Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 4

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The Hunt

~~*~~

Zio’s eyes shot open at the sound. Dull, low, and eerie. It sounded like a moaning, a wail pitched low that started and stayed steady. And there were other sounds too, distant booms and voices, echoing from somewhere further in the hills, away from the shore.

Zio got out of bed, pulled on the tunic she’d laid at the foot of her bed, and went to Raisi’s bunk. A few of the others were groggily waking up, getting out of bed. Raisi was sound asleep, so she grabbed her arm and shook her.

“Get up, now. There’s something happening.”

Raisi tried to swat Zio’s hands away, missing, then suddenly she froze and opened her eyes when she realized what the noise was.

“The alarm?”

Zio met her eyes, and didn’t need to speak. Raisi got up too, and got dressed, and they stood in the midst of the bunks and waited for one of the adults to come. Others were standing too, murmuring to their friends or just looking around with confusion and alarm.

Finally, a short, squat man pushed open the partition separating them from the rest of the Domition Unit, and hurriedly walked inside. He had clearly run there, from the way he was panting. He started shouting, “Up, now, everyone! We have to evacuate, wake up! Wake up the ones who are still sleeping, we need to leave immediately!”

People started falling out of bed, others, like Raisi, went around waking everyone up. Zio, who was calm and collected, stepped closer to the man.

“Where are our custodians? Who are you?”

The man looked at Zio with a little surprise. She could seem like an adult at times, but then, she was in some ways.

The man took a deep breath and replied, “I’m Zoqasta, I’m from a nearby Unit. We don’t know where your custodians are, so I was sent over to gather you.”

“What’s happening?”

Zoqasta took a couple of big breaths, and shook his head.

“It’s Xazma, we think. They came in the middle of the dark time, not long ago.”

He looked away from Zio towards the other slowly assembling children, and Zio turned back to be with Raisi. Everyone was gathered up, after stragglers and deep sleepers were forced out of bed, and they all stood about warily in various states of being awake. . Zio was mulling over that name, Xazma, in her head. She thought back to her dreams briefly, but then put it away.

No time to speculate.

Zoqasta raised his hand up and waved it to get attention, and shouted again, “Let’s go, follow me and stick together! We need to move fast up the coast to the space port. Find a friend to hold onto.”

He beckoned, and went out towards the entrance, with the children following piecemeal in pairs. Raisi ran up and grabbed Zio’s hand, and they joined the procession.

It was pitch black outside. They ran beneath the sky behind Zoqasta up the coastal road, staying together amidst other groups that were coming from different locations nearby to get to the spaceport. A few stragglers from their group disappeared quickly into the crowds. The general flow was in the same direction as their group was going.

Won’t be hard to find their way.

Zio noted that some were injured, limbs missing here and there, nonfatal wounds. It didn’t look like war so much as blood sport. The sky was filled with the darkened face of Deucalion, which seemed like a storm that might swallow up their little world. It’s bright swirling oranges and greens which shone like splendid jewels under the light of the binary suns, were dull and looked like grasping fingers in the dark. Zio could see angular ships, too, in the shapes of pentagons and hexagons when seem from below, that hovered with only a few blinking lights here or there to help distinguish them in the sky.

The grip on Zio’s hand kept growing looser. She noticed her partner kept looking frantically around, and was started to lose track of her breathing and trip here and there. She felt Raisi was panicking, so she started talking to her and tried to keep their pace. Her short statements punctuated the moments between the deep breaths that pushed her onwards.

“Don’t worry, I’m here. Don’t be afraid. I won’t leave you behind, we’ll get out of here,” It seemed to work, since Raisi, though she couldn’t speak back while keeping up their pace, was more focused on moving forward. Her grip became more sure, and Zio could see when she took a glance that she was keeping her eyes ahead.

I won’t lose her. It might be too late for Qaisa, but I’m not going to let her die, whatever it takes.

She focused on her own breathing as well, keeping the pace with her run. These were all things she had trained for, which she understood. She wasn’t afraid of a little war. But she knew the others weren’t ready for what they might have to endure, and few might survive.

Eventually Zoqasta slowed down, and stopped, waving his arm to stop at the children who were still behind him. They had made it about halfway, and needed to take a breather. It was cold, so they all cooled off quickly. Some drank from the freshwater sea. Zio sat down with Raisi, who was breathing hard and raggedly. She wasn’t very winded herself, and was glad it wasn’t much farther. She didn’t try to speak to her more. Raisi needed time to rest from all of the commotion.

There was a fast sound, like a gust of wind, and Zoqasta cried out. He had been standing, looking over them, facing inland toward the tall purpurea to look out for any threats. Now there was a sharpened arrow of steel through his thigh, half the length of his body, that fixed him to the ground. He struggled with it, staggered back, and groaned in agony from the pain. All of the group stood up suddenly and looked, dumb founded. Other people who had been streaming past picked up there pace.

“Go, damn it!” he yelled, “Get to th–”

A second bolt went straight into his chest, forcing him backwards and standing him up, impaled there and leaning back. Other bolts started to follow. A few people cried out in pain.

Zio pulled Raisi up, “Run, now, so they can’t hit us. RUN!”

They started running, this time faster than the pace that could be maintained. It didn’t matter, Zio felt the adrenaline pump and Raisi was right there with her. People were being struck down on the road, and there were a few near misses where she felt a bolt go by. Her mind was working, thinking over the events.

They don’t have use such primitive weapons if they just want to take our resources, an orbital bombardment would’ve done it since they surprised us.

She remembered the black eyes, the reptile face. Had it been joy she had felt then, the thing that had made her feel so terrified? She was sure that was a Xazma, and that she had felt something like that even though they didn’t have facial expressions.

Raisi nearly tripped a few times and was starting grow too tired to run, but they made it unscathed to the space port. The area was fenced off with a wooden palisade, and people were streaming in from all sides to the entrances. Raisi seemed in shock at the dead bodies, though Zio barely noticed. To her the world was her and Raisi, there wasn’t anything else to worry about. She hoped Qaisa had or would make it here, but wasn’t holding out hope seeing how the inhabitants of this planet were faring under attack. Qondol, lucky him, was offworld and would be able to get away easy.

