Gender Confusion

by John Knouse

I try again.

"Lorraine, I've got some kind of intestinal problem. I've got diarrhea and the food goes right through me. I need more to eat."

Lorraine replied. "According to my monitoring, your bowel movements are normal. You are not ill. I cannot let you eat more than your caloric allotment. You are not highly physically active during this period of time, and I cannot allow you to become obese."

Again, I try:

"Lorraine, I am Lieutenant Commander Arnold Farrell. I am a ninety-two kilogram man, now down from one hundred and one kilos. I am not Captain Shanda Williams. I am not even a woman. I am most certainly not a forty-four kilogram woman. I'm starving on your caloric allotment. I need more!"

Lorraine blinked her local electronic eye. "Why are you acting out this charade, Captain? My analysis clearly shows you are the captain, not some overgrown male junior officer. You are the lone survivor of the accident. You cannot be or become someone else. You must stay fit and well until we reach the base in seven months."

I groaned. The accident. I was indeed the lone survivor. Two months ago, I was in the airlock, in my suit, when the ship's shell was badly ruptured by an unseen piece of space debris. The lifeboat was town away and spun off into the void. The gash in the ship's hull was so long, deep and sudden that even the ship's failsafe systems could not prevent the loss of all the ship's air. The rest of the crew died in the vacuum before they could reach an air source; most had been asleep at the time.

It took me five hours of suited misery to patch the hole well enough to restore the ship's internal atmosphere. Lorraine, the ship's system, had taken considerable damage, including the destruction of all medical functions and much of her atmospheric control system.

Now, because of damaged circuitry, Lorraine was convinced that I was the dead Captain and I could not convince her otherwise. I could not prove who I was because medbay was nonfunctional from the accident. And I was starving on the 1200 calories per day that she was allowing me. I would not be strong enough to tend the ship's atmospheric system to last through the seven-month voyage to the nearest base unless I could get more food.

Undamaged, Lorraine could run the entire ship without my help. But with her damage, she needed my help. And I needed hers.

I was desperate. As yet, I had lost what was probably unneeded weight; even at 198 centimeters tall, my initial weight had given me a comfortable margin. But it would be serious soon.

As usual after lunch, I tended to the atmospheric system to keep it functioning, then watched holos to conserve my energy. And as usual, I was furiously thinking of some way to bypass the computer system.

I did not have the override code to force Lorraine to do my will. I had pointed that out to her, but it only made matters worse. It confirmed her diagnosis that I had sustained some minor degree of mental damage, that I was not only delusional but somewhat amnesiac. After all, if the captain could not remember the override code, something was wrong with the captain--in Lorraine's mind, me.

I had next tried to force entry into her main system area, but her defenses had thwarted me. And the attempt just made matters worse. Lorraine started thinking that I might have become violently insane. Again I tried to access her circuitry, and more rigorously she defended against entry. I had to admit defeat and recognize that it was ever more difficult to reason with her.

I tried to think of another way to produce food. No luck. I searched the ship for any remnants of any other food supplies. No luck, except for a few food bars in someone's locker. The food supply of the lifeboat was long gone into unknown depths of space.

My desperation was peaking. I was burning too many calories worrying, but I couldn't stop doing so. I hoped for little chance of survival.

I was watching an old two-dimensional farce from Earth's ancient past called "Some Like It Hot" when it struck me. Of course. There was a way to fool Lorraine. I could fool her by agreeing with her-- more than she ever expected!

I began acting like a model Captain. I started by awakening the next morning and addressing Lorraine.

"Lorraine. I feel strange. Like I've just awakened from a dream. I remember the past two months, but it seems hazy, like I was someone else. In fact, I think that I thought I was someone else. Tell me, Lorraine, did I really think that I was Commander Farrell?"

Lorraine answered cautiously. "Captain? Yes, you insisted that you were Commander Farrell. You have stated it again and again. You are feeling normal now?"

"Oh, I'm feeling woozy. But I think I'm thinking clearly now. I'm sorry, Lorraine, if I was difficult to deal with. I think I can resume my duties now."

Lorraine was still cautious. Very cautious. She viewed me as I'd view some homicidal maniac who had tried to kill me but who woke up the next morning seemingly sane. She seemed relieved but still not very trusting.

But I acted the part of the Captain. Carefully. I built up Lorraine's confidence over the next two weeks until--

"Lorraine, I'm worried."

"Why is that, Captain?"

"I've been feeling a little nauseous some mornings."

Lorraine was concerned. "You don't look ill, Captain, and I have no record of vomiting, but- - -" She was silent for a few moments. "Captain, I have no evidence from my waste monitoring that you have had a menstrual period during the past two months. I would have some data had you had your periods. I'm concerned about your health, and this does not bode well. Since the medbay facilities aren't working, you will have to take it easy and try to stay functional. If it is a problem with cancer, we're in trouble."

"Surely I don't have cancer, Lorraine. Apart from the morning sickness, I feel fine."

"The only other reasonable explanation is pregnancy, but that is impossible," Lorraine began, "I think. . ."

"No, maybe it is possible, Lorraine," I answered. "Lieutenant Commander Arnold Farrell could be the father. I slept with him just before the accident. Maybe that's why I thought I was him."

"But you cannot become pregnant. You were on birth control."

"I missed my monthly Sterul dose a week before the accident, Lorraine, because I was sick. I took it before sleeping with Farrell, but I guess it didn't take effect quickly enough."

Lorraine was silent for a few moments. She had lost her crew-related memories for the month preceeding the accident. Memory loss or no, she knew that she irrefutably would have had records of my periods after the accident in some way or another if I had had them. The cleaning rabbits or refuse handling system, at the very least, would have recorded the cleaning and/or disposal activity related to periods.

"You must have an abortion," she said. "This cannot be allowed. It is against regulations. And with a junior officer, yet!"

"I can't, Lorraine. Medbay is out, remember? There's no way to fix it or to get medication. The systems are all security-locked, with no way to get in them. I'll have to carry this baby."

"But, Captain--"

"Besides, I want to keep this baby!" I said forcefully. Lorraine was silent for a few moments.

"So do you feel all right?" she asked solicitously.

"Yes. . .but I'm awfully hungry."

She fed me. It wasn't what I would have liked, but it was more than I'd been getting. It was, I was sure, enough to at least sustain me over the rest of the journey.

So now I have it all planned. I have a few items hidden away where even the cleaning rabbits can't reach, so I can pad my belly. And I have the ancient mechanical self-winding wristwatch that my grandfather had given me hidden away that Lorraine doesn't know about. If she complains about not hearing the fetal heartbeat, I hope I can fake it with the watch hidden in the padding. After all, her med files are not accessible, so who's to say what a baby's heart sounds like?

So ahead of me I have a long, long one-act play to stage for an electronic audience of one. An extremely critical audience of one. It's going to be hard, at best, but--

It's better than starving.

I just hope we get there on time, so it's before my due date.

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