The Andrassii Agreement
Stephanie Burgis


“What the hell does she think she looks like?”


Helen Anderson gritted her teeth as she heard Graham behind her, his velvety-posh voice as petulant as a toddler deprived of a toy...a toy he hadn’t even wanted until someone else took it.


The last thing Helen needed right now was a cosy conversation with her ex-stepfather. But it was her job to placate all the guests at this party, even the weasely slimeballs, so she pasted on a tight smile and turned to face him anyway. “You’re talking about Mum, I presume?”


“Obviously.” Graham glared through the crowd. “Doesn’t she even realize what a fool she’s making of herself?”


Helen looked across the room to where her mother stood, resplendent in a slinky black silk dress, with diamonds sparkling around her neck and the Ambassador’s arm tightly curved around her waist. “I guess not,” she said.


“It’s not even human, for God’s sake!” He gestured with his champagne glass; Helen skipped back just in case, but only a few drops slipped over the edge. “What does she think they’re all saying about her?”


That she learned her lesson about human men from you? Helen thought. But she made her voice as soothing as if she were talking to any of the lobbyists who swarmed her office every day. “The Ambassador has been very—”


“And I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m not at all sure that thing is even male! Because the way it looks to me—”


“The Andrassii can choose their appearance, and their genders,” Helen said. “And for hir trip to Earth, the Ambassador chose—”


“To be a woman? Jesus Christ.” Graham flung the champagne down his throat. “It’s unbelievable. She’s dating a lesbian alien. What’s next?”


“At least it’s a step up,” Helen muttered.


“I mean—what did you just say?”


“The Prime Minister is signalling me,” Helen lied, and slipped away. She tilted her head at the nearest drinks server, who nodded in comprehension; Graham would find only non-alcoholic beverages being offered to him for the rest of the evening. He might kick up a sulk, but at least that way there’d be slightly less chance of the MP from Slough starting a fistfight with the party’s alien Guest of Honour by the end of the evening. Not that it wouldn’t be fun to watch the Ambassador take him down with high-powered Andrassii technology, but still...


“There you are!” Deceptively soft, strong fingers closed around Helen’s arm. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Have you heard what they’re all saying?”


Helen sighed as she turned to face her cousin. “Bella, I’ve just had to cope with Graham slagging off everything about Mum and her new relationship. Do I really need to hear more gossip right now?”


“You need to hear this.” Bella lowered her voice to an intimate murmur, just barely audible over the noise of the crowd and the swing band in the corner of the ballroom. “The rumour going round is that the P.M.’s planning to make an announcement at the end of this party.”


“And?” Helen kept her face blandly curious. Family or not, Bella was one of the most notorious journalists in London.


“They say...” Bella drew out the pause, her dark gaze avid. “He’s signed an agreement with the Andrassii to supply human women for breeding stock.”


“That is ridiculous!” Helen’s tension broke into sheer relief. She might not have been trusted with the details of the Prime Minister’s upcoming announcement, but at least she knew better than that. “Bella, you can’t have believed that one. Can you really imagine—”


“Why not? After all...” Bella tilted her elegant chignon in the direction of Helen’s mother. “Just look at Auntie Jane.”


“What about her?” Helen tightened her grasp on her own champagne glass. “You can hardly imagine the Ambassador wants her as breeding stock. For one thing, she’s too old, and for another, as Graham so helpfully pointed out—”


“You mean the fact she’s a dyke?”




“The Andrassii get to choose their gender,” Bella said. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they could choose other things too, like fertility methods. And anyway, the Ambassador may be safely female now, but once it’s got Auntie Jane safely back on the homeworld—”


“For heaven’s sake,” Helen said. “She isn’t going anywhere. She’s having a very good time right now, but there’s no question of her leaving Earth, or—”


“Are you sure about that?” Bella cocked one perfectly-plucked eyebrow. “Because from what she’s hinted at to me...”


“That is perfectly absurd,” Helen said. “And I have to go mingle. I am at work, you know.”