There were guards posted around the palisades and at the entrances, armed with bolt casters and body armor and crouching and aiming between the stakes, vigilant. Zio’s suspicions were confirmed when she saw a few dead bodies, naked and smooth, taller than humans, and with scales instead of skin, scattered here and there around the palisade.

One more enemy to hate…

They pushed their way in the gate. The port was mostly open, and surprisingly undamaged. Zio wondered why they hadn’t bombarded it into ash already. Still, she wasn’t one to gainsay good fortune. She led Raisi along, pushing through the dense press of people. It smelled like sweat, the iron scent of blood, and other things. Bodily fluids. The smell of a planet dying. It was familiar and comforting from years ago, when she knew only to fight and to kill, though she didn’t like that fact.

She could see the large freighters towering above, that looked like giant, gunmetal gray metal boxes with ion engines attached. The loading doors on the bottoms were open, and guards were trying to wave people in and regulate the flow, but there wasn’t much they could do to stop the crowd from forcing its way in. She squeezed Raisi’s hand and looked into her eyes. Raisi was so tired, and breathing haggardly, but she nodded back and looked towards the freighters with determination in her eyes. Zio looked ahead, and started to weave their way through the crowd. She shoved, punched, and kicked when she had to, until they were almost to a freighter.

And far above, almost over the space port, a black, smooth hexagon floated without the slightest disturbance, watching and waiting…

Silly Books and Anime Boys

I used to have this obsession with anime, and not because I thought it was “cool”.

Well, when I was a lot younger I did think that. I, too, wanted to shoot fireballs out of my hand and learn martial arts so well I could teleport (??). My dreams were eventually shattered, sad to say.

But there was something else too. By the time I was in college, the smoldering fire of that childhood obsession had hardened down into a dark, carbon core. All that was left was the bare essence of what had been, and now, having transitioned, I finally understand it.

If you’re a trans woman, you might get it. You might have looked at the androgynous, anime pretty boys and found something in you stirred by them. I wanted their long hair, their graceful bodies. I especially liked the meek ones, who needed men or big sister characters to help them make it through the world. Also the pretty ‘bad boys’, like the character Sasuke from Naruto. I liked the female characters too, often, but I was too steeped in misogyny to want to emulate them just yet. These anime boys represented a femininity that could be acceptable somehow, somewhere. It was a small window into a world where I didn’t have to be the person I was made to be.

And to say I was different from myself now would be an understatement. I was six feet tall (a little bit shorter since HRT), had oddly cut, short hair (enforced by my parents who would get emotional and angry if I grew it out), and possessed a wardrobe hand-selected by my mother from preppy men’s clothing stores. I didn’t care much about clothes until I transitioned, and when I did it was always, in retrospect, furtive attempts to add color or something feminine to my wardrobe. All of these things bothered me and made me feel like I was strangled. I was from a dusty, bible belt town, though, not the sort of place where I would even get an inkling that I could be trans.

I was so overcome by misogyny and fear of the people who raised me, that I buried deeply in my mind the times I drunkenly told a friend ‘I want to be a pretty girl’ over the phone and wanted to buy women’s clothing my freshman year of college. It would take about six years for me to deal with those feelings.

And along with the anime, there were the books I read, and the fanfiction. Usually slashfic or romance novels about gay relationships between men, once again with a lither, more ‘feminine’ one that I identified with. I wasn’t gay, though, I tried that and found it distasteful. I was attracted to men, but I didn’t want to be with them as a man. I didn’t know what to do with that. I just tried to be with girls, and found myself hating being a ‘straight guy’ too.

Being a woman makes sense. It was like a game of Clue. God was sitting on the other side, and I described everyone who it could be, avoiding the least convenient answer. And finally, the last tab standing was her. Me. The woman in the black shorts in the apartment with the cats.

All this is to say, think about why you like what you like, and who you want to be. You never know, you could turn out to be someone else some day.

Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 3

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As the World Spins

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Qondol loved it all. The knowledge that the Deucalion V was shrinking away below him, that the cluster of low buildings and fencing that made up the space port was already almost invisible if he could look back. He closed his eyes and felt everything about the ship that you can’t see. The thrum of the ion engines, and the roar of the atmosphere as the ship broke through it to space. The coldness of the metal bulkheads to the touch, knowing they weren’t too far from the void. The slightly stale air that smelled like no natural thing. And, finally, the knowledge of escaping to somewhere else.

When he came to this planet, he hadn’t had a second thought when they offered for him to join the Stellar Outriders. He would not be bound by this complacent planet. His father had been teaching him already how to fly a ship like this on Maqer by the time he was 12 (that felt so long ago), and he had taken the controls of their ship when his father had died fleeing the Tuql Machinae.

That memory was still vivid, and poured back. The old man was bleeding out, and the young children and old men were all so worried. The ship had smelled like blood and sweat, none of the wonderful odor he was smelling now. Qondol did what he had to do, and brought them all here.

But he wiped this all from his mind and smiled, like he always did. He looked out of the porthole window he was seated next to. It was a small ship, with the navigation up front and a few rows of seats behind, full of Outriders specializing in trade, mechanics, and other useful skills they’d brought to Deucalion V. Most, like him, were from other planets, since the native-born were content to stay on the ground for the most part.

He saw Deucalion, which was as beautiful and ominous as always. Deucalion V was there too, about to slip into its shadow. There was something in the shadow he barely discerned closer to the gas giant, some dark shapes moving slowly. He had seen such things before, probably space junk or freight ships orbiting the planet. He looked ahead again, forgetting about it as soon as he had noticed it. His thoughts turned to where they were going, the trading they would have to do, the new species he might encounter, and perhaps most of all the chance to live like his forefathers had done.

~~*~~

Zio had knocked a few times on Qaisa’s door, and no one had come. She was starting to get frustrated, since she was always punctual herself.

“Zom Zio. Oikomentarcha Qaisa is out, no need to knock.”

Zio turned and saw Raiqa. She was a tall, willowy woman with the same light skin and hair and black pupils as Raisi. They had come from the same planet, probably. Zio didn’t much care either way. She glared at her, because she knew what she was like. Raiqa remained expressionless and relaxed.

