Fortunately, Mary’s former room mates hadn’t managed to rip the fridge out of the wall. Their destruction was limited to throwing ceramics on the floor. Not a lot has survived, but they had a stack of plastic plates meant for camping.
After eating, Lasha and her friends helped place all the furniture where it belonged and sweep up the debris under them. Aside from some holes in the wardrobe, it all looked pretty alright by the end of it.
At night, Lasha finally found a moment to discuss their plans with the others. They picked one of the now vacant rooms and sat on the bed left behind by the former owner.
“I can pull it out now, right?” Marvie asked and took the stolen goods out of her chest. Lasha had already taken a pair of scissors from the kitchen and removed the button. She wasn’t sure what to do with it next. They couldn’t just throw it in the trash, what if someone found it? Milala took it in her hand and crushed it to pieces. She dropped the fine dust in the bin. No one could tell what it once was.
Lasha proceeded to unpack the phone and SIM card, assembling it and turning it on. The battery was only at 20%, but she could plug it in here. Fortunately, the phone did not require much else from her to function. As the internet was deemed a human right that is to be provided to anyone for free, as long as they had a capable device, that wasn’t a hurdle either.
Marvie and Milala watched over her shoulder as she browsed news sites about the current political situation.
As Lasha vaguely remembered it to be, the leading party was still PEPRR. The Post-Earth Party for Responsible Rebuilding. Essentially, their goal was to return society to the scale and productiveness of Earth in its final days as fast as possible. They are criticized for being rather ruthless in that endeavor, though they are reigned in by partnering parties. They appear most concerned about the wellbeing of the corporations, particularly the megacorporations situated in Red City. That’s not exactly what she was hoping for but this government should not be threatened by other people living on this planet. The general public’s values skewed towards maximizing the people’s well-being above growth. All in all, Lasha was hopeful that revelation was the right way and would steer humanity into a better direction in the long run. That was according to her basic understanding of things at least. With this in mind, she remembered her other plan.
“Would you mind if we told the truth to Mary and Tommy tomorrow, to see how they’d react?”
“To extrapolate from that how society at large might react? Could be useful data.” Milala agreed.
“I trust them.” Marvie said. “What do we start with though? That there are gods? Xenobeings? Magic?”
“Maybe the xenobeing part? That’s the one we can prove.”
“If you don’t mind, I don’t usually stay up this late.” Milala got up and stretched her arms. “We’ve discussed everything for today, right?”
“You’re going to sleep then? Good night!” Lasha said. Milala yawned and left. Lasha browsed through some more articles. She laid down with Marvie at her side. The bed just barely held the two of them.
Marvie spoke in a hushed tone: “You know, when we began, I was worried you were slipping into another depressed state. I’m glad it turned around once we started planning our electronics store heist. It’s been a fun day.”
“You said ‘another’. So you’ve started expecting these too?”
“They’ve come and gone, the past five years. Don’t think I’m disappointed in you when they happen or something though. I love you no matter what. It’s just that you enjoy yourself much better when you’re not… you know.”
“I always thought trauma is something you’re getting over simply by surviving past it. Lately I’ve been feeling like I made no progress at all though. Every time I get sad, I get worried that it might not go away for months.”
“It’s tough isn’t it? I also feel like I’m not doing it right. I feel like it’s less like a progress bar from left to right and more like a labyrinth with a bunch of dead ends and for some there is a map and others may just have to brute force it.”
Lasha shut down the phone for the time being, letting the darkness engulf them. Sometimes she missed the time she could not see in the dark.
“I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it. I think I’m a girl, like you. I know human genders have their complications too, but those of my kind have just all been ruined to me. Being a girl is the one I don’t feel bad about at all.”
“That sounds good. You’ve figured it out then?”
“I thought so but that didn’t shut off all those lingering feelings. When you called me Denise… that still sparked some odd feelings in me.”
“How do you mean?”
“Denisi is something I wouldn’t have been described with at home. I never really wanted to either, but it was still… strange to have that attached to me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that word, it really was just a random name.”
“I thought so. It wasn’t hurtful, just weird. Like, if I had to put myself in a box to make it easier for one of my kind to understand, that’s a word I might use. Or rather, if someone else was to describe me to another. It’d be a really dumb way to put it, but that’s the language some may use.”
“So if a Shandari called you Denisi, they’d at least understand you a bit better than most others. After so many years, your brain is still looking for these small validations. Does that describe it?”
“Yeah? I mean, they’d probably say I’m a Terahl instead, that’d make more sense to say. Just a huge mess, all that.” Marvie sighed. “Even though I found a gender that encompasses all that I want to be, at least to me, I’m still looking for those. I suppose that’s just something to unlearn over the years.”
“It’s a bit sad you’ve been pushed away from your own culture like that.”
“There’ll be enough Shandari left to carry it. When Shandari travel to this world, the lineage of time does not run parallel to this world’s. Meaning, there are Shandari that came here years before me, but lived on a Shandae decades in the future from when I was there. Apparently it did get better. Or will get better. I don’t need to carry it there.”
“I like that. Knowing that hope for the future is not misplaced.”
“Your future will be better too.”
“Will you stay here for the night?”
“I’m afraid not. I need space to roll around into sleep. I don’t want to toss you out five times throughout the night.”
Lasha appreciated the sentiment but she didn’t feel too hopeful for the prospect of sleep either way.
“I’ll see if Milala hasn’t left me with the shittiest room. See you tomorrow.”
“Sleep well, Marvie.” Lasha watched her blindly stumble out the door. Then she tried her best to force herself to sleep anyway, but couldn’t find rest. She started the phone again. She finally had access to the internet again and there was still so much to learn. After meeting Mary again, there was only one thing that kept her awake though.
She went onto the social media platform Oasis, careful not to log herself in. Not that she remembered her password anyway. She didn’t want to see her own profile, if it was even still there. Instead, she looked up her old friend Julia. Her neighbor in school. Her profile was still up and running. Most of her pictures were drawings. She’s gotten so much better in the past five years. Then one photograph of her with some other girl, presumably in her garden, laughing and making silly faces. She had moved on. Lasha wasn’t sure if she was elated or not. They were just seat neighbors, friends by circumstance. Ultimately, Lasha was happy she did not ruin her friend’s life by dying.
In a glance, she saw that her old profile was still in her friendlist. She really didn’t want to see what messages had been posted on her profile. She’d be better off just making a new one. Some other profiles she recognized as classmates but only a small number. Julia’s friend list was rather small overall, compared to what it used to be. Maybe all the others just left the platform but Lasha took it as a sign that she wasn’t just a classmate to her. For a while, Lasha just stared at drawings she’s already seen, that one photo. At two in the morning, she finally found the strength to turn off the phone and go to sleep.