“Aren’t we all, darling?” Bella smirked and faded into the crowd.


Helen took a deep breath, and readjusted the smile on her face. The click of cameras was a constant background noise; she wouldn’t be surprised if Bella had had a photographer clicking away during their own family chat. The last thing the Prime Minister needed now was for any bad publicity to come out of his office...especially after tonight’s mysterious announcement was finally made.


One more hour.


She swept the room with her gaze. The American ambassador and his wife were chatting amiably with Rupert Murdoch in one corner; the Mayor of London was puffing his chest out importantly as he held forth to three young female political aides fifteen feet away; the editors-in-chief of The Sun, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph were all smiling toothily at each other over their champagne glasses. No fires to put out at the moment, thank God.


Helen caught the Prime Minister’s gaze and, at his infinitesimal nod, started to make her way across the crowded room. As she weaved through the clustered groups, she caught fragments of conversation.


“...amazing trade opportunities with the Andrassii homeworld. My stockholders are in bliss at the whole idea. If you can just imagine—”


“...hear they can change genders in mid-act, ha—”


“...the American people will want some very clear answers if England makes any attempt to monopolize—”


“...but the sex itself, darling, is supposed to be just unimaginable—I mean, my God, just look at Janie Anderson, she looks like the cat who ate the canary, and everyone knows she—”


Helen set her teeth together with a click and sped up to escape the last gossiping group. But she was as polished and cool as ever as she arrived at Hamish McAlistair’s side. “Prime Minister,” she murmured.


“Ah, Helen. You’ve met Mister Kalick before, of course?”


“Of course,” Helen said, and smiled with professional warmth at the Andrassii diplomat. A male one, this time; he’d accompanied the Ambassador in her voyage but made different personal choices about how to relate to the humans on Earth. Unless they had made the decision together to attack both fronts, male and female alike? It was the kind of question that was impossible to ask.


His formal outfit mimicked the shape of a tux, but shifted colours in a constant psychedelic whirl that made her head hurt. Helen forced herself not to look away. “I hope you’re enjoying the party, Mister Kalick?”


“Of course,” the alien said. His voice was deep and rasping, hitting a pitch that sounded indefinably but inescapably wrong: not quite human. “It is very kind of your Prime Minister to organize such an event for our gratification.”


“Well, it’s all Helen’s doing,” McAlistair said heartily. “She’s the best in the business, you know. Knows how to get all the right people everywhere, and how to make them happy.”


“A talent indeed,” Kalick murmured, and Helen tried not to wonder whether the dryness in his voice was sarcasm or only the way his tongue naturally pronounced the English words. She would leave it to her mother to think about alien tongues, thanks very much.


“I have to go pacify the Americans now,” the Prime Minister said. “But if I can leave you in Helen’s, ha, capable hands...”


“A pleasure,” Kalick said, and Helen’s smile stiffened.


She didn’t let it drop, though, even as she sent curses after Hamish McAlistair’s retreating back. There was no polite way to say: Not every woman in my family wants to try out alien sex, despite the clear implications in the Prime Minister’s voice. While she was still searching for an acceptable alternative, Kalick said,


“I haven’t seen you often with your mother.”


“I’ve been very busy,” Helen said. “My work—”


“Is demanding, I can see.” The thin, snakelike green irises of his eyes, so disconcerting in his otherwise human face, darkened as he looked at the room around them. “You are very loyal to your Prime Minister.”


“It’s my job,” Helen said, and then laughed to try to soften the statement. Her fingers clenched and unclenched on the stem of her champagne glass. She heard the click of cameras as she tilted her head back to meet Kalick’s gaze. Do your job, woman. She’d dealt with outright rudeness a hundred times at other parties; she could deal with one polite alien now. But she felt sweat bead on the back of her neck, despite the comfortable temperature in the room.


He regarded her gravely. “So you are not unhappy about tonight’s announcement, then?”