“She left me in charge of you today. I’m not particularly pleased to have to put up with you, but I expect you to be on good behavior. You know how I feel about all that wishy-washy crap Qaisa feeds you. Do what I say, and no more, or I’ll have to discipline you the proper way. I’ve been called by the nomarch and have to leave as soon as I’ve left you with instructions, so I don’t want your backtalk.”

Zio felt her heart rate going up, so she focused on her breathing and took a couple deep breaths before replying. Being forced to become a soldier had had it’s advantages. You have to be calm on a battlefield, and a lot of other places too it turns out. She put on a mask of respect, and bowed her head a little in the proper posture.

“Yes, Oikomentate Raiqa. As you wish.”

Raiqa smiled ever so slightly.

Just like that bitch who trained me on the Bellarica.

Zio could restrain her anger, or at least keep it in her mind. It hadn’t always been that way, when she had first come to Deucalion V, she had nearly killed another child who had been teasing her. It had taken a long time to learn from Qaisa that not everything that was threatening was mortal, and that it can be better to wear a mask than to destroy the enemy who stands before you. That doesn’t mean I always know how, though.

Raiqa said, “Come to my room. I have a case for you to adjudicate today.”

She turned and walked to the door with her name. Zio followed behind, maintaining her humble posture and starting to lose control of her anxiety, because adjudicating between people was the thing she hated the most. She didn’t much care for the petty disputes that occurred day to day, the thefts or land disputes that went on.

Still, she had no choice.

Have I ever, really?

They entered and sat down at the table across from each other. Like all of the other offices it was mostly plain, with rammed earth walls and ceiling, electric lights, and a floor of Purpurea woven into mats.

Raiqa touched a tablet on the table, and it lit up with the details of the case. She turned it over to Zio.

“Read.”

Zio mumbled her assent and grabbed the tablet. She skimmed through it quickly. There was a theft of property in a Domition Unit, where families and individuals were able to stay in apartments once they’d either grown out of the Altaric Units or their original family units. They were full-fledged workers. A family, the plaintiffs, had their Molecular Assembler stolen, and they were looking for it until a man, the defendant, returned it to them broken without an apology. The defendant hadn’t offered anything to pay the debt, so they applied for adjudication. She could tell that the details seemed plain enough.

“Quick now, summarize the case and what would be an appropriate judgment.”

Zio took a second to consider, then replied, “It’s easy, since I’m sure you’ve already conducted the interviews to verify the details in the file. Restitution by some service to the family until the value of the molecular assembler is paid back. That’s what the code says, I think.”

She set the tablet down. Raiqa hadn’t responded, and when Zio looked at her she was looking back, smirking a bit and otherwise expressionless.

“Actually, I haven’t had the chance to conduct the interviews. It’s going to have to be your job, sad to say, along with the rest of the adjudication.”

Zio narrowed her eyes and tensed up. She knew how to kill a man with a blunt object, but conversation was something that escaped her. She had trouble tracking the participants, playing the referee, and staying above it all to make the right rhetorical move. It was scary.

But she did know what being singled out felt like. She knew Raiqa would never do this to one of her own apprentices.

She couldn’t help but blurt out, “Why? You know I’m no good at this. Qaisa never gives me this work.”

Raiqa laughed.

“Obey, child. It will be good for you. I’m not going to shelter you. You don’t deserve any special treatment just because Qaisa likes you. None of your kinds deserve much of anything at all, really, but that’s not something I want to argue about with a young novice like you. The oikomentates are the glue that binds this world. Without our order’s presence in every nomarchy on this planet, the whole place would fall into petty squabbling and anarchy. You must be like an iron rod of justice that will correct the wrongs that are done every day by the petty fools who inhabit this world. There’s no room for you’re wavering or second-guessing.”

“Qaisa has told me that they aren’t fools. We’re here to make their lives better, to bring peace and healing, not to discipline them.”

Raiqa laughed again.

“Well, Qaisa was always a bit naive. You know what people are really like, don’t you? You came off of those Reaver ships, after all, and saw what people become when they have the chance to rule over one another. We keep these fools from lording over each other. There’s no other way the nomarchies of this planet can stay at peace, if we do not mete out our punishments.”

Zio saw in front of her the very image of the arrogant Reaver Matriarchs who had tortured and denied her, and knew that Raiqa would be the most evil master of all, if given the chance. But she knew, as with the women of her youth, that to argue would get her nowhere at this point.

“Maybe,” was all she gave Raiqa.

Raiqa covered her mouth and yawned, then spoke again.

“Well. The two parties should be waiting outside right now, ready for you to conduct their interviews. Review the case files and get out there. I’ll be back soon, I have errands that are far more important.”

She got up and walked to the door, opened it, and left.

Zio was panicking again now that she was alone. She stared in desperation at the table, seeing nothing and lost in her thoughts. There was rage and resentment too, but there wasn’t any time to to focus on that. She snapped out of her panicked reverie and picked up the tablet again, running over all of the information and trying to memorize the people and their names. She was going to make Qaisa proud and create something good out of this awful day.

There was the apparent thief, named Zoq. He was a refugee who had been set up on the planet a few years ago. From Maqer, like Qondol, Zio noted. There had been a large influx of people from that planet a year or two back when it had been destroyed. He worked on ship maintenance for the Outriders, which was prestigious work. The family, led by two women name Qara and Maz, was native born. This wasn’t the first plaint they had brought against some of the more recent arrivals in their Domition Unit. There seemed to be some prejudice involved.

Zio was tempted to side with Zoq at the start just for that reason, but unfortunately it was the case that many of the new arrivals hadn’t absorbed the group-oriented way of life preferred here. She had learned from Qondol’s stories that Maqerites in particular had a cut throat and independent culture when their planet was in one piece, where a theft like this hardly rose to the level of notice amidst the general wheeling and dealing that went on.

Maybe a cultural misunderstanding, but you have to follow the laws of the ship(why do I still say that, and not planet?). I have to remember what Qaisa always tells me when she adjudicates, to not immediately assume the worst from the case that was filed unless you’ve seen the evidence firsthand and spoken to the parties.

She stood up and breathed deep, several times. She was still tense, but it was the best she could do. She got up and opened the door, and saw the two parties seated at separate tables nearby. She walked to Zoq. He was a short man and barebone skinny. He looked up at her with a flat expression. He really seemed afraid, though in a way that didn’t show on his features. He was tense. He must be thinking we’ll torture a confession like they would on Maqer. Zio was afraid too. She tried to speak but found the sound not coming out. She gripped her robe and clenched, she could feel herself losing it.

