A new path – Episode 5

(I was sick fairly bad this week so I am even more latent with this episode, pardon the delay.  I am still not out from “under the weather”, but better now.  However, I intent to keep the Tuesday Schedule where possible.  At least this week you won’t have to wait as long.  Without further adieu.)

So with a simple gesture, and an understanding beyond my comprehension at the time, it was decided.  The “Buddhist Temple” I was in had been long since converted to a masque.  Ed, and Danielle no longer had the capacity to do more for me, other than leave me in their care.  I’d been marked as a reminder that the church disapproved of my very existence.  The social control rendered me a “fringe minority”, as there weren’t even any remaining living trans* people within my temple, through they existed else where, and in the isolated state of Iceland.  Apparently I wasn’t alone.  Homosexuals, transsexuals, people who refused to convert from other faiths, atheists, those with powers who remembered too much making them difficult to indoctrinate, those with little power, and many, many others became exiles of the state, marked for death and persecution.  Most of the former US, and Europe belonged to the now wealthy reformation of the Catholic Church also known as (Diocese of the Zion), and they ruled with an ambiguously iron hand.

Face Tattoo

This is what my tattoo, my brand looked like… All transgender people discovered by the church were branded by the church with this mark.  It was about 1 inch tall, and it was centered just under the outer corner of my left eye.

They would commit atrocities against minorities, all the while doing far-reaching humanitarian works in the world that no one else had the revenue to manage.  Loved if you’re with them, hated if you aren’t.  I guess a 120 some odd years and a cataclysm can’t change the church’s morally ambiguous reasoning.  Anyone who represented something unwanted or threatening in their eyes was branded an “Abomination”.  Their way of controlling the populace.  They wouldn’t kill you, but they wouldn’t save you, and you were left to “The judgement of God” or commonly known as The Iustitia Deus Law .  They created a culturally policed, state imposed theocratic justice system to control the “unwanted masses”, in exchange for even greater power than ever existed before for a few at the top, and kept the rest in squalor and poverty.  It was anything but just.  Did I mention, even if you removed your flesh down to the bone you’d be unable to remove your mark.  The use of special materials made it permanent and impossible to cover.  It was white in sunlight and a dim green in darkness.  A new age Scarlett Letter for a new age religious empire.  History does seem to repeat itself.  Marks were specific to the exiled sin, though not in traditional languages.  More of an obscure system of symbology created by a former Pontiff in his “Godly” study of sin.

The only way for me to live, and have a chance was to be taken in by those of this nominal, moderate Islamic sect in the rebuilt New York sector, called New Zion by the church because of its high level of “breach incidents” being near a large impact.  Muslims also claimed that it was a city promised to them by Allah, and named it “Neo Mecca”.  Getting caught it the wrong side of the city using the wrong name of it was a quick path to brutal martyrdom.  Their numbers weren’t large, but they hand in their ranks the largest body of healers of any other organization.  As a result, there was little to more than an uneasy peace between this sect and the church.  They were even hated by other Muslim sects..  They’d offer healers, and speak against acts of terror, and the church would tolerate their existence.  Danielle need only ask me to use my power, and they accepted me as if I was one of their own.  It wasn’t without tension.  My guardian, Mahala gave me the name Aaina, in light of my character.  I still don’t understand why.  The masque constituted a sizable number of forcibly converted Buddhists.  The temple itself was a replica of a famous temple in Tibet, and according to Mahala, the world was forcibly transformed, so prior to conversion the leaders of this temple decided that whatever happened they’d do what it took to stay together as a family.  Thus why they converted…  It was apparently their “way” to move with the flow of the world, and do their best to help those along the way through it.  It was also why they had so many healers when it came down to it.  Many of their contingent were previously occupants of the temple, and exited breach in the library in the basement.  The monks would keep their tempest sufferers there, and as a consequence of metals in the structure a sizable number of their tempests were either members, or refugees who couldn’t afford standard medical care at the time.  The building contained their “breach spaces” well enough that none of them left the building.    So they trained me how to heal, how to control my flames to heal nearly any wound.  However, it became apparent to them on the third day that I didn’t need “improvement” as much as I needed something to uplift my spirit, and support the enormous drain my power placed on my physiology.