“The Prime Minister hasn’t shared the details of tonight’s announcement with me,” Helen said. And then, at the surprised arch of his narrow eyebrows: “I’m not a politician myself, Mister Kalick. I only work for one.”




“I trust the Prime Minister’s judgment.”


“And your mother’s?”


“I beg your pardon?”


“Do you trust your mother’s judgment?”


“Of course I do,” Helen said. She slid a glance across the room to where her mother was feeding the Ambassador a strawberry with her fingers, while at least a dozen cameras clicked. Helen restrained herself from wincing, with an effort. “I am delighted that she and the Ambassador have found so much in common.”


“Not everyone is,” Kalick said.


“Well, of course some people will always resist change,” Helen said lightly. “I’m afraid that is rather a human trait. I hope you and the Ambassador won’t be put off by a few unfortunate—”


“I am speaking of my own people now.” Kalick’s voice sharpened. “You may be surprised to know that forming relationships here was not part of our plan.”


“No?” Helen blinked. “Well, I suppose love can’t be—”


“It is the fault of your gender,” Kalick said.




He gestured down. “We chose human genders before we came to Earth, but all we had was news broadcasts, sitcoms, official reports. No one told us how these genders changed things.”


“I...” Helen trailed off. “But you do have genders back on the...back on your own world, don’t you? You can choose—”


“Andrassii genders are not the same as yours,” Kalick said. His tone was unchanged, but his eyes narrowed; even Helen could read the back off signal. There was a pause, just long enough for Helen to think about changing the subject. Then he said, “When we serve as ambassadors on such expeditions to new worlds, we like to take on as much of the native physiology as possible, for reasons of courtesy.”


“Courtesy,” Helen repeated. “Ah...yes. I understand.”


“But the hormones you secrete—these different genders—” He waved his hands. “The Ambassador chose to be female based on our research into your customs.”


“Really?” Helen almost laughed. Perhaps she’d let herself take too many sips of her champagne. Had he talked to McAlistair like this? No wonder the Prime Minister had hurried away with such alacrity. Well, the hell with it, she might as well be honest. “But surely, Mister Kalick, you can see from looking around us how few women are in power here, even now—the number of female presidents or commanders—”


“Ah, yes, very small.” Thank God, the alien didn’t seem offended. “We did see that. But perhaps you haven’t noticed something more important for our purposes. What do females do?”


“Ah...” Helen looked across the room. Beautiful women leaning into the politically powerful men they talked to, women laughing appreciatively as they listened to the stories of the men around them... She said, “You may be getting a rather biased view of women from the circles you’re moving in, Mister Kalick. In a more ordinary life—”


“They form relationships,” Kalick said. “They charm, they invite, they glue together social bonds. They bring people together, just as you have done tonight with this party you’ve arranged. You, Miss Anderson, not your Prime Minister.”




“It is ideal for an ambassador who wishes to bring about important economic and political agreements.”


“Okay,” Helen said. “I’ll buy that. I guess.” She took a swig of her previously-untouched champagne, suddenly reckless. Why not have a drink? There was no way she’d get through this conversation without one. “So what’s the problem?”


“We didn’t expect that the hormonal need for relationships would be quite so strong,” Kalick said, and narrowed his eyes into an unmistakable glare at the Ambassador and Jane’s mother. Cameras clicked manically around them, capturing the moment.


Perhaps he’d had too many drinks himself, to be this impolitic in public. Helen eyed the champagne in his hand, thinking of Graham. Was this the Andrassii version of an alcoholic sulk? Christ, what if Kalick been romantically partnered with the Ambassador before their arrival on Earth? Time to signal the drinks servers, certainly. Should she alert the Ambassador, too? Or—


As if she’d summoned him by thinking of him, Graham’s aggrieved voice cut through her thoughts. “Look here,” he said, and tapped Kalick on the arm. “I have a question or two for you.”


