Video Game Feels

So, it’s time for a fun post. Taking a break from the pain, outrage, and all that. I’m going to unpack some feelings I’ve got about a character from a video game. No, not those kinds of feelings. See, a while back, there was a Twitter list-meme floating around that asked for specific opinions from a list of thirty numbered items. Early in the list, one of the entries was something to the effect of ‘A character from a video game that you idenitify with, or wish you were more like’. My mind flipped through a variety of options before landing on a characater from my favorite game of all time — Squaresoft’s 1995 RPG, Chrono Trigger.

Specifically, I chose princess Nadia of Guardia, perhaps better known as Marle — the fake name she presents to hide her royal heritage from the game’s primary protagonist, Crono. She’s one of only two playable characters in Chrono Trigger who uses a false name as a means of deception; the other is the wizard Janus, who’s framed as a villain under the moniker Magus. There’s probably some symbolic takeaway in the deception about her true identity when she first enters the story, but while it’s probably a piece of it, there’s a lot of other factors that go into it.

First and foremost, there’s Nadia’s role in the party. While she’s not a particularly skilled combatant, she’s far and away the best healer in the group. It might sound chesesy, but that’s basically the role I’ve always seen myself in. It manifests very differently, of course, since I don’t have the benefit of magic bestowed by some strange-looking creature that exists in the space outside of time. Maybe someday. Until then, I’m doing what I can here in the real world by supporting my friends, offering an ear to vent to, and doing my best to ensure that the ones closest to me are as healthy and happy as I can make them. Maybe it’s a stretch of an analogy, but it’s still a piece of how I’ve long seen myself as the result of whatever lenses it is I view that through.

I also feel there’s plenty within Nadia’s story that’s worth examining. She’s a princess in a video game, but — even back in 1995 — she breaks many of the established rules and expectations that typically carries. Now, it’s not as if she never needs saving — but who doesn’t? Moreover, the one time she needs to be “rescued” isn’t about her being overpowered by a villain or otherwise caputred. Rather, Nadia simply ceases existing when the time travel goes a little sideways and her ancestor is in peril. Once the timeline is patched up, though, she returns with a great and fierce personality that not only keeps her interesting, but drives the story of the game.

When the crew who saved her ancestor, Queen Leene, return to their own time period, Crono is arrested for kidnapping and sent to prison. He escapes soon enough, and finds himself fleeing from the castle pursued by guards. Nadia enters the scene, attempting to call off the pursuit. Obidient to her royal authority, the guards stop and kneel; that’s when Nadia’s father enters and rescinds her order. She pleads briefly, but he doesn’t budge. Nadia, without hesitation, throws her fancy dress to the ground — her preferred jumpsuit already on underneath — and tells her father, the king, that a title doesn’t mean she’s not also human, and that she refuses to accept the so-called societal norm and behave a “proper” princess. As they flee together, the party soon finds themselves in the distant future.

Nadia’s next important piece comes after the party has just learned of the end of the civilized world. As Crono and his scientifically-minded friend Lucca stare in stunned silence, Nadia immediately reacts to the footage of their world being scorched and nearly all life destroyed. She collapses to the ground briefly, then stands up and begins yelling in defiance and demanding that the others step up with her and prevent the disaster by using their newfound ability to travel through time. Insisting there must be something that they can do stop the coming apocalypse, she essentially creates the game’s central story.

It’s all of these things, really, that come together to create this character, and to create the connection that I’ve managed to form. You’ve got a strong-willed healer who rejects society’s rules, stands up to the leader of her country (who, again, is also her father) and plays a vital role in Chrono Trigger‘s story. She’s a pivotal and important piece of the entire game, and offers a set of skills that easily support any other two party members and can turn the tide in the toughest battles. She’s unafraid to be who she is, whatever other costs that may bring — and, in the end, may even reconcile with her father in an optional side story that brings her back to the castle, and ends with both of them learning to accept each other more completely.

