We each got digital tablets! Like not just some bargain bin ones from ten years ago, fancy affini water-proof, and basically impossible for us to break ones. Unbreakable even when we zoned out and accidently dropped them off the big couch.
The device came with a messaging app, or one that Calytrix preloaded for us. There were actually like a bunch of different messaging apps, but they all were intercomparable due to standardization of communication forms. The option for us to share an account was interesting. It was designed to accommodate account types for all sorts of edge cases including ours. We were unique in our weird cloning thing, but somehow the developer thought about the possibility of three people who wanted to share an account as if they were one person.
It took a lot of brainstorming for a username, which was the worst for our weird issue of blanking out when drifting off into deep thought. Still, we picked out a clever new one we all loved. Birds_Of_A_Feather. We thought we were super clever coming up with that.
After getting that all set up, we were automatically added to the local ship chat. That led to a lot of confusion at the idea we were on a ship.
"Wait, we're on a ship?" I asked Calytrix.
"Yea, how is there gravity?"
"And how did you fit this huge home on a ship?"
"There's like a thousand people in the local chat."
We all looked up to the very amused rainbow affini. She had that really happy adoring smile we all secretly loved. She snapped to keep us from zoning out from looking at her eyes before she spoke. "Well, my precious little petals, our ships are orders of magnitude larger than any terran vessel. The gravity is from rotational forces, you all would already know this if I could get you three out of the habitation unit." She paused for a moment while we got embarrassed over being shut-ins before continuing. "Would you like me to send you a picture for scale?"
We gave her three nods and she gave us a message with pictures of the ship we were on from both the inside and outside. The thing was massive. Also, it was called the Asterales. Staring at it drove home just how much the affini outclassed the Accord Cosmic Navy. Like that first floret video where she tried to drive home how hopeless resistance was finally made sense. Thank the stars the affini were super nice.
Finally, we all talked each other into sending Devon a message after finding out we were in orbit of our home planet of Peragus.
Birds_Of_A_Feather: Hey, Devon. Sorry about not messaging you in forever. Stuff happened.Birds_Of_A_Feather: Also, this is your old roommate from Xeria Tech. Maelstrom.
We waited with bated breath for entirely too long. The only thing we knew about Devon's situation was that he was an independent sophont and still lived on the planet below.
Devtech66: Maelstrom!Devtech66: Dude, I was worried you died.Devtech66: How are you?
The three of us started typing vigorously.
Birds_Of_A_Feather: GoodBirds_Of_A_Feather: FineBirds_Of_A_Feather: Doing better
We all realized we all sent messages at the same time.
Devtech66: That's good to hearDevtech66: So sup?Birds_Of_A_Feather: We have gender questionsBirds_Of_A_Feather: Gender stuffBirds_Of_A_Feather: Yea also we're going by Melanie She/They atmDevtech66: That’s awesome girl!Devtech66: I'm always down to help a recently hatched eggDevtech66: and what's with the "we" stuff?
We had to take a step back to discuss how we wanted to handle the whole us thing. We decided to take a group picture and send it to him.
Birds_Of_A_Feather: So stuff happened anyway here's a picture.Devtech66: I don't understand… is that picture legit?Birds_Of_A_Feather: YeaBirds_Of_A_Feather: YupBirds_Of_A_Feather: I got clonedBirds_Of_A_Feather: and now we're sistersBirds_Of_A_Feather: and also stuck on an affini ship in orbitDevtech66: WTFDevtech66: You got CLONED?!Devtech66: are you a floret?Devtech66: did the affini do that to you?Birds_Of_A_Feather: NoBirds_Of_A_Feather: NoBirds_Of_A_Feather: NoBirds_Of_A_Feather: None of thatBirds_Of_A_Feather: Not floretsBirds_Of_A_Feather: The Accord did it, it's a long storyBirds_Of_A_Feather: The affini saved usBirds_Of_A_Feather: We're just under supervisionBirds_Of_A_Feather: We got like imprisoned for like half a year by the accordDevtech66: How the fuck did that happen?Birds_Of_A_Feather: UhBirds_Of_A_Feather: UhBirds_Of_A_Feather: UhBirds_Of_A_Feather: So like I signed up for it.Birds_Of_A_Feather: I needed moneyBirds_Of_A_Feather: There was this lab rat job with the navyDevtech66: Girls no!Devtech66: The Accord was awful, I thought we made that clearDevtech66: Why didn't you ask me or any of the others for help?Birds_Of_A_Feather: I triedBirds_Of_A_Feather: I didn't want to be a burdenBirds_Of_A_Feather: I never sent the messagesDevtech66: :sigh: Well I'm glad you're okay, and I'm up to do a call if you want to talk gender
"So, call him yea?"
