Saturday, February 18, 2017
Cathy's Long Lost Stories - A Change of Perception
A Change of Perception - A Story from a Devoted Future
Lori had grown up in New Denver, a medium-sized barter town a few clicks south of New Adeimus, known in the Barter Towns as simply 'The City'. This was where the Citizens lived, far from the dirt and heat and violence of the Barter Towns, in gleaming ivory towers, with new technology and medicine, and good food that supposedly came out of the wall - all you had to do was ask for it. What The City didn't offer its citizens, as Lori had been told all her life, was freedom - they did horrible things to people in there, she was told. Her mother had supposedly escaped being mutilated, turned into a freak, by running away to the border towns on her eighteenth birthday. There, hungry and alone, she had slept with a man for a half a loaf of bread. That was how Lori had come to be.
Over her twenty years in the barter towns, Lori had seen a lot of women, and some men, escape from The City, still in their clean clothes, their neatly trimmed hair, their perfumed skin. Lori didn't know what could be so awful in The City that they would choose the wastes of the Barter Towns, but her mother always forbade her from speaking of it, even commenting about it. It was simply a terrible place, and it was not to be discussed or spoken of.
Lori had seen New Adeimus once, from a distance - she had snuck a ride with a boyfriend at the time, and they rode out there on his donkey. The ride was long and difficult on the smelly animal, but once she saw the gleaming towers of New Adeimus, she knew it had been worth it. She never knew men could build such marvels - it was massive, bigger than her mind could comprehend, with towers reaching the sky and vehicles driving around, shining in the sunlight. She couldn't imagine what could have been so awful in such a wonderful place.
Lori had many loud arguments with her mother about The City. She was curious, she wanted to go there, but her mother just shrieked and yelled about monsters and that she'd never return from that awful place. Better to stay there, in the squalor of New Denver, than risk being caught near The City.
And so it went, and Lori lived her day to day life, tending a small garden and scavenging for technology in a nearby landfill, trying to find a few trinkets that might be of some value. She had no real education - she had learned to read and write and count, but really nothing more - and the more she thought about it, the more she looked at her mother, wasting away, losing her teeth, the more she realized that she had no future, no real future anyway. Two weeks after her twentieth birthday, she made her decision.
She packed quietly in the morning while her mother was out, probably sleeping with one of the local men for some goat's milk or meat. She wrote a hasty note, explaining that she needed to know what more was out there, and that she would return. Even though in her heart she was unsure, she promised her mother that she would return.
The walk to The City was a long one, and in the heat of the day it was almost unbearable. Lori sat under an outcropping of rock for most of the afternoon, to avoid the direct sun, and began walking again when the sun sat heavy on the western horizon. She walked for many hours, trudging a line in the direction she knew The City lay in, until she began seeing the lights in the sky - red and white twinkling lights, like stars beckoning her. Her pace picked up, even though she knew The City was still miles away, and by the time the sun began it's rise in the Eastern sky, Lori was walking along a smooth, paved road, heading towards one of the entrances to New Adiemus.
"Who are you?" said a handsome male dressed in a crisp, clean, light blue jumpsuit.
"My name is Lori." Lori replied, suddenly frightened.
"Lori What?" the guard asked, looking at some kind of device in his hand.
"I, I don't understand." Lori said, confused. Her name was Lori, what did he mean by 'Lori what?"
"Your last name. Your surname. The name you were born with." The guard said, sounding a little annoyed.
"That's it, that is the name I was born with, sir." she said meekly. "Just Lori."
The guard suddenly looked as if he understood something, and then asked Lori where she was born, in a much kinder tone.
"I was born in New Detroit, and mamma moved us to New Denver when I was 12." she replied quietly, afraid she would give the wrong answer.
The guard looked startled, but pleased.
"So, you weren't born here in New Adeimus?" he asked, as if to be sure.
"No, I wasn't. I'm sorry." she said.
"Don't be." the guard smiled. "What can I help you with, miss Lori."