Thankfully, he spoke after gazing at her for a moment, “You will take me to the judge then?”

Zio was still clutching a bunch of fabric, “Uh, n-no…I’m the oikomentate.”

She swallowed and breathed. She had to look away when his mouth started to hang open and his eyebrows furrowed in surprise. His demeanor totally relaxed.

“This damn planet…some young girl like you’s going to judge me, huh?”

Zio could tell from the corner of her eye that the plaintiffs were looking over, disbelieving in their own way. Damn you, Raiqa. She made her eyes meet his again.

“I’m, uh, not a judge exactly…come with me.”

He sighed and stood up. He had been compelled here by the plaintiffs, the shame poured on him by other members of the Domition Unit, and threat of denial of his license to work, all of which worked much more consistently than the armed guards Zio had grown up with. They went into the office, and sat across from one another.

What followed was a blur for Zio, since she was panicking almost the whole time. As it moved on she found surer footing, but never completely calmed down. There were scripts to follow for things like this, that Qaisa had made her memorize by repetition. When her questions were done, he went out, and she took a moment to calm down and think back over what he said, and make notes on the tablet.

She had asked him a blow by blow series of questions about the events, and he had more or less confessed to what he was accused of. He also didn’t care very much about what happened and didn’t see what he had did wrong, so Zio realized she had to issue an appropriate judgment. She thought that what she had to suggested to Raiqa earlier seemed appropriate.

At least I won’t have to interview the plaintiffs. But why did I even need to do this damn interview or deal with these people?

She went to the door, opened it, and called out, “Qara, Maz, and Zoq. Come in to hear my decision.”

She went to sit, and the two women plaintiffs came in and sat across the table to her right. Both were brown-skinned with straight black hair. The taller one, Qara, seemed the most upset. She was making a face and tapping at the table with her fingers. Maz was sitting upright with her hands folded and a gentle expression, while Zoq sat to the left and looked bored. He was looking around at the office, though there wasn’t much to look at.

Zio found herself freezing up again. Her mouth just wouldn’t work and move when she wanted it to.

Qara eventually burst out, “Out with it girl!”

Zoq looked at Zio and laughed, “Now, now, let her take her time. Poor little thing’s nervous.”

Zio found the well of anger inside herself that surged when she felt patronized to, that reminded her that she had been powerless and nothing at one time. And here, well, here she had power. It gave her the push she needed, finally. Without much thought, she placed her hands on the table, stood up, and looked into Qara’s eyes.

“Respect my robe of office, or you’ll soon pay restitution yourself.”

She turned to Zoq, and spoke with the loud and crisp articulation she had learned from battalion commanders, and it all came out in a rush, “You’ve admitted your guilt and the theft, so there’s nothing to dispute. Notice will be posted in the Domition Unit of what you’ve done so everyone knows what to expect.

“I’ve noted that you can cook. Good. You can feed Qara and Maz’s family whenever they are busy and hungry out of your own food stores until they feel that you have repaid the cost of what you have broken. The maximum time will be two months, and should not be impossible since you earn so well from your work with the Outriders. You will also have to provide food once a week for any other family in your unit who asks for it, and perform a ritual penance before an oikomentate when you have ended the time of your punishment and the plaintiff’s have asked for it.”

She was feeling a bit dizzy, and the adrenaline feeling was wearing off, but she managed one more, less powerfully articulated statement

“I hope I never see you here for breaking the terms of your restitution, now go.”

Zoq was smirking but his eyes had hardened.

“Very well…oikomentate.” He got up and walked out.

Qara looked please now instead of irritated. She and her partner stood up.

She said, “I was worried a semutate off-worlder would’ve let him off. Thank you for your judgment, it was just.”

The two left, and the door slid shut. Zio sat down. She held up her hand in front of her face, and it was shaking, so she put it back on the table. The panic was subsiding somewhat. She rested her head on her arms on the table and felt some unasked-for tears trickle down her cheeks.

At least I did what was just.

I hope it was…

Against her will, memories ran through her mind of shouted orders, marching drills, nudity among boys as they were sprayed down with disinfectant, and the feeling of drowning. And somewhere she felt, for some reason, in the darkness at the back of her brain, a scaly flat face with two black eyes, watching and unmoving.

~~*~~

Zio spent the rest of the day with the other oikomentate apprentices in the main hall, all in their red robes arranged around their tables. They would gather around at the tables and recite back and forth the law codes they had memorized (they were all written in verse for easy recitation), and quiz each other about famous cases that had been adjudicated before. People involved in cases were always in the background, coming and going, entering offices and leaving. Business went on.

Neither Qaisa nor Raiqa had returned, which bothered her throughout the day. They were the chief oikomentates for this nomarchy, so it had to be something important. She remembered the dream, and the feeling she had before, about the scaly creatures. Admittedly, it wasn’t the first time she’d had premonitions. Every now and then she would dream about something silly or mundane, like the work she would do for the day, or what Qondol would bring her and Raisi from one of his adventures, and it would come true. She didn’t know what she was seeing now, though. Possibly some alien species, but only humans lived on Deucalion V as far as she knew.

Troubled by these thoughts, she went through the motions of recitation with her mind elsewhere. Her lips would move and her hands would make the rhythmic motions that corresponded to the different poetic meters of various codes, and eventually without saying goodbye to any of her fellow apprentices, went to change back into her plain tunic and began the walk back to her home by the sea.

She left out of the great mound at the center of the nomarchy, and through the dense central zones. She walked back on the path from the morning. She dimly noted that the gas giant above was about to pass over the suns and fill the sky, which she usually found beautiful but didn’t notice much today. She found Raisi where they had parted, sitting on the side of the road, having flattened down some purpurea and leaning back on her arms. She smiled, which broke through Zio’s cloudy temperament, the first thing to do so since she had finished the case. She stood up and came to Zio, who had stopped in the middle of the road. Some people were pushing by on their way, trying to get home early before the planet cooled down and got dark.

“Zom Zio. Wilting a little more than usual today. What’s wrong?”

