You ignore the voice behind you.
It’s just an annoyance, after all.
“Hey, _______, I’m talking to you!”
Your name, as the bitch behind you insists on ‘forgetting’, is Rita Sternbach. And it won’t be long before you leave this place behind. Out of sixth form, and into the world of academia. And with a brand new body to boot…
The owner of the voice grabs you by your jacket and turns you around. Blonde hair, green eyes, bared teeth. In the middle of your walk from your bus stop to class, far from eyes that could interfere with this obvious aggression.
“What. Not going to say hi?” the blonde asks, holding a cup of coffee in her other hand as usual. No doubt it’s sickly sweet – you suppose track helps take care of the extra calories – much like the exterior she shows to the adults in her life.
But that’s what adults are like. Only caring about superficial things. Even now, in one of the most accepting places on the planet, it took more questioning than you liked to be allowed to take the name ‘Rita’ – and how must it be, in those balkanized nations, the remnants of Old America, where the tyranny of one’s genetics is enshrined in the very constitution, such is their hatred for someone living as they desire?
They’ll protect you in the open, but…when it’s something like this, they can claim it’s hearsay.
So Alicia can deadname you all she pleases…
“Alicia,” you reply, staying as emotionless as you can, staring flatly into the girl’s eyes. (Even if you’re not so naive to think ignoring her will make her stop.)
“My name is Alice. Only my parents get to call me Alicia, _______.”
But then, you know Alicia knows that.
After all, she’s doing this because she knows it’s the thing you’d hate above all else. Even she knows better – Alicia would never deadname anyone but you, as she demonstrates openly every day. Only on school grounds does she call you your proper name, and only because she knows a gross breach of conduct would threaten her own scholarship.
So you block it out. Bury it, and rise above.
(At least, that’s the theory.)
“Alicia’s a prettier name,” you say, calmly.
Or at least, superficially so.
In truth, your heart is leaping out of your chest, every part of your being burns, and some small segment of your soul wants to physically assault her. Even if that were your nature, though, it would never end well – you’re a sickly nerd who disdains the very concept of exercise, and Alicia’s a track star whose talents might see her in the Olympics one day. Besides, you’re past the idea of petty revenge, having gained that scholarship, no matter how many ridiculous things you asked for. Why squander it?
Just block it out.
“Well, what if I say _______ is a prettier name, huh? I think that’s a perfect reason to keep calling you that, _______.”
Block it out.
Bury it, and rise above.
“So, what is it you want? My lunch money?” you ask. Usually she’s not so direct. Obviously something is different about today.
“What, you don’t know? My friends are pissed at you. You know I asked politely for you to throw your midterms, right? And you didn’t, and now all my friends’ grades look bad!”
‘Asked politely’. More like threatened. Alicia and the entire blonde bitch brigade. Her little clique of bullies, still never having grown out of the high school mindset, united by their hair color and need to prove themselves.
But you don’t really care about that. It’s not your fault the teachers fuck up their grade curves.
That’s why they put up with this. Because they don’t like you either. You’re a threat to their position. Always have been. But you get away with it, because you’re the best of the best, and when you’ve got a scholarship from the Sunset Corporation itself, let alone as prestigious and all-encompassing as yours…no one argues.
They’d never admit it to themselves. They aren’t so honest. They’d say Alicia needs care, they’d say that you’re disruptive. Never mind that you’ve been dealing with this for years now, you’re the one to watch out for.
They fear you.
Even though you’re powerless, they fear you.
Bury it, and rise above.
“I won’t do it simply because you ask,” you say, turning back around to walk toward the college. Just a little more…just a little more, and you’ll at least be free of the deadnaming. The faculty won’t let it happen on campus, after all.
“What do you care? You’ve already got your scholarship, _______.”
“I don’t yet. Not until I graduate. And in principle, it can be taken away at any time. If my performance suddenly drops…”
“What, you’re going ‘fuck you, got mine’? You’re so selfish, Rita.” Slipping back into your name, but…well, you’re decently close to the college now. “Some black-hearted witch. What, you expect me to forget high school? Tossing bottles of yogurt, snitching on us –”
“I haven’t. I especially haven’t forgotten the time you locked me in an airplane bathroom for an hour.” The staff intervened, but you always knew they expected you to be violent. And truth be told, there were times you wanted to be.
But you have to be the better person.
Need to be.
Bury it, and rise above.
“That was a lot of fun. We should do it again sometime. Listen, we’ve got our eyes on you. If one of us loses out because of you, we’ll get back at you. If you’re so important to Sunset…” Alicia grins, and waves it off. And then she starts in a jog in front of you, having left her threat. Be like everybody else, perform like a normal person – or else.
