Illaria was never very good with goodbyes.
“I’ll just be a minute away, Illaria!” Sara said, sealing off the top of a box. “You know that.”
She did know that, of course, but that didn’t make it any easier to see the little corner of the room that she’d carved out for her ward—well, her former ward, now—being slowly cleaned out. Illaria had asked to help, hoping that she’d be able to get things done more quickly and not have to prolong the waiting, but Art had told her as gently as he could that that would be another breach of autonomy and he’d be alright without her. And sure enough, it only took most of the morning to get the little terran-sized bed loaded onto a cart and moved across, a handful of boxes packed up and by the door, and almost everything else swept up and decompiled. She hadn’t even realised that Sara had had all of this until she saw the boxes; apparently, she’d been having a very exciting time with the compiler the past week.
“It’s not that I’m worried,” Illaria tried to reassure, “I’m just going to miss this little… arrangement, that we’ve got here. I do like spending time with you, after all.”
Sara scribbled something down in her little notebook, and then replied with an audible grin, “I like spending time with you too, Illaria. But I’ve already moved twice in the last two weeks, so I think we can both adapt well enough.” She slid the notebook back into her skirt pocket and hopped over to the stepladder, climbing up to go pull down the curtains separating her corner of the room from the rest.
Illaria kept watching on, vines at the ready. “And you’ll be alright on your own? You’re not going to get too lonely?”
“I’m not going to be alone!” Sara corrected, and then thought about it for a second. “Well, sure, I’ll be the only one in the house, but I’m plenty of company; and besides, I’m still seeing Dr. Alba, and I’ve still got you right here.” There was a small clip as she detached another segment of the curtain and pulled it down, making sure it folded neatly onto itself as she went.
“Well, alright, then… and you’re sure that Salix is alright with you leaving my wardship?”
“Ze wouldn’t have signed off on it if ze weren’t, I think?” Clip; Sara looked over at Illaria, and smiled gently at her. “I know you just want me to be safe, and that’s very sweet of you. So I promise you, if there’s anything that I need at all, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Illaria giggled. “Alright, but in that case I’m holding you to that promise, petal. You’d better come over and say hi every time you’ve got a sore stomach.”
Another clip, and then Sara burst into laughter herself. “Then I’ll make sure to practise looking sick the next time I miss you too much~”
“You don’t need to come up with an excuse, darling,” Illaria reminded her. “You are allowed to just visit, if you’d like.”
“I know, but then I’d miss the opportunity to come up with an excuse! And I am very good at playing ill; a shame to waste the talents of such a gifted thespian, if I do say so myself.” She affected exaggerated offence as she said it, miming gasps and making shocked expressions until the affini couldn’t help but smile—at which point Sara did a little bow to her before turning back to the curtains.
Illaria leaned back into the sofa a bit. “I would never dream of it,” she sang. “So I certainly wouldn’t want you to limit yourself to a single role, when there are so many wonderful parts you could play~”
That prompted a burst of soft laughter from the other side of the room. “You do have such a way with words, Illaria; I suppose I can adapt to that part, if a playwright such as yourself wishes it.”
Sara detached the last segment of the curtain with a final clip, and then found herself being pulled down by the weight of it and having not quite enough balance to resist. After just a moment, she was suddenly off the stepladder and falling towards the carpeted floor, using the last of her wherewithal to close her eyes and flinch.
And then she opened her eyes, and she was wrapped up in Illaria’s vines; one gently stroking her head, a dozen more curled around her body and holding her just above the ground.
“I– thank you.” Sara looked up at Illaria’s face, the twisting stems and leaves drawing out a concerned expression, her eyes a sea of purple flecked with deep blues and greens, and could only barely manage to continue: “I’m going to miss you.”
For just a moment, Illaria stared back down at her, feeling the push and pull of her breathing, and wanted so badly to tell her that she didn’t have to leave, that they could stay together, about the forms she had left back on Evea and how she hoped that she had read them and understood them and wanted that too, all of the things she’d been selfishly and desperately feeling for the weeks since the two of them first met.
But instead, she simply replied, “I’m going to miss you too, petal,” and set the young woman back on her feet.
Sara folded up the curtain and tucked it away inside one of the boxes, while Illaria looked around at what was left of the little corner of her life that her ward had carved out the past week—which was to say, almost nothing, save for a few plants that had preceded her arrival. It had looked like this for plenty of cycles before, but… it was hard now, to not see it as profoundly empty.
