The Big Switch

By Rotwang (

The bright yellow lights from the parking outside, faintly illuminated the converted railway station-turned exposition hall. A dozen or so full size dioramas re-enacted famous film scenes. In the silent film section, Hel, the metallic robot-woman from Metropolis, the classic 1926 silent, sat on her throne. The last employees had closed the doors to the main platforms and the sound of discussion had slowly died away. Outside the last cars were departing. Nobody was there to see the machine-woman suddenly come to life. She rose from her throne and took two steps forward. She paused for a moment and began twitching her hand.

The silver gauntlet was made from one piece and did not allow any hand movements except those of the wrist. It fell off her human-looking hand and then she reached for the other gauntlet and removed it. With difficulty the person inside the costume struggled to remove the elbow joints which restricted her arm movements. After some time one of the joints loosened and dropped on the floor, next to the discarded gauntlets. After she removed the other, she reached for the eerie facemask, removed it and revealed a young woman’s face, a sweaty, tired face which let out a sigh of relief. The lines of the mask she had been wearing all day marked her skin.

She then walked through the exhibits towards one of the many exhibition booths. She carefully stepped behind the stall and began to look between the boxes and stuff piled up at the back. She found a bag full of food hidden in a box. She opened a bottle of water and drank half of it in one go. She devoured four cheese sandwiches and finished with a Mars bar. Hampered by her costume, she leaned against the table and stretched as much as she could in the aluminium suit. She did a tour of the exhibits and then went to the toilet. There she produced a plastic tube hidden in the right hip joint and popped the end in a men’s urinal. Relieved, she wiped the tube clean, shook it to drain it and put it back in place. She splashed some water on her face and looked into the mirror. She looked at the marks on her face and suddenly heard a noise. She went to the door and saw a man standing next to the stall she had just been. She came out of the toilet and raised her hand to greet him. "You got back in ?" She asked, while he pecked her on the cheek. "Yeah, I told the concierge I was picking up some things I had left behind. Besides, congratulations, you’re halfway through the bet. I’ve made quite a bundle. I knew you’d last at least a day. If there’s any problem, just quit, we wouldn’t want something happening to you." "I’ll be okay, only one more day. The other dummies will remain here for at least another month, so I’m on the easy road." "Are you gonna sleep ?" "No, I’ll just stay here for a while till morning and get back in place just before opening." "Are there no problems, are you getting enough air in there ?" "Yeah, I’m okay, but my back, legs and feet are aching. I can’t sit down in this can." "You could strip for a while." "With this suit ? You know how long it took me to get in it in the first place ?" "Look, I have to go or the concierge might come and take a peek." "Just help me get this stuff back on."

Inside the robot mask, Kathy couldn’t see a thing. Inside it was a mouthpiece through which she could breathe. She stood there motionless, more leaning against the throne than sitting, her hands folded on her lap. She kept on with her oriental meditation, managing to remain perfectly still.

Suddenly, over the droning noise of a few hundred people conversing, she could hear voices really close to her. She strained to listen through the mask covering her ears. " ... klar ... nicht einfach ... Licht ...." She then felt something on her shoulder. She froze and remained as motionless as possible. Then she felt a tug and felt herself pulled to her right. "Sie ist so schwer ?" She could hear a voice next to her. She tensed every muscle in her body and felt herself lifted up. Then she felt herself tilted back and put on her back on the ground. She struggled to keep her body in the same position as it had been resting against the throne. Agonising seconds became minutes. Suddenly she felt a slight tug on her feet and using this momentum, slung her body forward, resting on her heels. She then could hear a woman calling her child to order. Grimacing under the mask, she tried to keep perfectly still. Then she felt herself being picked up by her foot and dragged along the floor, picked up and put back on the throne. "Es is so schwer ..." She breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed. Around her the men were working on something. She could hear the sound of drills and felt the vibrations through the throne.

