  1. Russ says:

    And that’s the end, folks. Thanks for hanging in there, and thanks especially to my main beta-reader Von, and April who has occasionally served as both proof-reader and emergency system administrator.

    So, what’s next? Well, at some point I will likely be heavily revising this story so that I can self-publish it. I figure I need to get rid of at least half the words somehow – it’s probably about 1000 pages in its current form. I have some thoughts about a story I will want to work on for NaNoWriMo, some ideas for short stories and maybe Misfile fanfic, and I may try to go a collaboration with Von.

    I will attempt to keep my status posted on the twitter account: russwritings.

    Thanks again!

  2. von says:

    Well, it’s been fun, and I want to thank Russ for the ride. One of these days I’ll have to rewrite my review. The story certainly went a very, very different direction then I thought it would.

    I’m hoping this doesn’t totally break the gang up and that Russ is going to write some thing else. In the meantime everyone is welcome to read ‘Scrabbled’ and see the wildly different take on the situation that I came up with after, what, the first five or ten chapters or so? I forget but you can probably tell from the book. You can’t comment on site, unfortunately (due to an enormous hole in google sites) but you can email me with comment, criticisms, moans of horror etc. (http://www.vonsbooks.com/home/science-ficton/scrabble)

    Again, hope to continue to see you all around. I can always count on Russ for a fun discussion of Orthodox Jewish culture etc… and politics, of course. But I’m hoping to continue to see Scott’s critical comments somewhere!

    It’s been fun,
    Von

  3. BMeph says:

    *slow clapping*

    Nice job, well done, especially on the scramble at the end to make a “real” ending of it.

    If you’re interested, Russ, I have the story collected in a Word doc (1052pp. 306297 words); drop me a line if you want it.

    Oh, and just in case you’re still interested in tweaking things, I think “I try not to be amused myself [at his boyish propensity …]” would be better as just “I try not to laugh aloud at…”. You could even use the more popular “laugh out loud,” but some people have a gag reflex at even the hint of “LOL”.

    I also hope that we can get the “Lemon-Suckers” to stay together and comment on more stories, perhaps we can take pot-shots at von (or me) and carry on the tradition, maybe have a special section for the more…”involved” exchanges.

  4. scotts13 says:

    Thanks, Russ. As Von said, very different from the story I thought I was reading, but what we wound up with has it’s charms – and it’s a GOOD thing for me to break my usual fiction genre.

    Besides… I doubt anyone doesn’t know the name Robert Heinlein, arguable the father of modern science fiction. What’s not entirely well known is that his early writings also include a bit of fiction for and about teenage girls, written in first person from the female protagonists point of view. It’s not bad; and I see some similarities here.

  5. April says:

    BMeph — actually, I wrote a program a long time ago that grabs the newest chapters, cleans up the formatting, and puts it into a nice, clean Word file. It’s at 579 pages, with page breaks at the end of each chapter. I’m gonna give Russ my newest files today (Word, PDF, ePub): perhaps he’ll post them to the site at some point? 🙂

    Thanks for the enjoyable story, Russ, and thanks for the fun ride, everyone! 😀

  6. TJ says:

    Ut was an amazing story, i don’t know, maybe I am being sadden by the end, it felt a little rushed.
    I am happy that both Vicky and Marsh has happiness for the end. I think i wished for a little more after the meeting, but I guess i am happy it over.

    I am a mix of feeling.

    I vote for a misfile work next, lol.
    I read Von stuff on the parody he made for this story. it was good, but way differnt so unsure how a mix will go, but technically he had lots of input for this story, so it could turn out good.

  7. von says:

    It wasn’t a parody!!
    arghhhh

  8. scotts13 says:

    TJ, von takes his parody very seriously. One might almost think he was being serious (GRIN). Also, Russ has done some (far shorter) Misfile fanfic; I think there are still links in the forums. IIRC, as here, he takes more the adaptation tack than the denial or rebellion ones.

  9. TJ says:

    O I know, i reads the misfile stuff he done / working on, and it was not bad. Seem not quite in character, but still an interesting take, and i look forward to more, just cause I enjoy reading 🙂

    If Von did, he contiune, it an interesting look, and i hope for more, since he kinda stop around chapter 9ish, lol.

  10. von says:

    >>If Von did, he contiune, it an interesting look, and i hope for more, since he kinda stop around chapter 9ish, lol.

