Astin's trip to Cascabel held hope and dread
in equal proportions: hope of establishing
a new portal planet for the trade network that
xe was weaving throughout the Lacuna,
and dread of leaving the shelter of
a culture that respected xyr identity.
The farther Astin went toward the edge of
the Lacuna, the less tolerant people got
of xyr nature and xyr paperwork.
In fact the closest Astin got to acceptance after
entering Carinan space was a docking clerk
at the Cascabel station who asked,
"Trapped in the wrong body?"
"I'm not trapped in my body," Astin said.
"I'm trapped in your perception of my body."
The docking clerk was nobody important,
but her question was important for
the insights that it awoke.
Astin recognized the insubstantial nature
of the trap, that its chains were thoughts
and its teeth were beliefs and none of that
had as much to do with biology as
people liked to say it did.
So too the disputes between the Galactic Arms
had their roots in reality but extended beyond it
into the hot air of politics, and it was the perception
of irreconcilable differences that did the most damage.
Astin had spent enough time working out
an escape route from the gender pigeonhole
to understand that somewhere, some people
must feel the same about the politics.
If xe could discover techniques for
hacking those perceptions,
then xe could be perceived as
xe wished to be perceived, and not
as others wished to perceive xyr.
The same could be applied
to the division that caused the war,
perhaps enabling the Arms to overcome
their differences -- or if not, to consider
the Lacuna as a neutral party capable of
maintaining a respectful distance between them.
Cascabel itself was a handsome planet with
a hideous burn scar on the west side of Pivot Sound.
Astin went to Fillet Ridge, following the directions to
the site of the Fillet Forward Distribution Facility.
"I'm looking for Bowie," said Astin.
"Knox sent me here because I'm
hoping to build a trade network."
"Found him," said the man behind
the counter. He had a square face
and a nose that had been broken
at least twice and never quite
healed straight either time.
"I heard you carry medical and
personal supplies, along with
amusements," said Astin. "We're
also interested in food if it'll keep
well enough to ship long-distance."
"You heard right," said Bowie.
"I have all the medical stuff cataloged."
He put a thick binder on the counter.
"The rest of it, well -- " He grimaced.
"I'm still working through it, as I can."
Astin leafed through the binder,
noting several items on Operetta's
short list of essentials for proper care.
"This looks promising," xe said.
"What about the farms?"
"A lot of the produce was keeper crops --
potatoes, winter squash, late-season apples,
things that could keep for months without
too much processing," said Bowie. "They'd
ship out as treats for the bases that were
closest to here. The main processing and
preservation plants were in Windage,
except for a little cannery in Astragal that
we might be able to put back together,
if we had a market for the finished goods."
"There's a market," said Astin. "I can
talk to people in the Lacuna about
helping with the repairs. What kind of
things do you need that they might have?"
Sure enough, Bowie buckled just like Knox had,
although he recovered quicker. "You got no idea
how good it is to hear that, to be asked what
we need instead of told what we get."
Astin's trader heart knew exactly
what xe was hearing: that asking would
open more doors than telling, here.
"I'm listening," xe said.
"What we're really hurting for are z-balls,"
said Bowie. "A lot of equipment uses them,
but they can only be manufactured in space --
and we're not a priority for shipping anymore."
"Now that should be feasible," Astin said.
"I doubt that anyone in the Lacuna is currently
making those, but they certainly have the resources."
All you really needed was zero gravity, a smelter
with assorted nozzles, and a good source of
nickel-iron to make perfect, hollow ball bearings.
"I'd welcome that," Bowie said. "Care to
come in back and scout around? You might
find things you want among the uncataloged stuff.
I'll even give you a discount if you find anything good,
just for helping me locate and tag things there."
"I'm happy to help," Astin agreed.
So they hiked through the shelves of
medical equipment and a few medicines,
heading back toward the less organized stacks.