It was my third day in the temple.  I’d just eaten, which consisted of something similar to baba ganoush and tabbouleh, it happened.  A splinter group of “The Church” attacked our pacifist masque.  A young man with murderous eyes showed himself at the door one morning, and then detonated an improvised device after screaming something to the effect of “Jesus is my lord and savior, my life is in sacrifice of his glory.  I shall help maintain the peace his glory promised”.  3 men had limbs blow off.  2 others were instantly killed.  Blood, and charred remains scattered about the mud sculpted walls of the entrance.   Somehow, I’d managed to either escape unscathed, or to heal my own injuries so fast I wasn’t able to notice a thing.  My clothes were a little worse for the wear as a result, so I know the blast hit me, but I didn’t have any wounds. The three men laid bleeding to death at the entrance, and I walked up to them.  Without even a second thought, as though I sensed their pain I reached out with my hands and eased it.   Pulling the severed limbs into a pile with my power, I ignited my infamous green flames and reattached limbs and organs.  I felt as though I was dreaming.  Right after watching people severed into bits with shrapnel so fast that my eyes couldn’t track it, it was unreal watching them “reassemble” under the force of my power.  Doing the same to the dead and reanimating them, then on to the other 6 who just can minor scraps and bruises, I started to feel faint.  The shock of the moment was starting to take its toll on me, as well as the shock of using so much energy.  I toppled to my side, and worked to recollect myself and look to see if anything else could be done.

Only one man wasn’t revived by my power.  There wasn’t enough left of him to resuscitate.  The bomber.  After having seen my power and the feat that afterwards followed many where astounded, and our leaders instantly knew where I was needed.  The men needed transfusions, as I had no idea how to regenerate blood cells yet.  They accepted me with no reservations, especially considering their position was fortified in my addition.  Additionally, my act instantaneously gave me my first Blue Cards.  The men I’d revived, the men and women I’d healed and stunned onlookers began reaching into specialized pouches and tossing down blue cards at my feet.  With so many healed and so many witnesses, the pile was a deck large enough to play cards with (if they had face values on them).  I wasn’t yet aware of this “system of justice”.  But according to rather common law, people who showed mercy, or healed the dead or dying, or saved those who were living were given “blue cards”.  Blue cards were “the currency of the exiled”, as pretty much any black market dealings required payment in them.   They were a form of official currency under Iustitia Deus, that could be exchanged for Lira (the old Vatican Currency).  Most everyone was required to carry “Blue Cards” issued from the state for instance the may see an act of bravery, mercy or kindness.  However, blue cards only counted as currency for Exiles, and as a result the exchange rate on them tending to be rather meager.  However, there was a more bloody form of exchange…

Red Cards.  Depending on a Pontiff decree the rate would vary.  On average 1 Red card was worth 4 blue.  Blue cards were issued based on station within the church, which all persons had even if they had another profession, excluding exiles who had to earn them.  The Pope himself was also exempt, but the next in line was not, and could get as many as 1000 blue cards a month, depending on duties.  A person could make money from red cards by carding Exiles for what basically equated to a duel.  Depending on the outcomes of the fight a person could be paid Lira for defeating and killing an exile.  The opponent red carder didn’t need show mercy, but the red cardee was forbidden from killing his carder.  Violation meant death via methods far more brutal than duel.  The vast gulf of wealth made evening duels a profitable business and help promote the creation of thousands of local arenas, and several larger district and national level arenas, a blend of professional fighting and something akin to legal ultimate fighting gambling matches.  Something reminiscent of the gladiatorial arenas of Ancient Rome.  However, there was one way to protect oneself from this system… Exiles could blue card a red card attempt claiming the card in the exchange, and giving the red carder the blue card in exchange.  No duel was permitted when this happened, and they could only red card once per day, but theoretically anyone else could still red card you.