Oh, hell. “Mister Kalick,” Helen said smoothly. “May I introduce you to Graham Masters, our MP from Slough? And...” She looked as meaningfully as she could into the snakelike eyes. “My ex-step-father.”


“Ah!” Kalick brightened. “You were married to Jane Anderson?”


“I was.” Graham scowled. “Until you lot came around.”


“Actually, she’d filed for divorce over a month before your embassy arrived,” Helen said.


“That was just a misunderstanding,” Graham said. “If they hadn’t come barging in—”


“You would still be with her?” Kalick said. “Really?”




“Graham!” Helen said. “I think I see someone signalling you. Shall we—”


“No, please,” Kalick said, and put out one hand to hold him back. “I would very much like to talk to Mr. Masters.”




“Yes, go on, Helen,” Graham said. “Let the men talk here.”


“Fine.” Helen gritted her teeth. Time to summon help. As she moved away, she caught Kalick’s question:


“Do you really believe she would return to you if we left?”


Great. Just what she needed. Helen signalled to the drinks server—no more alcohol for Kalick, either, just in case that was what was bringing all this out. Then she headed for the two people she’d been avoiding all night: her mother and the Guest of Honour.


“Darling!” Her mother disentangled herself from the Ambassador’s embrace long enough to kiss Helen’s cheeks. Then she cuddled back in, resting her head on the Ambassador’s narrow shoulder. “What a gorgeous party. You’ve really outdone yourself—hasn’t she, lover?”


“Marvellous,” the Ambassador agreed, and grinned, flashing strong white teeth, only slightly pointed. Her neck-length, greenish-blonde hair tangled with Helen’s mother’s carefully tousled coiffure. She stroked the side of Helen’s mother’s face with long, red-painted fingernails. “Your mum and I are enjoying ourselves so much.”


So I see, Helen thought, and said out loud, “I’m glad.”


“Are you all right, darling?” Helen’s mother frowned at her. “You seem a little—”


“There’s a bit of a situation,” Helen said, low-voiced, and glanced around to make sure no one else was close enough to listen. Normally, a Guest of Honour would be swarmed at a party like this, alien or not, but for once, the area around the buffet table was clear. Maybe it was the blatant Public Displays of Affection that did it? If they grossed out everyone else even half as much as they did her, she wasn’t surprised.


She said, “Mister Kalick doesn’t seem very happy.”


“Oh, well...” The Ambassador shrugged. “Kalick hasn’t been happy since we got here. No, since halfway through the trip. I think it’s the fault of his new gender. Have you noticed how moody men are?”


“Ah...” Helen couldn’t restrain herself from glancing back at the duo of Graham and Kalick, bent toward each other with identical looks of aggrievement. “Not all men,” she said. “But a few. Look, I thought you should know, Kalick’s making some rather wild statements about the appropriateness—or not—of your relationship.”


“Territorialism,” Helen’s mother said sagely, and reached down for another strawberry from the bowl by their side. “That would be another male trait, sweetheart. My ex was just the same. He slept all over the place, but if I so much as glanced at a man on the telly—”


“Funny you should mention Graham,” Helen said, and tilted her head meaningfully.


Her mum’s eyes widened. “Oh, my lord. Sweetie”—she squeezed the Ambassador’s arm—“that’s him! My ex, talking to Kalick!”


Finally, Helen thought. She said, “I couldn’t talk Graham into leaving, and of course I didn’t have the authority to tell Kalick anything, but I thought if you—”


“That’s your ex?” the Ambassador said. Her snakelike amber eyes narrowed from the sides, giving her a disturbingly predatory look. “The one who—”


“The point is,” Helen said hastily, “since none of us want to start any scenes at this party—”


“Yes!” her mum said to the Ambassador. “The one who treated me like a slave for three whole years, cheated on me with every woman in London politics, and then, when I finally said I’d had enough, he—”


“That’s it,” said the Ambassador, and pushed Helen’s mum gently away. “I’m going to go and teach him a lesson.”


“No!” Helen said. “Not now!”