"We should time our hellos together."
We hit the call button while sitting up close together so we could just use one tablet. Devon answered a bit later with his normal dude self.
"Hey, Melanie-s?" He looked a tad confused, but it was funny.
"Hey, Devon!" We all said slightly off but together.
The shocked look on his face was totally worth it. "Wow, you weren't lying about the clone thing huh."
"We were not" "Nope" "Nope"
He gave us an indecipherable look that only someone who wasn't Melanie could give. "So, you're not florets, but you're all dressed exactly like every floret I've seen and sitting on an affini's couch."
"Calytrix picks out the dresses."
"We thought the chokers looked cool so we asked for them."
"Also, we told you we were under medical supervision."
He squinted when looking at us. "Uh huh, makes total sense. So, you three have gender troubles?"
"Yea." We who are known as Melanie answered.
"We had a lot of time to think in our cell-"
"-which caused us to remember stuff you said-"
"-and we figured that maybe we weren't a guy-"
"-but like we know there's more than male and female-"
"-and we kinda just winged it on the pronouns-"
"-and like my sisters look great in their dresses-"
"-but I don't-"
Devon cut us off. "You three look great. No ragging on yourselves. And that whole saying one thought and letting the next one of you continue is cool, weird, and confusing. I mean that in the best possible way. I'm glad you all are taking the whole having two clones thing great because I'm not sure I would."
"Well, I love my sisters."
"Yea, getting clones of myself was like the best thing ever."
"Yup." And we squeezed a hug in.
Devon took a deep breath. "So like, is it rude to ask which one of you is the original?"
Together we answered. "We don’t know." We definitely said that sorta cheerfully.
"Ah well I'm glad you're happy about that, I'd be having an existential crisis." At least Devon was honest. "Sorry about getting side tracked on the gender talk."
"You're good." "You're fine." "You're good."
"So, gender. You three seem to be leaning femme. So, I have to ask, do you want to be women?" He asked the big question.
"Sorta." "Kinda." "I prefer girl over woman."
"Yea, what she said."
"Then you're girls." He stated definitively and with much confidence.
We looked a bit dumbfounded while checking each other for thoughts. "But it can't be that simple? Can it?"
"Mostly yea. There might be more to the whole girl thing if you think more on it, but if you three want to be girls, you're girls. That's it. End of story. Anyone telling you differently hasn't a clue what they're talking about."
Melanie then said. "But I don't feel like a girl."
"Yea, we're even on affini hormone stuff and it doesn't feel like that."
"What they said."
Devon was clearly taken aback. "So, you already started HRT? Anyway, wanting to be a girl is what being a girl feels like. Wanting to be a guy is what being a guy feels like. Wanting to be some ambiguous gender monster is what being an ambiguous gender monster is like. The doubts are that whole cisheteronormative BS that's been plaguing us for a thousand years."
"Y-yea we started class-Gs."
"How do we stop doubting it?"
"Also, what about pronouns? Like how do you even pick them?"
He smiled at us. "Well, I'm glad you managed to get on hormones. For the doubts you just need to reaffirm your gender to yourself and get others to respect it until you just feel comfortable as yourself. For pronouns, just try them out, see if you like them."
"You're all welcome Melanie-s… How should I address you all?" Yea he was having trouble with that.
I shrugged. "We are Melanie."
"Just call us Melanie."
"Melanie is indeed our name."
"Gotcha. Maybe we can meet up sometime?" He offered.
"Uh…" I knew what they were thinking. First, going out was awful. Second, what if we have a zoning out episode, an anxiety attack, or a nonverbal episode?
