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Loki's Net

Written by Marissa Lingen
Illustrated by Caroline O'Neal

It was easy to forget that she was just one woman, when she was on the set alone. But the minute the story was over, when the cameras stopped rolling and the audience began to cheer, Beth could see the woman in the star, her boss, Nora Larson.

And Nora was not happy.

"You were fabulous," Beth assured her. "You were stunning. I never knew the Hopi had such fascinating stories."

Nora raised an eyebrow at her.

Beth said, "They're still cheering. You're going to have to take another bow."

Nora sighed, squared her shoulders, and strode back on stage, smiling broadly and waving at the audience. Her long, pale hands were famous, and when she lifted one in greeting, the audience went wild.

When Nora could finally stop bowing and get backstage again, Beth was ready with her coat. "The characters felt so real," said Beth. "I forgot you weren't some old Hopi grandmother."

Nora grimaced. "I didn't."

"But your audience always feels—"

Nora sighed. "You're really sweet, Bethie, but my audience will take what I give them. I can't rely on them for my standards. I have to keep things up, up, up."

"I know," said Beth.

They settled into the limo before Nora asked. "Any news from the Loki Project?"

"No," said Beth. "Nothing yet."

Nora sighed. "Nothing from the P.I.?"


"Then we're on for the Loki story tomorrow night?"

Beth looked away. "Yes."

Nora slept in the next morning, and by the time she went onstage that night, she was positively glowing. It was easy to see why she had made story-telling a popular art again, why star-struck twelve-year-old girls wanted to grow up to be Nora Larson. She made herself part of the story, and nobody much cared what the story was. Her blue eyes were captivating enough.

"Loki fled Asgard, the hall of the gods, because he had killed Baldr, brightest and best-loved. He ran to the mountains, to Franang's Falls, where he could look out in all four directions. He looked to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west. But the only god who saw where he had gone was his wife, loyal Sigyn, and she held her peace.


"Loki began to tire of keeping watch for the other gods. Even he could have too much of paranoia. So he used his shape-shifting talents to buy himself some hidden freedom. He turned into a stag and ran through the forests. He turned into a billy goat and climbed to the highest mountain peaks. But on the land, he had to avoid Geri and Freki, Odin's wolves."

As Nora spoke, the backdrop changed, from a vague gray through abstract versions of all of the settings, the forests, the mountain peaks, the sky above them.

"He turned into a hawk and soared on the highest thermals. But there he had to avoid Odin's ravens, Hugin and Munin.

"So Loki turned himself into a salmon and took refuge in the cool rivers, where his foster-brother's creatures could not follow." Nora's hands captivated with subtle salmon movements.

"But even in the form of a salmon, he was not a salmon, but a trickster, and as there was no one else around to trick, he turned to tricking the salmon. Gradually, he noticed what kind of snares tempted the salmon, what patches of grass felt best to their scales, what patterns of water suited them best.

"Then he turned back into his natural form and fashioned the most effective salmon net ever devised. It was ingenious, perfectly designed to delight a salmon's senses until it was too late to escape. But when he looked up from his work, he saw the other gods storming up Franang's Falls. He had been caught.

"Loki threw the net into his cooking fire and dove into the river, transforming himself into a salmon just before he hit the water. The other gods thrashed around in water up to their waists, churning the surface into a fine froth, but they could neither find nor catch the wily Trickster."

Nora paused, still for a moment after the motion of the escape.

"While the rest of the gods went for their impromptu swim, Bragi, the god of the bards, examined Loki's cottage for clues on how to catch him. He saw the net smoldering in the fire and ran to the god-churned river to get water to douse the flames. The net had fallen into ashes, but Bragi insisted that the other gods leave him quiet and still until he made a drawing of the shape of the ashes.

"He took the drawing to Brokk, the best craftsman among the dwarves. 'Can you make this for me out of ropes?' he asked.

"Brokk cleared his throat and hemmed and hawed and finally allowed as how he could. Then he started to haggle on the price. Bragi raised one harp-calloused hand. 'It will ensnare Loki,' he said.

"Brokk made the net for free.

"Thor took it to the river. He laid on the bank like a peasant fisherman, with the net dangling down into the water." Nora leaned, demonstrating with a splayed cat's cradle motion how the net would hang from Thor's broad, calloused hands. "Loki came to see it there. He still had the mind of a god, but layered on top of it, teasing at its corners, were the instincts of a salmon. And the net looked just as cool, just as tickling, just as inviting as he'd hoped.

"And so it was that the gods caught Loki. But what they did when they had him—well, that is a story for another day."

Nora's shoulders slumped as soon as the cameras went off, worn out by her performance. Her special assistant, Beth, ran to meet her with a sweater and a cup of steaming apple cider. Nora had hired Beth for her seemingly psychic ability to find what Nora needed, and she was almost never disappointed.

