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Gary Couzens is a British writer whose work has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, The Third Alternative, Peeping Tom, Psychotrope and Urges, and in the anthology Bizarre Sex and Other Crimes of Passion (Richard Kasak Books). This story previously appeared in Substance #4.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

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by Gary Couzens

(Go back to Part Eight)

Part Nine

     Slowly, surely, Penny returns to her body. A slide, a greased slipping from one to the other, the ungainliness melting away as she returns to the form she knows of old. Standing outside the Quicksnack, she stretches her legs, breaking the knots. The headache-muzziness she had as Peter is already going.
     - What took you so long? she asks.
     - I was...delayed.
     She doesn't question him. She's simply relieved to be Penny again, her gender and her physical form in unison.
     - How was it? he asks.
     - It was an experience.
     - No more than that?

     She shakes her head.
     - I don't want to do it again. I'm quite happy with my own body, thank you.
     - You're fortunate.
     - I suppose.

     The train they'll both catch has arrived; the PA announces it.
     - Well, this is my train, she says.
     - It's mine as well.
     They stay together as far as Basingstoke. There, they part: Penny to Reading and Birmingham, he to Aldershot via Woking.
     - Well, she says. If you were here in front of me, you'd get a kiss. I don't know when we'll meet up again.
     - When we visit Richard and Michelle again. I know what I've got to do now.
     - I wish you luck.
     - Thank you. Touch the banister, at the top there.

     She does so, and for a moment, she feels his hand there, warm, sharing the same space as hers.
     - Goodbye.
     - Goodbye.

     And then he's gone. Penny walks through the tunnel towards her platform.

     Over the station bridge, my heels clicking on the tiles. And suddenly one heel slipped and I went crashing to the floor. My suitcase slid away from me.
     "Shit!" I said out loud. "Fuck it!"
     "Are you all right?" A man was standing over me. I realised with a sudden embarrassment that my legs were splayed and he could see up my skirt.
     I stood up. Fortunately I'd done myself no damage. I dusted my skirt with my hand.
     "Running for the train, were you?"
     I nodded. I glanced through the bridge windows down at the platform. The train had gone.
     "I'll be all right, thanks," I said. I began walking back the way I came. Towards the Quicksnack, where Penny was waiting.

     He stands by the Quicksnack, waiting. The train he planned to catch leaves, and he waits half an hour for the next one. But still Peter doesn't return.
     Peter has left. In Penny's body.
     I should have fucking known, he thinks. I should have known I couldn't trust him. I gave him the opportunity of a lifetime. How could I have been so fucking stupid?
     Finally he gets on board the train. By now there is a tight band about his throat. There is no-one else in the compartment. He gives way to tears.
     If anyone asks why he's crying, he'd have no explanation. None that would make any sense.
     He glances out of the window. Peter's reflection stares back.
     I'm not Peter, he thinks. I'm Penny. Penny. Penny.
     But repetition doesn't help.
     I'm not a man. I'm a woman.
     With the passing countryside, mile by mile, the trap deepens.