“You’ve got the tablet I gave you still?” Illaria asked, in a way she hoped didn’t come across as overly concerned.
In response, Sara pulled the green and black sheet of plant and glass out of one of the stacked boxes and waved it in her general direction. “I do! And I’ll make sure it gets unpacked first, just in case.”
“And you remember the way to the station? You’re not going to get lost on the way to your appointments?”
Sara reached up and wrapped her arms around Illaria’s waist as much as she could. “If I have any trouble at all, you’ll be the first to know. And until then, I think this goodbye is going to be harder for us both if we drag it on.”
“…You’re right,” she replied. “Then I suppose I’ll… see you later?”
“We’ll schedule something before you head back down to Evea, I promise.” The terran squeezed a little tighter, and then let go and headed back to the door. “Until then, wish me luck moving in?”
Illaria nodded, and smiled, and waved, and watched as her little petal stacked up the moving boxes and loaded them onto her cart, and then the door slid closed and she was gone.
“Would you mind if I attempted to broach a rather complicated topic?” Salix asked.
I shrugged. “Hit me.”
Ze tapped hir pen to hir clipboard. “So. Gender.”
“Listen, I told you before, I’m just a guy,” I tried explaining. “It’s not like I’m some massive closet case, I’ve met trans people and I’ve thought about my gender before, and I know that I’m a guy. I’m perfectly fine with the body I’ve got.”
Salix wrote something down on hir clipboard, which was never a good sign. I’d only had a few appointments with hir, but I’d pretty quickly learned that when ze stopped to write something down, it was a pretty reliable sign that the conversation was about to turn into an onslaught of personal questions.
“I believe you, Art. But by the same token, I believe Sara when she tells me that she is a woman, and that she feels less than comfortable with the body that the two of you share.”
There it was.
“Okay, well…” I tried to turn my head away and look at anything else, but the room gave me almost nothing to land my eyes on that wasn’t the big green alien in front of me—dammit, was that deliberate? Eventually, I just had to give up and continue, “So, what am I supposed to do about that? I’m guessing you can’t just pull her out and put her in a new body?”
Salix shook hir head. “Not easily, certainly; it would require, at the very least, digitising your entire consciousness, working out how to precisely divide the lines between the two of you, and then supplementing those parts so that you each could operate independently, before giving you both new bodies.” I curled up a little bit in the sofa; ze was so matter-of-fact about it all, is what got me.
“That… yeah, that’s out of the question,” I stammered.
Ze laughed gently. “I did think it might be, and Illaria did give a similar term for your independence. So given that, what exactly is it that’s worrying you about changing your body?”
“I’m not… worried?” I know I didn’t sound especially sure, but I was hoping that Salix would buy it.
Of course, ze didn’t. “Art, I know that you can be honest with me,” ze dryly commented. “If you don’t have any issues, then we can start you on a standard feminising class-G and see how you feel from there?”
“Okay, yes, you’re right, I’m worried,” I replied quickly, before ze got any ideas stuck in hir head. “Just… like, I told you already, I don’t like it when people think I’m a girl. It freaks me out.”
More writing. Salix leaned a little forward and said, “Well, I can’t speak for everyone here, but at the very least, I don’t recall thinking that you were any particular gender? In fact, I quite distinctly remember clearly asking you, and letting you tell me how you’d like to be referred to as.”
“I mean, you did…”
“And your caretaker? Did she ever treat you as though you were a woman?”
I tried thinking about it, hoping there was a memory somewhere I could point to that would prove hir wrong, and was coming up empty. Well, except for… “When we first met. She called me ‘little’ all the time. I’m not little. I’m six foot one.”
“Art, with all due respect, Ms. Biflora is about thirteen feet in height. I think that she would have called you little whether you were 6'1'' or 4'8''.” I did know that these aliens were tall, of course, but hearing it spelled out in numbers was… weird, to say the least. I looked up at Salix’s face, and then suddenly processed quite how big the room I was in actually was, and then I curled up a little tighter.
“So what I’m getting from this is that your height is something that’s important to your gender presentation?” ze continued. I collected myself, took a deep breath, and nodded; Salix wrote down a couple more notes. “That’s good to know! And do you think that Sara would be alright with your height staying the same?”
I was about to protest that I couldn’t possibly know that, that was a stupid question, and so on and so forth, but when I tried to think about it I felt a little flash of thought in my mind, that I instinctively tried to jump back from. I still wasn’t used to how clear Sara was in my head with these class-Fs; hopefully, I’d get used to this sort of thing soon.