Always thinking of me…

Raisi grabbed Zio’s hand and squeezed it. Zio squeezed back, and looked up at Raisi.

“I can’t talk about it right now. I had to adjudicate for the first time today, and I did fine, but some other stuff came up. Let’s just go home.”

Hand-in-hand, they started to walk. Raisi didn’t start talking and talking as usual though, she was quiet for a moment.

She finally spoke, “You’re not okay Zio. It’s like you were when I first met you, I can feel it.”

Zio didn’t reply or look at Raisi. Raisi was looking over at her now and then, but eventually gave up expecting a reply.

Zio could only say, “Why don’t you tell me about your day, like you always do.”

Raisi started talking, haltingly at first, “Well, today, we were learning about healing wounds and diseases with modified human cells cells, so we started by…”

All the way home, Zio let Raisi talk and grow more and more excited telling her about every detail.

She should have been the oikomentate. She gets my attention, makes me feel with words, can calm me and understand me. She could convince me to do anything…And she’s so much smarter than me.

Zio wasn’t jealous. She was glad to have Raisi in her life, and without her (without Qaisa, and without Qondol too, to a degree) she wouldn’t find life much worth living. They understood her and found in her something that they liked. She didn’t know what that was, no one else found it. But she could live life happily just as well.

Raisi laughed, “Are you even listening Zio? You nearly ran into that man a little ways back.”

Zio felt her cheeks redden and looked over at Raisi quickly, then away, bashfully. She laughed lightly too.

“Do you want to hear a lie…or the truth. No, I wasn’t. Sorry. Could you start again from how you get the cells to work in the body?”

She could tell from her voice that Raisi had a big smile.

“Silly Zio, of course, now…”

So they went on the whole way home as darkness settled over the planet, where they sat down to eat without Qondol, who was away in space for a few days, and where they chatted about nothing in particular until they grew tired and went to sleep.

~~*~~

Starways Encyclopedia: Reference 10229.01/9, Xazma

…The Xazma, who can tolerate incredible heat and thus prefer to hollow out their planets to create deep and numerous colonies, are notable as one of the few sentient species in the galaxy who enjoy hunting other sentient species for food…

Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 2

~~*~~

Oe’r Hill and Dale

~~*~~

Zio hadn’t been sitting alone for long when she turned her head to see her friend Raisi walking over to sit with her. Raisi was a native here, though that didn’t mean much on a refugee planet. She had light skin and blonde hair, and her eyes were almost unsettlingly pitch black. Just a year older than Zio, she walked confidently, seeming not to misplace a single step. She’s like that with everything she does, Zio thought, not without some jealousy.

“Zom, Zio. You look like you haven’t slept all night.”

Zom, such a silly way to say hello and goodbye. Zio refused to use it, though every other damned person on this planet did.

“Hey, Raisi. You look like you slept well all night, washed up, and had entirely too good of a time being awake today.”

Raisi ignored the biting tone in Zio’s comment.

“Oh, I’ve hardly washed up. No chance to really get my hands dirty, working with machines and computers all the time.”

“Uh-huh.”

Raisi laughed and sat right next to her. She grabbed Zio’s hand that had been resting on her knee, which she almost shrank away from but then relaxed hand and let it rest. Raisi’s optimism had a way of cutting through Zio’s frequent bad moods. She and Raisi had been friends since the beginning, when she had first come to this planet and been introduced into this Altaric Unit without anything but what had been given to her by the nomarchy. The extent to which Deucalionites touched each other, whether friends, lovers, or anything else, had shocked her at first. There was nothing like it back on the colony ship. She only let Raisi and Qaisa have this liberty, sometimes.

Zio must have been quiet for awhile, because Raisi said suddenly, “Did you dream again, Zio? Even you aren’t usually this lost in yourself.”

Zio shook her head and blinked a few times, refocusing on the present.

“Yeah, I dreamed. I don’t know what it was. Nothing about my home. The nightmares have changed, no more drowning or whatever I used to dream about. I wish I knew why Deucalion V did this to me. Qaisa says she see them here too, that all semutates do, even the men and the neutros.”

The two of them looked at each other. Zio was finally present enough to really acknowledge Raisi. She gently squeezed Zio’s hand. Her face was a bit drawn with concern, Zio could tell. The slight frown, the tensed brow. Nothing new to Zio, who often found that her experiences scared people (not Qaisa, never Qaisa) into a concerned silence.

She decided she wanted to talk about something else.

“How’s your apprenticeship, Raisi? Make anything new?”

Raisi’s face had relaxed a bit, she look out at nowhere in particular.

“You know, I just started studying Semutate Medicalities yesterday. I was going to tell you, but I missed you on the way in. The Technarchos showed me the scripts for the production of the patches they give you. It’s amazing what they do. I’m just on the device end, but it all starts with plants harvested in equatorial regions of the planet. We synthesize the compounds, assemble the right materials, make the patches, and there it is. I got in late because I stayed up making one before we got in. We export a lot of them too, though it’s usually not legal in the places they’re going to. It’s profit for us all the same.”

Zio chuckled lightly. “Yeah, I’m sure my people try to keep them far away. Woman shall be thy master, that’s what we were taught growing up. There can’t be any confusion about who that woman is, I guess.”

Zio didn’t like to discuss her own apprenticeship very much, she had found it a strange fit. All the adolescents on this planet were given an apprenticeship based on their aptitudes, and that’s what she got, a chance to learn to be an oikomentate? It was all negotiation, resolving conflicts, and counseling for those who needed it. She figured that Aunt Qaisa had decided to keep her close, so she had to work under her. Zio, who wasn’t prone to fantasize about aptitudes she never had and hated pointless chit chat, found the work grueling. Still, that’s where she was going after breakfast.

“Zom Zio, Raisi!” an adolescent boy’s voice rang out, that cracked on the third word.

Ah, Qondol.

Qondol, a short, stocky boy but strong, who was younger than both Raisi and Zio by a couple of years, marched up to them and stood in front of them. He had come from Maqer, a refugee since the Tuql Machinae harvested his planet for minerals and incidentally wiped out the entire organic surface population. It had been a civilization of space adventurers and explorers, rich with trade and blessed with a resource-rich planet, though the blessing turned out to be a curse. He had darker skin that Zio, who herself was light brown in color, and kept his head shaved clean. He had something in his hands he was hiding.