After what seemed an eternity, she could hear a buzzing sound behind her. She closed her eyes and began to rest. She meditated until she heard the announcement that the exhibition would be closed. She popped out of her meditation and anxiously awaited the end of her gruelling experience. Around her the buzzing had not stopped. Then after what seemed an eternity, she bent over to get on her feet and touched something, she reached up and felt it move. An accidental witness might have seen the robot-woman get up and break the fluorescent circles moving up and down round her. As one of the circles snapped, electrical current was set loose and coursed through her body. The robot stopped for a second and began to convulse. It tossed its head back and forth, and collapsed through her knees, landing hard on the floor.

When she came round, Kathy felt awkward. She sat on her knees, with her head and back resting against the throne behind her. She could see the myriad of glass panels above her, lit by the yellow lamps of the parking. She pushed her hands to the floor to get up and noticed she was still wearing the costume. Then it struck her. She could move with ease in the suit. She brought up her hands before her face and saw that they were fully functional, but metallic. She touched her face and felt the ridge going from the top of her nose to the top of her skull. She reached for the back of her head to remove the mask, but couldn’t. Somehow it was fitted differently to the neck and the rest of her body than it had previously. She felt no strain in her limbs and no fatigue. All sensations were there, only strangely different. She looked round and looked in vain for a mirror nearby. She ran through the aisles and went for the booth. None of her clothes to be seen. The bag and the food were gone. Kathy ran to the back of the scene and looked underneath it, for the original robot dummy. But it was gone. She ran to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She struggled with the robot head and tried to remove it. Somehow stunned, she examined her body. Everything fitted perfectly allowing her total freedom of movement. Then she noticed something. She undid a latch on her leg to open it. Instead of flesh she saw a brilliant chrome leg, shinier than the suit itself. In terror, she undid the rest of the leg. She looked at the sleek, shiny leg, even her toes were metal. She removed a thin, gunmetal aluminium glove, from her hands and revealed bright chrome hands. She reached for the head again and found the latch. She opened the mask, but the face beneath it was even less human. She had no eyes and a yellow visor for eyes. After she undid the costume, she was a bright chrome robot woman, more graceful than the costume she had worn. She could move her lips and jaw to reveal metal teeth. Suddenly metal antennae popped out of the sides of her skull. She watched her lean, athletic-looking robot- body with surprise. She ran her fingertips over the surface of her body and felt every bump, ridge and contour. Etched in gold on her right leg was the word LASER.

She searched the hall until she came across an old trenchcoat and hat. She put them on and walked towards one of the emergency exits. She undid the lock on the door and quietly slipped out. Her metal feet clicked on the hard pavement outside. She went to her rental car and found it locked. Just as she had smashed open the driver’s window, she heard a wailing siren blast behind her. A policeman dressed in green stepped out of his car with his colleague. "Was machen sie hier ?" He asked in German. Kathy looked away from him and tried to walk away, only to hear "Halt, Polizei !" She stopped, but looked away, hiding behind her hat. "Drehen sie sich um !" She heard the policeman shout. "Schnell !" He barked. She reluctantly turned round and saw a policeman just behind her. He grabbed her by the arm and began twisting his arm round when a sudden gust of wind blew the hat off her smooth skull, which offered no grip for it. "Was ?" The policeman exclaimed. Kathy pushed him back and ran off. She could hear the policemen shout and as she looked over her shoulder saw that she had pushed both men against each other, knocking them over.

