They remained silent, even though their insides were bubbling up, about to burst at the cusp of their throats, aiming to come out and solve the riddles that had been devised without their permission.

            It was the day of their switching, and as Brant and Lyza sat strapped to the large metal incubating chairs that held onto them so tightly, they could do little besides count down the minutes until the process was initiated, changing everything they ever thought they knew about themselves. Multiple skinny tubes connected their bodies together, swerving in and out from various parts on their chests and appendages, but the main part of the machine that performed the task resided directly above their heads, where science would soon overtake them, removing their souls from one body, and placing them into another.

            Ever since the New World Government came to be, in order for a person to get married to another and have children with them, one was required to switch bodies with the person they desired to be with. The switching process was not temporary. It was permanent and utterly irreversible.

            Lyza Jennings had known Brant Gunther for as long as she could remember, and there was no one else in the universe she wanted to spend her life with. She knew his body well, as it had laid up against hers many times before, but she knew that actually residing within his body for the rest of her days would be another experience altogether, regardless of the intimacy they had previously shared. From this day forward, when she made love with him, a part of her would feel as if she was having sex with herself, as the vessel she had been encased within for the first twenty-five years of her life would now house Brant’s soul.

            It hadn’t always been like this, in the distant past, when two people wanted to be together, they simply got married and stayed within the bodies that nature had put them in, or perhaps, they didn’t even get married at all. But ever since the use of fossil fuels had become impossible, the world was desperate for any kind of usable energy it could get its hand on. And, as everyone on the planet knew, being switched during your twenty-fifth year created an enormous amount of energy that no other process could replicate. So it was in the government’s best interest to mandate that all citizens be switched with another once they had lived within their own bodies for a quarter of a century.

            Brant had known this day would come, and although he had tried to prepare himself for it, there was no real way to do so. He had talked to others who had already undergone the process, and while most were happily adjusted to their new bodies, having accepted that their previous ones were the cases their partners would stay within for the remainder of their lives, other couples were unable to deal with the repercussions of what it was like to stare into eyes that had once been their own, knowing that somehow, their lover saw out of the pupils they had been born with.

            It was only yesterday when Brant and Lyza had submitted their deeds, thus confirming that they wished to be married, cementing their switching into the record books. Of course, Lyza knew she wanted to be with Brant, and he with her, but that fact alone hadn’t eased their minds of the possible side effects that could arise after they had underwent the procedure. The conversation they had the night before replayed in their minds as they waited silently in the dark room, their backs facing one another, strapped down to the metal seats they could not escape.

            “You know that the risk of the splits is three times higher in couples of the opposite sex than that of the same sex,” Lyza had explained to Brant in the small white circular bedroom she called her own. “Is it really worth the risk of losing half of our memories just because we love one another?”

            “The risk is something we have to take. Besides, with the new methods they’ve developed, I don’t think the splits are as common as they once were. Ever since the age decree was implemented, the entire process is relatively safe,” Brant explained as he took Lyza’s hands in his.

            “Well of course. I’m not suggesting we try to switch with someone of another age, that would never be allowed anyways. The NWG has kept the switching strictly to two parties of twenty-five years for decades now. You remember hearing how bad it was before they figured that out, don’t you?” Lyza asked Brant, her gaze reaching out and brushing across his face, wondering what it would be like to have his handsomely defined facial features as her own.

            “How could I forget? That’s why everyone used to fear the switching so much, because people were never the same afterwards. Changing the alignment of bodies and souls is one thing, but altering the state of time your body believes your mind should be within is a complexity that would never be able to be contained. I’m just glad the NWG realized the procedure had to take place between two people of the same age before it was our turn.”

            “But it wouldn’t have mattered. We’re the same age,” Lyza said, taking a deep breath as she lifted her hands up and out of Brant’s, running her delicate fingers up the length of his arms, trying to discover if the texture of his skin would give her the answers that had yet to be forthcoming. “That’s not what I’m trying to say. I’m asking you if you are one hundred percent ready to do this tomorrow, to live your life with me, as me, and I as you.”

            “I wouldn’t want it any other way Lyza. You know this. We’ve discussed this so many times before.”

            “I know, it’s just that, well…”

            “Did she ask you again?”

            “Did who ask me what?” Lyza began, as she removed her fingers away from the ends of Brant’s being.

            “Come on Lyza. Don’t play dumb. Mesha knows that we’ve promised one another. I thought you told her that your love for her was only in friendship, not in terms of forever.”

            “I’ve told her many times, but still she protests. She suggested I switch with her, and you with Danzo. Their day is coming soon.”

             “I don’t want to switch with Danzo. I don’t want to live my life with another man. I don’t want to make love to him, nor do I want to have children with him. I want you Lyza, and only you. You can’t tell me you want to switch with Mesha after everything we have been through. Do you?” Brant asked her, his breathing becoming heavier and faster at the same time.