“I heard you two talking about your apprenticeships. Well, I got something for you two yesterday when we traded with the Fellians at the post on Deucalion VII.”

He held out his palms in front of them and smiled. Like an idiot, Zio briefly thought. But Zio’s eyes widened involuntarily when she saw. There were two bronze statuettes in his hand, burnished and gleaming. The art style wasn’t anything she had ever seen, and maybe they had maybe been painted a long time ago, but it was all gone. They depicted an adrogynous figure, with shoulder length hair, and a strong, naked body. The eyes looked straight ahead.

“Go on, take them. They told me these are from Terra, though who knows the truth of that. Old space traders make up stories all the time to sell their stuff. They’re definitely old, though.”

The two girls let go of each other’s hands, each took one and looked at it. Raisi said, “Thank you.”

Zio took it and sort of liked it, but in her bad mood blurted out, “Don’t know what I’m supposed to do with some crappy old statue, but thanks.”

Qondol just laughed, “And I’d don’t know what I’m supposed to do with such a crappy old friend, but here we are. Glad you like it.”

His comeback made Zio laugh just a little, and smile for the first time today. Their friendship was mostly just back and forth like this, teasing each other and Qondol telling about his adventures off planet or meeting foreign traders.

Raisi smiled too, and looked at Zio, “Look, Qo, you actually got her to smile. I was getting worried.”

Zio shook her head and rubbed her forehead with her free hand. She felt a little lighter, finally, “Oh, you two, without you…”

She wasn’t able to finish the thought. One of the adults cooking called out, “Time to rise! Food for an hour, then to work.”

Qondol said, “Thank the stars, I’m so hungry!”

Raisi and Zio got up and went to put their gifts in the trunks by beds, then came back to get in line. Qondol had already turned and started rushing to get in line. The three of them got their plates of fried and boiled grains, pulses, and root vegetables with greens, sat down, and ate quickly so they could head out on their way to the center of the nomarchy and their daily labors.

~~*~~

Zio and Raisi stood in at the entrance to the Altaric Unit with Qondol and each gave him the customary Deucalionite goodbye of a kiss on the cheek before he parted from them. His path was along the beach, to the space port that served theirs and other nomarchies in the region. Zio and Raisi were headed on the path through the Purpurea that led in the other direction, in to Eleutheria. The two didn’t talk much after chatting at breakfast, just held hands and looked around while they walked on. It was mostly flat, besides the Purpurea waving in an occasional breeze. Deucalion, as always, loomed over them at the edge of the sky, huge and ominous. A great green storm near the edge of where they could see looked down like a watchful eye.

Zio glanced at it more than once. Some people from off world found it disturbing, the sheer scale of the gas giant. It seemed like it might swallow up its moon at times. Not Zio, though. Looking at it brought her comfort. She didn’t know why, it just did. It was constant, never changed. Planet-dwellers took for granted that you would be in one place for a long time. She had never had that until she came here. Sometimes in her dreams it spoke to her.

They went along. There were occasional mounds that housed Domition or Altaric Units, that got more dense as they went. Eventually they reached a fork in their dirt road, and it was time to say goodbye to Raisi as well. They kissed each other’s cheeks, and Raisi gave her a hug.

“Zom, Zio. See you at dinner.”

“Bye, Raisi.”

Zio went on in to the center of the Eleutheria. It was not hugely different from the areas where everyone lived, just here there were more mounds, with digs that went deeper and larger entrances. Zio had been to many of them. There were actual buildings on the surface too, single-floor and made of carved red stone, that were built out of the sides of some of the mounds when more space was required. Underground buildings were mostly preferred, since Deucalion would sometimes block the light of the two suns from reaching the moon for days. Solar energy was stored in batteries, and all planting and harvesting had to be done underground to be safe, beneath some of the larger mounds here. All of these structures stood around one very large central mound, where Zio was headed and where the current nomarch had their office and the oikomentates did their work

Zio went in the entrance, which was big enough for ten people to enter side by side. She forced her way through the crowd of people streaming in who worked in the nomarchy administration, and others coming in to petition or make their requests. She used to marvel at how different everyone looked. There were all kinds of humans here, intermixed without much respect to the usual human tendency to discriminate based on arbitrary preferences of phenotype. It’s what happens when a planet is populated almost entirely by refugees and their descendants, and they keep coming from all sectors where humans live.

She walked for awhile, keeping her head down. The cavern was lit with the usual mix of holes letting in sun light and artificial light panels. Finally she reached a metal door in one of the side walls to her left, smooth with a small camera in the center. She leaned in, and a green beam quickly scanned her eye.

An androgynous computer voice said, “Welcome, Oikomentate Apprentice Zio. Please enter.”

The door gently slid open, and she went in. It gently closed behind her. The Oikomentate Division was a chamber about the size of her Altaric Unit. There were metal tables and chairs dispersed at random, some of them with oikomentates sitting at them, speaking with people who had come for appointments. There were moveable partitions here and there that could be arranged for privacy. Small metal doors like those at the entrance lined the walls, marked with the names of those who held the offices or with the function of the rooms.

Zio went to the dressing room door, scanned her eyes again, and went in. The small room had lockers and was otherwise bare. She went and got hers, and pulled out her uniform. She liked the uniform she had to wear more than the job itself. Oikomentates wore crimson tunics that went down to their ankles, cinched with a black belt at the waist. It was expressly forbidden for others to wear it, because the work they did was so important. Even the nomarch, whoever it was that month, only wore a plain short tunic like everyone else.

And that was something that Zio hated about being an oikomentate, being at the center of everything, arbitrating, consoling, deciding. She had enough of people’s attention when she was younger and singled out constantly. She would prefer to be on the periphery, to work in a fabrication center or in a hydroponics delve.

But here she was.

She took her old tunic off and tucked it away, studiously ignoring the mirror in the room. The patches had helped her a lot and she had fuller hips than years ago and small breasts, which made her happy, but she still didn’t like much to see her body unclothed. She got dressed, cinched the belt, and went out to the main hall again. She went to the door marked with Qaisa’s name. Before knocking on the door to be let in, she took a breath to collect herself.