The dim, dusty recesses of the warehouse
reminded Astin of the time xe had gone
clambering in Spalling's Super Surplus Shed
with only a handlight because the overheads
had burned out and not gotten replaced.
Spalling had come looking for xyr,
and the beam of the handlight lancing
through the darkness had triggered
a wracking flashback that lasted
almost an hour of fits and starts,
after which Spalling had sobbed out
enough details for Astin to realize
just which event his horrors came from.
Trying to put the galaxy back together
was like trying to sew up a gaping wound.
It might heal, in time, but it was obviously
going to leave a big scar behind.
Just then, a familiar package snagged
Astin's interest. Crazy Cargo Hold IV,
the boxes said. Xe had seen Carinan
people in the Lacuna playing it to relax and
calm their minds; it was supposed to be
good for PTSD. "I've never seen anything
later than third edition," Astin said.
"Yeah, that was a new release,"
Bowie said. "The crystals arrived
just before we lost Brakeworm Base,
and after that everyone was too busy
surviving to think about games.
If you want 'em, take 'em."
Astin looked at the stack of boxes
and the clutter of other stuff around them,
trying to figure out how to get some
without triggering an avalanche.
Xe started shifting small cans
of what appeared to be paint.
"Oh hey, I can sure use this!"
Bowie exclaimed, grabbing them.
Astin picked up some of the games,
and continued browsing the shelves,
now and then picking up something new.
"You know, I heard some pretty rough things
about Cascabel," xe said. "I came here
expecting the worst, but the cities and
the people have healed more than
I thought they would have."
"Not really," Bowie said in a bleak tone.
"Sometimes you just have to shove
the rubble aside and rebuild what you can,"
He hefted the canisters in his big hands.
"Come on outside, and I'll show you."
So Astin followed him outside. The loading bays
overlooked a broad apron of pavement which
required a protective coating. The original had
evidently been a solid white, but that had been
redone in a patchwork of colorful arrows
now pointing along the various lanes.
"That's eye-catching," Astin said.
"We can't live in the past," Bowie said.
"It's all burned up, and a lot of people's
homes and jobs and families with it.
We have to find some way to move forward."
"Knox said some similar things about forgiveness
when we talked in the Lacuna," said Astin.
"We're agreed on that point," said Bowie.
"That's liable to mean going over rough roads
with people we don't like to places we don't
want to be in, but it's better than going nowhere.
So I started painting these as a reminder."
"They're pretty," said Astin, tracing
the lines with one foot. "Why all the colors?"
Bowie shrugged. "We used to get white paint
in drums the size of truck beds, for places
like this and the ones out at Brakeworm Base,"
he said. "After everything went to hell, all I
had left were the small cans of marking paint
meant for doing signs and lane lines. So I
used what I had, and other folks started
helping out sometimes when they could."
Astin thought about hacking perceptions
and giving up outdated ideas, and was
taken by the image of painting over
the old coat with colorful new designs
pointing toward the future.
Xe held out a hand to Bowie and said,
"Do you have a spare brush?"
* * *
Some transgender or genderqueer folks feel trapped in the wrong body, and some don't.
Trade items have historically included staple foods, fuels, raw materials like metal or stone, luxury goods like precious metals or coffee, medical supplies, and tools.
Various experiments have been done regarding how to make perfect ball bearings in space. It's too expensive to do from planetside, but if you're already living in space, it's a cheap easy way to make something very useful from materials readily found there. Dropping them down a gravity well to planetside customers is also cheap and easy.
Building peace after war takes hard work and a different way of thinking. There are short and long lists of what you can do to promote peace.
Videogames have been used to prevent and treat PTSD. Crazy Cargo Hold is a sorting-stacking game akin to 3D Tetris but with a space theme. You can play a version of 3D Tetris online.
Forgiving betrayal is difficult, and requires thought into whether it is even appropriate. Know what to do when you've been betrayed, how to forgive someone who hurt you, and how to let go of anger.
Continue with "Hope and Forgiveness."