"They won't know you're talking about Reese," said her producer. "They'll think it was just another of your crazy stories." Ted had always been thin and nervous, but the last few months had made him thinner, and he made rooms hum with energy.

Nora sipped at her cider. "The ones who need to know, will know. Reese will know. And the rest like my crazy stories."

"God only knows why," Ted muttered. "When are you going to do another indram, Nora? Or at least straight drama—I read this script the other day, and I really think you could—"

"Reese is my project now," said Nora serenely. "And I'd like a status report, please."

Beth massaged Nora's shoulders. "Nothing has changed since you went on. Except, perhaps, that the investigator is getting annoyed."

Nora sniffed. "I don't pay him to get annoyed. I pay him to find Reese."

"He doesn't seem to have added the annoyance to his itemized bill."

"Good. See that he doesn't. I'm going to want to talk to Dr. Lee in about half an hour, all right, dear?"

"I don't see why this Reese is so important," said Ted. "You can already take as many memory pills as you want to get into character."

Nora rolled her eyes. "My dear Ted, you are nearly infallible as a producer, but your science knowledge is sadly limited. Reese was developing a nanodrug that would let me really have someone else's memories as they experienced them."

"Whereas the pills—"

"The pills help me to remember the same events, but as me. As a woman, in her late thirties, an actress, from a quiet family, all of that. I can't get rid of any of it. I can't say what it's like to be you, Ted. I can't say it in the most basic physical sense, what it's like when you get an erection, when your balls itch, any of it."

He stared at her. "You want to know what it's like when my balls itch?"

"You're so literal. No. I want to know what it's like to be male. I want to know what it's like not to be Nora. All the stories I tell are mine. I want to tell other people's."

"What if they don't want their stories told?" asked Beth, too quietly.

Ted steamrolled right over her. "And you think this detective is going to help you get there?"

"I think he'll help me find Reese again. The rest of it may be under Dr. Lee's control already."

"Do you know that this detective is reliable?" asked Ted.

Nora smiled as sweetly as she could. "Ted. Darling. He's a private investigator. Of course he's unreliable. But he's well-paid, and that, for the moment, is the important thing."

* * *

Beth made polite small talk with Andrew Frydeck, the private investigator, but she kept glancing at the door. Nora was late. Finally, she excused herself and wandered out to the lobby. She looked around.

"Miss Larson will be here momentarily, miss," said the maitre d'. "She called from the car and said that they were only a few blocks away. She thought you'd be getting impatient with Mr. Frydeck and requested your indulgence."

"Of course," said Beth automatically.

She turned her attention away from the maitre d' and watched the door to the hotel. Sure enough, Nora strode through the revolving glass door a few minutes later. Her well-fitted, short red dress made her look like a jewel in the ornate setting of the lobby.

"Bethie," she said. "I thought you might be a little nervous. It's all right, sweetie, he likes you."

Beth blinked. Sometimes she understood why Nora felt she needed the Loki Project: she didn't seem to be able to see things right under her nose. "No, he doesn't. And I don't much care about him, either. Nora, I know you do things your own way, but I think we need to move on to another—"

Nora waved her hand. "Never mind that, dear. I have news. Let's sit."

Andrew greeted them with grudging cordiality. Nora ordered for all of them, approving Beth's wine choice with a quick nod.

"I have to be frank with you, Ms. Larson," said Andrew, buttering his bread with quick motions.

"That's what I pay you for."

"I've run into dead ends everywhere. I have no idea where your man is. Nobody in this town knows, or else they're not willing to say. And I can't find anywhere else that he lived. I don't like to give up on a case, but—"

"Oh, I don't think we're at the stage where we need to give up yet," said Nora. She thanked the waiter absently for her salad. "I have new information soon to become available."

Beth tensed up.

"Reese wrecked his lab pretty thoroughly, as you both know," said Nora. "But Dr. Lee and his students have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, and they found all sorts of interesting residues. It's very hard to destroy nanodrugs thoroughly. The hard part was getting the substrate right for dosing the human subject—namely me."

"Well, congratulations," said Andrew. "I'm not going to ask how much the FDA knows about this; I'll just wish you luck. And since you've achieved your goal, I'll just be—"

"Oh, no," said Nora quickly. "Dr. Lee and his students are years away from being able to make different nanobugs. They can reproduce this one, that's all. We need to find Reese in order to know how to make more."

"I'm sorry, I don't know what to tell you. Dead ends are dead ends."

Nora frowned impatiently. "I don't think you understand. Reese was his own subject of the transfer into the nanobugs. He didn't want to test the transfer process on anyone else, and we had a group of volunteers lined up for the testing. Anyway. They'll be his memories. If he remembers coming up with the essential science in the 'bugs, then we can stop looking for him—although it would be a pity, he's a great scientific mind."