“Darling, be reasonable. When else will she ever have the chance? It’s not like we’re ever going to invite Graham round for dinner at the Embassy.” Her mother’s cheeks were glowing and eyes shining as she spoke; she added, “I should have brought a camera. I’d like to have pictures of this, to remember it.”


Helen glanced desperately around the room at the dozens of photographers circulating through the guests. “Finding photos won’t be a problem,” she said grimly. “But Mum, please...”


“Oh, don’t be such a worrywart,” her mum said. “It’s not as if you wouldn’t enjoy watching it, too. After all you’ve said about Graham in the past...”


“Any other time,” Helen said. “But not at this party! Please—”


But it was too late. The Ambassador was already striding across the room, her wide-legged trousers swishing decisively around her legs, while Helen’s mother followed behind, fluttering and beaming with excitement. Helen looked at the closest door and thought about running. Maybe the flaming ruins of her career wouldn’t reach her if she retired to Antarctica, or Aberdeen.


She set her teeth together, slammed her champagne glass down onto the buffet table, and hurried after them. She managed to catch the Prime Minister’s gaze as she passed. He must have read the desperation in her eyes, because he caught up with her a moment later.


“What’s going on?”


“The Ambassador is about to challenge Graham to a duel,” Helen gritted through her teeth.


“What the hell—?”


Oh, triple hell. Helen caught sight of her cousin’s smooth, dark hair over the Prime Minister’s shoulder. Like any good journalistic shark, Bella could scent blood in the water of any event.


“Ooh, this does look like fun,” Bella purred. She crooked her finger, and a pair of photographers fell into step behind her. “Wasn’t the Ambassador talking to you, Hel, right before she took off like an avenging angel? What on earth did you say to her?”


“Helen?” McAlistair said. “You wouldn’t have—”


“Of course not,” Helen said. “But—oh damn.” Only years of working in politics kept her from uttering a stronger curse as the Ambassador grabbed Graham’s shoulder and swung him around to face her.


Graham was a big man, at least four inches taller than the Ambassador, but he stumbled in her grip, and orange juice sloshed out of his glass. “What the—? You!” He glared down at her. “Lady, you may be interested to know that the woman you’ve been manhandling all evening—”


“Manhandling all evening...” Bella whispered into a voice recorder at her wrist.


“Not manhandling,” Kalick corrected, stepping up behind them. “Woman-handling. It’s all the fault of her gender!”


“What in God’s name—?” McAlistair began.


Helen shook her head at the Prime Minister. “No time,” she hissed. “Look...” She raised her voice. “If everyone could just take a moment to remember where we all are, and that the whole world is watching us right now—”


Whole world watching...” Bella murmured into her recorder.


A booming voice sounded behind them—the American ambassador, trailed by his wife and three newspaper magnates. “What’s going on here?”


“Oh Christ,” McAlistair muttered.


“That woman,” the Ambassador said to Graham, “is a wonderful person who was mistreated by you for three long years, and if you had any idea how lucky you’d been—”


“It’s her female hormones,” Kalick said to the American ambassador. “They’ve completely taken over. The next thing we know—”


“How dare you talk to me like that?” Graham wrenched himself free from the Ambassador’s grip. “You’re the one who’s been making a fool of me all over—all over the galaxy! The whole damn—”


“Helen,” McAlistair hissed. “Do something!”


Helen opened her mouth and said the only thing she could think of. “It’s time for the announcement!”


Everyone in the group turned to stare at her.


“What the hell are you talking about?” Graham growled. “Announcement? What  announcement?”


“So there is an announcement after all,” Bella murmured. “Hmmm...”


The Prime Minister said, “I thought we’d agreed—never mind. I see. Time for the announcement. Right!” He cleared his throat. “If we could get everyone’s attention, please...”


The Ambassador gave Graham one last grim look. “As soon as this is over...”


“Don’t think she’ll forget, either,” Kalick said. “She’s become extremely moody since taking on this new gender. Have you noticed how moody women are?”


