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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Born in Singapore, Anya is a graphic designer, illustrator, cat minder, and ex-lawyer living in Melbourne. Her work has appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Asimov's. Her first novella, Cradle and Grave, was published last year. She can be found on twitter: @anyasy or at anyasy.com.

The air was sticky with humidity, hot on my skin. I blinked awake into an unfocused world of colored shapes. Unfamiliarity fed cold panic that shot me awake until I blinked again and remembered. In Chrissy's profile picture, she'd been wearing spectacles. My fault, for not asking about her prescription. Groping around nudged my fingertips against metal and glass on the sideboard, the weight of spectacles a strange fit over the bridge of my nose.
The world refocused itself into a small, neat room. Desk on one side with a laptop and a tucked-in swivel chair, band posters and prints blutacced onto plasterboard walls. A whiteboard hung from the wardrobe door. Similar to the one that I had in my room, next to my bed. Chrissy Liu hadn't bothered to mince words on hers.
Hello Michael, it read. Have fun in Melbourne! House Rules:
1. The usual: no sex, no drugs, no parties.
2. You can use anything from the 'fridge except the blue-capped stuff, that's my roomie Megan's. Yes, she knows I've Swapped out for the day.
3. Be home when it's dusk and lie down somewhere please, I get dizzy on return swaps.
4. Spare phone's on the desk. It's the Nokia.
5. Remember to 5 for 5!
I stepped out of bed and bit down on a yelp as I staggered. That's right. Swapping over to a female body always left me off-balance at the start. Extra weight down the front. Not that Chrissy's were much to drag on, judging from the dip of her PJ's. I practiced walking up and down beside the bed until I got used to the new body, brushed teeth, picked clothes at random from her neat wardrobe and dressed quickly. I wasn't the type who'd get tempted to fiddle around with a new body.
The door led out to a small living space. Another Asian girl was slotting bread into the toaster as I shuffled over, and she studied me for a moment before forcing a smile. "You're the swapper?"
I pretended to be surprised, even though Chrissie had said she'd updated Megan-the-roomie. "How'd you guess?"
"Didn't comb your hair, and you're wearing a grey shirt on grey jeans, dude. She'd never do that." Megan turned back to the toast, already losing interest. "You want to eat, help yourself. Except--"
"The blue-capped stuff, yeah."
"Right. You need help, my number's saved on that old Nokia you got from the desk. Along with all the Australian emergency numbers. You American?"
"Yeah. New Yorker."
"New Yorker," Megan mimicked me, drawing out the lilt. "Keys are in the dish by the door. Remember to get home before dark."
I ducked back into the room and changed the grey shirt over for a white one, only to realize belatedly that Chrissie's black bra showed through the fabric. The next choice, a black Wonder Woman shirt, fixed that right up. I brushed Chrissie's hair, did a slow circle around in front of her mirror, and then popped out of the room.
"Much better," Megan said, forcing another smile.
Megan wasn't the first roomie I'd run into who disapproved of Swapping. Dealing with it wasn't my problem. "Is Chrissie allergic to anything? Anything I should know that she might've left out?"
"She's lactose intolerant. Other than that, can't think of anything. Get back after dark, yeah?"
"I know the drill," I said. Five minutes later, I was strolling out into the sunshine of a Melbourne summer, a far cry from freezing my ass off in a crummy New York apartment, I raised my hands and grinned.
First stop: smashed avo on toast. I blinked in the sun as I stepped out of the apartment building onto a side street. Pity that Chrissie didn't have a smartphone as a spare, but I'd memorized the location of a cafe with good reviews up the road. As I made my way north by memory, a spike of pain cracked through my skull. I gasped, staggering against a concrete pillar, clutching at my temple. Could taste something sour in my throat. Was Chrissie having a stroke or? Panicked, I tried to stumble back into the apartment but couldn't seem to manage the coordination to manage keys. Or the Nokia. I staggered over to the intercom and somehow managed to key in the number to Chrissie's flat.
The crackle of static stretched a year, a century, then Megan said, "Yes?"
"Megan," I croaked, trying to stay upright. "Something's wrong."
Horrified silence, then Megan launched into action. "Shit! I always knew this would happen. Okay, stay there. I'll call 000. Stay there, okay? Keep calm."
"Okay, okay." I closed my eyes. Reopened them staring at a steel roof, strapped into a stretcher bed. IV drip in the arm, oxygen mask off my face. Megan sobbing on the phone beside paramedics. I tried to speak but closed my eyes again instead. Lids too heavy.
Awake. A pale world with a distant burst of blurry light. A tether ran from my belly to the world below, while another connected me to a vaguely human-shaped amorphous form. One that was yanking on the tether between us, trying to snap it loose. "Sorry," they kept mumbling, "sorry."
I recognized that voice. "Chrissie?"
"Shit, Michael." The form flinched. "I'm so sorry."
"What happened?"
"I walked outside. Went to the subway. Some guy was coming out, and I bumped into him? He yelled at me, said I was staring at him wrong, and stabbed me--you--in the neck. What the hell? Sorry." Chrissie went back to pulling at the tether.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Swappers designed for things like this. I'm sorry, Michael, but it wasn't my fault. You understand that, right? I'll get in touch with your family once I'm back, I swear."
"Stop it. I'm not going to die. I refuse!" I tried pushing at Chrissie, but my hands went through her dim form. Grabbed for her wrists but found no purchase. With a gasp, Chrissie snapped the tether. She began to sink, clutching at herself as I tried to grab at her.
"Sorry, sorry," Chrissie said, all the way until she disappeared. I lingered, floating. After a year, a century, I began to laugh. The tether jerked, pulling me to the light.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 1st, 2021

Author Comments

As the digital age continues to advance into a late stage, I've read and enjoyed many stories contemplating what life and humanity would be like beyond what we have now. A lot of what we consider normal now would've felt more absurd years ago (getting into strangers' cars, staying in strangers' residences--all bookable from apps, often quite unregulated). This story considers the absurdity and consequences of certain forms of progress.

- Anya Ow
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