“Dr. Agostino,” the trans in the suit queried, “how can you justify the amount of currency you are requesting for this project? It’s quite exorbitant!” (Paper money was almost obsolete in 2043. The currency had morphed into something akin to bitcoin and all exchanged electronically. Naturally, as always occurs in any society, there was a black market, so anyone who had any paper money used it the same way that bitcoin was used in the early part of the 21st century.) 

 The trans was born as a biological girl, then groomed hermaphroditically as was the custom in the 2020s with children who were ambiguous about their gender identity. Ultimately, ze decided upon ‘being’ a man, most of the time, especially today. Ze felt powerful and authoritative, donning a fuschia suit and matching fedora. Zis job depended upon how many scientists or people scratching for currency ze could turn away. Ze’d heard all sorts of stories over the years; people coming up with the most absurd inventions and ideas. Admittedly, Dr. Agostino’s proposal was being seriously considered, but she would have to justify it to the entire panel of board members. And truthfully, ze loved making her squirm.                       

Dr. Barb Agostino addressed the board. “Sirs, Madams, and Zes (a pronoun assigned to anyone with gender other than male or female. The population had used ‘they’ for a while, but it was too confusing because the word had been used as a plural for so many years).  I have brought all of my research. It is here in this attaché, including all the numbers and calculations for currency. What every penny will be used for. How every cent will be appropriated.”

“Well, Dr., I see you have done your homework. Most commendable. We will take it under consideration and get back to you,” the trans replied with an air of supremacy, waving zis hand to dismiss her. Laws were in place for gender equality, so almost every corporation now employed at least a few trans people, lest they risk fines. Affirmative action had returned in force.

Dr. Barb Agostino knew that she had to remain stoic and professional or she had no chance of being funded, even if her research was impeccable, but what she wanted to do was jump across the table and grab that trans by the throat and pop zis head off zis neck. She was well aware that there were probably hundreds of other scientists and inventors her drooling for the currency of the Space Station Corporation. Instead, she politely thanked them for their time, shook each of their right hands, put her research on the table, and left. The information was too delicate to be part of the web, so she gave them a time-activated chip that would stay readable only for a pre-determined time. The chip was of the highest caliber with top-notch security and could not be replicated. While she had a patent-pending, she knew that was only a false security. 

This was not Barb’s first rodeo; she was tired and frustrated by the system. Tired of having to knock on doors when her work should have been fought over by 5 companies. 

Carlyle, Barb’s trans-friend (who sometimes acted and dressed like a woman, sometimes like a man, and occasionally like a gender-neutral human with no overarching characteristics) was waiting outside in the hover car. Today, she was Carly, draped in flowing, chiffon robes, layered in a medley of translucent colors. “Darling, how did it go?” Carly fawned over Barb like a mother. 

“I really wish you would have come as Carlyle,” Barb barked at her. “I’m really not in the mood for your obsequiousness.”

Carly, visibly wounded, retorted snarkily. “You don’t have to be such a bitch, Girlfriend. I didn’t have to come all this way to get you. I could have let you take public transport.”

Barb quickly apologized, but it didn’t sound like much of one. “Sorry, Babe. It’s just that sometimes I need the feel of a man’s arms around me and my head against his chest. The protector. Old habits die hard.”

“I wasn’t in that mood today. And really, Barb, what load of crap. I’m sorry, perhaps I should just go. Sounds to me like you need to find a bar somewhere and just wallow in your shit. I’m going home.”

Barb retracted her previous comments. “I’m sorry. I’m an ass. I just don’t want a girlfriend right now. I think you’re right, I want a drink, but I want you to come with me. Let’s go to that little bistro around the corner that we liked so much. Remember?”

Carly softened. “I do, heart of my heart. I also remember what happened afterwards,” whereupon she slapped Barb’s ass, grabbed it and held on tight.  

Barb snapped, pulling away from Carly’s grip. “What the hell are you doing, Carlyle? Are you fucking kidding? I’m still in plain view of the building. Any member of the board could be coming down the steps right now! I can’t have you slapping my ass!” I’m a professional.”

“You care more about your goddamned project than me, anyway. Go ahead. Play your little game. Embarrassed to be with a trans. That’s it. Just admit it. You’re such a fucking phony, Doc-tor A-gos-ti-no,” Carly drew out Barb’s name acerbically to mock her. “Stop living a lie, Barb.”

“I put food on your table, Bitch! Don’t you mock me. I don’t even know why I bother talking to you. I don’t need this crap from you! I’m going to that bistro and I’ll find my own way home. Don’t wait up.”