Maybe it’s silly to have a connection with a video game character, but I don’t really care. Games, like books or films or many other things, are designed to do a lot of things beyond just entertaining us. These worlds, when well crafted, are meant to make us feel things. Rage, sadness, happiness, a full range of emotion can be constructed from a story done right. Yes, it’s important to maintain a fantasy/reality separation, but there’s aboslutely no way you’ll convince me that emotions matter less, or are less important, just because they’re influenced by fiction. That’s nonsense, and these experiences still shape the people that we are the same as any other emotional event.

I guess what I’m really saying here is that, even though it was some dumb throw-away meme from social media, I’ve ended up thinking a whole lot about this. I think that says enough about the subject as is, but I really wanted to use this space to just sort of chronicle my mental journey. I started this blog as a place for me to just dump whatever things were stirring up my brain at the moment; lately, that’s been a lot harder since there’s just so much. But I can still use writing as a way to slow myself down, focus in on one thing, and unload a bit of the burden. Like I said, I like to think of myself as a healer, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I know you can’t take care of anyone if you’re not tending to yourself as well.

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Speaking For Those Not Voiceless

I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen more articles floating around the internet recently about, let’s say, “trans issues”. Not necessarily entirely unique conversations, but consistently framed or angled in such a way as to employ the discussion of isses as they relate to trans people. One of the things that seems to strike me the most, though, is that there’s a lot of things that — to me — are glaring omissions in a lot of these pieces. Fundamental aspects that, if you’re wanting me to take you seriously when you’re discussing trans folks in any regard, you absolutely must discuss or at least acknowledge. There’s different pieces, depending on what you’re talking about, but there’s some common ground ones that seem to come up the most.

First and foremost — and this really should not be something I need to say — is that if you’re going to talk about trans people, you absolutely must also talk to trans people. This is a non-negotiable part. If you are not trans, and if you did not consult even one person who is, your opinions on how things affect “the trans community” or those you’d say are a part of it do not matter. I don’t want to hear them, even if you’re dead-on right in what it is you’re saying. Again: this is non-negotiable. I cannot stress enough how important it is to include any marginalized group in any discussion about that group, regardless of what it is you’re trying to say about or around it.

Speaking of marginalized groups — and let’s be honest, when am I not these days? — there’s some unpacking to do here as well. This one’s not specific to discussons of so-called trans issues, but a wider berth: people of color within LGBTQ+ circles, or any other subset of humans that experiences marginalization. If you look at the history of how the “gay community”, or the “lesbian community”, or the “trans community”, or the entire gender-rainbow breadth of people (shoutout to the bisexuals, I see you there!) and how any of this has grown to the place in society it now holds, one fact holds true: it was people of color who led the way. They were the trailblazers, the risk-takers, the front line soldiers. Because this was a war they’d fought before, and they knew how to bring it. They’re still doing this right now. I’m white as hell and far behind on the revolution, but I know who I need to look to if I want to learn.

Now, one of the other things that seems to cross wavelengths so much of the time when it comes to any thinkpiece or other discourse about trans people is their inclusion (or lack thereof) within feminism. This is an intrinsic part of the conversation, if only because when we’re talking about gender at all, we’re really talking about equality. Nobody writes anything that’s centered on gender without it being a discussion of equality and inclusion. When we’re talking about trans women through the lens of feminism, things can get a bit murky. I’m not sure I’ve got the wherewithal to really pick all of that apart, but the basic problem is that there’s large swathes of women in feminist circles who subscribe to “gender essentialism” — that trans women aren’t women, and trans men are. That’s, like, a whole complete article right there, but it’s related to some of the other things, too.

One of the things I saw making its way around numerous portions of my various interwoven Twitter circles was an article that, without really saying anything at all, was written on the topic of trans women and their place in the “lesbian community”; the crux of its unanswered question was whether it’s transphobic to prefer that your sexual parters have vaginas. This is a pretty loaded question, but of course — once again — the article touched only on some broad, largely vague, statements made by a few cisgender (a.k.a. “assigned female at birth”) lesbians. No trans voices were included. Now, maybe this is just me, but maybe if you’re even posing the question as to whether an act or attitude is offensive or hateful towards a group of people, you should remember that bit a few paragraphs ago where I said that speaking to trans people is non-negotiably necessary — in this case, trans women. Hell, if you want, you probably could’ve even found a transgendered lesbian with a penchant for long-winded op-eds on topics that affect trans people. Gee, I wonder if I know any of those.

