“Kuryo can NOT be transgender,” I blurted. “I’ve seen him naked!” Among other things! Hey, I was even in that body and I didn’t realize it wasn’t 900% male by birth.
“Yeah, so have we,” said Aaliyah flatly. “He’s had surgery. That’s all. Don’t make such a big deal of it.”
“Yeah,” muttered Jade as if I was a kid throwing a tantrum. And maybe I was. I mean, in the scale of things this was pretty small, but –
“Why didn’t he tell me?” I fairly yelled. “I mean-” my hands waved around. I caught myself guppy-fishing with my mouth. “He never told me!” My hands dropped down into my lap. I felt miserable. Hurt. Abandoned!
“Just,” muttered V2. “Maybe he didn’t want you to know.”
Ow. Ouch. That hurt. I pressed a palm over my heart, where it was bleeding on the inside. I took a deep breath – and realized everyone was staring at me grumpily.
“This is really not the biggest problem we have,” said Aaliyah flatly.
“Yeah but,” hello? Need time to process?
“Lookit,” V2 held up the black box. “I have the black box. I’m going to go back and try and save Charr, my Charr. If you want, I can keep an eye out for your Kuryo too.” He said that with all the enthusiasm of someone who wanted to go deep sea diving with starving sharks.
“And we’re supposed to do what?” Aaliyah jiggled the bottle of whiskey. “Just sit around and drink? We’re coming with you.”
V2 pressed his lips together tightly and gave her a leveled, mature, look of disapproval. “The rebellion doesn’t take well to strangers. At best you’ll be seen as spies. You should stay here -”
I snatched the black box from him. “Who’s coming with me?” I asked, jumping up.
“Hey!” V2 jumped up, but I flicked a sword out between us. Nuh-uh, buddy.
V2 gave me another look that was, I don’t know, supposed to remind me to be mature? I put the black box around my neck all while keeping him at bay with the tip of my sword. “I’m going to find Kuryo,” I said loudly. “And I’m going to see what can be done about the Academy, whatever that problem is.” Because guess what?! No one ever explained what that was to me either! No one told me anything!
Like hell I was going to let myself be ‘temporary’. Or disposable. I was going to figure everything out and wring an apology from Kuryo for not having told me, ME!, that he was trans.
“You haven’t the slightest idea what you’re doing!” said V2, just a teensy bit furious, as I tugged the black box down around my neck. “Do you even know how that thing works?”
“Uh, yeah?” I fibbed as I looked around at the very nonplussed Aaliyah and Jade. They hadn’t even gotten up. They just looked on, expecting me to sit down and be proven wrong. I’d show them! Hadn’t I been in Kuryo’s body when something something, travel something? I was quite sure we’d traveled together once.
Let me see. I looked down at the box, remembering what it had felt like to travel within Kuryo, to feel the –
The room disappeared as the smooth feeling of travel overcame me. Of feeling the world pass you by, slip away, and the stars whirling around you.
Oh, shit, I thought dimly. I don’t even have shoes on.
I didn’t so much wake up as I gradually grew more and more conscious. I felt a low throbbing hum around me, a pulse if you will. Light glowed, not quite blinding but not quite comfortable either. It was a strange light. Synthetic. I couldn’t feel it like I usually felt the aether. This was lifeless light.
That thought jogged me from my stupor. Lifeless light? Light, energy, was supposed to be alive. It was life – but here it wasn’t.
I was suspended in what felt like a straight jacket, arms wrapped around myself and feet dangling straight down, suspended by a chord that seemed to be reaching up out of my spine at the base of my neck. All around me, at first glance, was a mist full of firefly-like lights. They sparkled, glimmered, and shifted slowly from here to there. But at second glance, there was more of us. To my left and right and all around, there were other shapes dangling in the mist, still and inert. I could not see the chords that they hung suspended from, but I had to look up.
My chord, if I arched my head back far enough, looked eerily like an umbilical chord. It was thick and fleshy, pulsating with life – life? I squinted, trying to see farther, but there were no lights above me, only ones beside and beneath. Okay. But there was a life and that I could work with. I closed my eyes, letting my feelings shift, letting my soul reach out. I ran my senses through myself, where I sensed the umbilical chord having attached itself to my spine, into me. It was like a soul that was piggy-backed onto me, if piggy backing merged you together like veins twisting into you.