“Tell me about it, mate,” Graham said. “If I had a penny for every time Jane—”


Helen said, “If the Ambassador could please join the Prime Minister at the top of the room, yes, just this way, and if the American ambassador wouldn’t mind accompanying them—”


She nudged the three leaders along to the other corner of the room, leaving Kalick and Graham in enthusiastic conversation. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed Graham slapping the Andrassii diplomat on the back in appreciation of some point. If she were really, really lucky, maybe by the time the announcement was over, they’d have retired to some nearby pub to watch football and scream at the referees in total macho accord.


The guests rearranged themselves into an expectant audience around the Prime Minister, who threw back his shoulders and flashed his vote-winning smile at the flashing cameras. Still, Helen caught the glint of panic in his eyes.


It had been the biggest coup of his prime ministership—the biggest coup for any prime minister of the last century—when the Andrassii had chosen the United Kingdom as the site of their first formal delegation. After ten years of working for Hamish McAlistair, Helen knew him well enough to know that he would have made any concession necessary to preserve that special relationship with the Andrassii. The fact that he’d been unwilling to share the details of the new agreement even with her was a dangerous sign. Helen fixed a professionally receptive smile onto her face and began to calculate clean-up strategies in her head as McAlistair began the usual round of preliminaries.


“ I speak on behalf of our entire country when I say how very honoured and delighted we all are tonight to welcome our Andrassii friends, and in particular...”


Helen clapped with the others as the Ambassador stepped up to McAlistair’s side.


McAlistair cleared his throat. “And now if I might ask our honoured guest to announce the most important news of this evening...”


The audience hung in expectant silence, broken only by the steady click of cameras from all sides and the low-toned conversation from the other corner of the room, where Graham and Kalick continued their discussion.


“Yes! That’s it exactly. Women are just...”


“Ambassador?” McAlistair said, and stepped back to give the alien full prominence.


“Thank you, Prime Minister,” the Ambassador said. “Gentlemen...ladies...” She flashed a lascivious wink at Helen’s mum, who blew a kiss back at her, captured on a dozen cameras. “I am delighted to announce that Mr. McAlistair’s Cabinet and I have signed an agreement of mutual support. One of the first results of this treaty is that the United Kingdom will become the first port of call for all imports from our homeworld, and a special commission will be appointed in London to act as official mediators in our trade agreements with every other country on your world.”


Helen’s jaw dropped open. Gasps rippled around the audience. Even Bella looked stunned.

With a nervous look at the American ambassador, the Prime Minister leaned forward to add, “Giving special consideration, of course, to our American friends in all cases.”


Still... The American ambassador’s public smile was stretched so tightly it looked ready to crack. What on earth could have won such a prime gem as that for the UK rather than the US? No matter what outlandish concessions he’d made to the Andrassii, McAlistair would be forgiven for them without question by the businessmen who controlled the news media. Why on earth had he been afraid to tell her about this ahead of time?


There was something oddly constrained about the Prime Minister’s expression as he stepped up to prominence again. “As a very small token of our appreciation for the gift granted to our country by the Andrassii...” He started to turn in place, to sweep his smile across the room, but stopped short just before he would have met Helen’s gaze.


He didn’t want to look at her as he made his announcement. Helen almost frowned before she caught herself. What—?


“We have offered a permanent home to any Andrassii who choose to emigrate to the Earth,” McAlistair said, “and we plan to appoint a professional mediator to help ease their adjustment into our culture. As a symbol of our new mutual cooperation, tonight, in front of all of us, the Archbishop of Canterbury will be officiating in the first human-Andrassii wedding ceremony ever to take place on any planet.”


Helen dropped her champagne glass. It shattered, sending shards flying across her feet and everyone around her. She couldn’t move. McAlistair met her eyes and offered her a small, guilty shrug.


“Archbishop?” He gestured, and the Archbishop approached, smiling serenely. “And Ms. Anderson?”