Melanie started explaining first. "So uh, you know how we have like anxiety, and the nonverbal stuff?"
I continued. "Well, being imprisoned for stars knows how long gave us a similar but different and kinda more severe issue."
"It's why we're under medical watch."
"Well, that and the cloning thing."
Devon was quiet for a really long time as he steepled his fingers. "Girls… holy fuck. I am so sorry you're going through that, and I'm glad the affini are helping you."
That definitely got us tearing up. We started crying and hugging each other as a wave of emotion came over us. We never really faced or processed all the trauma, and Devon's words had us peek at it all only to realize just how not okay we were.
It was really foolish on our part to think we could just walk off months of neglect and imprisonment. We turned a blind eye to it all and mentally checked out until we did it without intending to. We broke ourselves to cope with what they did, and now we couldn't put ourselves back together.
Calytrix, being the best ever, heard us sobbing and came out of her private study/lab room. She grabbed the three of us up into a big warm hug. I was right beside my sisters in her arms as vines held me tight and stroked my hair. She whispered words that everything would be alright.
Still the emotions poured out through underused tear ducts. It wasn't just about the time in the cell but everything. My mind drifted to every unresolved sorrow I'd ever had. My insecurities and flaws filled my mind. I was helpless, broken, and alone. I had been alone for so long. The pain left scars on my heart. I had been helpless and unable to take care of myself like a functioning person. I was broken, my mind acted up and prevented me from doing basic tasks, or even doing anything at all sometimes.
Coming down from all those emotions left me feeling hollow and tired. There was no catharsis. Everything causing the feelings was still there. I was just limp in the vines of the affini who dedicated so much of her time to making sure I was okay.
What hurt the worst was when I finally remembered my sisters. They had all that pain too. Every one of Melanie's problems perfectly copied. They shouldn't have had to deal with this. I should be helping them through this like I promised myself I would. I promised I'd be nice and be supportive of them, and I failed. I was as helpless as them and couldn't make it better. They deserved better than I could do.
I was just nestled in the brilliant vibrant colors of Calytrix's flowers. My sisters held close. So, close I could feel us breathing to the same rhythm. Calytrix was still saying kind reassuring things. That we were beautiful and loved and that she would make things better. I wanted so much to believe her. I wanted to. I wanted to. We wanted to.
But we couldn't. We… we were a burden on her. We drained her time and energy just like with Devon. He didn't deserve that, and she also didn't deserve that. We'd end up finishing the wardship and go back to living alone or alone together. Then we'd only be a burden on each other. Because we were all Melanie, and that's all we could be.
We ended up sending a message to Devon saying sorry and then lied and said we were doing better. After that we muted notifications in the messaging app. Devon was the only person we really had to talk to on the app and none of us were in the chatting mood after that.
Sending that message happened that evening as my sisters and I were pretty out of it. Too exhausted to hold focus on being aware and present. Just like in the cell we let ourselves drift off. The affini's trick to bring us back up only lasted for an uncomfortable moment before I drifted off again. At that moment the thought took hold, that I should try to focus so I'm not a burden…but I didn't have the will to follow through.
Sleep had the nice effect of acting like a soft reboot for thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes things rolled over from one day to the next. You’d wake up only to find your mind snap back to what was causing you problems before.
It took me entirely too long to realize I fell asleep in the vines of the affini. We were on her bed. All three of us held close enough I could feel them slightly stir the same as me. We awoke together yet none of us got up. We laid in the warm vines.
"Morning my darling petals." Calytrix told us. For the briefest moment thought she was going to pause partway through the word petals and say pets. She didn't. We were still independent terrans.
I could feel one of my sisters take the lead of tensing up in a way as to draw a breath for speaking. It gave me enough motivation to follow suit. We each gave a half-assed. "Morning Calytrix."
"That simply won't do." She gently shifted us around until we were all on our backs looking up at the vines that wove themselves into the affini's humanoid torso. Her enthralling eyes sat above a mouth that was not in that smile we loved, instead she appeared almost as unhappy as us. "Melanie, we need to talk. You girls need help, and I need you to let me help you. I want to help and I know I can. Let me." Her words were forceful and commanding.