Lori had never been called a 'Miss' before. She liked it, and felt more comfortable already.
"I, I want to live here. They all told me how awful it is here, but, well, just looking at the place, and the places I've just come from, it can't be any worse, and I, well i just-"
Without realizing it, Lori had begun to cry. She was torn apart inside, her fear, her fatigue, the sun, all too much for her, and she just broke down. The nice guard sat her down on a comfortable chair in his post, and talked into a panel in the wall. She heard him say her name, and talk about Barter Towns, but she wasn't paying attention and couldn't make it all out.
Soon, a beautiful vehicle came to the entrance post. A man in a reddish jumpsuit got out of one door, and a very pretty woman got out of the other. Lori noticed that this woman had only one arm, and fear began to creep back into her. She stared at where the woman's arm ended in a short, round stump, and felt apprehension. The woman went to reach for Lori, with her good arm, and Lori shrank back. The woman stood up and smiled.
"Lori, everything will be OK. My name is Patricia, and I'm here to help you. We need to examine you and get you cleaned up, then we'll have a long talk, OK."
"What, what happened to your arm?" Lori asked, unable to peel her eyes from the woman's stump.
"Well, that's one of the things we're going to talk about, but the short story is that I gave it up to become a woman."
"What? I don't understand." Lori said, bewildered.
"You will, I promise, and nothing at all will happen to you here against your will. You are free to leave at any time."
Lori thought about the prospect of leaving, of just heading back to New Denver, entertaining the thought for a moment before deciding to trust in herself and follow this through. She allowed the woman to place a device on the back of her hand - it felt warm, a several lights flashed. The woman was looking at another small device, looking like a small viewscreen, but shiny, new.
"You are dehydrated and undernourished - when was the last time you ate, Lori?" Patricia asked, concerned. Lori thought about it for a moment.
"I had some beans and a slice of bread just the other day. And a glass of goat milk." she said, remembering her belated birthday dinner. Those beans had been very good.
"Well, we'll need to get you something to eat and drink right away, and then get you cleaned up. After that we can talk."
Lori was suddenly concerned.
"Um, I don't have much to trade, I don't know if I'll be able to afford the food." she said, worried and digging through her tattered bag for something of possible value.
"Lori, this isn't a Barter Town, we don't charge you for food. It's free, as is the clothing and medical service." Patricia sat, putting her hand on Lori's shoulder. "Don't worry, we'll take care of you."
Lori was taken to a huge building and led inside. There she was taken to a large room full of smaller tables. It smelled wonderful - clean and inviting. Patricia sat Lori down at one of the tables and walked off to a small window in one wall. She said something and picked up a tray, carrying it deftly with her one hand, as if it was nothing. Patricia set the tray before Lori, and it was filled with food - enough food to last Lori at least a week! Patricia said that she should eat as much as she could, but to eat slowly or she would get sick. She ate and drank the wonderful foods, and again began to cry, this time with happiness as she drank a sweet, fizzy brown liquid and ate a meal that consisted of both meat AND bread! She ate slowly, as Patricia had told her too, and when she couldn't eat any more, she began to stuff the rest of the meal into her bag.
"What are you doing?" Patricia asked, stopping her.
"Saving it." Lori said, confused.
"No - you don't have to do that here, you can have food whenever you like."
"But, what about this?" Lori asked, indicating the perfectly good food she couldn't finish.
"We recycle it here - we can turn it into more food, or other things - we don't waste anything here.
Come on - you can leave it, it will be taken care of. Let's get you cleaned up." Patricia said, leading Lori away from the table.
Lori had had a few showers before, but none like this. It was hot and fresh and clean, and there were lots of nice-smelling lotions and liquids. Patricia had explained the shampoo and body lotions to Lori, who stayed in the shower for almost thirty minutes, until her fingers were pruned and her skin was clean and soft.