    Huh? I have twenty six chapters up on the web, and a second book started. Try it again TJ.

  11. TJ says:

    Sorry, I read the first set von, then there was the 2nd set that contiune from that first set, and it explained a few things on how you ended the first set.
    The 2nd set, stop at around chapter 9 or 10. I forget, the bookmark on my home pc.

  12. von says:

    Ah, Dominoes. Yes, that isn’t finished yet.

  13. TJ says:

    Yea, i like more of that, only stories i really been able to get into on your site :).

  14. Michael says:

    The final chapter needs an editors pass but otherwise I think I’m happy with the ending. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered but also offers hope – those with the biggest problems may be helped by the psych experiment, and those with lessor issues will just adapt. I’m tempted to ask for an epilogue but maybe its better to leave it alone.

  15. Michael says:

    Oh, and nice job! Thanks for sharing this. I’m looking forward to your next project.

  16. scotts13 says:

    >> I’m tempted to ask for an epilogue but maybe its better to leave it alone.

    Wild-haired scientist suddenly appears and tells Marsha and Jeremy “Something has to be done about their kids”?

  17. BMeph says:

    @scotts13: “I c wat u did ther…” ;þ

    …but I’m not mad atcha.

    So, von’s got his fiction, I have about three starts at stuff scattered here and there. Where’s your stab at it? 😉

  18. BMeph says:

    @April: Sweet! With Russ’ permission, I’d like a copy. So, how did you class/sort out the (six) chapters between Sections four and five?

  19. Jerf says:

    Thank you, Russ for giving us a great story to read through. It’s been fun reading through the chapters and following the updates. I hope to see your revised edition in the future; hope it works out for you, maybe even as a real book for profit!

  20. Hoopla says:

    Thank you for this story. I didn’t get chance to read it until today 🙁

    I really enjoyed your work and thank you for your effort.

  21. XeXano says:

    Many thanks for writing this story and following it through to the end! I only discovered it a few days ago and read the whole thing almost in one go (not counting sleep, university, etc.). It was a very captivating read, in spite of some places where nothing much was happening it never lost my interest (and on the contrary kept me turning the virtual pages late into the night).

    I initially started reading because I find this kind of gender bender story intriguing (I’m a long-time misfile reader, and just finished the German webcomic “Oh no, I’m a girl!”, which takes a more kafkaesque angle on the topic, and of which an English translation is currently in the works), with the usual exploration of questions like “How does the character react/adapt?”, “What would I do/how would I feel if suddenly found in a surreal situation like this?”, “what does the environment notice/How do others react?” (which are mostly unrelated to the specific mechanics of the gender switch), but over the course of the story became more and more engaged in the plot.

    I found your writing style very engaging, and given the philosophical complexities of such questions of identity, memory, and self-perception, the motivation and inner development of Marsh portrayed in a plausible way, at least on a broader scale (though having occasional fluctuations and inconsistencies, which were notable, but not to the point of detracting from the overall reading experience — I guess some of those will be addressed in your eventual rewrite, while others can be attributed to Marsh’s conflicted inner state).

    I found the gradual shift of self-perception with regard to gender identification as well as sexual orientation well executed; at the beginning I was feeling with Marsh feeling frustrated at no longer being what he remembered being, and (I admit) somewhat disappointed that he apparently no longer was attracted to girls, while finding the emerging thoughts about boys somewhat disconcerting (from the kissing fantasy as a performance aid to the beginning feelings for Jeremy), but as, with the progress of the story, Marsh’s self-perception became more and more female, I was really rooting for the romance to work out and, despite rationally knowing that (s)he should pursue the uncovering of the experiment mystery, emotionally thinking that it would be nice for her to just stay this way and letting it go (which really paid off at the place where Marsh goes into town to tell Jeremy – Hoping he would take it well and thus putting Marsh’s “I’m deceiving him” issue to rest). From a story construction POV, nice (and sadistic for the reader) contrasting of things like *Joy over successful date* “We found the lab” ;).

    These conflicting feelings (of mine) were nicely resolved at the end, which I found very satisfying. Somebody asked for an epilogue, but the last one or two pages (depending on screen resolution 😉 — after the Strangers’ meetings, when Marsh shifts to “tell/recap” mode) being essentially that. Nice ending (especially for the romantic in me), I like that while being in essence a “happily ever after”, the formulation avoided it being too kitschy. Only quibble: The repetition of “together” in two consecutive sentences sticks out (perhaps this can be rephrased :)).