But it’s just a few months. You can wait that long.
It’d be petty for you to want revenge, right?
You sigh, staring at yourself in the mirror after freshening yourself up in the bathroom after your first class.
You’ve had…minor cosmetic work, hormones, and a bit of practice with your voice to get everything acceptable. Long, violet hair to go with the shade your eyes take on when the light hits them just right, tied back with a single blue ribbon. Your skin is more pale than anyone else’s you know, but you’d like to think it works for you, no matter if Alicia and her shitty friends try to pretend otherwise.
Doesn’t compare to what Sunset can give you, but it’s enough for now. You’re glad your hair comes across so well, and your nails too…almost makes up for being a total flatty. You’re a bit too tall for your frame, maybe, a bit gangly, but you’re satisfied with what you are now, and soon…
(Soon, thanks to Sunset, you’ll have a body beyond your wildest dreams, and you’ll never have anyone look at you as anything but desirable again…)
Even if you’re eagerly awaiting that day, though? Right now, you’re accepted as a girl. You’re called cute, plenty of times. Guys ask you out, even though you’ve made it clear you’re not interested. You suppose you should take that as a compliment. Both of those things. ‘Cute’ is a compliment too.
…but the idea of being ‘cute’ disgusts you.
That’s what you were always called. ‘Cute’. Not someone to be taken seriously, or listened to. Sure, you succeeded at your classes, but that never won you respect. That had to be earned.
(And even then, you’ve yet to reach the heights of ‘sexy’ you truly crave, and have drafted your body up for, to every detail you could muster, as your price for being bought by the Sunset Corporation.)
Most of the students at the college don’t bother you like that anymore, not like they did in high school. But with that comes additional pressure from the faculty. As though they’re taking up the slack.
You stand out, so they dislike you. Doesn’t matter if they protect you in the letter of the law – in spirit, they’d rather you just be out of their hair.
You will be soon, but that doesn’t mean you like it.
Makes you grateful for the gap year Sunset’s making you go on. Apparently to ‘foster innovation’ or something like that. You really think it’ll just leave you going stir-crazy with nothing much to do, but you’re looking into things you could do during it to keep yourself busy.
(And maybe, just maybe, meet a cute girl who doesn’t know what you used to look like, or what your name used to be.)
“As for the matter of reductions in the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, whether any such process could have an effect within our lifetime is in question. During the Collapse, in particular during the wars of the first two decades of the Reiwa era, already slow and tentative movements toward the reduction in use of fossil fuels rapidly ceased as the needs of mechanized warfare…”
You sigh, fiddling with your pencil as you watch the teacher drone on about things you already know, once again being forced to slow down so everyone else can catch up.
Deep-ocean submersibles lay half-constructed in the docks of the city of Southern Sun. The tracks of the mass drivers are little more than glorified roller coasters, half-finished. Money, politics, petty bullshit…you just want to turn it all off. The entire planet’s just going to die because someone decided they have to let the slow class catch up.
(…your eyes flit toward Alicia.)
When you decided to be ‘Rita’, you made a concerted effort to not ignore or belittle the social sciences like so many of your old, former friends liked to do. You’ve read your history. The Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement…the old democracies gleefully ignored them whenever the mouth-breathers in charge, voted in by populations deliberately made ignorant for profit, decided human extinction was less important than building walls or burning crosses or whatever. Whenever things get a bit better, some idiot decides they need to be worse. Southern Sun’s better off, but…
Somehow, it still has people like Alicia in it.
She’s been doing this for as long as you’ve known her. That’s the one thing you can praise her for – she’s fucking driven. She never gives up on anything, even if that thing is, say, making someone’s life completely miserable.
So it is with you.
Transitioning made it worse, of course. It gave her another means with which to attack you. And then the whole Sunset scholarship thing, well…whatever reason she has for wanting to be the top dog, she’s now firmly aimed at you for losing her out on some perceived opportunity. She and her shit-ass friends, each and every one with the same shade of blonde hair.
Every so often, she looks over at you. Sometimes she makes a slit-throat motion at you, too. It’s so childish. But for whatever reason, the teachers like her still, maybe because ‘being good at running’ is inexplicably as charming to them as ‘drafting up next-generation designs for direct-air capture scrubbers in your spare time’.
You lazily raise your hand the moment you half-hear the question, and the teacher, looking like he’d rather kill himself than listen to you, reluctantly accepts.
“Sigh…no. I’ve done the calculations. Assuming completion of the Southern Sun Mass Driver within ten years – a timetable we would have reached if not for a reduction in the tax income collected due to legislation in the previous decade – through the use and recovery of space-based resources already known to us, the mass production of a design I’ve been working on for vanadium-based metal-organic frameworks would be both economical and feasible enough to meet the targets drafted up in the Reiwa Accord. I’m sure similar approaches exist – the problem is not a technological one anymore, but of human will and feasibility, and the continued refusal of the voting population of the new cities to consider…”
(…Alicia looks livid.)