Always so worked up about this. I hate conducting arbitrations. She had four or five to conduct that day between locals.

Her mind wandered a bit as she gathered herself, to the first time she had met Qaisa, a few weeks after first arriving on Deucalion V, in this very place…

~~*~~

Young one, my child, please sit down. You look so lost. Here, have some tea. Sit now, and listen. I hope your patch is working well. You look a little happier already.

Are you ready? You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to, Zio. Oh, forgive me, here’s something to sweeten that tea. Here you are.

Now, listen please, if you are ready. You’re nodding, so that must be a yes. I must tell you of our planet, if you are to do our work.

Once this moon, your new home, was mostly empty. Home to some hydroponic farmers and a way station for humans traveling to the outer systems. Such a place was an afterthought. The great trade ships sailed from Terra in those days, and new plantings were constantly made on suitable worlds to relieve the overgrown population of humanity’s home. This world was just a stop over on the star maps, not even marked on some.

Then Terra was broken, and that’s not a metaphor. Cracked open like an egg and sucked up. You surely have heard of it, I can see from how you open your eyes and look at me so. All humans remember it some way or another. Yes, Terra was shattered by Tuql Machinae, who harvested the remains. Most of the trillion people who swarmed upon it were reduced to carbon for chemical re-processing. Then the Machinae went to Alpha Centauri, and other systems. Soon enough, the core of humanity was gone, and all that was left were some ships, colonies, and outposts like Deucalion V.

Some refugees came here. A band of traders with some machinists. The farmers let them stay here, in exchange for technology and help trading. A ship of outcasts came too, Semutates and others who had been left at the bottom of Terran society. Here, they were able to work on the farms and on the trading ships. The three communities grew together, and eventually decided that leadership was needed. So everyone came together in a great meeting, and after fierce argument, the first nomarch was appointed at Soteria, and the first nomarchy formed. It was also when it was decided that the nomarch should be chosen by lot, once a month, to keep anyone from lording over anyone else. As you’ve seen, nomarchies now cover this planet, spores of that one original settlement, and we continue to found more when one of our communities has grown too large.

We have always received whoever would come to live here. Our ancestors, like us now, wanted nothing more than peace, prosperity, and a safe world. There are no resources here of note, just industrious people, like yourself, and none of the other species care much for us.

Other people might see in you, and me, and most of the people who live here only the dregs of society and the descendants of cowards, freaks, and abominations. They see only danger, and they fear.

Well, my child, no one will fear you here, and you will fear no one. This is your home. I will be sure it is so.

~~*~~

She was right, mostly, Zio thought and half-smiled. Then she knocked, and the door opened for her…

~~*~~

Beyond the Moon and Stars: Chapter 1

For all my lonely and late-blooming trans sisters out there, who had to grow up not reading books about people like themselves.

~~*~~

The Purple Moon

~~*~~

Zio marked the seconds with a stick in the sand. She had been sitting on the beach since the dawn, when she had risen restless from her bed and walked the cobblestone path from the burrows to the sea. The face of the gas giant Deucalion filled the portion of the sky to her left, orange and yellow with strands of green gas whirling through its storms. The blue and yellow suns were engaged in their slow dance up to her right, casting strange light and shadows across the planet.

She brushed her hair from her eyes and behind her ear, then rested her head in her hand. She stared without expression at Deucalion. It had only been a few years on this moon, and she still longed for the comforting sleek silver of the colony ship that had left her here. The quiet but omnipresent hum of its ion drives. The herbiculture chambers wet with steam and smelling of flowering plants.

I don’t miss the people, though, she thought. Oh, yes, she had been grown in the same Sanition tanks as they had, been raised by the same Alitorients as the other children, but there was one difference, almost elegant in its ability to divorce her from every aspect of the life of the ship. She simply wasn’t the person they had imagined her to be.

The ship had been hierarchical, strictly delineated on the basis of sex and role. It was only natural there that men would maintain the Sanition tanks, and take care of the maintenance of the dirtiest, most menials parts of the whole vast enterprise, while women were in charge of just about everything else. Zio had the misfortune of being an apparent man at birth.

But as soon as she had grown, she began to defy what was expected of her. She would wander onto the decks where the women monitored the security systems and held their leadership meetings. She was punished repeatedly with Hydrotic Conditioning (and developed a great ability to hold her breath underwater, as a result). But by the time she was fourteen, she was showing no sign of changing as puberty went on, and she was dumped here, on Deucalion V.

What is, shall be, Zio thought, quoting the mantra of her old home, then yawned and stood up. She figured she should walk back for breakfast by now. She walked back along the path, surrounded on both sides by the tall, purple-ish grass called Purpurea that grew thickly all over the moon.

She liked the breeze that blew over her body, could feel it all over because of the loose open garment they wore here, which was a sort of cloth tunic that went down to the elbow and knee. She suddenly remembered the time and through the fabric quickly pressed the patch on the back of her right thigh, which let out a soft sound like a sigh and began to release the medications into her body.

It had been given to her soon after being picked up and had stopped the changes in her body that had terrified her. I guess that’s one good thing about this crappy place. No more worrying about growing a mustache.

After awhile longer, in which she just walked on, watched the Purpurea wave, and thought about nothing at all (in fact embraced the void of thought that had finally opened up) she finally arrived at the gate to her burrow. It was a tall oval hole in the side of a hillock covered in the same grass as everything else. She went in. The path went sharply down for awhile, then began to curve gently. Eventually she stepped into an open chamber, illuminated with electric light and some sun that came in through holes cut in the earth above. It was oval and long, and the walls and ceiling were rammed earth. There were bunks at the far end, partially blocked off by wooden partition walls. Closer to her were the burnished steel cooking cauldrons against the wall, sitting on large electric burners, and the stoves. A few adults were cooking away.

In the middle of the room and to her right, there was a space with Purpurea-woven dolls, toys and mats for the youngest, and also room for low benches and tables for the older children and adolescents like Zio. On one of these benches a woman sat facing outwards, towards the entrance, and smiled gently at Zio as she came in. She was beautiful, dark skinned, tall, and plump, with very wavy hair that fell down to her shoulders.

“Up so early, Zio. You’re not supposed to go off like that by yourself, you know.”