Coming back around to the article’s question, I guess I’ve got a pretty extensive number of feelings on it. Again, can’t imagine why; surely it’s not because I’m a lesbian with a penis. As to whether having a preference in sex organs is transphobic — honestly? I don’t really think it is. There’s a lot to think about there, but it boils down to a few things. Firstly, that one’s gender and one’s sexual orientation are pretty clearly not going to follow one another down any particular path. This can manifest in a number of ways, but if we’re going to agree that a person’s sexual organs do not define their gender, then I think we’re also going to have to examine the role of those organ’s in a person’s sexuality.

Here’s the thing. To me, transphobia is rooted in that gender-essentialist view I mentioned earlier. It’s a mentality built on a rejection of gender identity; people who are transphobic are typically the ones who’d say (despite the actual scientific evidence) that being transgendered is a choice, or something that someone just “decides” one day because they think they’d like to see life from the “other side”. When you express that you’ve got a preference for certain equipment when it comes to your sexual partners, that’s not an evaluation of your ability to see trans people for who they are. It’s a facet of your sexuality, and when we’re talking about sex, the things you want — the limits you set, and the things you prefer — are entirely personal. They’re not even necessarily a reflection of any other part of yourself or your worldview.

By speaking to your own sexual preferences, whether we’re talking about the gender you find yourself romantically interested in or the things you like to do “in the bedroom”, you’re setting boundaries. I think we can all agree that having boundaries in your sexual relationships is important. These can vary, of course, not just from person to person, but from day to day. Some of them, though, are things that are inherently a part of our ability to want or enjoy sex. A cisgendered straight man can enjoy being on the receiving end of anal sex — that’s not, by necessity, an expression of some latent homosexual tendencies, or a condemnation of their “manliness” or whatever else you’d like to quantify it as. Similarly, a cisgendered (or hell, even transgendered!) lesbian might prefer that the sex they’re involved in not include penises. That’s not, by necessity, an expression of latent transphobic beliefs. These things are simply facets of how different people approach their participation in sexual activity.

Some people like to include toys in their sex lives; some find the idea patently ridiculous and unnecessary. Some people like to be tied up or controlled by their partners; some people would find this horrifying or traumatic. There’s all sorts of flavors when it comes to how we, as human beings, engage in and find our enjoyment in the act of sex — whatever that may mean to you. Again, I feel that it’s incredibly important that we separate “what a person enjoys for themselves” from how a person views or treats those around them. Saying you’d rather your partner didn’t come with some extra gear down there, in part because you’re a lesbian, doesn’t mean you’re telling a trans woman that she’s not a woman — just that she’s not a woman you’d want to sleep with. I think pretty much every human ever is “guilty” of not wanting to have sex with someone because of a physical trait they possess. We like what we like.

Anyhow, I guess the point of this — all of this — is that society as a whole still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusiveness and, more importantly, intersectional inclusiveness. I’m just one transgender lesbian offering my opinion on some things here, and with time some of this may change. However, I feel remarkably confident that the following points will remain a core part of my personal philosophy for as long as I’m capable of cognitive thought: discussing how an issue impacts or relates to a marginalized group absolutely requires participation from that group, people (and, again, especially women) of color should have their voices in these conversations, and what you like in your sex life is not a direct reflection of any other facet of yourself or something for which you should be harshly judged (within certain limitations, of course, including age and enthusiastic consent).

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Confessions of a Paid Protester

Alright. By now, we’ve all heard the rumours, seen the stories linking wealthy Democratic party members to the people flooding the streets on what seems to be a daily basis now. We’ve heard about how these benefactors must be bankrolling these ongoing protests, sending cash in exchange for bodies out there holding signs, chanting kitschy slogans, and impeding traffic in major cities. We’ve seen thinkpieces about how these folks simply can’t be giving up their time for free, and the counterpoints about how ridiculous it is to think they’re being compensated. I’m here to set the record straight: the story is true. We’re being paid.