“So… gender? Height?” I thought in her direction. I didn’t actually think in words most of the time, but it was helpful for having these sorts of conversations.
The response I got back was more than a little fuzzy, but it basically amounted to ‘height is nice’. I blinked a couple times, and my eyes focused back into reality, with Salix looking over at me patiently but expectantly. “She says that she’s, fine with that staying the same,” I reported hesitantly.
“Thank you very much, Art!” ze replied. “Do you think, while I’ve got you here, that you might be able to talk about some other things you two might want to change?”
For the next half an hour or so, me and Sara awkwardly did our best to hash out the details of what we wanted our drugs to do. Some parts were obvious; both of us were more than happy to leave body hair by the wayside, and neither of us cared much for being able to grow our hair out especially long. Some were less obvious, though; it took a lot of arguing to work out what we should do with our… downstairs area, and it was pretty clear that where we ended up was not really a good compromise so much as just the least bad option.
At one point, Salix handed me an actual list of all the things these drugs could do, and it was like suddenly walking into the world’s weirdest candy store. I was pretty sure I didn’t actually want most of this stuff, but it was strangely very fun to imagine… but after some nudging from both Salix and Sara that I should probably pick things I was actually comfortable with, I settled on a pair of bright gold irises as the most exotic modification I wanted. I couldn’t help but keep staring at the sheet, though, feeling like there was something very important that was just on the tip of my tongue.
And then it hit me. “Is there any way for these to give me wings?” I asked, and Sara excitedly gasped inside my head.
The affini smiled, and answered, “You would need a surgical procedure, and I don’t think you’d be able to fly much with them without some very thorough strength training. But that would be very doable indeed.”
I just sat there in shock for a moment, before I gathered myself enough to ask, “Bright blue? With black tips?”
“I’ll reach out to one of the surgeons on-board and see if they can’t fit you in sometime soon,” Salix answered, making a few more notes before putting hir pen down. “Am I to assume that there’s nothing more you’d want?”
I nodded dumbly, and ze replied, “Then I’ll have your class-Gs synthesised by tomorrow afternoon, I think? If you can come in and talk to Theo, they can give you your pills, and let you know when your procedure will be scheduled for. Beyond that, I’ll see you in a few days!”
“Th-thank you, Salix,” I managed, before getting to my feet and stumbling out the office door, not even trying to hide my astonished tears of joy.
This was shaping up to easily be the best week of my life.
It turned out that having been late to arrive on the ship had its fair share of advantages; most of the other terrans who had wanted or needed body modifications had already received them, so the wait for my wings was only two days—two days during which I spent nearly all of my time nervously anticipating. It helped that I had compiled plenty of things before I left, so it was very easy to fill that time with unpacking boxes and deciding what decorations and paintings and furniture would go where; I don’t think that I would have finished nearly as quickly if I hadn’t so urgently needed something to fill the hours, and in fact by the morning of, I had resorted to compiling random other bits of décor just to have things to put in places.
The procedure itself went swimmingly, I was told, though I was mostly just amazed they managed to sedate me enough to lay still for it all. Apparently, they still needed time to fully heal, so they’d need to stay wrapped up for another couple of days, but I was already able to gently flex the new muscles in my back and feel the sensations on the tips of my wings, and it was the best I’d ever felt about my body. This was all before the class-Gs had finished up, too; I couldn’t wait to see how I’d feel then.
And now, I was getting myself dressed to go get ready for a hangout with my favourite affini in the world.
Sliding my little closet drawer open, I pulled out a little white backless dress that I had got from one of the nearby not-technically-stores the other day, which I had picked out especially for the occasion. I stepped into it, pulling the sleeves up to my shoulders and then sliding my arms through, and then gently tucked the back of the straps behind my wings. I knew no one could see them yet, but I was weirdly proud of the display anyway.
Then, it was just a matter of the rest of the outfit: white tights over my legs, a pair of deep purple flats on my feet, a lilac pleather purse over my shoulder, and just a little bit of bright lipstick. I still hadn’t built up much practice with any other kind of makeup, but lipstick I could manage, and it did look very pretty.
I stepped into the bathroom, just to double-check in the mirror that I looked okay, but instead… I looked in the mirror, and I saw myself for the first time. Still my same height, still my same fluffy brown hair and freckles, but with new delicate curves that I barely recognised but instantly found myself at home in, a big smile that I hadn’t seen on my face in years. It was like a reinvention.