She ran along the edge of the river bordering the station and ran over the first bridge she encountered, and then ran across the busy road and entered a car-free main-street. She ducked in the entrance of a shop and crouched low. As she nervously looked around, she suddenly noticed she wasn’t out of breath. She did not even breathe... She heard sirens coming from all sides. Suddenly she noticed headlights reflected in a window opposite her and crouched further into the corner and saw the police-car zoom right past her. As soon as it was far away, she darted across the street and into another street. Soon, the shops gave way to houses and apartments. She hugged the walls and stayed low. As she rounded a corner, she could see the blue lights of a police car and ducked in an alley. She heard music emerge from behind a door. Besides the door was a small shop window with several mannequins dressed in leather and rubber clothing. Desperate, she pushed the door open. Down the long rows of mostly black clothing, she could see a group of people sitting round a counter, talking and laughing, while the drone of music filled the shop. She ducked as heads turned towards her and looked away. "Kann ich ihn helfen ?" "No ! Just looking." She said nervously, holding up the collar of her coat. "You speak English ?" The young man asked. She heard the people speak in German and heard words such as "Silber, Fremd and Füsse" In desperation, she pulled down her coat and looked at the young man. He was wearing a torn jeans with latex tights underneath. He wore a red latex T-shirt and looked friendly at first, but his expression and that of the others turned to stupor as they saw her. Expecting them to run outside or call the police, she cringed slightly. "Man ! You look so cool ! Where did you get the outfit ?" A girl cried out. She cupped her right elbow with her left hand and held her cigarette in the air. Her head was completely shaven, covered in tattoos and she had lots of piercings through her nose, eyebrows and ears. She wore a black latex catsuit covering her entire body from the neck down. Over it, she wore a very tight corset and a short, spiked leather jacket. Her heavily made up eyes glistened as she looked at Kathy. The others gathered round her, eyeing her up. "Vere did you get the costume." The man said, while emphasising his words by tugging at his clothes. "I’m looking for a phone ? Please ?" she whimpered. "Right zis vay." The young man said, holding out his hand towards the counter. Kathy took a first step and noticed one of the men besides her trying to peek between her clothes. She pulled the coat tight and followed the young man, while the rest of the group followed her. "Do you know the number of the... hum, Palaz Hotel ?" "I can look it up if you vant." "Do you go to fetish parties ?" She heard a voice behind her. "Huh ? No... Not really !" The shaven woman came into view. "Isn’t it hot in there ?" She asked. Kathy merely shook her head. "What’s it made off ?" Another voice asked. "I don’t really know." "You’re an American, right ? I’m English, I’m Nadia." Said the shaven woman. "Huh-huh", she nodded. "How do the lights and the voice work ?" The voice behind her asked. "I really don’t know and I just want to call my friends so they can pick me up !" She shouted angrily "Excuse me, miss ? I have the phone number." The young man tried to sound nice and seemed to look for a face or eyes behind the metal exterior. The sound of a police siren going past the shop shook Kathy, who instantly ducked. The young man handed over the horn. She put it to her ear, but knocked it against the antenna on her head. Kathy waited till she got a response. She asked the desk clerk to patch her through to Mike. Then, she listened to the beeping of the phone, but even after some while, there was no response. She heard a voice telling her that the people she had asked for were probably not in their room. "Is there a problem baby ?" Nadia asked, while popping a sweet in her mouth. Kathy did not feel tired at all. All her senses were there, but felt different. She could not even cry. "I don’t know what’s going on with me !" She cried out. "Are the cops after you ?" Nadia asked. "They’ve been going round for the last fifteen minutes." Suddenly they saw a flash of blue light and heard car doors slam. "Please you must help me !" Kathy cried. Nadia ran to a rack and grabbed a black latex bodysuit and pushed Kathy into the back-room. "Heinrich, stall them !" She hissed. Two policemen entered the shop moments later. Heinrich looked at the senior one and gave him an interested look. "Can I help you ? We have some handcuffs on sale." The policeman did not look amused and took a good look round. "Have you seen a woman wearing a raincoat and silver mask ? She was last seen around here." "What did she do ?" Asked someone. "She broke into a car and attacked police officers. I think she may have been your kind." "We’re not into silver masks." Heinrich shook his head as if to express some form of disgust. "Mind if we take a look ?" "Sure, We give reductions on couples, you know ?" Heinrich purred and gave the policeman a sultry look. The policeman pursed his lips and shook his head, while sighing, followed by his silent partner. They looked at all the people present. They looked through the clothes-racks, pulling the rubber garments aside with their nightsticks. The senior officer suddenly noticed the back room and poked his night-stick at the black curtain. "What’s in there ?" "That’s where we keep stock." Heinrich said. "But I think something’s going on in there." The policeman ignored his warning and pulled the curtain aside. He could see some movement behind a stack of large cast-iron shelves, stacked with boxes. He circumnavigated the shelves and raised his eyebrows at the scene. He was greeted by a bald woman, dressed in tight latex clothes, riding horsie on another woman on all fours, wearing a tight latex outfit covering her entire body. Over her featureless hood, she wore a bridle and stock. The bald woman gave the man an enticing look, winked and wickedly licked her blood-red lips, while bending her whip. The policeman muttered and scratched his head. "I’m sorry !" He said reluctantly. Both policemen walked out. Then just as they were about to close the door. "And keep the noise down. Some decent people in this city try to sleep."