However, being aware that an exile had blue cards meant spending their available reds, which depending on standing was price to pay.  Monetary value of red cards valued based on class, and amount you could afford to sanction an arena for.  Exiles could trade red cards, for somewhat less currency than blue cards.  Also the profitability of duels kept violence outside of the exile zones (Zones made uninhabitable, or undesirable to live for the non-exile) to a minimum.  It was a waste of money to just outright murder exiles.  The whole system made me shutter, shook me inside in ways I didn’t know existed.  But card system was the core component of Iustitia Deus, that kept exiles in check, and keep lower classes preoccupied.  Gambling was limited, and paid out in cards and lira, as it was illegal outside of arena duels.  Street duels were illegal due the potential for the exile to be a tempest, and a lack of containment zones outside arenas.

Within the sect I now belonged to I didn’t have much trouble from being trans* as my mark meant little to them, and the Hadiths most of the groups I encountered recognized was somewhat helpful to my survival.   The issue of my sexuality never really came up, and I didn’t dare broach the issue.  I was seen as a mukhannis, and since my gender wasn’t for “personal gain” and just a part of my nature there was no conflict. Additionally, since I was surgically altered already there was no debate about me living in a female gender role and obtaining medical treatment when I was physically developed enough.  The heavy, all-covering nature of the clothing was more than uncomfortable, but I came to recognize them as my “safety net”.  I can occasionally do things outside of the temple with my entire face (except the eyes) covered without fear of getting carded.  Mahala helped me adjust to this lifestyle as much as possible, and in the temples very Buddhist nature she helped me adapt better than could be expected otherwise.  As I came to learn with time, this temple was far more than “meets the eye”.  When Mahala would occasionally bath me, she would educate me on what had happened while I was in breach (or the state of temporal stasis brought about by the meteor).  She told me about cards, and helped me more than I can ever thank her for.  But our interactions were limited.  I saw her maybe once a month once I was on duty as a healer.  She was forbidden to educate me, however, she was a Buddhist at heart and part of a temple that was largely lenient about educating females.

I was still required to wear traditional clothing outside my room, but I could walk freely and without face coverings..  She told me once, “I sense inordinate potential in you, a potential that will inspire hope in some, and fear in others”  I sincerely doubted that.   As an atheist I’d learned a certain kind of skepticism that wasn’t easily entertained in those sorts of monologues.  However, I’d frequently seen surprise in the faces of men skilled in work that dealt with people like myself.  People to whom what I was would be seen as “normal business” give gawking, astonished, or dumbfounded faces.  To see surprise in those faces meant that something about who and what I was contradicted something they’d understood in their world view.  Mind you, as a skeptic, I’d come to recognize something familiar in that behavior among the religious.  Days, months, and years passed as if I was still in stasis.  As if I was waiting for something greater.  I can’t say the years were kind, however, my talents meant that the sect which protected me would be unlikely to betray me.  My power at least spoke for my value, though it left me rather defenseless for the most part, or equated to something that spared me a worse fate than I’d already been handed.  My power was so much so that by the end of my first year there I had my first deck (99 cards which is all that could fit into the special pouches)

8 years later…

I’d been a servant of this temple so long that I’d become immune to the effects of blood shed, well as much as an empathic human beings can be a still be “an empathic human”.  At first I’d pass out at the sight of blood, but I’d become desensitized to seeing it as most of the people I healed were in bad shape.  There were still days that it got to me, and it would usually hit all at once.  I’d leave duty for the night, and walk to my room, but the time I got there I was running… I’d run in and puke in the basin, and collapse to the floor and cry.  Then the next day I’d return to work as though nothing had happened.  I longed for sick days, the days I’d overused my power so that I didn’t have to live that day in day out.  However, as I got more powerful that became more sparing as I could heal nearly a hundred without stopping.  I didn’t rebel because I wanted to, the whole affair unnerved me more often than I’ll admit.  We went on expeditions for a few weeks at a time with the catholic church, but for the most part we dealt with casualties from arena battles, and skirmishes between forces trying to claim tempests.  I was forced to work at the clinic full-time at the age (physically 12), as before that my body used up too much energy to do more than a few hours at a time.  I saw hundreds if not thousands of people come in near, or just beyond death.  I brought 90 – 97% of them back from the brink, literally giving me the highest rank among the healers across the world.  I used to tremble in front of our sects leaders.  They were nothing like the pacifistic people who’d taken me in, however, given my power, and their needs my occasional insolence, and rebelliousness was tolerated so long as a visiting sheik wasn’t there.  And by “tolerance” I mean that they wouldn’t stone me to death, and most of the punishments didn’t involve pain.  Sometimes my punishment was worse than any pain I’d previously experienced, and they’d cost me a half a deck of blues (blue cards), and usually only when my benign disobedience was discovered by said “Sheiks”.  Beatings were very seldom though, and my power granted me reprieve on many occasions.  I can’t tell you how many times my “individuality” branded me as “variant” among them.