Carly fumed. “Don’t wait up? I might not be there when you return.     I might just pack my bags and go. I know when I’m not wanted.’

Barb reconsidered her attitude, but she was too pissed off at the board, at Carly, and at the world in general at the moment to care. And Carly was right; she couldn’t have the board know she was living with a trans. Even with the progress transgenders had made in the world, there were still plenty of conservatives who could not accept them, similar to the way gay men and women were ostracized for so many years. 

“Carly, I just can’t take this anymore. Maybe you should just pack your bags. You’re right. This project is everything to me. It’s my life’s work and if you can’t handle that, then perhaps we’re done.” She didn’t want to find out the results of her tirade so she turned on her heels and stormed off.  It seemed like they were always on the verge of separation, but maybe that tension was what kept the relationship alive.  When Barb was angry, then she could avoid the emotional turmoil and avoid dealing, yet again, with the seemingly constant threat of separation. It was exhausting, and just when she thought she was done, Carlyle would do something adorable, or endearing, and so, ze made it easier to stay. Barb decided she would get drunk and then she’d deal with all of it the next day. 

A holographic advertisement hovered  perpetually above the lawn in the park that Barb crossed en route to the bistro. An old man and woman stood in front of several cars, the kind that were still powered by gasoline. “Come to the Classic Car show this Saturday. Cars in incredible condition. Feel free to sit in them, or even take them for a test drive with a licensed driver. Transport yourself back in time to the turn of the century.” 

“I wonder where they get the gasoline for those things? Do they still have gas stations anywhere?” Barb pondered as she stepped over rocks and flowers, taking a short cut to the bistro. She didn’t drink often because she had to keep a clear head for her research most of the time, but every now and then she really enjoyed going on a bender. 

The bistro was a nostalgic throwback from the early oughts. There were photos of deceased or retired celebrities and politicians – the Bush family, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowlings and the like. Music drifted through the air – tunes like Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Happy by Pharrell Williams. Barb headed straight for the bar. Humans actually tended the bar from start to finish, unlike the modern fashion of ordering from a holographic menu. In contemporary bars,  the drinks would often be delivered via conveyor belt, or by robots who did nothing more than hand you the drink and say some arbitrarily programmed pleasantry, but here they were served by real humans. Barb preferred the old-fashioned establishments whenever possible.

“What’ll you have, Beautiful?” the bartender inquired as he leaned over the bar. 

“Been a while since someone called me Beautiful,” Barb lamented, lapping up the compliment like a hungry dog. “Bitch, Ma’am, Doctor, but not beautiful.” She flirted shamelessly with the bartender, a strong-jawed Irish stud with tattoos on his muscular arms.

“I find that hard to believe. Tell you what, the first drink’s on me. What’ll it be?”

“I can’t turn down an offer like that. Give me a Cosmopolitan and a side of garlic fries on the side.”

Braxton returned from his fifth trip to the inner dimension. The first few trips didn’t really make any sense to him since he had no frame of reference. Initially he thought he was seeing angels and faeries – all sort of winged creatures, but eventually realized that he couldn’t really wrap his mind around his experiences. Lyle brought some sandwiches and drinks for the two of them to consume because Braxton always got ravenously hungry after his expeditions. 

“So,” Lyle mumbled as he chomped a huge bite of food. “what did you learn this time?”

Braxton couldn’t even speak until he had consumed half his sandwich. “Well, this is really hard to believe, but then again, nothing surprises me anymore. But…” he stopped to eat another few bites. “I’m able to communicate with these…what shall I call them? Consciousnesses?” And the weird thing is, they feel very familiar. Almost like a deja vu sort of thing.” 

Lyle swigged his foamy coffee, which left a moustache of froth on his upper lip. “Sentient beings? Entities? Angels?”

“No,” Braxton fumbled for the right words. “”Okay, maybe. I don’t know. I’m not really seeing anything, but I am. It’s really hard to explain.”

“Try,” Lyle pleaded.

Braxton continued, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “”Okay, what’s hard to believe is what this…whatever it is, told me. I’m calling him Gabon. At least that’s what I sensed was his name.

“How do you know it’s a him?”

Braxton was getting a bit frustrated with the questions. His patience was short ordinarily and he just wanted to talk without inquiry. “Lyle, I need you to shut up for a few minutes and let me talk,” he snapped rather curtly. “Make sure the recording device is on and we can insert questions later.”

“Well, excuse me. You’re not really telling me much of anything here.”

Braxton backed down a bit. “Sorry, man, but when I return I’m a bit too frazzled  for the inquisition. Just let me ramble. I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts together and the interruptions are throwing me off.”

