"With the Gravity Off"
Astin knows what it is like
to walk around weighed down
by the expectations of other people.
It is like air; it is like gravity.
It is 1,034 grams per square centimeter
by the shore of an ocean xe has never seen,
echoed faithfully in every life support system.
It is 1G, 9.8 meters per second per second,
at the surface of a planet where xe has never stood,
replicated by thrust or spin or graviton field.
Astin carries it around with xyrself,
an invisible closet enclosing a sense of self
that differs from what society demands,
something tangible yet forgettable,
like the shell of a tortoise carrying
its particolored house on its back.
It is a barrier between Astin and
everyone else, through which touch is
reduced to dull thumps and conversation
to a muffled drone, as if xe is wearing
a spacesuit that can never come off.
So Astin goes through the motions
of socializing without ever feeling sociable,
wondering why other people seem to enjoy
what xe finds a tedious chore that leaves xyr
feeling exhausted and withdrawn, because
it is so much work to project an image
that does not match the hidden core.
That weight drags down everything
that Astin does, but xe persists,
because there is no alternative
but to carry it onward.
It is ubiquitous; it is inescapable --
until it isn't.
In the Lacuna,
the easy acceptance
puts Astin at ease, which
makes xyr more energetic.
The freedom to express xyrself
makes Astin feel more open,
which naturally leads to becoming
a part of the culture xe inhabits
more than ever before.
This is how Astin comes to accept
invitations to gatherings at Sargasso Base
with anticipation instead of dread,
laughing and dancing without regard
to what people will think, speaking freely
and listening to everyone else's wild ideas,
trading bites of strange new foods, and
actually enjoying xyrself for once.
This is how xe winds up crammed into a corner
quietly panicking because all of a sudden
there is no weight holding xyr down
and Astin has no idea what to do
with the gravity off.
Freefall is as terrifying as it is liberating.
It is Shuttlecock who finds xyr
and gently coaxes Astin
into a quiet room.
There is nothing inside
except for a large plastic panel
softly shedding star-blue light
and a single bench warped into
an interesting wave pattern.
At last Astin can relax,
clinging to the edge of the bench
which is bolted to the floor of the room
with hardware of reassuring solidity.
Xe no longer feels cut adrift,
scrabbling at suddenly weightless air.
Docking clamps engaged; safety; security.
"Too many people?"
Shuttlecock asks gently.
"I can leave you alone,
if that's what you need."
"Stay," Astin manages to say
through xyr dry mouth.
"It's just ... so new."
"Oh, that," says Shuttlecock,
nodding so that her hair sways
in the breeze of agreement.
"I think it hits everyone,
sooner or later."
The novelty of not being alone
is a fresh force that sends Astin
tumbling again, but this time,
xe stabilizes sooner.
The motions are familiar,
even if the need for them is
in the context of feelings
instead of freefall.
Eventually Astin regains
enough confidence to stand up
and move around the room,
feeling out the changes.
Xyr party outfit is all new,
a long shirt-dress-tunic thing of
heathery linen cut to sway with
the motion, over leggings in shades
of gray from ash to charcoal.
The boots are Carinan military gear,
black and heavy, with secure latches
and soles full of electromagnets
in case the gravity goes out.
They make Astin feel safe.
The watch is Orion, though,
a monster nearly as wide as xyr wrist,
its vacuum-proof face set with multiple dials
to show what a trader needs to know.
Astin's fingers tap, tap against
the clear crystal case but
the readings do not change.
Xyr feelings stay the same, too.
In another room, the party is still going
and Astin's thoughts twitch back to it
like a compass needle drawn
toward a planetary pole.
Astin knows who xe is
when xe is alone, and
the mask xe has made
for being around people
in the Galactic Arms.
Xe does not know
who xe is with people
who make no demands
of gender or conformity.
Xe is water, weightless,
silver and quick in the spatial air.
"I want ..." xe breathes,
but is unable to name
the desire, the feeling,
as formless as mercury
with nothing to measure.
"If you want to try the party again,
that's fine," Shuttlecock assures xyr.
"Plenty of people come and go."
Astin feels inside xyrself
and is startled to find only
confusion, not exhaustion.
Xe remembers a science experiment,
long ago, watching oobleck dance
on top of a loudspeaker.
Form without function;
shape without containment.
Astin wonders what xe will become
if xe sets emotion into motion
and gender into expression,
if there can somehow be
grace with the gravity off.
"Yes," Astin says,
holding out xyr hand.
"Let's go back to the party."
* * *
Atmospheric pressure expresses the force exerted by air. On Earth, it's about 14.7 pound force/square inch [psi] = 1033.5122800981967 gram-force/square centimeter. I used a converter to get the metric version.
Gravity is the force that draws objects together. Learn how to calculate it on Earth. 1G is the standard Earth gravity. Acceleration can increase the subjective gravity, called "pulling Gs."
Graviton refers to a hypothetical particle which mediates the force of gravitation. Once you know what they are, you can start figuring out ways to use them. This is the basis of graviton technology, which is about as diverse and important as technology based on electricity. You need it to make genuine artificial gravity -- that is, a tractive force based on manipulating gravity itself, not faking it through some other means like centrifugal force -- and most of the better types of stardrive. Of course, the Massacre of Cascabel demonstrates the scope of disaster than can result from mishaps with this level of technology.
People can feel overstimulated for many reasons, and it includes both sensory and social aspects. It's a prevailing complaint of people with autism, sensory processing disorder, or brain injury. However, it's also common with transfolk, and in fact, anyone faced with major life changes. Overwhelm is simply what happens whenever someone's environmental demands exceed their coping ability. Everyone has a threshold of overwhelm; some people just have a lower one than others, while people whose mental energy is tied up dealing with major issues won't have the fault tolerance left to handle "minor" challenges. These videos simulate sensory overload so you can get a glimpse of what it's like. A society with many neurovariant people recognizes the threat of overstimulation, creates resources to deal with it, and quickly learns to watch for the early warning signs so as to direct people to those resources when needed. Here are some ways to reduce sensory overload.
Quiet rooms offer a safe refuge with mild, pleasant sensory input. The one on Sargasso Base that Astin uses is very spartan -- just a light panel and a wavery bench. Right now, they have a lot more room than stuff, so they're tending toward quiet rooms as an unoccupied space. Later on they'll probably develop rooms with things they find pretty or reassuring, such as mobiles are plants. Nothing relaxes a spacer like sensory confirmation of life support!
Astin's style is evolving to combine items that code for different genders or that lack gender markers. The long tunic is one of the maybe-colors that xe likes, has enough skirt to flare, but has pockets which most women's clothes do not. The leggings are unisex, in mixed shades of gray. The boots have a masculine tone, although they're pretty much the same for men and women in the Carinan military. The watch is marketed for men; female spacers need similar features, but may seek a smaller watch face. Astin likes the big one because it's easier to read a lot of data that way.
Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid. You can make some to play with, or watch it dancing to music.