Now, you might be thinking, “but I’ve been protesting, and I haven’t gotten a dime for it!” Well, my friends, that’s pretty simple to explain away as well. You see, here’s the thing. These people who accuse the protesters of being paid off for their so-called service to the cause? They’re right, but also a bit misguided. The thing about these protests and those joining them is this: they understand, unlike their detractors, that payment and compensation doesn’t always manifest in a single way; that is to say, being paid does not mean receiving money. That’s an important piece of this equation.

I’m not being paid cash for my retweets, for my own thinkpieces about the nature of our current political climate. That’s a ludicrous idea. There’s nobody in the world who’d be willing to bankroll my life just for waving a sign with a clever slogan that advances their cause. If I’m wrong about this, well — shit, my Patreon link is over there on the right. Hit me up there; if I hit a living wage through those donations, I’ll devote myself full-time to the effort. Full stop. It’s what I’d love to do, but again, that ain’t how it works.

No, my payment comes in other forms. I’m paid in the satisfaction that the world is watching, and seeing a people stand up agains the fascism taking root in the good old U. S. of A. I’m paid in the glee I get from seeing shitbags like Betsy DeVos be turned away from a school by a collection of less than a dozen so-called “protesters” standing there and reminding her that she’s unfit for the job she bought, and being proven right as she turns tail from this tiny collective of citizens standing up for their rights. I’m paid in the furious spittle flying from Trump’s Twitter account as his potentially-unconstitutional and certainly amoral actions are shut down, time and again, by the people he’s supposed to represent and by the judiciary that stands to preserve the law of our land.

You see, standing up to this — it doesn’t require a monetary compensation. I’ve got a full-time job, working more than 40 hours per week for a pretty decent wage. The thing about that, though, is that “full time” doesn’t mean “all the time”. My job keeps me busy five days a week — excepting days like today, when I’m stuck at home tending to a sick child. On those days, I’m there and all-in on my assigned tasks from 8am until 5pm. All the rest of the time, including weekends? Well, that’s for me, and as an adult I’m able to make my own decisions about what to do with that time, and (by and large) what to do with the money I’m paid for doing that job. I don’t need to be paid to protest, because I’ve got mine from other sources.

So, yeah, I’m paid to protest. I’m paid in the knowledge that I stand on the right side of history, shouting down the white supremacists and full-blown Nazis trying to take hold of the country. I’m paid in the satisfaction that I’m working to build the world I want to see my children grow up in; one that accepts that “America First” does not mean “without immigrants” or “without refugees” or “without Muslims”. I’m paid in the sense of accomplishment that comes from the few shining rays of light coming from our judicial branch, coming from my fellow protesters, coming from every man and woman standing up today to say that we will not allow this poisonous, xenophobic, hateful rhetoric guide our country unchecked.

And there’s the real disconnect, too; it’s not that those who look at the crowds and think “they’re paid off” started from the idea that super-rich leftists are sprinkling cash down on them. No, they worked their way up to that conclusion from a much more simple idea that’s the only thing they can imagine: that people will only invest their time and effort into something if they’re getting money for it. They don’t come to this idea without reason, either; all of them, I imagine, are people who would stand up in protest of things themselves — for a monetary gain. Maybe they’ve already done things that they recognize as against their values for money, like the politicians they represent seem to. Maybe they just imagine that nobody could be that dedicated without the only carrot that they see as worthwhile being dangled above them. Maybe they just can’t understand the concept of a selfless act at all, thanks to our money-obsessed capitalist roots.

Make no mistake: the idea that money is the only compensation worth taking isn’t new, or fresh, or alien. It’s systemic to our entire nation, and exists within every single facet of our lives. It’s sold to us in television and radio commercials, it’s explained to us on the evening news, it’s laid out for us in the flailing education system. It’s a core part of what makes America what it is; money, “the almighty dollar”, is the go-to standard for what makes anything worth doing. You want food, shelter, water, power, internet access, someone to chop your veggies for you? It’s all service, and service costs cash. It’s what drives us to work every morning, what greases the gears of our prison complex, what pushes the trains on their tracks, and it dominates most every aspect of our lives. That’s a fact.