Okay, that was gross. But I kept looking, sensing this frail soul, this fraction of a being that was just a thin tendril reaching up and up, connected to something beyond. Something that felt – broken. Shattered. In a million fragile pieces. Familiar. Far too familiar, like looking in a mirror when you’re not expecting it.
It took me a moment to recognize the academy’s soulprint. Once I did, it sensed me, in a sort of strange reflection of my sensing it.
For a moment, we looked at each other. Not with our eyes, but with our senses, probing at each other. For me, it was like looking at a tumor you had cast off. It was gross, disheveled, and broken and bleeding. Yet it was connected to me and I sensed it sensing me – like looking into a mirror reflecting a mirror. It was dizzying.
“You’re awake,” said another voice. Familiar too – but not bad.
Charr? I looked down, finding myself incapable of speech. My voice just wouldn’t work.
But there, beneath me, a ray of light beamed in as if from a door, except I knew there was no door. There was just a sliver of self-importance that shone down upon this being.
It was Charr, but there was blue gleams to her hair. Her eyes too, gleamed blue. The academy had chosen her, then, to carry it.
“Hello,” it said in Charr’s coldest voice. “How are you?”
It felt like my jaw was unhinged on command. I was ordered to speak. Irritated, I didn’t want to. But really, I wanted to. So I did.
“What the fuck?” I asked. “Seriously?”
Charr chuckled. “Seriously?” she echoed. She put fingers to her chin as if meditating deeply on my words. “Seriously,” she repeated. “I think we are very serious. Wouldn’t you say so?”
I rolled my eyes and kicked at the air. Nothing really moved. I felt bonds going down my legs, even on my ankles so my feet couldn’t flex. It was ridiculous. Okay, think. I had the Academy here (in Charr!), I had to get into its head.
“Ah- ah-ah,” Charr lifted a finger. “I heard that thought.”
I cursed under my breath. Charr chuckled eerily, crossing her arms across her chest with a satisfied grin. “I like this,” she announced, and I could feel the satisfied smugness through the presence above me. It was all connected, all throbbing with the same fragile life. But somewhere, if I focused really hard – there had to be a piece of Charr.
“Oh no, no, no, don’t think she’s going to rescue you,” the Academy sneered, lifting its chin arrogantly. “She’s been taken care of.”
“What?” I yelped. “What do you mean?”
Charr’s head tilted with that grin. “She was too much trouble. You know, you I like to gloat to. Her, well, she’s just a failed shield. I don’t want her sticking around. She helped you escape last time, you know. You’re pretty useless without her.”
“What did you do to her?” I yelled, jerking against my bonds. “You-” but I stopped, the laughter suddenly coming from so many different angles that it hurt my ears. It felt like the whole world was laughing at me.
The laughter dimmed into cackles from above. Charr wiped a tear from her eye and giggled. “Ah, this is fun. I’m glad I’ve kept you alive. Just for this.”
“To gloat? That’s all I’m here for? To stroke your ego?”
Charr shrugged. “Gotta get our strokes somehow.” and then she giggled at her own joke. I was nonplussed. My heart was hammering in my chest and my ears were ringing. Charr. I couldn’t sense her within the body. Had she been put safely aside for later use? Or was she… recycled?
Okay, time to think – but she was in my head so- no time to think?
“I want you here for your power,” sighed Charr. “You should know that already. You remember how souls can be like batteries? Well you’re a powerful one and I’m also taking you apart to use you to rebuild myself. So take that!”
Uh, kay. That made sense but … my mind drew a blank. I didn’t know what to ask, or how to weasel my way out of this.
“Because you can’t!” sang Charr, twirling on herself and doing a little dance step. “You’re stuck! Welcome to limbo, asshole!”
I would ask ‘what did I ever do to you’, but I knew all too well. Time to try another avenue. “Isn’t there some way we can work together?” I asked hopefully. “I’m in a bind here, you see?”
The dumb joke landed, and it made the Academy laugh. Wow.
“Nice try!” said Charr. “But I’m not an idiot! You stay here and rot!”
The light around her blinked out. Her presence vanished. I was alone again. Well. Alone.
I looked up again, at the throbbing presence above me. I should have been worrying about Charr, life, and hunger, but all I could wonder was ‘where are we?’.