Kathy got up and pulled the hood from her face. The transition from featureless black hood to shining chrome was startling. The twin antennas popped back out of her skull, about where her ears would have been. Nadia stared at Kathy. "How do you do the trick with the antennas ?" She asked. "That’s the problem... I don’t know ! I think I’m going crazy." "Look, dear, we all are, some can admit it, others can’t." Nadia helped Kathy get out of the rubber suit and gently caressed her metal back. "Stop it !" Kathy said. "How did you know ?" Nadia asked, slightly taken aback. "I can feel it. That’s the problem. I’ve become a robot !"


"So, you work for a movie club in the USA, and you’ve made a bet with some people that you could replace the robot in the exhibition for two whole days, without anyone noticing ?" "Basically, that’s it. We had the costume made for a publicity stunt in the US and we thought it would be nice to take it along, and then we saw the exhibits and someone came up with the idea of making a bet." Kathy answered. "So when you were ready to call it quits, you suddenly were electrocuted and discovered that underneath you were a robot. Right ?" Kathy nodded. "Let’s get some screwdrivers and look what’s underneath." Nadia said, a fiendish smile on her face.

Nadia was busy probing under the rim of the helmet in her neck. Then, she felt a slight nudge as the last catch holding the helmet in place popped. "This is it !" she said. Kathy, hesitated slightly before removing the top half of her head. She couldn’t see herself, but the cries of surprise said enough. She looked around her and saw that their eyes were filled with stupor. She got up and stared at the mirror. She grasped the facemask and revealed a series of metal bands, holding a large copper metal ball in place. Somehow, there was no room for her head, she probed her face and the visor and stuck her finger deep inside what would’ve been her head. "You really are a robot !" Nadia exclaimed. "That’s what I’ve been telling you all along !" Kathy said, an anguished tremor in her smooth robotic voice. She grabbed the facemask and ran off. The group watched her until Nadia, looking at the others, decided to follow Kathy.

Kathy ran through the darkened streets, holding on to her face. In her mind, the image of the inside of her head repeated itself over and over, causing her a lot of pain.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked back to see Nadia. "You forgot your coat !" She said and held it out. "What if somebody saw you ?" Kathy stared at Nadia. "Have you got a place to stay ?" Nadia asked. Kathy shook her head. "Your friends are probably in some bier-keller ... Come, I’ll take you to my place."

Most of the furniture in Nadia’s apartment was made of rubber, including a spiky-lip-shaped couch. Cigarette held delicately between two fingers, Nadia eyed her up. Kathy stood, there not knowing where to put her hands. "Would you like to sit down ?" Nadia asked after a while. "I’m not tired." Kathy went and just walked up to the window. She looked at her hand and flexed it a few times. Nadia put out her cigarette and began to undo the straps of her outfit. "I’ll be in the bathroom, undressing, okay ?" Kathy nodded and just felt her metal body.

Nadia almost looked normal as she came out of the bathroom. Without the heavy make-up and the rubber, she looked much nicer, more ordinary in most ways. "What happened ?" "I still don’t know, there was a shock and … I looked like this." Kathy just crossed her arms and managed to look sad somehow. Nadia gave her a quick smile and sighed. "I’ll take out the spare bed and fix you some dinner, okay ?" "I don’t even know if eat or … need a recharge." Nadia began to laugh, but quickly stopped. "There has to be some logical explanation to this. Let’s go over you one more time."