“Okay,” Lyle agreed. “I understand.”

“Thanks, Man. Anyway, here’s what Gabon conveyed to me. That there are all these new entities sort of floating around in his world, so-to-speak, his dimension, and he’s not sure where they’re coming from. He said – if you could actually call it speaking, or rather, he communicated to me – that very few humans have been able to interface with his world in the past. Only psychics, some meditators, some sorcerers and some adepts, but now, there are all these human-like  and animal-like creatures that are sort of floating about. And here’s the thing, Lyle, the way he described them, they sounded like avatars.”

“Avatars?” Lyle thought he could sneak in a question, especially since Braxton mentioned his name.

“Yeah, like from video games, or an internet mind meld.                                I mean…what?”

“Holy crap!” Lyle exclaimed. “I have a feeling I might know what’s going on here. The frequencies we used to make the final connections! Those are the same frequencies that are used in the games.”

“What? How do you know?”

I thought I told you that I was working on those matrix projects back in the 2020’s,” Lyle said.

“What?” Braxton was perturbed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Lyle retorted, “Braxton, get a grip. How could we possibly know what the implications of these frequencies would be?”

Braxton calmed down a bit, realizing the absurdity of his assertions.    “I don’t know what I was thinking. This is just all so overwhelming. Maybe I’m just making assumptions. It’s so hard to interpret my experiences, really. I wish we could actually see, visually, what was happening, or had a better way of recording all this. I feel like I’m in a lucid dream.”

“Right now?” Lyle asked, “or when you’re in the other dimension?”

“Both, I think.”

Later that evening, Barb staggered into her Smart home. The house sensed that she was inebriated so it took care of her like a good servant.

“Hello, Dr. Agostino. I’ve set the temperature for you so you’ll be nice and cool. And I’ve drawn the blinds because morning light would not be a good idea in your condition. You should sleep in and drink plenty of water.”

When Barb was intoxicated, she had no use for patronizing computers. “Cut the crap, Raja. What’s with the Dr. Agostino? You know my name is Barb.”

The computer was smart, but couldn’t have a theoretical conversation yet. “I’m sorry, Barb. I do not know why I called you Dr. Agostino. I will refer to you as Barb. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes, there is, but unfortunately, you don’t have any arms and legs, or I’d make you get me the damned water. I’m a bit too snockered to find my way to anything but my bed.” And with that she fell onto her bed, clothes and all. “Where the hell is Carlyle? Carlyle? Carly? Where the hell are you? Could you get me some water? I’m sorry about earlier! I’m way too tired to get water! Shit.”

Barb pushed herself off the bed and found her way to the kitchen. As she walked, the lights came on dimly. The starkness of most modern kitchens made Barb uncomfortable, so she had hers redesigned to emulate a kitchen from the 1950’s. It was all the rage amongst people who could afford it. Antiquing. Barb loved antiquing in the quaint shops by the bay.

She spoke to Frigid; having named all her appliances. “Frigid, water. Pronto. Tepid. 10 ounces. With a splash of raspberry.” A glass of water appeared in the opening, she downed it, and had Frigid pour her another. “This water is gonna make me pee. Then I’ll have to get up again. Carlyle! Where are you?”

 That’s when she saw the note attached to the frig. 

It read, “Dear Barbara, this is not working out. I think you know that. I realize it’s difficult to live with a trans, never knowing who or what I’m going to be from one day to the next. But somehow, I thought that would make things fun. I guess it was too much for you. I always thought that you’d be the one to leave me. I’m just tired. Tired of the constant fighting. You know this is the right thing for both of us. Thank you for letting me live in your home, eat your food, and for all the other things you’ve ever bought me or done for me. Some day, perhaps, we can be friends. For now, I bid you adieu. With love, your favorite trans, Carlyle.”

Luckily, Barb was too drunk to be in much shock. She knew it would come to this eventually. She was just hoping she wasn’t the one who had to end it; she hated the endings. “Good, ze’s gone. Now it doesn’t have to get messy. I hate the messy parts. It is done.” 

 Barb was good at compartmentalizing. She was good at dividing her emotions into categories; tucking them away if needed, pulling them out at other, more convenient times. Barb likened herself to a female version of James Bond, the classic spy character who movies were still being made about in 2043. She could maintain a stiff resolve, caring, but not caring – detached. It was easier that way; much less chance of getting hurt. As Scarlett O’Hara once said in the classic film “Gone with the Wind”, Barb remarked to no-one in particular, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

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