Chapter 1: Logen
“A coin-flip?” Logen said with an eyebrow raised.
Zenith did not answer with words, only mirroring Logen’s face and nodding, as if ne was surprised at his confusion. This was a rare lapse in understanding.
“A fucking coin-flip?” Logen repeated, this time with more frustration.
“Yes, Logen; not a virgin coin flip, but a fucking coin-flip.” The sarcasm in Zenith’s tone of voice and the choice of words was the only action keeping nem from rolling nir eyes.
Their jehu guffawed at the joke, but the sound of air whipping in their faces drowned out his amusement. The sound of Ash’s laughter was difficult to differentiate from his heavy breathing when he brought the allo up to this speed.
“Zen, how long have I known you?” This time, Logen’s voice took a more serious tone. He was not as amused by his best friend’s joke as the other two people in the vehicle.
Although they had the same answer in their heads, Zenith humored him with a response. “Forever.”
More specifically, for the last two-thirds of their lifetimes.
“Forever,” Logen repeated to add emphasis. “And in all that time I can’t think of a single moment when you wanted a decision in your life to be made by anybody but yourself. Out of all the decisions you have made in your life, and ever will make in the future, this has to be the most important one. Now you’re telling me you’re going to decide with a coin toss, like you couldn’t care less. Your whole life is riding on this, and you’re going to let fate decide?”
“It’s not fate,” Zenith corrected. “How long have you known me?” ne asked. Logen glanced upward, annoyed with the humorous rhetoric. He didn’t answer, just waited for nir to continue. “In all that time, I’ve never liked how everyone tries to play a role in everything we do. I am supposed to declare by a certain deadline what sex to be for the rest of my life! I’m still a teenager, how am I supposed to know what I want to be for the rest of my life? No, I refuse to live by the rules of society. It’s not fate, it’s a choice. I’m choosing not to choose.”
“I think in this case it might be better if you chose to choose.”
They were finally entering Logen’s neighborhood now. Ash was making good time getting the vehicle to Logen’s house. It could not happen any slower, though. The conversation was taking a rare hostile turn between Logen and Zenith.
“And how should I choose?” Zenith asked. “Based on the statistics they feed us I should be a woman, right? I read the news articles. According to them, only twenty-five percent of the population chooses to be female, and that’s just another way the human race is damned to extinction. But I don’t think those stats are true. I’m sure there’s an ulterior motive. Out of all the people I’ve talked to, it seems like it’s the other way around. I mean, besides you and my brother, everyone is feminating. But if that’s what you want me to do then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll feminate because society wants me to.”
“No, that’s not why I want you to feminate,” Logen said. “I want you to feminate so when you’re a woman we can finally get married and make love and have six children and grow old and die together in Eden.”
Zen peered at Logen with a derisive expression, but it morphed into a smile in less than a second. The two of them laughed aloud for some time. Any time either of them talked about getting married, hilarity would ensue. Their relationship was familial, not romantic, and Zenith’s sex declaration was not going to change that. Logen breathed a sigh of relief at the brief break in tension.
“Seriously though,” Zenith continued with nir argument, sounding a little less upset than before. “What better way than to not choose when that’s all people want from me? I feel like that is exactly what you should expect from me, right?”
“I guess,” Logen conceded. “I kind of find it hard to believe after waiting until the day before your seventeenth birthday, so much longer than anyone ever waits, you’re still indifferent. You must have thought about one or the other before. Everyone has a preference.”
“Nope,” Zenith said, smirking. “Why do you think I waited this long? I honestly do not want to choose. If it was up to me, I would just stay an andy for the rest of my life. Most people start feeling like they aren’t in the right body by this point in their lives. But I guess I’m more comfortable in this body than most people are in theirs. I’ve found a way to accept it, and I don’t think I would be happy with masculation or femination. I’m not gonna let the government dictate my decision. I want to take an unorthodox approach.”
“You mean like your brother did,” Logen said under his breath, but still loud enough for Zenith to hear.
“Hey,” ne said in defense of nir brother. Logen looked downcast, realizing he may have crossed a line.
The two of them sat quietly for two minutes before Zenith continued. “Nicke made a decision that wasn’t forced on him by anybody. He wanted to marry Eclid, so he masculated. They made their decision based on love. As stupid as I think love is, I think it’s a respectable decision. For them, it wasn’t about ease. If that were the case for me, I’d masculate. And it wasn’t about statistics, otherwise I’d just feminate. In a way, I want to follow their lead and do something a little different.”
Logen took a deep breath through his large nostrils and brushed some hair out of his face. “Do you think your brother made the right decision in taking the unorthodox approach?”
Logen tried to show a hint of empathy, knowing what Zenith’s brother was struggling with in his personal life. Even so, he had to bring it up to make a point.
“He’s working his way through it, like all of us are. But hey, if the world were like it used to be…”
“We’d all be fertile, old, and free,” Logen finished out of habit. His auburn eyes met with Zenith’s dark green eyes, and they immediately understood each other. As cynical as Zen was, Logen had to admit he did not like the motto either. Even to him, it led to too much complacency. Now that people were making the most important decision of their lives while they were teenagers, it seemed like there was a mentality all other decisions were out of their control and lacked importance. Thus, Zen was making a good point. Dammit, Logen thought to himself.
“Not all of us know exactly what we want to be by the time we turn thirteen, Logen. We can’t all be like you. Besides, there are people who declared as early as you did and ended up regretting it by the time they hit age twenty. So, I held out as long as I could. I mean, at least I’m not exiling myself to Viranna or something. Between the two of us, you are the outcast. You’re the one who’s going to live in Vera. I’m staying right here and going to school in Fenicia like we were supposed to do.”