"Or we wouldn't have hired him," Beth added.

"Exactly. But even if that's not in the memories, there may be a lead in them. I want you to be at the facilities so that I can dictate his memories to you as soon as I've experienced them. While they're still fresh. And then you can use anything in there as a new lead." She beamed beatifically at them and stabbed her salad with renewed interest.

Beth watched Andrew carefully.

"Well," he said. "That's, um, that's quite something. Good to hear. Yes. Definitely good to hear."

"Have you talked to Ted about how this will affect your schedule?" asked Beth.

Nora said, "No, you can do that." Beth pulled out her PDA and made a note into it. Nora looked at Andrew. "So you'll be there."

Andrew sighed wearily. "Sure."

* * *

Nora had chosen to have the new nanodrug administered in her house, and the sitting room outside her bedroom served as a waiting room for Beth and Andrew. She knew they were waiting out there. She could take her time.

She needed it.

She took the nanodrug early in the morning and settled in with a big book of Finnish folktales to wait for it to take effect. If Reese had been there, Nora would have asked him what she could expect, how long it would take, how it would feel, how she would know it had been effective. She wasn't sure he knew, but she was certain nobody else did.

It had been an hour, sitting quietly in bed, before she started to feel something around the edge of her brain. It was a bit like a caffeine buzz, but without the energy. Nora laid back against her pillows, weary and restless.

There was something else there. Fragmentary images began to compose themselves, but there was a more important sense of disorientation. She wiggled her shoulders, and they didn't go as far as they felt like they should. There was a phantom sensation between her legs, there, and then gone.

But in her head, the phantom edges remained. She had a sense that something was missing, a sense of loss. She tried to grab for it, but it eluded her more than once. Then the clear memory: sitting on a stool, broad shoulders, flat chest, hair everywhere. A penis. She twisted, frowning.

Nora knew this was something she wanted to do, but she felt constrained, transgressive, shameful. The details started to come back, all in a rush, with the shame. She wept, fighting the shame and the constraint. She pushed through it. She was Nora, not Reese, not anyone. Nora.

She whispered her own name a few times and felt her body, poking hard at all the crevices. "Nora, Nora, Nora," she said. "Right here. Nora."

She paused. "And I'm right."

She signaled that the doctor could let Beth and Andrew in, and she prepared for it.

Nora was sitting up in bed when the door opened, stretching charmingly in her robe. Her hair was tousled as it would have been from sleep. She had carefully schooled her face into neutrality, and she grasped for the memory fragments. They came together firmly this time. She looked at the clock. It had been more than an hour.

"I had the most beautiful dream," she said, laughing prettily. "You were there, and you were there, and—" She broke off and peered at Beth. "Now, that's interesting. You were there."

Beth sat down in the bedside chair rather abruptly.

"He was in the lab, taking a break, and he was sitting down on one of those uncomfortable stools he had." She wiggled, frowning despite herself. "Everything was weird. I mean, my shoulders, everything. I really felt like . . . I don't know, like someone else." She stared off into space.

"That was the point, yes?" asked Andrew.

"Yes," said Nora, gathering her thoughts again. "Yes, that was the point. And Reese thought about getting away, to this house with mountains in the background, and he thought about you, Beth. Now, why was that?"

Beth started to cry. "He didn't want to!"

"Didn't want to what?" said Nora. She was trying to make her voice gentle, but it didn't entirely work.

"To expose his thoughts, his innermost psyche!"

"The things that make him himself," said Nora thoughtfully. "Yes."

"He thought it was terrible," said Beth. "He just wanted it to stop. So he came to me."

"And you helped him."

Beth braced herself for the tantrum to come, but Nora simply said. "I see. Well, I'll call the accountant about your severance pay. Andrew, please take notes. The mountains had bushes on them but no trees. The house itself was gray, with. . . ."

* * *

Nora talked for almost an hour and a half, trying to get all of the memories of being Reese recorded. Then she sent Andrew away to do his detective work. She drove herself to the studio and recorded three new stories before she went to bed that night. She tossed and turned for two hours before getting up again and dialing the phone.

"Beth? Why don't you hold off talking to the accountant, all right?"

Beth blinked at her sleepily. "I'm not fired?"

"Reese isn't fired. Why should you be fired?"

"Because he's essential and I'm a glorified secretary."

"Evidently I haven't been glorifying you enough," murmured Nora. "You're good at what you do. I'd miss you if you stopped doing it."

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. "What's gotten into you?" Beth finally asked. "I'd have told you to fire me, if it was me. I helped him destroy his work!"

"I got it back," said Nora.


"Bethie, do you know the rest of the story of Loki?"