            “No. Brant, I don’t. It was just an idea. I know you are committed to me as much as I am to you. I guess I’m just getting scared now that this is real, and happening to us within mere hours. A part of me believes that switching with another female would be the safer thing to do, and I imagine that I would feel more like myself in a body that is the same gender as mine, but just as you explained how you wouldn’t want to be married to Danzo, I could never be married to Mesha either.”

            In the recent era, most people decided to switch with someone of the same sex, so that their own bodies changed less. Altering one’s vessel resulted in fewer damaging psychological effects when the gender of those being switched was on the same side of the sexual spectrum. It hadn’t been like this at the beginning, but as more trials of switching were undertaken, and the results were on display not only through the studies that were performed post haste, but through the visibly seen repercussions witnessed in everyday life, it became clear that the closer the physical forms of those being switched, the more adaptable and dependable the subjects would be in their new bodies.

            Seeing as this reality resulted in more same-sex couples than that of opposite-sex couples, the prejudice and moral disdain towards homosexual relationships, and the thought of them as being unnatural was no longer an issue people contemplated. Although a belief such as this was one that many people had held in the ancient days, homosexual relationships were not viewed as lesser in comparison to heterosexual relationships, at least not in the same terms as they once had been anyways.

            The switching between same-sex couples initially started out for physical reasons, but the emotions between these couples progressed naturally over time, and all those who married were expected to be intimate with one another. Every couple, whether it be two males, two females, or one of each, was expected to have sexual relationships that would be an essential part of the family dynamic which would welcome a child into the world.

            Sexuality was no longer thought of being rigid, instead, it was considered to be a fluid spectrum, one that could easily be altered as you approached your twenty-fifth year, so you could find your best match for the switching. While finding someone with a similar physical body structure with a mate of the same sex had its advantages, finding a lover of another color, as opposite-sex switching pairs were often referenced as, brought about a higher social status ranking. This alone benefited these couples greatly, therefore balancing out some of the more frequent negative risks involved.

            And as Lyza and Brant remained strapped to their metal chairs, the worries of those negativities bounded around their brains, buzzing up the possible horrors that could happen to them if their switching didn’t line them up as perfectly as they were so desperately hoping for.

            There was a loud clacking noise, and as both Brant and Lyza looked in the direction the sound had come from, a door slid open in the dark, revealing the large, obtuse woman who began to emerge from it, two glowing red spheres in either of her glove covered hands. Her hefty frame approached the spot where the two of them sat, as the time they had left in their original bodies began to dwindle to a close.

            The burly woman stopped just short of where Brant and Lyza sat with their backs facing one another, where they were unable to see the other’s face, unable to understand what the other was thinking with no context clues to run with. From the moment they had sat down in those chairs, they knew the next time they would be seeing one another, they would be staring back at a reflection of their former selves.

            “I am Agent 24-7B,” the woman stated, her voice raspy, but not necessarily deep. “In a few minutes I will be performing the switching of Lyza Christine Jennings, and Brant Reptinnius Gunther. As they have both reached the premier age of a quarter century, and have submitted their deeds, I hereby declare for the record that the procedure will be taking place under all considerations to the official NWG guidelines.” Agent 24-7B then paused dramatically, taking a deep breath as if the words she had just expelled had caused her serious discomfort. “I will need both of you to state your full names in order to show that you understand this process, so that we can then move forward.”

            At her pause, the silence propagated and then stayed. Agent 24-7B had not identified who she wished to state their name first, so both Brant and Lyza were quiet, waiting to see if the other would speak first. After a few moments Lyza could no longer be patient, and so she spoke forth, hoping to get the process over with sooner rather than later.

            “Lyza Christine Jennings,” she whispered.

            “Brant Reptinnius Gunther,” he said, immediately after she was finished, his words ringing louder.

            “Thank you,” Agent 24-7B told them, although the tone of her voice seemed less of one of thanks, and one more related to a shade of unimpressed intrigue. “I am not sure if you are aware of this or not, but the commander of your region would like me to notify the both of you that you are the first opposite-sex couple switching to take place so far this year.”

            Both Brant and Lyza were surprised by this news. They knew that same-sex couple switchings were now the norm, but it didn’t seem like what they were doing was so out of the ordinary. Regardless, this fact was not lost on them. They were already almost halfway through the calendar year, so being the first opposite-sex couple to switch in their region did hold quite a bit of weight. They would be living the rest of their lives as something less than common.

            “To compensate you for this fact, and for the high amount of energy this switching will produce, the NWG will be awarding you with two children.”

            Lyza’s heart skipped a beat at the confirmation of what she had already known. She and Brant would be lucky enough to have two children. They would be looked upon as leaders in the community, a difference among the flock of those who were only allowed to produce one child, as the rules were written. The scenario before them was like a weight on a scale that had the ability to counteract itself. Opposite-sex couple switching came with risks, but it was not without reward.