“Mum?” Helen said. Cameras clicked around them. She stared at her mother, who was blushing and giggling as she stepped forward. Helen tried to lower her voice to a whisper; it came out as a muffled shriek. “You couldn’t even tell me ahead of time? You couldn’t—”


“Oh, but darling, isn’t it a wonderful surprise?” Her mother flung her soft arms around Helen, coating her in perfume. “I know I should have told you, really, but you’ve been so busy, and so have I, of course. You know what it’s like in new relationships—you can hardly keep your hands off each other for an instant!”


“I noticed,” Helen muttered into her mother’s perfumed neck.


“But we’ll have all the time in the world to make up for it now!” her mother said. “The Ambassador’s going to tell McAlistair that you’re the only person she’ll even consider for the job of official mediator for the Andrassii-English community. We’re going to buy a big house for the whole family, so we’ll be together all the time! Never a day apart! I’m sure we can find you someone special, too—the Ambassador has a nest-sibling she thinks might be just the one for you—and we were thinking of inviting sweet little Bella to be our media correspondent, so she’ll have to live with us too, of course, and—”


“Never apart from the family,” Helen repeated numbly. “Always surrounded—”


“You’ll love it,” her mother said. She pulled back from the embrace, beaming, as cameras clicked around them. “It’ll be so perfect for you! It’s what you’ve always been best at, isn’t it? Keeping everyone else in the family from fighting? From now on, you’ll never have to do anything else again!”


Helen stared at her mother’s bright smile, as incandescent and hypnotizing as car headlights racing toward her. She forced herself to wrench her gaze away, out at the sea of watching people. Only two people weren’t craning their necks to catch every moment of their encounter. There, in the back—she blinked. Oh!


Graham and Kalick had found an awful lot in common, after all.


Her mother followed her gaze. “Oh, isn’t that sweet?” she cooed. “I knew Graham would get over me in time, and Kalick’s been so unhappy on his own. Of course, he’ll have to change genders before they make a real commitment—Graham always was a traditionalist about that sort of thing—but really, Kalick will be much happier as a woman, and so much friendlier and more sociable, too—women always are, don’t you think? So everything’s working out perfectly! They can all move in with us, and with you there to keep an eye on everybody all the time, I don’t see why we shouldn’t—”


“I volunteer!” Helen croaked, and pulled herself free.


“I beg your pardon?” Her mother fell back.


Helen crossed the space to the leaders at the front of the room in three quick strides and grasped the Prime Minister’s hand. “Hamish.”


“Yes?” McAlistair slid a nervous glance at the watching press corps. “Helen, remember    where—”


“I volunteer,” she said, and projected her voice so that everyone could hear her. “I’ll go with the delegation to the Andrassii homeworld. I want to serve my country.”


“But—” he began.


“But sweetie!” her mother cried behind her. “I told you, you can stay right here and—”


Helen lowered her voice to a whisper straight in the Prime Minister’s ear. “I’ve been working for you for over ten years, Hamish. I know all your secrets. Don’t make me use them.”


His face drained of colour. “I say—I mean—” He threw his shoulders back and addressed the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present our first British ambassador to the Andrassii homeworld!”


Helen looked across the roomful of cameras, at her ex-step-father passionately snogging his new Andrassii partner, and at her horrified mother being taken into the arms of her amused, Andrassii, soon-to-be-step-mother. For once, Helen’s own professional smile was one hundred percent sincere. No matter what challenges or difficulties lay ahead of her in an alien world, she knew one blessed thing for sure: she would never have to organize a family party again.




About the Author:

Stephanie Burgis is an American writer who lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, Patrick Samphire, and their crazy-sweet border collie mix, Maya. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines, podcasts, and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and The Lone Star Stories Reader. Her YA Regency fantasy trilogy will be published by Hyperion Books.  For more information, please visit her website:



Story © 2008 Stephanie Burgis. Photo of London City Hall by ChrisO, 2004.