"100 % Metal !" Nadia declared. Nadia had gone over her entire body. She had even found a hidden panel and a plug for recharging …" "This can’t be !" Kathy’s voice broke down into a whine. "I just want to be normal again !" Nadia patted her gently and grabbed her for a hug. Kathy was cold and hard, but she was hurting so much.

The next morning Nadia found Kathy sitting on a chair by the wall, a plug running from her leg to the socket in the wall. "It just doesn’t get better …" Kathy said. "Perhaps it can !" Somebody suddenly said. Kathy and Nadia looked and saw a strange little man standing in the middle of the room. He was a bald and thin little man, wearing a mechanic’s outfit. "I’m sorry, but we had a little reality quake and Kathy here got caught into it."

"You see, there is an infinite number of alternate universes and normally they don’t collide, but there was some major incident, where Kathy and her counterpart in another universe switched minds. A bit like wet paint mixing by accident." Nadia just stared at the bald little man. "You mean there is a robot somewhere out there who has Kathy’s body ?" "That’s pretty much it." "And can you fix me again ?" "Euh … We can travel through dimensions, but we can’t fix things like that. It’s the first one we know of, as a matter of fact … Before that it was all just theory… Sorry !" "I want to be normal again !" Kathy went. "At least take her back or something !" "My colleague is discussing with the other Kathy. I’ll give him a call." The little man opened his toolbox and pulled out a big antique phone with an antenna. He put the receiver to his head and spoke into the spout. "Bernie ? It’s Herbert here, any success with the other one ?" Kathy and Nadia couldn’t understand what the other guy was saying but Herbert just nodded a few times going "uh-huh" a lot.

Herbert hung up and looked at the two women. "Well, we’ll go back to Central and see what we can do." Herbert said and took something out of his toolbox, a doorframe normally too big to fit into his toolbox. He placed it against the wall. "Ladies first !" He said opening it for them. Kathy looked at Nadia and they held hands.

Central was a weird place … All sorts of technology seemed to have been involved into the design, but never replaced. Big transistor valves coexisted with steam machines and anti-matter reactors.

Herbert led them through the maze of corridors and doors opening into an infinite variety of universes. "Where are we ?" Kathy asked. "Central is the meeting point for all dimensional travellers. We have lead signals in most realities to guide in new travellers. It started with a handful of dimensional travellers meeting by accident, but now there are millions …" "Millions ?" "Yeah, from all kinds of realities, ones where the dinosaurs didn’t die out, where aliens invaded earth, where humans are mechanical rather than organic …" "Like the one Kathy got mixed with ?" "That’s right !" Herbert said.

"Hiya, girls." Bernie said, chomping at his cigar. He spoke with a definite Brooklyn accent. Besides him was a young woman, standing with arms crossed. "Kathy ?" She asked herself simultaneously. "We’re woiking on something. There’s gotta to be a univoise out there where they have a mind-switcher." Bernie said. "Perhaps you girls might like to talk or something." Herbert suggested. "I’ll go with you chaps." Nadia said.

Kathy sat down besides herself. Her double nervously smiled back. "So … you’re my counterpart ?" She nodded. "I was at an exhibition of S-F movies and ended up looking like this. I was wearing a skinsuit copy from a movie and before I knew what happened, I was organic !" Kathy1 looked at her with her yellow visor. "I was wearing a robot suit from a movie too." "Wow !" Kathy2 replied.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence followed.

"Are you really a robot ?" Kathy1 asked. "Yeah !" Kathy2 replied, pointing at her. "I have your body."

More silence.