This used to be a sore subject for the two of them. Vera, the most populous province east of their hometown of Fenicia, was one of the most dangerous places to live. It had been that way since long before either of the two was born. Vera was one of the provinces that had not yet fully recovered after the SHF Era.
Over the last twenty years, the Fenician government founded many organizations to fund astute teenagers and young adults to continue their education while simultaneously helping the less fortunate community of Vera. The most recent project, undertaken by The Spivak Foundation, planned to build an assignment hospital in downtown Vera. Logen’s parents, the highest donors to The Spivak Foundation, would send him there during the summer. That meant he and Zenith would separate in a month.
“You know I’ll visit all the time,” Logen said, although he didn’t know if he meant it. Travel between Fenicia and Vera was at least a week without rest breaks. It wasn’t too expensive for Logen’s family, but it still wouldn’t be a simple feat.
The allo decelerated and turned into Logen’s driveway. Two stories high, the house could have contained a family of twenty, though Logen only lived with his parents and one sister. It was one of the biggest houses, with one of the largest doors, in all of Fenicia.
“Ash, do you have a coin?” Zenith asked. Logen couldn’t hide his disgusted reaction.
“No, not on me,” Ash answered after his breathing was more controlled. “But when we go inside I can find you one.” Although Ash did not live in their house, one of the rooms was specifically for him. Over the last few years, Logen’s parents had been less present, leaving Ash to go beyond the task of chauffeur and adding the task of caretaking. It didn’t require much effort; Logen and Zenith were old enough to take care of themselves. But Ash was a support system when necessary.
“Don’t worry about it, Ash,” Logen said. He came off a little blunter than he meant to but wanted to be assertive. He felt Zenith’s leer pierce into his temple, so he let it glance off him as he jumped out of the allo.
The three of them walked up to the door and Logen opened it to let everyone inside the house. The atrium on the other side of the front door was the size of most of the other houses in the neighborhood. If Ash, Logen, and Zenith stood on each other’s shoulders, they would not reach the ceiling.
“I’m going to my room,” Ash said, separating from the rest of the group. “You sure you don’t need a coin?”
“Yes,” Logen said before Zenith could open nir mouth.
When Zenith turned to glare at Logen, he was already waiting with a glare of his own. When ne saw this, ne nodded to Ash, looking defeated. The two of them did not move or speak until after Ash had left the room.
“Come with me, Zen,” Logen said. He rarely used the big brother tone with Zenith, but his original empathetic strategy had not been as successful. He walked to his right, the opposite of where Ash had gone, down the hallway towards both of their bedrooms, and turned right to go to his room. Tempted to turn and make sure Zenith was following him and not going straight to nir room, Logen listened for footsteps. When the pattering did not quiet, he knew ne was obediently following.
Usually when Logen went to his room, he would close the door and ask to be left undisturbed. This time, he opened the door and left it so Zenith could enter. He went straight to a dresser drawer, still not acknowledging Zenith. Once he opened the drawer and sifted through some junk for long enough, he found what he was searching for.
Turning, Logen faced Zenith and made his way toward nem. He held out his hand so Zenith could reach it.
“What’s this?” ne asked.
“Just take it,” he said, trying to sound like he did not want to argue. Zenith held out nir hand to accept. “Do you remember what that is?”
Zenith’s eyes gleamed in recognition. Ne looked up. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Yeah,” Logen answered. “It’s the old quarter you gave me when your brother got married and you first moved in here. You said you had plenty and you would pay me one for every day I let you live here without telling my parents. It was the first and last one you gave me.”
Tears appeared to be forming in Zenith’s eyes. Ne hadn’t seen the coin since ne gave it to Logen five years ago. Logen knew it would come in handy one day even though it was no longer worth anything. Currency had changed twice since the SHF Era, first to condoms, then to the various sex hormones. Metal coins were no longer considered valuable. Coins weren’t too difficult to come by, but most people only kept them around for antiquity or symbolism. The sentiment had more of an effect on Zenith’s emotions than Logen had intended.
“Flip it,” Logen said with an encouraging smile. He moved to his bed and sat down.
Zenith gazed up from the coin, not shifting nir body in any way. Ne looked like ne needed further direction. “Are you saying you’re okay with me making a decision this way?”
“I didn’t say that at all,” Logen told nem, “I only said flip it.”
The reminiscent gaze Zenith had disappeared. Ne seemed to be trying to read Logen, who remained stoic. Ne wiped the tears from nir eyes and set nemself up to flip. “Heads is femination, tails is masculation.”
It sounded a bit like a question to Logen, so he nodded and let nem continue. Zenith dipped nir hand and flipped the coin into the air. It was floating for less than a second, but Logen did not care. He never bothered to watch the coin rise and fall. He only watched Zenith’s face.
The quarter fell into Zenith’s right palm, and ne flipped it onto the back of nir left hand without revealing it. Ne held nir hands together and gawked at Logen with wide eyes to repeat, “Heads is femination, tails is masculation.”
Logen’s face remained indifferent as he nodded once more. Zenith revealed the coin to nemself, and nir face betrayed nir surprise. Ne did not appear happy by any means. If anything, ne was disappointed in whatever side was gazing up at nem.
Finally, Logen altered his expression. He couldn’t help but smile, feeling like his plan worked out how he had hoped. “See, Zen,” he began, “I don’t even need to see what the coin says. I can see it in your face. Whatever side came up wasn’t the side you wanted.”