    Some specific comments on story elements:
    -I liked the SF element and found the final explanation of the experiment satisfactory and mostly consistent with the story. It could be fleshed out/cleaned up a bit to increase the coherence and motivation, like Scott’s take on Davis’s monologue. I agree with other posters that the “finding out about the experiment” story arc could perhaps be a bit more prominent (related with the issue of Marsh’s initially inconsequential pursuing of it and carefree attitude towards “I’ll just go to them and get changed back in Jan.”), but overall I found the balance with the “soap opera” element not too uneven. On a side note, do you watch “Fringe”? 😉

    -Likewise I enjoyed the character interplay, conversations, Marsh’s discovery and exploration of “his” new life, and “soap opera” parts of campus life, coping with emotional struggle etc., it mostly felt (in the context of the story’s premise) natural enough not to be awkwardly stilted (like too many soaps I know). Alas, I have a weakness for engagingly portrayed campus life since “Gilmore Girls”.

    -I really enjoyed the theater/musical parts! Of course it’s a matter of YMMV, as was already pointed out, but I got a lot of mileage out of it. Kudos for including Sweeney Todd 😉 (Had to listen to Johanna’s “Green Finch…” song at that point)

    When you get around to revising the story and publishing it, I’m looking forward to buy the book (and in the meantime perhaps try to finish “Gödel, Escher, Bach” on my third attempt…).

    Greetings,
    XeXano

    P.S.: I’m looking forward to eventually reread the story with an altered perspective on it, an aspect I greatly enjoy in books as well as movies (Shutter Island, Fight Club, or The Usual Suspects come to mind).

  22. Elt says:

    This truly was a fantastic read. Discovered it yesterday and just finished now. Very impressed! And entertained. This really is one of my favorite story concepts (suddenly waking up as a girl), and apart from Misfile and “Oh no, I’m a girl!”, it’s rare to see a story that actually takes it seriously, instead of just playing it for comedy, not to mention do it WELL. Well now I have 3 examples of “Doing it right”, and I shall keep scouring the web for more. I noticed a mention of Misfile fanfics in a comment above, so I’m going to look for those next.

    Also, NICE ending. I started hoping early on that Marsh wouldn’t be able to change back, but the reveal at the end about the nature of the experiment was an excellent twist. And while I feel attached enough to the characters now to wish there was more to read, the ending wrapped things up well enough that any kind of sequel would be somewhat superfluous. It’s not quite the same case as Misfile, which has no ending (yet) and makes me wish I could jump 20 years into the future and have years of new material to read. Good endings are hard! But this one was definitely good.

    Haha, now I wish I had read this slower so I wouldn’t be done yet. 🙂

  23. Crystal L. says:

    I stopped following the story somewhere around chapter 12X, and came back in these few days and finished reading the final chapters.

    Personally, I don’t like the ending.
    My feelings is similar to Vicky: No, this can’t be true…….
    No time travel?
    No sex change?
    No sex? XD

    I have been anticipating so much to see how the story will cover these aspects, but eventually it went to another direction…….

    Anyway, that’s not the story’s problem, it’s just my own preference. XD

    After all, I always enjoy reading how Marsh struggle in his/her gender confusion. You described Marsh’s feelings and thoughts with so much details and make them so realistic, which makes them interesting to read.

    Thank you for sharing with us such a great story.

  24. Ponjos says:

    My experience with this story is an odd one and I want to share it. I first started reading Take a Lemon when the current section was 112, entitled Working Through It. In a period of about three weeks, I read this story in its entirety and I loved it. By the time I was up-to-date with it, the story was at section 114, Call to Action.

    I remember it was tough for me to read it over that length of time. I was working long night shifts. I worked twelve nights (in a row) on-shift with only two nights off every two weeks. The overtime was fantastic and the schedule was very intense but somehow I found myself constantly losing sleep because I was reading this amazing story.

    Then, as I do with many online works that I read, I bookmarked the webpage at section 114 and caught up with other stories that I had previously bookmarked. Since then I had “forgotten” to continue reading until this became the oldest bookmark. Now it is over a year later when I managed to read the last 25 sections, in only a few days. This is one hell of a story and I wouldn’t change much (other than the typos.)