However, I was more valuable alive.  So they’d only scar and maim me, knowing my power could heal the wounds in an instance.  Psychologically, well that is different.  To be honest, with an unrecognizable world around me, I couldn’t be totally sure I was the same person anymore.  What I did know was this… My power was both envied and revered.  Most days were… Well… Monotonous.  Little happened. I woke, treated the wounded, ate lunch, treated the wounded, occasionally had pilgrimages with Mahala, and cured the wounded had dinner and slept.  A few late night emergencies requiring my power happened.

This world made life hard.  I’d since breach remember more things about my life before… Remembered my wife, my family… I remember my mom, but even though I know I saw her after college I can’t remember when, where, or what happened.  My life full of fragments and pain of loss.  Everything I knew gone, as far as I knew.  I only hoped that she’d been in breach and I’d meet her again… Perhaps I had and I didn’t know it.  That pained me more than anything.  Colonel Rolland snaps his fingers in my face to get my attention.  I’d been spacing out a lot lately since I was entering the military now.  I look down, trying hard as I can to remember how to sign in my old name, a requirement to serve is the Zion Army.  I’d been going by Aaina for so long that I’d forgotten how to sign my original name, and we weren’t allowed to have pens, or journals, or diaries in the temple.  Mahala, along with a now noticeably older Eduardo, had recruited me to attend The Citadel, the military high school/college for military officers.  It offered the easiest way to get blue cards, and avoid being in a position of living in fear of red carding.  Once you graduated you could get blue cards like non-exiles, though you couldn’t red card anyone.  And as you ranked up the number of people who could red card you got smaller and smaller.  Ed told me in the way that he always did, “This is the best thing for you, menina”.   Danielle and Ed visited me a few times over the years, but I saw them very seldom.  I’d cry my eyes out like a baby every time they’d leave me.  Mahala, was a smart and strong woman, but she wasn’t there to be my friend.  I never bonded in the way with her as I did with Danielle.  It would be safe to say she was more like a stern parent than a friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful, but the relationship seldom contained the kind of love I longed for.  Contact was limited and infrequent.

From behind me I hear the voice of my advocate, appointed by the temple, “Col. Rolland, here is the document you requested.”

He groans and looks up at her, thoroughly displeased, “Captain Fitzgerald, I see the authorization.  You can have a seat now”.
It was pretty clear to me that this man didn’t like me, and was highly abject to me joining his, “Prestigious Academy”.  I’d have enough money to gorge myself into a sugar coma from the vending machine if I had a Lira for every time it mentioned that or, “This doesn’t give me a clue to ‘this’ person’s qualification”, “The medical corp already has a fine contingent of healers”, et cetera ad nauseam.  He used all the excuses he could in the book to try to keep me from signing that bottom line I was still spacing out on.  This was the 3rd day in a row now.  However, the letter from my advocate was the straw that broke the camels back, or in this case, it was the one letter he couldn’t refuse.  Somehow, Eduardo had pulled some strings on urging from Danielle to get me a letter from a bishop, and documentation about the quota, and recent shortfall in healers.  The only way to get those letters is to finagle a bishop who is moderate in the church, but not so much as to be lower than bishop in rank.  You also needed to be so exemplary in your ability that there was no doubt that you were an asset.  All of those things are extremely difficult, as bishops like that are ridiculously rare.  My advocate tipped Eduardo off though.  She didn’t really care for me one way or another, she always looked at capacity in a pragmatic way.  I was a no-brainer.  Plus, she really despised her misogynistic asshole of a superior.  This school was… Odd, to say the least.  The uniforms were kind of like modern military mixed with Gothic outfits.  The students were wearing Gothic outfits as well, much like the one I remember wearing once all those years ago, only designed for teens with more matured bodies.  They were cute, sleek, and functional.  The skirts were shorter for combat usage, but had proper accoutrements to prevent too much skin from showing.  Knee high boots, and thigh high socks with a “Combat Gothic” look to them.  There was a number of uniform combinations for different environments, and they seemed to be walking a line between form and function I’d never seen before.  But considering the skills of tempests the uniforms didn’t act to hinder them in really.  Of course, being damn near superhuman does that.