Her clothes had been removed and replaced with a pretty light blue jumpsuit - it was the first new clothes Lori had ever worn, and it fit perfectly. The cloth was soft against her skin - not at all like what she was used to. Patricia returned and led Lori into another large room, this one with rich wood paneling and a large desk. Lori didn't know what was going on, but she noticed paintings on the walls, all of apparently important women, in various and impressive poses, and she immediately realized that each woman had some sort of disability - one in a wheelchair, one with a missing arm, one with white, blind eyes, others. Lori was again confused and looked at Patricia for an explanation. Before one could be offered, another door opened into the room, and a stately, elderly woman entered, riding in a heavy power wheelchair, her legs thin and obviously useless.
"What is going on here?" Lori finally exclaimed, needing an answer. "Every woman I've seen since I've gotten here has been crippled in some way - what the hell is going on?" she blurted out, frightened and confused.
"Lori, I understand you were born outside New Adeimus, in a barter town, and that your mother left here some twenty one years ago, is that correct?" the older woman said in an authoritative tone, stern yet comforting.
"Yes, ma'am." Lori said quietly.
"And what do you know about our fair city?" she asked again. "What were you told, growing up?"
Lori stared but didn't want to answer. She didn't have to.
"You were told, undoubtedly, that we are monsters, that we mutilate young girls, that it is far better to live you life among the squalor of the barter towns than here, in New Adeimus. It's an awful place where you have no freedom. Am I correct?"
"Yes, ma'am." Lori said again meekly. She had heard all that, and worse.
"Let me then tell you the truth, and set the record straight. I will not hold anything back, and I will tell you things that will shock and disturb you, as you have not been raised in our society, but it will all be the truth, and what you do after that is completely your own choice. You can leave and go back to your barter towns, or you will be given the opportunity to become a member of our society."
Lori nodded her head and listened intently as the woman told her tale.
"To begin, we need to go back almost three hundred years, to a single woman. Her name was Elizabeth Gish, and she was born a very sick little girl in a poor family. She was born with a disease that robbed her of the use of her legs, and also, as she got older, her hearing. Most children in her condition, at that time, were simply set aside, ignored by a society. Elizabeth was different, though. She found books, and began to read. She discovered science, mathematics, chemistry. She would wheel herself to the library and take out stacks of books, always learning.
"Because of her interests and focus, she did very well in school, earning a minor degree, but it was very difficult for her to find work. Her mother and father passed away, and unable to find steady employment, Elizabeth was forced to move into a state-run home for the disabled. Here, she dove into her books more, and eventually found a low-level position at the local university. It didn't pay her much, but she wasn't interested in money - she wanted access to the college lab. You see, Elizabeth had found something, in all her books. An idea, more than anything, and she needed to try it out.
"It took her two years, working on an off, before she discovered the correct formula - a biological cocktail that people of her day considered a miracle. It was a nerve agent that could actually stimulate rapid nerve and tissue regrowth, even in spinal or brain injuries - something common and incurable in those days. She saved and helped millions of people, but to the astonishment of the world, she refused the treatment herself - a treatment that could have, at the very least, allowed her to walk. She said that it was her disability that had allowed her to find the cure - if she had been born whole, like most children, she would have been lost in a myriad of useless pursuits and childish games. It was this idea, this attitude that was the beginning of the basis for our current society.
"Of course, many ideas have evolved since then; we don't believe in taking away a child's childhood, for instance. But at the age of eighteen, each girl in our society is expected to voluntarily go through Puberty and attain their true Womanly form as chosen by FATE. Such a woman is a full member of society, can vote, can hold a job, hold office, be granted a husband - all the benefits of our advanced society are hers."
"And if she won't?" Lori asked.
"A woman over the age of eighteen cannot become a member of society unless she has gone through puberty. I'm sorry."
Lori understood what she meant.
"And, if I agree, if I go through this 'puberty', what then? I don't know anyone here, I don't know anything about your culture - even as a 'Woman' I still won't fit in." Lori said.