    I have read the comments from many of the regular readers and seen what they have written and thought as they read the “live” story. It was a tough pill to swallow, thinking the story “might” be completed. I came to love the characters as they explored their unique situation. I did not want the story to finish, but like all good things, it did come to an end.

    Russ, I thank you very much for writing this book.

  25. Russ says:

    Thank you so much for your comments. Hearing that people enjoyed my work is a constant source of pleasure for me. 🙂

  26. P says:

    Well, having written stuff myself I know that it’s never too late to tell someone that they executed something wonderfully. I found this yesterday and read through it all in 2 long sittings, and I have to say that I’m impressed. The story itself was well written, certainly better than some of the trashy fantasy novels I’ve picked up at air port gift shops to read on a flight, and the plot was well thought out.

    There are points that do need to be proofed again, and some places towards the middle seem to sag a little in their pacing, but all in all this story kept me wanting to click on the next chapter link over and over. The epileptic trees going on in the comments every once in a while didn’t hurt either, all things considered.

    I feel you had a good solid group of proofreaders/reviewers though out the story, but I just wanted to congratulate you for a job well done.

  27. Onessor says:

    Absolutely grand, I really enjoyed this story immensely.

    While it did feel that it was the proper length in terms of chapter and word count to be a sufficiently satisfying story, it was agonizing to watch Marsh flip-flop back and forth so much between what she wants to be, I would have preferred a notch less flopping and maybe some more content on other scenarios, among which I would have liked to see Marsha’s reaction to meeting Jeremy’s parents, and maybe just a peek into the wedding ceremony.

    I did find that Marsha accepted and dropped the Marshall persona rather effortlessly in contrast to just how much internal conflict she endured throughout the duration of the book, I expected her reaction to be a bit closer to Vicky’s in terms of denial and for Vicky herself to go off the deep end entirely.

    With all written and read, this is an absolutely amazing story. I feel that if it were properly edited and reviewed that it could definitely get published and make a great novel targeted at young adults, especially those that might be experiencing some confusion between gender norms in modern society.

    Now I’m off to go read Scrabbled.

  28. Russ says:

    Thanks so much! Editing this is on my to-do-one-day list. All I need is copious spare time…

  29. Onessor says:

    No, thank -you- Russ. Take a Lemon has to be my favourite gender-bender story to date, this genre is seriously lacking in content compared to others (barring the realm of fanfiction) and the number of completed stories is so few its painful.

  30. April says:

    Oddly enough, some chapters (like 128) aren’t letting comments being left. I was going to comment to say that it looks like the chapter got truncated somehow. Just thought you should know. 🙂

  31. April says:

    I just reread through the story; it really is a wonderful piece of fiction that you put together here. What ever happened to your plans to get it rewritten and published? I know I’d be in line on the first day to get it. 🙂

  32. Russ says:

    Thanks – yeah, it’s still something I mean to do. I seem to be having trouble finding time. You’d think I tend to overcommit myself or something.

    I’m right now developing a video course, for which I will be paid, so that’s taking up a lot of my time, and Von keeps reminding me that we’re supposed to be writing a story together…

    Maybe I just needed reminders like this to start seriously looking at what I need to do to edit. But editing isn’t as much fun as writing…

  33. Russ says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ve just gone through the site and found several pages that weren’t allowing comments. I think I have them fixed. I’ll take a look to see about the truncation on chapter 128 as well.

  34. April says:

    Hey hey, speak for yourself! I had a good deal of fun editing. 😛

    Heck, if you just went through and did the minor editing (grammar, etc.) that it needs, you could probably just use the PDF thing I had made at one point and self-publish as an ebook on Amazon.

  35. DC says:

    I just finished reading the entire story. A commenter on the Misfile site had directed me here. It took a few days to find time to read it all, but I was thoroughly enthralled with the story from beginning to end. It was disheartening to know, in advance, exactly how long the story was, so that even at #120 or so, that I only had about 20 chapters left and the ‘reveal’ was already hinted at by the person directing me here.

    However, there were many, many, many great things about how this story handles the gender-change issue, or at least in this case, the illusion of the gender change.

    You did keep this at a PG to PG-13 level, so the sex comments, and self-exploration were either missing, or very subdued. Of which, I think most who are interested in this type of story are greatly interested in.