The problem, though, is that people think that “primary motivation” must mean “only motivation” — often, I think, because it is so for themselves. If you’re only ever willing to go as far as someone will pay you to, you’re not going to understand the folks who keep on going once the account runs dry. If you’ve only ever pushed yourself to try and get a few extra bucks in the bank, you’re lacking the fundamental experience that can demonstrate that others will push themselves for other rewards. If you think the only reason to do a job is to get paid, you’ll never reach a common ground with the volunteers, the self-sacrificers, the (dare I say it?) protesters.

So there you have it, everyone. That’s the ugly truth: the protesters are paid. We’re absolutely getting ours out of all of this, and while it sure as shit isn’t paying the bills, it’s filling up something that matters well more than money ever could. I’m sorry if this is seen as a betrayal of “the movement”, but I couldn’t live with the shame of hiding this dark secret anymore. See, I’m an honest woman at heart, and I just had to let loose here and admit to the truth, the reality of our situation. I’m sorry that it had to come to this, but I had to get this off of my chest and let the world know what’s really going on behind the scenes.

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This is War

You know, it’s been a while since I let myself write a rambling, half-thought-out rant here, but this is a blog and what the hell good is a blog if you’re not doing that? I’ve been focusing a lot on my fiction recently, as you might have noticed. There’s a bunch of reasons for that but the big ones really are that I’ve really, desperately needed an escape from the constant barrage of bullshit that’s coming from our government, the sweeping hatred that’s gripped our country, and all the other fuckery that’s flooding everything I look at recently. This, though, isn’t about escaping. It’s about speaking up.

It’s about speaking up when I see our president signing an executive order that results in the detaining of legal US citizens because of their national origin. It’s about speaking up when I see rights being trampled on in the name of “safety”, with thinly veiled words that prove that it’s not about safety. It’s about seeing Sally Yates, our now-former Attonrey General, standing up and doing her goddamn job, knowing full well that it would result in immediately losing that job. It’s about watching as a fucking Nazi-sympathizing fascist takes control of our country. It’s about all the people who think we’ve gotta “hear both sides”.

You know what? You’re right! We’ve gotta hear both sides! And I’ve heard them. I’ve heard one side say we should be turning refugees away, because their nationality makes them a suspect. I’ve heard that side say that I should be subjected to shock therapy until I “convert” to their definition of normal. I’ve heard that side say that we should ban immigration, and not guns, to address crime. I’ve heard that side openly and frequently say that we should be asking ourselves if a genocide of the black race is to the benefit of our world.

I’ve heard it, and I reject it. If you try to tell me that a life — ANY goddamn life — means less than yours becasue of nationality, because of religion, because of skin color or sexual preference or any other goddamn reason: you are my enemy. Maybe we were friends once. Maybe we were family. Maybe you already hated me, or snickered to yourself when I came out as a transgender woman. Whatever we were, whatever it was before this moment, it is dead. I do not accept your hatred. I do not accept that disagreeing with racism and xenophobia is a “differenece of opinion”. I do not agree that slavish devotion to our president — to ANY president — is the meaning of patriotism.

You say I should practice tolerance, that I should respect a difference of opinion. That’s great! I’m willing to respect a difference of opinion any goddamn day. No problems there, buddy. When you say that about someone who poses an eminent threat to my queer friends, to my friends of color, to my Muslim friends — I draw a line. This is not my rejecting my ideals; this is not me rejecting logic or reason or restraint. This is me, responding to an open declaration of war. We did not start this war, you and I, but like it or not, we are drawn into it. There is no option for neutrality. The current administration has made that perfectly clear.