Zio felt her face get hot and red. She went over to sit next to the woman, but didn’t meet her eyes with her own.

“I’m sorry, Aunt Qaisa,” she said.

“That’s your way, isn’t it? To apologize and try to insist there’s nothing wrong. Out with it, Zio, what’s the matter?”

Zio was counting the toes on her bare feet.

“I had a dream…” She paused, and sucked in her breath.

“Yes? Was it so bad? You can tell me, I won’t tell anyone else. You know that.”

Zio knew that was true. She had learned to trust Qaisa in the four years she had been here, if not anyone else. They were the same in a lot of ways.

She said quietly, “I know…”, and took a breath, and finally “…there were men covered in scales, claws where their fingernails should be. They spoke to one another in whispers and clicked their claws against the metal of a spaceship. I could hear the tapping, but not see it. I heard it echo, Aunt Qaisa, I heard the clicks and I felt that I was down the hallway from them…then I saw one of them holding a bundle of Purpurea, and lowering it real slow into a flame. It hissed and crackled, and I was there suddenly watching it burn away. One of them, the one who had dropped it, looked at me. Its eyes were black and shiny. I saw the flames reflected in its eyes. It burned all up, and I woke up crying and nearly fell out of bed…”

Now Zio looked back at Qaisa, some tears in her eyes, and her face scrunched up in agony.

“I don’t know why, but it reminded me of when my people burned Talus VI from orbit. I had to watch, since they were forcing me to learn to fight like the boys and wanted us to get used to the work…”

Qaisa put her arm around Zio and scooted over so that she could press the skinny girl against herself in a hug. Zio felt immediate comfort and leaned against Qaisa’s shoulder. She could tell that Qaisa was frowning slightly, and that she seemed troubled.

“I’d hoped you wouldn’t see such dreams ’till you were fully grown. It’s a burden women like us have to face on this planet, and it’s something awful for you to face it so young.”

She squeezed Zio tight against her, and leaned down to whisper into her ear.

“Don’t mention this to the other young ones. I have to talk with the Nomarch about this, and we don’t want other people getting scared.”

Zio nodded. Other children and adolescents were rising from the bunks and starting to settle at the benches to wait for the food to get done. Zio felt distraught when Qaisa suddenly pulled herself away and got up, but she knew it had to be important. Talk to the Nomarch… she thought, when she had thought it was just a bad dream that would take some time to fade away. Qaisa squeezed her shoulder, said goodbye, and turned and quickly walked out of the den.

Zio looked down at her feet, lost in thought, and waited for the adults to announce when breakfast was ready.

~~*~~

‘…and death is like that sleep’

‘Morsque ei somno similis est’

such a dream I saw last night

such a dream

you were with me and he was driving

our car all full of friends and our lives

just a little car, a Civic maybe, once orange

but you couldn’t tell too well anymore

the light of the desert was relaxed, near sunset

orange/yellow/pink/dark blue, towards the two horizons

at 90 mph we talked about us

our families, our names such as they are

and such as they were

your hair flew intermittently from the wind

that slipped in from a half-open backseat window

blonde strands and black and brown strands

who knows how many hours it was,

it was a dream, after all

but we knew each other, and loved each other a little bit

and then we stopped to drop me off in Vegas

on some bus platform. Concrete, dirty,

no shadows just bright lights neon and yellow, red

I stepped out and you came around to say bye to me

and you, well, then you held me, pushed me back against the car

you kissed me, and I returned it and held you,

and locked there together

we took our part in the eternal return of all things

the metamorphosis of water to human to dust,

of love to loss, of all things, and I was so happy

there entangled

I told you how I met you, really where I’d seen you

some show I like where you showed me

that I could be me, even though it’s hard

I laughed about how silly it seemed,

and cried and could barely speak while I cried

I couldn’t believe it, which was maybe for the best

it was a dream, after all

but, you know, if death is like that sleep

I won’t be so upset about dying when I go

The Roles of Two Trans Characters

Trans representation in TV and movies has been growing these days. Fully fleshed out characters, played by trans actors, are increasingly becoming a norm. Ah, it’s almost hard to remember the bad old days…and I won’t do anything to remind you. Still, there’s a distinction to be made in the quality or quantity of that representation. I’d like to talk about two trans-masculine characters in recent shows from Netflix: Theo from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buck Vu from The OA.

As for the actors and the roles themselves, there’s nothing to criticize. The actors are both transgender. The story notes that the characters are and doesn’t play into any bad tropes about being transgender. So far, so good?

The unfortunate difference lies in how the two characters play into the larger stories.

Buck is part of a cabal of teenagers (and one adult) who give up tons of their time and energy to follow their newfound savior, the eponymous main character, ‘The OA’. I won’t tell you what that stands for, because it’s a surprise and incredibly stupid. The biblical overtones and overwhelming self importance of this show are so painfully etched into my brain stem that I can hardly stand to recount it. It all centers around the main character telling her group of disciples absurd stories and teaching them mystical ‘movements’ (that look like the interpretive dance from Sia music videos), and the group, Buck included, just exist for The OA to show how awesome she is and provide an audience.

I was almost begging for Buck to have more to do, to see more of his life on his own and his circumstances, his hopes and dreams or even hobbies. Instead I had to keep watching a blonde savior figure – who, I should add, is played by the person who co-wrote and produced the show – keep spinning absurdities to her captive audience. The problem isn’t exclusive to Buck, either, because the entire group around the OA is under-characterized and stereotypical. The trans character feels like a second thought thrown into a vanity project, even though the show fulfills a lot of other things we all might want for trans representation.

The situation of Theo in Sabrina is incomparably better. He starts out as an apparent girl to the audience, sort of a tomboy. He and Sabrina’s other friends form a close-knit circle that really seems to matter to her and the story, since each member, including Theo, is a complex person with a family and motivations. Theo comes out over the course of the second season in an organic way, and he even has a whole story-line dealing with a fantastical and powerful dilemma (especially for a trans person): if you could change your body by magic, but had to pay a price, would you?

I was very harsh about The OA, because it aims so high but fails, in this way as in many others. But the young actor, Ian Alexander, does great work with the material he’s given, so I don’t want to criticize him for the shortfalls of the screenplay. I just hope there can be more well-rounded, well-thought-out characters like Theo in the future.