It took a few moments for me to manage wiping the tears from my eyes; with a spring in my step, I hopped back into the living room, dropped my tablet into my purse, and headed out the door. “Goodbye, door!” I made sure to say as I left.
“See you soon, Sara~” the door sang back, and then I was on my way.
Even after living here for a couple weeks, I still hadn’t gotten used to how vibrant everything was on the ship. Back on Evea, almost everything was grey, and other people almost never looked in your direction; here, though, I couldn’t find a single surface that was less than three colours, everything gently swirling together into a gorgeous prismatic masterpiece. I waved hello to a passing affini, who looked down at me and gave me a big smile and a wave back, and then I skipped along to say hi to another. I did feel a little bad that I didn’t know anyone’s names yet, but I imagined that would come with time; for now, though, I was just glad to have the opportunity to be polite and friendly.
And then I was at the house I was looking for, and I knocked on the door a couple times and asked, “Excuse me, it’s Sara; would you mind opening for me?”
In response, the door wordlessly slid open, and I saw Illaria sitting by the door frame with a gentle smile on her face, waiting for my arrival. She stood up to her full height, and I reached my hand up to grab hers as we headed out together.
“Lovely to see you again, petal,” she sang. “You were nearly twenty seconds late; I was starting to worry.”
“I’ve lived in that apartment. I know you don’t even have a clock.” I gently nudged her leg with my hip.
Illaria giggled. “You caught me. So, did you have any plans for our day together?”
“Kind of?” I replied. “Mostly, the plan is to take the train over to the other side of the ship, walk around and see the sights? Perhaps get lunch if we’re out for that long; I just wanted something to do while we talk, really.”
“Well, that sounds positively lovely, dear.”
And it absolutely was, though admittedly that was only barely because of the activity itself. The train line took us through a gorgeous nature sanctuary, and it was very nice to look out at the lakes and mountains and marvel about how it was even possible to fit all of this onto a spaceship, but there was only so much marvelling one could do in a day before it became overwhelming.
All of that just melted away when I was talking to Illaria, though. We certainly had quite a bit to catch each other up on: I had plenty of stories to tell about getting to know Art, my appointments, settling into the neighbourhood and surfing the overnet, while she was full of excited chatter about all of the new gardening she’d been able to manage with her free time, the beautiful Evean plants that had been discovered and brought in since she left, the pretty rainbow vine she’d finally managed to graft into her hair after cycles of stubbornly trying. The conversation carried us all the way through the train ride, through several pretty parks and residential buildings, and into the Italian restaurant that had apparently been set up by one of the other Terrans on board. Illaria didn’t really eat much, on account of being a plant and all, but I had an olive and mushroom pizza which was absolutely delectable, and it took genuine effort to put it down for long enough to keep talking.
“They were Art’s idea, actually,” I said between bites. “I was just as surprised as you, honestly, but I really can’t say that I didn’t want them.”
“And that is what’s important, dear!” She smiled, and gently brushed a bit of hair out of my eyes. “I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it is so wonderful to see you bloom like this. …Hang on, didn’t your eyes used to be green?”
I felt my cheeks flush hot, and looked up at Illaria’s face, seeing her eyes practically glowing a gorgeous metallic pink. “That was also Art’s idea, as it happens; didn’t yours used to be purple?”
She suddenly looked away, and I took the excuse to do so as well, my gaze landing on a random table near the back of the room.
“They change based on my mood,” she mumbled. “It’s a little embarrassing sometimes, I won’t lie.”
“I don’t know, I think that it’s really sweet! Wearing your heart on your sleeve, you know?” I took another bite of pizza, still looking off at the people behind us.
Illaria giggled, “I do know that’s a metaphor, petal, but I don’t have a heart or sleeves.” She caught my gaze for a moment, and then turned her head and followed it to its destination. “Is something the matter?” she asked.
“I’m not sure, exactly,” I answered, “but that girl in the corner there seems very… wait, oh my gosh, Tabby?”
I definitely said that louder than I meant to, because both she and the affini next to her turned over to look at me, and it looked like she definitely recognised me; after a very brief conversation, the two of them stood up from their table and walked over to me.
“Are you…” She looked down at my dress for a moment, and then continued, “I’m guessing the name I’m thinking of isn’t exactly right anymore. We dated in university?”
