Leaving the Darkness
Part VI: Genefreak
I weaved through the group to Sanjay, my roommate. He looked absorbed in his own thoughts and I felt rude interrupting him. I turned and saw Charlie talking animatedly to a girl with long white hair and green eyes. I noted the trans and asexual bracelets as I approached.
“Hey, can you give me directions to the administration building?” I asked.
“Oh, me too, me too.” Sage yelped behind me. Their class buddy smiling at their energy.
“Oh, you just-” Charlie began giving directions when Sage’s friend cut her off.
“I’ll show you both.” She offered; I still wasn’t sure if Sage’s friend was a she. Charlie looked vaguely relieved.
“Nice to meet you both.” The other girl said with a small wave. “I’m Caroline.” I watched them both walk back towards the dorm and faced another new face.
“I’m Allison. They pronouns.” They replied. Ah, I did wonder about their presentation. “You’re Jaeger right? Well done on dealing with that Allen guy by the way.”
“It’s nothing, I would’ve called out anyone using those sort of terms.” I shrugged. “I’m trans.” I added, since I was talking to two non-binary people. Sage jaw dropped and they squealed.
“I am so happy to be around so many trans people, seriously. There was like no one back home.” they explained, cheeks flushing.
“I didn’t know any other trans people where I’m from either…” I trailed off. The Syndicate wasn’t anti-trans, but most people were prone to making derogatory comments. I just made a point of never mentioning I was trans since I had never had too much trouble ‘passing’. Those who knew or had figured it out were also pretty likely to face me and Kellen had they actually tried to insult me. I brushed aside thoughts of Kellen and focused on the here and now.
“So, where is this place?” I asked.
“Follow me, it’s not far and-”
“Erm, are you going to the administration building?” Allen asked, hanging at the edge of our group awkwardly. I exchanged a look with Allison and Sage who were both frowning but not showing outright contempt.
“Sure.” Allison finally said. I let Allison lead with Sage talking to them about their family back in Iceland.
“Both Allison and Sage are non-binary, so refer to them with they, them and their pronouns rather than male or female ones.” I said quietly to Allen. He cocked an eyebrow in a are-you-kidding-me expression and I responded with a deadpan one.
“Oh-kayyy.” he murmured.
“What’s worse,” I began, “having to use pronouns different to what you’re used to, or causing them mental distress by not using them?” I asked. He blinked at me, still looking confused.
“They could save distress by not being trans surely?” he murmured.
“It’s not a choice.” I replied, gritting my teeth.
“Yeah, like being gay and shit, right?” he said, huffing a laugh. This guy was going to be one hell of a work in progress.
“Yes, exactly like that.” I said, shooting him a glare. The look sent him aback a few steps. When he recovered he decided to stay silent.
Thankfully we reached the administrative building quickly. I grimaced when I realized we had to get ID photos. I was not a fan of my own appearance at the best of times. I tried not to glare at the camera as they took the photo and pocketed the ID without looking at it when they handed it over.
“We should head back to the dorm.” Allison said while Allen was waiting for his ID.
“Go ahead. I’ll find my own way back.” Allen said. I felt a weight lift at the words. I gave him a half-hearted wave as we left.
I made a mental note not to mention me being trans to any of the others for now. I wasn’t about to take any anti-trans bullshit from Allen on top of everything else. We got back to the dorm in short time. I noticed that Sage’s energy had diminished, replaced with a constant battle to keep their eyelids open. We walked into the living room and blinked at the sight before us.
“Welcome to the team!” Caroline yelled, grinning. She had some flour on her cheek as she held up a cake. Charlie also had the telltale signs of baking on her clothes.
“Oh gosh.” Sage mumbled, immediately blushing. I was somewhat aware of some heat in my cheeks as the others stared at us.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, trying not to visibly squirm and run away. Thankfully the promise of cake got the others over to the kitchen counter quickly and their focus away from us. I eyed the stairs and considered running but Caroline pushed a plate with cake on it into my hands before I could get a step. I glanced down at it. It was covered in a thick layer of what looked like white chocolate cream icing with raspberries sprinkled on top. It looked like a simple Victoria sponge with cream and jam filling.
“Good cake choice,” I said to Caroline.
“Come outside and meet everyone. We had a power show off yesterday evening which you unfortunately weren’t here for but I’m sure some of the others are happy to do it again,” she explained.
“Okay,” I replied.
I ate the cake as I walked; girl knew how to cook. It was already finished by the time we were outside. “Thanks for the cake,” I said. She blinked, a little surprised when she realized it was already gone. As Caroline said some people were happy to show off their abilities. I saw Sanjay watching quietly on the side lines and grabbed some wall next to him.
“Hey.” I said, waving awkwardly.
“Hi.” he said.
“I’m the person you’re stuck rooming with.” I added, following his line of sight around the pool.
“Okay.” he replied. I frowned, trying to decide if he was bad at social interaction or just that disinterested in the conversation.
“What are you?” I looked up at the sound of Allen’s voice and saw he was talking to the Itharii. I felt myself go cross-eyed, already guessing where this was heading.
“Be right back.” I said to Sanjay.
I walked over to the pair and gripped Allen on the shoulder, making him jump a little. “Allen, how about you go read up Itharii culture for a bit before expecting them to answer all your questions,” I suggested.
“Erm, right.” he said, confused. He was staring at my hand like it was going to infect him with some horrid disease. I let go and he rushed away back into the house quickly. The Itharii looked up at me looking bewildered by whatever had happened.
“Allen has already offended a couple of people today, I figured I’d prevent him adding to the track record,” I explained. “I’m Jaeger,” I added.
“Ah, Ahti,” the small creature replied, still a little confused I guessed. “I was hoping another of the new people might be another alien but I guess I meet more humans this way,” They said. I blinked at them, frowning.
“Erm, I’m not human technically speaking.” I said. Tempting as it was to pretend otherwise.
“You look pretty human to me,” Ahti replied, tilting their head to study me a little more.
“Most humans don’t have this sort of thing,” I said, motioning to my nose-leaf. I had no clue if anyone else was listening in but others seemed absorbed in their own conversations.
“Still looks human enough,” Ahti shrugged. I stared at the itharii for a moment before laughing a little.
“I’m a chimera,” I replied quietly.
“What’s a chimera?” Ahti asked in a much louder tone. I thought I heard nearby conversation hush and immediately felt far too self-conscious. I glanced around to see Charlie watching me.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
Here I was berating Allen for speaking without thinking and I went ahead and did the same thing myself. I excused myself and headed inside. Allen looked up at me as I walked in, eyes wide. He’d been standing right by the door of course.
“So, you really are a genefreak?” he asked.
It took all my self control not to hit him. I settled on the strongest glare I could muster, and based on his step back it had worked. I stormed past him and back to my room. I thought I could hear him awkwardly explain himself to the others but I didn’t care. I collapsed onto my bed and fell asleep quickly at least.