As only a candidate staying on campus, I am required to wear a red/maroon version of the school uniform jacket.  I’d been there for a month trying to get enrolled and getting stone-walled, and lucked out by getting the one advocate who’d take my case seriously.  It’d been costly to stay there for that long, but I had a dresser worth of blue cards.  I’d gone through 10 decks since my arrival and hadn’t even scratched it, however, it would be unlikely that I’d be able to get that up indefinitely without military pay coming in, and my housing and food covered by the academy.  I was on the verge of giving up, this place was wearing on me.  I’d been red carded 35 times this week, as there was no limit so long as I wasn’t a student.  If another week were to pass I’d just return to the temple and give up.  I’d passed all the tests, and all the stupid hoops and hurdles they put me through, most of which a non-exile/citizen doesn’t have to deal with.  This man was the last of them.

He flares his nostrils and juts his lower jaw out a little and then retracts it with a teeth grinding sound, “Here”, he bangs a blue stamp down on the paper with his name, rank and POC data on it (Point of Contact).  He tosses the paper at my face like a Frisbee making it biff off my glasses.  I can see out of my peripheral vision the most epic grimace on his face and it just fills me with joy so much that I just don’t give a fuck.  I lean back, placing the paper firmly and courteously on the desk, and place the pen gently back into his cup.  I slide back against the back of my seat and do my best to contain my joy, but I can’t.  He twitches his eye at me when he sees I can’t contain my happiness.  My advocate stands up and pulls the plastic up off a black version, the official cadet version of my uniform.  “Stand up and turn that way” she says and I turn and have her help me out of my maroon jacket.  She slides the chilled fabric of the much more comfortable black jacket up my arms.  Turning back to her she whips my maroon tie table from my neck while I button the buckles of my jacket under my breasts.  She hands me the black tie tab, and I put it under my collar, and fasten the hook and pile fastener in the front.  Upon readjusting my collar I drop my arm and raise it again to salute the Colonel.

He points his hand to the door like a karate chop, “Go to the dorm office with Capt. Fitzgerald and get yourself squared away.  You’ll be inspected first thing in the morning.  Now, get out of my office.  Dismissed”.  On my way out of the office I get stares from some of the clerks who see my tattoo, or saw me go in before hand.  All I can do is rub my ensign cadet emblem on my collar and smile.

The captain leans into me a bit as we leave the commandants office, “Off the record… I really like making that asshole squirm.”  She leans back into a chuckle upon telling me that, but doesn’t stop walking.  There was so many officers and higher ranking cadets coming out of the doors, I thought my arm may fall off from saluting.  But I didn’t care, I’d accomplished what it was I wanted to do.  But the biggest challenge was yet to begin, but luckily other than my blue cards I didn’t have much to move.  The air felt fresh, and invigorated, and for once in the past 9 years of my life, I felt just a little bit more free of the things that once bound me.  It was weird thinking about how psychologically I was 41, physiologically 16, and chronologically 160.  That feeling of surrealism flowed over my skin again, and I breathed in the brisk air of this sunset.  This place was like a city within a fortress, and was so massive that it made me just a little bit awestruck.

I had no idea what challenges were in store, but I was finally on a path that allowed me to control my own destiny.  The challenges of tomorrow would come and go, but nothing could take this moment from me.  No one dared red card me today, I looked like I could conquer the world.  The simple pleasures were always what kept me going.  The wind blew against my face, and people look at me as though I was the strangest thing they’d seen.  No one foresaw someone like me joining their ranks.  Not the first, but most certainly like an alien among them.