"You are wrong on both counts, Lori." the woman replied. "First, you have family here - your mother was Alicia Dorrance, the second daughter of Senator Margaret Dorrance. You have an aunt and a grandmother who are still alive, and would very much like to meet you."
"But, I know nothing of-"
"Yes, you are uneducated and no nothing of our society, but this can also be remedied. We will teach you, train you in a skill of your choosing, and help to integrate you into society - our society."
"But, what about men - none of the men are disabled, that i can tell."
"Ah, yes - men. Men are a necessity, of course, but they are too unpredictable, too violent when left in control. Every war and battle ever fought in the history of the world was fought because of men, fought for men. Several hundred years ago we shifted to a matriarchal society - women are in charge, men assist us. It isn't really a subservient role, but they have no vote, no power - they willingly give it up, to live in a society of peace and understanding."
Lori thought of the barter towns, the men in charge of them, the violence. She simply nodded.
Lori sat for a long while, just sat there. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she looked up at the woman in the wheelchair.
"Does it hurt?" she asked. The woman smiled widely.
"Not at all, my dear. Not at all."
Once Lori got a clean bill of health and another good meal, she was taken to a 'reception center', where she was told she would stand before FATE. She was very frightened, anxious, uncertain of the choice she was making, but she had to admit - everyone looked happy here, happy and clean and well fed. Was she willing to give up some part of her, if it meant being happy and taken care of, maybe making a difference in the world? She thought so.
The waiting room was bright and cheerful. There were a number of girls there, all looking younger and healthier than Lori. Some of them stared at her strangely, others simply stared straight ahead. One by one they were called up to a strange platform. Lori watched as a picture of the girl would be shown, then be replaced with another picture, of the same girl, but different. The first had only one arm, the second had black spots over her ears, the third, had a single leg. They went on like this, and Lori again became frightened. She was really doing it, volunteering to let them harm her, cripple her. The line grew shorter, and Lori began to panic more. She began to notice the doctors that were coming out to meet the girls - most were in wheelchairs, a few on crutches. The other girls seemed frightened, too, but not like Lori. They had resigned themselves to this fate - their only question was what they would be shown on that platform. Another went up - black shading over her legs. Another - no arms. Another - black shading over her eyes. Suddenly, Lori found herself alone in the large reception room, and a name was being called.
"Lori Dorrance." the nurse said into the room. Lori just looked at her at first, not recognizing the name as hers - they used her last name, now that they knew it. Lori stood up, but almost fell back down - her knees were shaking so much, she could barely walk. As she made it to the platform, Patricia came out of the next room.
"It's OK Lori, I'm right here, and I'll explain everything as it happens. This happens to all women, and it is a perfectly safe and natural process."
"I'm scared.' Lori said.
"I know, but I promise, it will be OK. I will give you one more chance - a chance most girls at this point don't get. You can leave now, just forget about the whole thing." Lori could tell she was serious.
"And then what?"
"And then the only thing that can happen, Lori. Back to the barter towns."
"I'm ready." Lori said. "I want to do it. I understand the consequences, I accept my decision."
She stepped onto the platform and felt a humming, up through her feet. On the screen was an image of her, naked. It disappeared, and after what seemed an eternity, the picture was replaced with another. Again, it was an image of Lori, naked, but this time her legs ended midway between her hips and her knees, just small round stumps.
"What, what does it mean?" she asked Patricia, looking at the abbreviated image of herself.
"That is your womanly body." Patricia said. "It shows how you should look, as a woman."
"But, I've got no legs!" Lori said, frightened.
"No, and that's the way you are supposed to look. It was determined by FATE." Patricia said. "Come on now, follow me."
Lori followed the one-armed Patricia in silence, through a door, and met with an attractive female in a doctors uniform. She was on crutches, with one of her legs missing completely. Lori stared at the empty air where her missing leg should have been.
"It will all be OK Lori." the woman said, balancing on her crutches as she shook Lori's hand. "Please, come with me."