            Changing entities from male to female, or female to male created more than twice the amount of energy than the switching of same-sex couples. It was believed that the energy created from the process was formed from the shock of the switching one’s soul had to undertake, so the more different the two bodies, the more energy that was harvested for the NWG’s use. Thus, the original pairing, as it was called, where nature had once prescribed a male and a female to be the creators of children, were allotted two descendants. Children themselves were the entities used to show the power one held in their region. If you were the parent of two offspring, your voice rose above the rest, as you were given the best housing, superior food options, and a guaranteed seat on the region’s public council.

            Since an unborn child was no longer incubated in the womb of a woman, but was instead curated within large cylindrical vats observed by harvesters in each region’s Community Care Center, it didn’t matter what sex the parents of the child were. The combination of egg and sperm used to be the only option to create a child, but due to the genetic engineering of splicing and combining, the DNA from two eggs could be mixed to create a human being, just as two sperm could be mixed in the same way. Gender no longer mattered in terms of who you could marry, nor did it matter in terms of creating a child. The sexes were finally looked upon as being equal. Even though their bodies were made up of different parts, it didn’t matter. Men and women were considered to be the same, ever since the era of the switching began.

            While individually the sexes were viewed upon as being equal due to societal and technological advancements, the switching procedure had caused a discrepancy when comparing the various combinating pairs these men and women went into. The less frequent opposite-sex couples were viewed in a different and superior way, as they were awarded more privileges, and more children to care for.

            Lyza and Brant’s children were still as of yet uncreated, for no children could be welcomed into the world until their parents had been switched. They were thought about only in the terms of how all humans think about the days that have yet to come, through filtered lenses that we can’t see through. The outlines of the images we think we know are there, but the actuality of the truth is skewed, muddled up by the messes and unexpected turns that our realities have decided to construct for us.

            The time of then, the time of the now that Brant and Lyza were living within had them locked to metal chairs, the last places they would ever recall being, in the bodies they had called their homes. Agent 24-7B balanced the two red orbs in her hands, the shadows cast upon them shifting as they began to brighten even further, their highlights becoming activated by the circumstances in which they were placed.

            It was time.

            “Lyza, I love you,” Brant said aloud, letting the final words from his own lips slip out into the silence, the syllables settling upon the air and bursting the molecules apart, shifting the sound into her ears.

            Before she could respond with the same sentiment, Lyza watched as Agent 24-7B quickly moved forward, placing the crimson orbs upon the tops of their heads, securing them in the spots that they were always heading, initiating the switching, removing Brant and Lyza from the vessels they had always known, so that they could live on as particular particles of who they were together.

            There was a flash of light, as the tubes connecting them changed from being clear, to becoming full with a liquid of the darkest of reds. The lines twisted in and out of them as the vibrations of the occurrence found its rhythm, moving in the opposite direction of linear, creating its own path to perform the desire of traveling on.

            Lyza and Brant’s bodies were still as the moment passed and then ceased. Their eyes were forced closed by the gravity of the alteration, their limbs numb from the desperation of how one’s soul tried to cling to the host it had been formed to. The switching of souls would never, could never, be a delicate matter. It was an earthquake in the deepest part of the ocean, a flood bursting forth, sinking every nation that man had ever known.

            A loud beeping sound somewhere off in the distance let Agent 24-7B know that the switching had been performed successfully. Her job almost done, the large woman stepped forward, closer to where the two were seated, both of their eyes still closed. She clicked the square button between their chairs, its function activating immediately, so that the tubes drew back into the floor, the red orbs and their head cases evaporating, the metal seats turning themselves about so that Brant and Lyza were no longer facing in opposite directions, but were instead facing one another.

            Agent 24-7B retreated, out of the room and back into the darkness from which she had entered. Brant and Lyza, eyes still closed, lifted up both of their arms, aiming to reach out to each other without sight, as was custom once the switching had been finalized. In their new bodies, they were not to touch themselves first, instead, their fresh flesh was to touch upon the previous skin that had once made them whole.  

            Brant was, inside of Lyza. Lyza of inside, was Brant.

            Yet they were separate, they were mixed up and messed into something that neither of them had ever known. They were on fire, burning up, as their desire elevated them, taking them, killing them, only to leave them in a place that was on a level that could never be described in the terms of wild words and things we claim to understand.

            They stood up slowly, their hands reaching out, the ends of who they were connecting together. Touching, skin as one flesh, flesh becoming skin, they both opened their eyes, simultaneously.

            Through new eyes, they saw one another, but primarily, they saw themselves.

            Lyza knew that she was looking at Brant, the truest of loves she would ever know, but in that moment, as the seconds lingered on, all she could see was herself. She laughed nervously, tears forming from the ducts of the eyes she had previously stared into so longingly. Through being switched, the contagiousness of their love had been strangely solidified. They were separate.

            They were one.

Alexander Rigby