    However, this was handled very well from the beginning when Marsh(all) thought his waking as a girl was just a dream. This allowed a ‘slow entry’ into the gender change, rather than the horrified panic that usually is brought on in Misfile, Lalola, etc.

    The method of the perceived change was very original, clever, although as it proceeded, was overly lampshaped. Especially knowing, as I did, how few chapters were left with so little resolution. And, with the topics, there was little chance ever of ‘changing back’, so the solution to this story of how Marsh stays as Marsha is quite consistent, believable, etc even if the science is generally handwaved as just unspoken.

    For a story such as this, the number of characters involved were all original, and had their own sense of identity to the reader. This is a credit to the author for making us feel immersed into the story. Major props to you for that. You didn’t make them cookie-cutters. They were individuals with their own personalities.

    In the end, for a gender-change fan, I was a smidge disappointed that this turned out NOT to be a gender-change story. But, that was purely from my own self-interest. The story itself stands on its own as a VERY good story.

    My only negative aspect is this: improper punctuation (mostly quotation makes where they don’t belong) and what I feel are ‘dropped words’. Usually this didn’t require a lot of thought to figure out the intent of the author, but it was lacking.

    But, that is my only knock on this story, and it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the STORY.

    The happenstance of the crate behind the alley, etc was unadulterated luck. But, sometimes it just needs to happen that way. The speed in which it went from finding them to revealing what happened, etc made the story move fast to the climax. As any climax should be.

    In the end, dear author, I commend you for a wonderful story that took you years to write. That you clearly put considerable thought and effort into. One in which you didn’t go for low-brow, but also didn’t go for the high road, either. You plowed right through the inner minds of Marsh and Marshall. You made them feel like they were really part of OUR reality, so to speak.

    I would love to have this in some sort of collective form. Such as a word document or PDF file.

    In the end however, thank you for your time in writing this story.

  36. Russ says:

    Thanks for your comments, DC – and sorry for taking so long to notice your post and reply. On the “to do when I find the time” list is to edit the story down a fair bit, removing some plotlines that never went anywhere, and fixing a few scenes that I’d messed up (and yes, correcting typos). Then I’ll see about releasing it in usable form.

  37. Wei-Hwa Huang says:

    My offer for free copy-editing (fixing typos, correcting grammar) still stands. I’d love to get this story in dead-tree form.

  38. Russ says:

    I am actually now in the process of revising the story in hopes of self-publishing. I’ve just found a useful blog post on self-publishing, http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/five-mistakes-killing-self-published-authors/, which I’m hoping to use to avoid at least the errors listed there. I had been thinking of trying to trim the story to be small enough to be a single book, but I suspect that might not be realistic.

  39. Having just read the whole story after seeing it mentioned on TvTropes (no link there, though) I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to write it! I liked the characters you created and how they were different from each other in very realistic ways. I noticed that some readers felt Marsh could have handled many things better, but she was going through something nobody else in that universe had ever experienced and yet did a better job than anyone else in the group.

    One slight plot hole is that she saw a picture of Dirk at her grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving. I suppose she could have been in such a shock at the say they were holding each other in the picture that she completely ignored his face.

    Though Marsh’s speech to “Strangers” at the end is already pretty long, it might have been a good idea for her to mention Dirk and Tyler. A negative aspect of the group was that it was too self centered and self pitying so finding out that there had been changes all over might have been good for them (and would reinforce Brian’s version of what happened in contrast to their previous theories).

  40. conflictedpsyches says:

    So, I really enjoyed reading this story the first time I stumbled upon it on TvTropes a couple of years ago. I think it’s a testament to how well I liked it that I’ve basically picked it up twice a year or so since. 😛 It’s a fascinating twist on a story structure I already liked. The ending was wonderful, a delightful twist. The characters are all unique and vibrant, you feel as if you know these characters. I can’t really think of anything I’d change in terms of plot.