Lori followed the woman into a small room with a medical table in the center of it. She had Lori drink a glass of the brown, sweet, fizzy liquid that Patricia had called 'soda' and then lay back on the table. It was only a matter of moments before she felt lightheaded, her vision blurry. She was unconscious before she had a chance to ask what was happening.
Lori awoke feeling strange. Her head was foggy from the sedatives, and she suddenly realized she couldn't see - was this some trick, blinding her? She began to panic, until she heard Patricia's voice and felt her hand on her shoulder.
"It's OK Lori, I'm here, everything is fine." she said soothingly.
"I can't see - why can't I see??" Lori asked, frantic.
"You're just blindfolded, that's all - it's our custom."
"I don't like it - take it off!" she said. She was serious - she didn't like the utter feeling of helplessness that it caused in her.
"Ok, I suppose we can make an exception in your case. Hold on a moment." Patricia said.
Lori felt the bandages being removed and taken away from her eyes. She squinted in the bright lights of the room. She saw Patricia, and the one-legged doctor. She looked down at herself and saw the bedsheets, where they dropped off in the middle of her thighs. She had no legs, none at all. She would never stand or walk or run again. How could she have done this to herself - how could she have traded her legs for a few good meals and a shower? She looked up again at Patricia and just began to cry, deep, wracking sobs that she couldn't stop. Patricia moved in to hold her.
"NO!" She shouted. "Stay away from me. Look what you've done to me!" Lori cried.
"It was your choice, Lori." Patricia reminded her sternly. "You knew what the consequences of your choice would be, and you still made that choice freely. It's too late to back out now."
Lori remained silent. She knew Patricia was right - she had chosen this, knowing full well what the consequences could be. She had chosen this as a way to start a new life, a better life for herself, and now, for the rest of her life, she would have to live with that decision. She told Patricia and the doctor to leave her alone, and she layed back down, wanting to go back to sleep.
The next few days were confusing for Lori. She was still in recovery, though with the drugs and treatments they were giving her, her legs - stumps, she reminded herself - were nearly completely healed. They were also teaching her a great deal about society, and her place in it. It seemed that women had a great deal of power here, and Lori had the opportunity to be just about anything she wanted, do anything she wanted. It was an incredible change from just a week before, when the best she could hope for was a small garden and maybe a career scavenging old technology.
After four days, Lori's amputations were sufficiently healed for her to get out of bed. A male nurse brought in a special wheelchair for Lori, and Patricia explained that the chair was actually form fit to her own measurements. Patricia and the nurse helped Lori get into the wheelchair, and Lori suddenly felt better - at least she had a way to get around, and it wasn't like a woman in a wheelchair was an unusual site.
"Lori, this is Alexa - she will be your instructor now." Patricia said. Behind her, a young woman in a wheelchair - she had legs, but they were thin - entered the room.
"Hello Lori, it's nice to meet you." the woman said.
"Hello." Lori replied, a little confused. "My instructor for what?"
"For you, to learn how to do things now." Patricia said. "you're in a wheelchair now - it will take some adjustment and training.
Lori nodded that she understood, then turned to Alexa. "What will I learn?" she asked.
"Well, for starters, getting in and out of your chair, things like that." Alexa replied.
"That sounds easy enough." Lori replied.
"OK then - do it. Get back in bed." Alexa said. Lori nodded and moved her wheelchair into a better position. She was uncertain where to put her arms for the best balance, and she nearly fell. She struggled a bit, then ended up dragging herself onto the bed clumsily. She sat up, a triumphant smile.
"There, no problem." Lori said.
"Very good." Alexa said. "But a little clumsy. Try this."
Alexa wheeled herself up to the bed, and with what looked like a single fluid movement, lifted herself gracefully and landed on the bed next to Lori, her legs hanging limply over the edge. Lori had barely seen it happen.
"OK, I guess you can show me a few things." Lori said sheepishly.
Alexa transferred herself back into her wheelchair, more slowly this time so Lori could watch the sequence of movements, then Lori herself tried it. It was better than her first try, but now much, as she landed crooked in her wheelchair, her stumps pointing sideways.