So, hold fast to your logic and your centrist beliefs. You’re probably a white guy — it’ll probably work out, for you. It won’t work for women. It won’t work for people in skin that’s darker than yours. It won’t work for the LGBTQ community. It won’t, because our nation is led by a man who’s ear hears only what it wants — and what it wants is fed to him by the self-proclaimed “voice of the alt-right”. By the by, there is no such fucking thing as the “alt-right”. They’re the new breed of Nazis, and their goals are the same as those who laid the groundwork for them in 1930s Germany.

Maybe you think we’re being whiney little snowflakes, thinking we’re somehow special and deserving of a “participation trophy”. Fuck you. I never got a trophy for participating in anything. I’m not special, I’m human. That’s it. That’s all any of us are. It’s the only thing we can be, and the only thing I’m proud to be any more. I used to feel pride in my country — and yes, this goes back before Trump. Before Obama. Before I was even a part of the political world, when I was a part of this country’s now-dying educational system. My teachers never told me that I had to listen to a president if he was enacting laws I disagreed with; they encouraged me to think. To grow.

And yet, as we watch the nation churn in growing turmoil, the president is tossing aside all “defectors”. Anyone who questions his word is labeled an enemy, even if it is their job to do so. This nation was founded with a series of “checks and balances” — maybe you remember hearing about them? Those are crumbling before us as the direct result of a fascist ruler and a spineless gathering of weak, pathetic politicians beneath him. Democrats, Republicans — I don’t give a shit about party lines. Both side have shown their cowardice in the last week, and both will continue to empower this raging ass-hat until it’s far too late to save any of us anymore.

Maybe you think I’m a sore loser because my candidate didn’t win. I didn’t have a candidate in this election. There was nobody running who represented my interests. Not during the primaries, not during the general election. Never. Not once did a candidate come forward that gave a shit about me as a person. Most of them, though, would have agreed that I’m a person, or even that I’m an American. Trump has called me an enemy. That is his word, not mine. That is his label, not mine. This is his war, but I’m forced into it. Sure, out here in California, in the skin of your average white guy, I’m pretty safe. My life isn’t in immediate danger. Others’ lives are, and if you think we can sit back and wait while they build the walls, the camps — fuck you. You’re going to end this on the wrong side of history.

Anyway, if you’re at the end of all this, then you’re probably someone that agrees with most of what I’ve said, so there’s no real point in going on any further. All the hotheaded, safe-space-needing Nazi sympathizers are gone by now, so thanks for pulling through. On the off chance you managed to get here while still thinking that everything I’ve laid out here is somehow extremist or wrong — why? What is the endgame in your fierce dedication to supporting those who would just as soon see me dead because I present a threat to their world view? I don’t have any more words for you. Get out of my life.

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Not Home

A sharp electronic tone cut through the air, a repeating scream to return to consciousness. Delphine watched as her host stumbled in the dark, pawing at the wall for light before silencing the alarm. She watched as Megan dug through her closet, seeking out her normal dress in favor of the cloak’s embrace. She seemed rushed, like she was trying to make an escape. They spoke briefly before parting as Megan dashed out the door, headed back to the diner for another day’s work. Delphine sighed.

You never knew what you’d get with any new acolyte. Well, not an acolyte in this case, but new all the same. Fresh to the world that existed parallel to her own. Full of that youthful exuberance, the whimsy of seeing something more than you’d ever dreamed. Delphine remembered the feeling, long ago as it was. She mused on her own introduction into this world as she set about setting everything as it had been when she arrived. She smiled as she scrawled out a note, tucking it under her earlier gift to Megan. She wondered how long it would take for curiosity to give way to temptation.

Delphine finished tidying the kitchen. Everything as it had been when she arrived. Save for the note, she couldn’t risk any trace of her passing through. Once she was satisfied that her work was complete, she checked the locks and turned off the lights, her fingers tracing the wall as she returned to the bedroom. Drawing her cloak around her, she sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of Megan’s bed, closed her eyes, and began the incantation. In her mind’s eye, she watched the ground below her give way, a gaping sinkhole into the soil below stretching out beneath her. She saw herself drift into the Earth’s gaping maw as the land sewed itself back into place above her. She saw flickers, reflections in the blackness skipping past her vision in faint flashes. She felt herself become one with the dirt.