It was hard to say no. Incredibly hard. I wanted to just obey and let her do whatever she wanted, but I couldn't. I knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to use hypnosis, and xenodrugs. She'd tinker with our broken minds until we inevitably broke further. She might make us different from each other. She might make us into a doped-up floret.
Our words rang out. "I-I can't."
"Why?" It was as much a command as it was a question. A forceful word that sought to chip away at every bit of willpower I had recovered over night.
"You'd break us… w-we wouldn't be Melanie anymore." Our words flowing on the same cadence that could be found in the words of the affini with such beautiful eyes peering into my soul. I looked for too long and I got lost in them.
The same pattern of colors and sound brought me back. "Petals, you are safe with me. I only want what is best for you three. Trust me."
I looked away from her eyes. There was something wrong with them, the way that peering too long got me lost in their depth of wonder. I turned to look at my sisters and they did the same. I grounded myself in them. They were me. They were Melanie. "Can we just get ready for the day?" I watched them and they watched me back to mimic the words as they were spoken. They were our words.
"I- of course Melanie." He vines guided us up and we hopped off the bed and towards the bathroom.
As we walked in Calytrix went to help us, but we stopped her. My sister said, "I think we want to bathe by ourselves."
The affini looked hurt and backed off. "Alright girls, I'll be nearby if you need me."
As the door shut behind her, we pulled each other into a group hug. We all needed one really bad.
I broke down. "I'm sorry, I should have comforted you two. I-I."
"Shhhh, it was my responsibility to be there for you both and I failed." Melanie said, patting me.
Melanie squeezed us both tight. "It was mine. I made a promise to you two and I broke it."
"We all made the promise-"
"-and we all broke it because-"
"-we're all Melanie."
I nuzzled them and they nuzzled back. We eventually broke the hug because we did need to wash up. We did better this time as we had experience. It felt like we had a semblance of competence.
Perhaps ruminating over everything that happened in the relaxing bath was not a good idea. I say that because Calytrix woke us up with her color thing a bit later.
"Girls, it is not safe for you three to take baths unattended. Either you three take showers from now on or I will be assisting you. Do you all understand me?"
We were held up by vines in the bath. I looked at the water and realized how easy it'd have been to slip under while out of it. I looked at my sisters. If I lost either of them to that… I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
We all mumbled agreements. The rainbow affini, without asking, just ran us through the rest of drying off and getting dressed.
As we spent time on the couch afterwards without Calytrix I realized we all had something we wanted to talk about.
"What if the wardship doesn't end?"
"You mean what if the affini decide we can't be on our own?"
"Without letting her fix the drifting off thing, I don't think we can."
Melanie was of course right. I already knew that. She was merely voicing the thoughts we were all having. The questions were only to get us on the same page for those thoughts. To my knowledge we didn't intend to do that, but we just sort of fell into it in our need to be as similar as possible.
"And if we get that fixed and live on our own?"
"We'd still be unable to handle stuff for long."
"But we can't just be a burden on Calytrix forever…" I thought the same and then realized what cliff that train of thought was about to go off.
I looked at her. "No. I know what you two are about to think and no. You aren't ever allowed to do that to yourselves. I won't let you."
"Well, I won't let you either."
"If you two are going to stop me then I'll stop you both right back. We are in this together. We’re sisters."
"But then what do we do?"
"We try… for each other. I love you two"
"Love you both"
"Love you both."
Our talks had like a fifty-fifty chance of ending in a hug session. I was so happy my sisters turned out better than me. I loved them so much it made my heart hurt. Getting them was the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed them and at this point if I lost them and this shared identity of ours, I'd crumble. To think they started being a part of my life before I even met them.
We all leaned on each other and my sister said. "I think we need to try going outside."
I knew she was right. We all did. But that fear of stepping out of our cage. One we had been living in for so long. Now it was Calytrix's home, but before it was the white sterile cell, and before that our trash filled apartment, and before that it was the dorm room, and before that the family home. None of them were cages on their own. Our fear turned homes into cages.
"I'm scared." Melanie whispered.
I threaded my fingers with hers. "Me too."
"Me three." She joined in. "But if we don't."
"We never will." We answered.