"I haven't really had much time for—"

Nora sighed. "It's all right. Listen. His loyal wife Sigyn was allowed to hold a bowl over his face to keep venom from dripping on it, while the other gods tormented him with a giant snake. Every once in awhile, she'd have to move the bowl, and the venom would drip on him."

"I see."

"I don't mean to do that to you and Reese."

"But you will?"

The picture stayed so still and the line so quiet, Beth thought Nora had put her on hold. Then the other woman shrugged convulsively. "Ask yourself that in a few weeks. Me, I don't know."

Beth shared the silence with her for awhile. "You know, I don't know where that house is, in the mountains."

"I know. If I thought you knew, I would have asked."

"What if I wouldn't tell you?"

Nora shrugged wearily. "Andrew will find it."

"What if he doesn't?"

"He will. Reese did his job well enough, there's really no avoiding it. I got too much detail, too much memory. Too much of what it's like to be Reese."

"And you're using that."

Nora laughed mirthlessly. "Oh yes. Without even hesitating."

* * *

Andrew spent two days investigating the new details Nora had given him and then flew to Nevada. "No guarantees," he said.

But Nora was ready to go the minute he called her. She was on the plane to Las Vegas the next morning, to Ted's dismay but not surprise. Andrew picked her up at the airport in the Volvo he'd rented on her dime. She didn't even notice that it wasn't a compact—typical, he thought.

"How far out is it?" she asked.

"Two or three hours. Clear out in the sticks. There's no guarantee that this is it. We may not find him there."

"I'll know when we get there," said Nora. "I'll find something, even if it isn't him."

They drove across the desert in the midday sun. Her blonde hair shone almost painfully. She turned on oldies radio and sung along with No Doubt, absentmindedly. Andrew shook his head. "I would never have pegged you for a Gwen Stefani woman. Too punky."

Nora shook her head. "Don't go thinking you know everything. I know I don't."

He carefully did not ask why she still acted as if she did.

They didn't speak again until they turned into a long driveway.

"Oh, yes," she breathed.


"This is the house," said Nora. "I'm sure of it."

"It doesn't look like there's anyone here," said Andrew.

She raised a scornful eyebrow. "And if you were hiding, you'd make sure it looked like someone was at home? This is the place. Let's go in."

"What if nobody answers the—"

"Break in."

"Oh, no." Andrew looked at her, expecting a fit, but she was implacable.

"If you don't do it, I will."

"How would you know how to pick a lock?"

Nora smiled enigmatically. "Nobody starts out a wildly successful actress, Andrew lad. You don't get this far without a touch of ruthlessness."

"More than a touch."

She shrugged, not wanting to argue. The part of her that had been Reese nodded emphatically inside her head. She got out of the car and half-ran up the steps, with Andrew at her heels. The door was open.

"You take the downstairs," she said. "I'll go up."

"This is the last thing," he told her again. "After this, I don't work for you any more."

"That's fine. Just search the downstairs."

The house was silent and, as she expected, devoid of furniture. It was not dusty. She climbed the stairs as if she was coming home. She knew she had never been there before.

Nora checked each of the bedrooms and bathrooms, ritually. No one. She stood in the window, looking out at the setting sun on the barren mountains. The hairs on her arms prickled. She turned around.

There was a man standing behind her, backlit by the setting sun. For a moment, Nora thought it was Andrew, but he was too slight, too worn. "Reese?"

He stepped forward and gave her a tired smile. "Well? You got what you wanted, didn't you?"

"Yes." She faltered. "It wasn't what I expected."

"No, I know that." They stood in silence for a few moments. "What was it?"

She took a deep breath. "A whole different world."

"I thought so. But—here you are."

"What do you mean?"

"It didn't change you."

She laughed. "It changed me."

"No, but, I mean, you didn't lose track of who you are."

"I'm Nora."

He laughed then, too. "Well, but that's what I worried about. That you would forget what being Nora was like, compared to being Reese. I suppose I shouldn't have worried with you, but with others. . . ."

She crossed the room to his side and looked out the window. "It wasn't what I expected at all. I thought it would be—I don't know, I thought being a man would be distracting, I thought it would be the center of the whole experience."

"And it wasn't."

"No. Because it wasn't being a man. It was being you." She kept staring out the window. "I found out about Bethie."

Reese sighed. "I was afraid of that."

"I kept her on."

He raised an eyebrow. "Well, well. Dare I blame that on myself?"

"I blame it on you."

"Thank you. I think."

"This will get out, Reese. It has to. Even if you don't help me, Lee and his students have enough to figure out what you did eventually. It could benefit the world so much, to be able to understand each other."

"You still feel that way. After being me, after being caught up in who I am and what I feel. You still want to share it. You still tracked me down."

She wrinkled her brow. "Of course."

"In that case, perhaps it will change the world less than you think."

* * *

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