"Heck I’m you and you are me ! So why can’t we find something to talk about ?" Kathy2 asked. "I don’t know, I’m not used to talking to myself !" Kathy1 one replied and chuckled. "How does it feel ?" Kathy2 asked. "Weird !" Kathy1 said. "It’s almost like …" "Like …" Kathy2 added. "But you should know, it’s your body !" They said simultaneously. Both laughed and sighed after that. "We’re much alike." Kathy1 said. "Yeah, we think alike. What do you do ?" "I work for a big S-F store in the States." "So do I ! Does Mike make costumes for you ?" "Yeah ! He made a replica of the Metropolis robot. We took it with us for the exhibition in Germany where we found out they had one on display." Kathy1 said. "And you got intoxicated and made a bet with them you could take her place." Kathy2 said. Kathy1 laughed and shook her head. Kathy2 looked at Kathy1and seemed to be wanting to ask something. "Did you … enjoy wearing the suit ?" Kathy1 paused. "You mean you have a fantasy as well ?" Kathy2 nodded. "But not a robot, like you, but an organic." "I never told anybody !" Kathy1 Said. "Neither did I !" Kathy2 said. "Did you enjoy it ?" Kathy1 asked. "I was too panicky to enjoy it … until Bernie arrived !" "We should try to enjoy it for as long as we can." Kathy1 said. "Yeah !" Kathy2 said.


Nadia looked at Herbert and Bernie checking the inventory lists. "We have graviton peelers, anti-gravity slippers, a lamp with a genie in it, but no mind-switcher !" Herbert said. "Nothin’ here neither, Hoib !" "Surely you have to be able to do something ?" Nadia asked. "We tried to organise it a few times, but there is so much stuff lying about !" Herbert said. "But those girls must be on the verge of a nervous breakdown !" Nadia said.


Herbert, Nadia and Bernie watched the two girls giggling away and telling each other anecdotes. "Who said what about a noivous breakdown ?" Bernie asked.

"Hey, Nadia !" The two Kathy’s went. "You girls alright ?" Nadia asked. "Yeah ! We’re fine !" they both said and looked smugly amused..


Bernie raised his welder’s mask and plunged the metal into a bucket to cool it. "Try this !" He said, presenting it to Kathy2. She placed the metal panel against her leg. "Perfect fit !" She said. "Are you sure that’s what you want ?" Nadia asked. Kathy1 adjusted her mask and tried a few facial expressions. "Neither of us wants her old body back." Herbert chuckled. "Well it’s easier than trying to find a mind-switcher !"

"Okay let me get this straight !" Nadia began and smiled. "Kathy who used to be a real woman was changed into a robot, but is now wearing a skinsuit that makes her look like a real woman. So she’s a human in a robot, pretending to be human … The other Kathy is a robot inside a human body who wears a robot costume to pretend she is a robot ! <GASP>" Both Kathy’s nodded. Nadia pursed her pierced lips and shook her head. "And I’m really Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag." "Well, Nadia, you should know that there is this reality where he’s a renowned drag artist and Ru Paul is the big action star " Herbert started.


"Feels weird to look like this." Kathy1 said. "Like the skinsuit ?" Kathy2 asked. "It’s great ! I almost look normal again." "How do I look ?" She made a twirl, light playing off her shiny body. "Brilliant !" "What are you going to tell your Mike ?" "I’ll eventually tell him. After a little while, drop a few hints. I suspect he was excited about the old suit he made for me." "Same for me." "Well, perhaps we can meet again someday. It’s not everyday you meet a robot version of yourself …" "Or switch bodies with her !" "You have my number for the trans-dimensional phones Bernie gave us ?"

Nadia walked in. Most of her piercings were gone and she wore a kind of tight pilot’s overall. "So, you’re staying ?" Kathy1 asked. "Yeah, I guess it’s fun to be able to go round the multiverse like that. I was starting to feel a bit bored about my life." "Thanks for everything … Your quick thinking saved me back at the shop." "I hope things work out with you and Mike." "Thanks … I’ll see you one day ?" "Sure, but first I’ll be exploring for a while." "Take care."


"Bye Herb !" She waved the little man goodbye and watched him close the door. And then the door vanished out of the wall. Five minutes to the opening of the exhibition. She sat down at the stall and noticed Mike had sold quite a few things. Less stuff to carry home again…

People began streaming in …

"Kathy ? Where have you been ?" Mike raised his hands in the air and hugged her. "It’s a long story …" She said and pecked him. "Ouch, you’re electric !" He recoiled. "I’ll explain that too, later, much later …" She said and her eyes sparkled.