    Of course, being a writer myself now, I started reading it with a more critical eye this time around. That said, I still can’t find much at fault with it. Aside from minor grammatical errors that are likely just due to editing oversights or typos, I really can’t find anything to nitpick about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and I will likely continue to enjoy reading this story when I inevitably pick it up again 6 months from now. 😛

    I’m not going to lie, the story kinda speaks to me, because I relate to Marsha quite well, being an actress with an interest in music that has had to deal with a lot of identity issues. Marsha’s experiences, while fantastic in origin, are still what I would consider relatable. I didn’t always LIKE Marsha(ll), but I wouldn’t for the life of me want to see her reactions to anything changed, because it would have made her less real. The rollercoaster of emotions she felt through the process of finding the experimenters had me reeling every time I read it. I wanted her to go back to Marshall so badly, and then when she stopped wanting it, I had to stop and reconsider my opinions on the situation just as much as Vicky did (OK, maybe I handled it a bit better than her. 😛 To be fair, I was a bit detached). I had really started to like Marshall, and then Marsha swoops in and starts saying “Hold up, maybe not do the thing”. And I started rooting for both Marshall and Marsha, it was a weird feeling. Eventually I really started to like Marsha much more, and really wanted her to be happy as she is now. So when the twist with the experimenters happened, I was floored. It made perfect sense, it was led up to perfectly, and I got to be happy for Marshall and Marsha. I couldn’t have been happier for them. Bravo.

    I’m not going to stroke your ego forever, I just wanted to say, keep up the good work, and I look forward to possibly having a print copy someday.

  41. TMI Fairy says:

    Could not stay away and timidly embarked on reading the rest of the story. 🙂
    The memory thing made it palatable for me as I can’t help projecting myself into a story like this.
    In the place of the protagonist I’d be the campus’ poster child for bulldyke inside 48 hours. Buzzcut, army boots, unshaven, etc.
    Or so my 50 y/o brain says.
    I wonder what my brain would had said at 20, though. Probably same thing, sans the buzzcut maybe, as I wore my hair long at that time 🙂
    However, you made me think of the impact on parents and siblings,

  42. Russ says:

    Thanks for the comments – if I kept you reading, then I’ve (largely) done my job 🙂

  43. Wei-Hwa Huang says:

    Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I saw The Mousetrap (I’m in London on vacation). The character names sounded vaguely familiar, and it took me a bit to recall where I had seen them before. So thanks, Russ, for not giving away The Secret in your story (which I’m still hoping to see published some day).

  44. Wei-Hwa Huang says:

    (At least, not blatant enough that I was able to remember it)

  45. Calise says:

    Hi there! I actually finished reading your story maybe a year ago, and loved it, and I was in the mood to revisit it, so I was leisurely perusing it again now 🙂 But I happened to look down at the comments section on several posts, and I’m sorry, you’ve gotten some seriously crappy feedback on something you worked so hard and long on!! So, even though I don’t usually comment on things I find through TVTropes’ Gender Bender section lol, due to being a little shy on the subject, I really wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your fresh and human-centric take on the subject. Your characters’ motives are very well conceived and Marsh’s whole process was really great to see every step of the way! I hope you’re still enjoying writing great stuff, because this was really awesome, and I hope you feel like it was enjoyed and appreciated, because I know I, for one, really enjoyed and appreciated it!

    Also, don’t give people who pick at little things the time of day. *Eyeroll* When people keep claiming all they can find are flaws, and yet keep coming back, it shows they’re uncomfortable that the content is beyond either their ability to emotionally fathom, or to write themselves.

    Thank you for the good read! And good luck with ALL the things! 😀
    Calise

  46. Russ says:

    Thanks! I am not writing a lot, mostly because somebody seems to have other things for me to do with my time… comments like yours, though, encourage me to try harder to find time to write.

    BTW, I am also involved in other creative efforts. Check out my audio drama work at http://www.gold-family.us/russ/va/

  47. Ebisu says:

    Just wanted to thank you for such a great read. Once the story kicked into motion in the 3rd chapter I just couldn’t stop. Learnt about it as a recommendation, in a forum’s recommended books thread and had to keep till the end.
    On some random comments:
    Marsh is a great girl for having persevered so much. Liked how Vicky tended to throw those poisonous words sometimes and Marsh just kept supporting her. Missed a little of Tina’s sisterly conversations by the end but guess it did not fit. Really, there were lots of great characters. By the way, Mr. Condrin’s words of wisdom made me start to think as a spiritual guide instead of their old drama teacher.
    That lemon had the right mix of sour of sweet. ^^

  48. Richard says:

    Great story and nice little twist at the end, I hadn’t thought about that. It does make one wonder if memories from an alternate life can leak into your life. What do you think Russ? What does everyone think?

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