“Y-yes, that’s, that was me,” I stammered. I was not at all prepared to see my ex-girlfriend again at all, let alone quite like this. “It’s, a little complicated, but you can call me Sara. Uh, she/her.”
“Well, congratulations! …Is that why I stopped seeing you after, uh, we broke up?”
“I dropped out, actually. Kind of a long story.” I nervously cleared my throat. “Sorry, I don’t mean for this to be awkward; it is really lovely to see you again, Tabby.”
She gave me a big smile. “You too, Sara! Gosh, if only you’d told me; I would’ve worked out I was bi way sooner.” The only response I could muster at that was an astonished blink.
The affini next to her gently tapped her shoulder, and said, “Would you like to finish your introductions, kitten?” She suddenly started furiously blushing; I awkwardly folded my hands together in my lap.
“Oh, right, um.” She looked up at the affini, and said, “Sara, this is… Datura Metel, Fourth Bloom. She’s my Mistress.”
I very nearly did a spit-take.
“Lovely to meet you too,” I eventually managed. “Very happy for you both, but… I’m surprised you’re quite so open about it?”
Datura grinned. “Why, of course! I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hide their feelings for their little floret~”
I blinked. “Their what?”
Almost immediately, all three pairs of eyes were pointed at me; I moved back in my seat under the pressure.
Thankfully, Tabitha quickly broke the silence, saying, “Well, we probably ought to get back to our table; my chat handle is
UnDeuxTrois, if you want to catch up?”
“Oh! Yes, of course, I’m
NovaLux,” I called back as the two of them sidled back to the other side of the restaurant, and then I turned to Illaria and asked, “Would you mind telling me what just happened?”
“It’s a bit of a long story, petal, and something that I ought to have mentioned before now.” She sighed, looking off into the distance with blue flecks in her eyes, and then continued. “I told you that the affini want to look after the other species in the universe, yes?”
I nodded. “Something about… wanting to make sure everyone is living their best life?”
“Precisely! And so that’s why you were under my wardship for a little while; you were having trouble managing that on your own, so I helped you get back on your feet a little, and now you’re doing much better.” She paused for a moment, as if she were taking a deep breath. “And there’s plenty of sophonts out there who are exactly like you: those who just need a little nudge, some medicine, a change in circumstances, and they can handle themselves just fine.
“But for others… it’s not always so easy. Sometimes they have more trouble adjusting, and they end up finding out that they need a bit more support to feel as happy and healthy as they need to. And in those cases, an affini will help to take care of them and look after them, and those sophonts are called ‘florets’.”
I sat there for a minute, trying to take that all in.
“Wait, but that doesn’t make sense,” I replied. “I knew Tabby for a while; she didn’t seem like the sort of person who’d need a full-time caretaker.”
Illaria answered, “She might have wanted one, then. Even if she could manage on her own, she could have felt that she’d be happier as a floret than she would be independently.”
“And… the ‘Mistress’?”
She paused for a moment. “It does tend to be a very… intimate sort of relationship, to say the least.”
“It must be,” I hummed, and then thought about it some more. And then, I had another thought which I quickly pushed back down as best I could. “But, yes, I don’t know if you saw any bluebirds on Evea? It’s been a while since I’ve seen any, but they’re my favourite bird; there were a whole flock of them that used to live around my parents’ house…”
mi pini lape li tawa e tomo telo mi. mi lukin e tenpo; suno li awen anpa. mi wile taso jo e tenpo lili.
poki misikeke pi tu wan li lon e ijo lipu. mi lukin e poki ni, li lanpan e ni: ona li sitelen e ni kepeken sitelen mun. tenpo pini la jan ala li open e poki ni.
tenpo suno pini la mi kute e jan Ila. mi sona e wile mi, li sona e wile ona. mi ante li wile ala e ni la… mi wile ala pona ale.
mi open e poki sinpin li lukin e ilo nanpa, li pilin e nena lili. mi poki e poki misikeke, li pini e poki sinpin. mi open e ni; poki misikeke li lon ala. mi pilin e nena lili mute, li pini, li open; ona li jo e moku lili suwi lon poki sin. poki wan la poki sin li lukin sama.
mi tawa e poki ni tawa tomo telo, li tawa e mi tawa ijo lape. tenpo tu la mi pali e ni. mi wile awen la, mi awen.
mi tan e ni: jan Ila kama pilin pona.