When she opened her eyes, Delphine was standing in the dark. Dim streetlights hung to one side, and wild shadows stood above her on the other. The park. It wasn’t a bad landing; only a five minute walk back. She could get some more rest; while the sun was rising on Megan’s day, Delphine had nearly three more hours before it would find her again. She glanced around to be sure she was alone, then pointed herself towards home.

No, not home. That didn’t seem the right word. Sure, she had her own cot every night, but the shelter didn’t offer the other amenities that came from having a real home. Privacy. Quiet. No, those things didn’t come with the territory here, but it was better than nothing. Hell, it was probably better than a lot of things. People caught in relationships they secretly hate, sharing their entire lives with the ones they despise. People caught under the terror of abuse. People locked in jails for things they didn’t even do. At least she was free. Well, mostly free. Free enough.

Quietly making her way inside, Delphine found an open cot and laid down. She’d slept well enough, but they’d — well, been up late. You really never did know what you’d get. It wasn’t like her to get swept up in their wild reactions, but it had been one hell of a weekend. A slice of what normal life might be like, if she could dig her way out of here. It wasn’t as easy as all that, though; even with an income, everyone’s looking for rental history, for your last three addresses, references, all that crap. These weren’t things you could go out and pick up from the mall after a good week’s work.

She drifted in and out of sleep, listening to the shuffling around her during her moments of lucidity. It had been nice to get away from it, but she didn’t want to risk losing everything. They had to stay together, and a flash-in-the-pan romance sure as shit didn’t facilitate that. She did regret the hurry of the morning, but she didn’t want to overstay her welcome. Sending Megan off to return to her usual routine was cruel, but necessary. Above all else, keeping up the appearance of fitting in to society was important. That was one advantage she had over most here; whatever the circumstance might call for, she could dress the part.

Eventually, dawn broke and the kitchen sprung to life. She wasn’t on the cooking crew today, so her tardiness was excusable. Today was dishwashing duty. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous task, but it was something to do to feel useful and earn her keep. She ate in silence, like she always did. Most around here weren’t exactly social butterflies, and those who were soon learned to keep to each other — especially during meals. Everyone had their routine, no matter what path their life took. Everyone played their part in the grand performance of life. Most of them would never really know their role, what their existence meant on a longer timeline. Most didn’t really seem to care.

It was different for her, though, and for the rest of the Five, all of the initiates and acolytes. They still had their routines, their parts to play, and their roles to fulfill, but with an actor’s awareness of their placement. Sure, not even Lillian had the whole script, but they knew enough of the design to understand what needed to be done here and now. They couldn’t act on impulse — not when it counted. The strategy had been in play since long before Delphine had been born, but now relied on her ability to maintain it. Everything that happened with Olivia — it put everyone in danger. Olivia was a global threat.

She finished her meal and made her way to the back of the kitchen. The stereo in the corner was rattling out something between static and heavy metal; she couldn’t tell what was intentional or not in the varying distortions. She stepped to a sink and set to scraping, spraying, scrubbing, and racking everything that came in. She was quick at it, now, but there were more living here than there had been when she arrived. Whatever it was that was unfolding in the world around her, it seemed that an increasing number of down-on-their-luck folks found their way to this doorstep.

Once the dishes were done, she and the others went their separate ways. Some would stay here, backing up other work crews to stay in good graces. Some would hit the streets, playing instruments or simply silently begging for coins. Others would take a bus or carpool to a normal job, somewhere downtown or near the university or — well, away from here, the place that polite society liked to support but didn’t want to see. Delphine’s day was likely to be something more unique.

At least, that’s how it turned out to be. Her friend’s face was on a small TV in the corner; that didn’t seem right. She stepped closer and caught the tail end of what sounded like an inflammatory rant disguised as news. They were calling Celia terrible things, accusing her of ties to some nebulous group of extremists in a far-off land. It didn’t make any damn sense — what could she have possibly done? Whatever the talking head on the screen had to say, Delphine knew that he was wrong. This wasn’t a report, it was a smear campaign on national television.

This was a declaration of war.

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