"That didn't work so well." She said, straightening herself out.
"We'll work on that, too." Alexa smiled.
Lori's training wasn't as difficult as she imagined it would be - growing up in the Barter Towns had put her through much worse. It was mostly learning a new sense of balance, a new way of moving when not in her wheelchair. By the end of the first week, she was not only coming along, she was assisting some of the other girls there in training, with the instructor's permission. She was adapting to life in a wheelchair very quickly, and helping others to do so.
"You're showing great improvement, Lori." Alexa said, watching Lori smoothly lift her toppled wheelchair and then lift herself back into it with ease.
"Thanks. It's not so tough, if you've got the right teacher." Lori said, smiling.
"I think after today, you'll be ready to go home."
"Home?" Lori said, startled. She immediately thought of the barter towns, of her old shack.
"Home here, Lori. There is already a nice apartment waiting for you - adapted specifically for you. It's nearby, too."
"But - what will I do, once I'm out?" Lori asked, wheeling up to Alexa.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Lori. I would like to offer you a position here, if you'll take it. Now, this doesn't happen often; women usually have to go through a lot of training to become a counsellor here - and you will, too - but I've seen a tremendous natural talent in you. Jennifer, the para girl that you helped with her transferring yesterday, said that you actually showed her how to do it better than I did. It might be because of where you were raised, but you have a different way of looking at things and explaining things that really comes in handy here. If you'll accept it, you've got a position here."
"I'll do it." Lori said without a second thought. The truth was she enjoyed helping people here, and after all, she did come to The City to make a difference, right?
Lori and Patricia and Alexa left the rehab center early the next morning, taking a transit rail to Lori's new apartment. As the doors opened to her new home, Lori was amazed to see two women already there, each with a man. Lori only had to glance at them to know that they must be her grandmother and aunt. Her grandmother was a stately woman, missing a single arm like Patricia. Her aunt was in a wheelchair, her thin legs obviously paralyzed. Lori was again surprised when, from out of a side room, two children, a boy and a girl, both came into the main room. The boy was older, maybe sixteen, and the girl might have been twelve. Both smiled at Lori as she wheeled herself in - these were obviously her cousins. She felt tears welling up in her eyes, thinking how much she had missed, living out in the barter towns.
The welcome home party was wonderful, Lori had never felt so happy. She was able to tell her grandmother about life in the barter towns - she glossed over some of the most disturbing details, such as the facts surrounding her own conception - and they all talked about life in New Adeimus, and how wonderful it was to have Lori with them. Everyone told Lori what a beautiful woman she made, and for the first time, Lori really believed them. Even so, even though everything was going well, even though Lori had a job and food and a purpose, for all intents and purposes a good life, there was something gnawing at the back of her mind - a promise she had made, that she was now uncertain she could ever keep.
It had been eight months since she found the note her daughter left, and Alicia Dorrance had given up hope. Those monsters had probably caught her and killed her, or worse. She cried for her only daughter, but part for her cried for herself, too. She was working out in the garden that Lori had always tended so carefully when she heard a strange, yet familiar noise. She looked up, and a large black all-terrain transport drove up to her shack. The people of New Denver came out of their shacks and trailers and stared at the transport like it was a demon. I stopped before Alicias' house, and the side of it opened up. A lift eased out of it, and on it sat Lori, looking healthy and beautiful, sitting in her wheelchair. The lift touched the ground, and Lori wheeled herself up to her mother. She didn't say a word, just handed her a picture - a group photo of herself, her aunt, and her grandmother, along with her cousins. Both women had tears in their eyes, and Alicia began to cry in earnest, kneeling down before Lori and hugging her tightly. Lori hugged her back, for the last time, and got back into the transport. It was all that needed to be said - her promise was kept. Alicia stared at the photograph of the family she shamed and abandoned, and stared at the transport driving off into the dusty distance, then she turned back to the small garden, tears still in her eyes.