(And you can’t help but smirk, at once more getting another over her. If she wants to be a ‘star’, she’ll have to do a lot more than run…)
At least you don’t have classes with Alicia or the rest of the blondes this afternoon, you think, as you start walking toward the cafeteria.
You can put up with college when they’re not around. It all feels so boring and perfunctory now, but that’s just how things have to be for you, at least until you’re finally done.
(Even if you hate it.)
Alicia was shooting you a lot of dirty looks this morning. You’re sure you did something else to piss her off. Maybe her latest grades came back poorly, maybe it was you getting praised by the teacher, maybe she’s just in a lousy mood because of track. Who knows.
(You can hear footsteps. Fast.)
If you were this petty, you’d never have time to do assignments or study. How can these girls do it? Especially Alicia, who has even less time to do it thanks to track practice.
You slip open the doors to the staircase. Pretty empty, actually; you’d expect someone playing card games or something next to the doors, or more students moving around, but, you know, maybe the highschool kids got tired of playing those ridiculous combo decks they like because they’re more interested in impressing people than winning efficiently. Pft. Amateurs.
(Someone keeps the door open behind you.)
It’s all so boring, really, life at Pedersen. Maybe if you had more friends, or a girlfriend or something, it’d be more enjoyable, but right now it’s just something to fill the time until you can get home and work on things you enjoy. You’re sure Sunset would be equally happy with you working on neural networks in your spare time, righ-
(You fall face-first, tumbling.)
(You were pushed.)
(Each step digs into your body, pushing back into you, bruising you.)
(You catch just the barest glimpse of who it was, flared blonde hair, hostile eyes.)
(You tumble to the midpoint of the stairs, and your head hits the brick wall at the back.)
(Alicia is the last thing you see before you pass out.)
When you wake up, it’s in a hospital bed.
Harsh white light above you, an IV in your arm, vision blurry without your glasses.
It all happened so fast…
One minute you were walking and reflecting on your banal existence before your remodeling surgery and subsequent ability to forget about sixth form or high school, the next you fell down the stairs. Hard.
More specifically, you were pushed.
Alicia just…got pissed at you one time too many, you guess? It was definitely her. Maybe one of the other blondes, they all look alike, but the spikiness of the hair, and the sheer malice needed to actually do the deed in the first place…
That’s all Alicia.
You sigh, and your hands grope for your glasses and your phone…thankfully placed very close to your person. You imagine your injuries weren’t as severe as they probably should be, since you don’t hurt that much or anything…
Grasping your glasses and placing them on the familiar, comfortable spot on your face, you check the time on your phone. 00:00.
You’ve been out…eleven hours? Give or take? Your earbuds are nearby, for some reason, but given how hard that blow must’ve been, you might’ve just tried to use them and forgotten. Maybe someone tried to keep you calm – knowing how you used to be back in middle school, or even before hormones, you can imagine crying bloody murder about the shit Alicia pulled. Understandable, really.
There’s no one around now to ask how bad it is, and all you really have to go on is the fact that you’ve got a second IV bag. Painkillers, maybe? It’s an odd color you’ve never seen before, a purple that fades almost into black, and there’s a Sunset logo on it…not to mention, you’re in your own room. Good chances the injuries were actually pretty serious.
Oh, and checking your phone, you’ve got an email from the school.
Tapping the sensor on the back, you open it up and skim through it. Looks like mostly standard boilerplate, but…
Blah blah regret your injury, blah blah legal waiver, blah blah…wait. Wait.
…you’re reading this wrong.
You check, and double-check…
We cannot find evidence to corroborate accounts that Alicia Sentinella was responsible for the incident. However, given prior reports that hostility between you and Alicia exists, we are asking you both to stay out of school for the next week.
You toss your phone at the fucking wall.
No evidence? No evidence? The cameras had to have caught it, right? There’s some blind spots there, but Alicia…you’re pretty sure she was running after you to make sure her gambit worked. They have to know, or at least have enough evidence.
They probably didn’t even bother checking.
They were glad to have you out of their hair.
You sigh, as a nurse comes over, no doubt to reprimand you…but at least that means you don’t need to pick it up with an IV in your arm.
But you can barely think about that.
Your lungs burn.
Your body tenses.
You haven’t been this pissed off since middle school.
You thought you were beyond that. That ‘Rita’ was an existence that had no need for such anger.
But maybe there are some things you can’t just…rise above.