Chapter 4: Zenith
Zenith couldn’t remember the last time ne had been to the hospital. Up to this point in nir life, ne had been quite fortunate not to fall victim to injury or illness. When ne approached the building though, ne felt it was a shame ne had not been here much before. The building was more like a temple or a castle than a hospital. During the Hostility Era, hospitals were the most vital buildings of all, housing the scientists who hoped to find a solution to the problem that threatened to end the human race. If the world had crumbled, and the hospital still stood, there was still an iota of hope. Fortunately, science prevailed, and the Fertility Era began a century ago. The building was a commemoration of the triumph of technological advancement in the face of extinction.
Heaven’s Breath Hospital in particular had quite an edifice. The name came from the windmills built all along the sides and roof of the building. It was said to be powered by heaven’s breath. Too bad the winds weren’t as strong here as they were in some of the eastern provinces.
The entrance to the hospital opened like a horizontal portcullis, permitting Zenith entry into its inner depths. It was not as crowded as ne had expected. There were a few people who were Zenith’s age, and only a few more who were a generation older. Ne ambled past them on the way to the check-in table. All but one avoided making eye contact, staring at the cement floor or the ceiling ten feet above their heads. When Zenith reached the check-in table, a young lady was waiting to greet nem. Her hair was shorter and straighter than Zenith’s, but they looked very much alike. “Good afternoon,” the lady said. She may have been trying to force a smile, but the expression only made it far enough to smirk.
“Hi,” Zenith said, sounding equally as unenthusiastic as the concierge. “I’m here to declare.”
A more genuine expression of joy appeared on the young woman’s face. She sat up straighter, revealing a nametag reading “Vee.”
“Oh,” Vee said, “well, congratulations. Please, check in here.” She pointed to a device containing a screen with nothing but an oval in the middle.
Fingerprint identification was one of the few technologies to survive through the SHF Era, thanks to the hospital system. Fingerprints were more efficient and made research easier when it was needed the most. It had been said that going to the hospital was like signing your life away temporarily, because they needed as much data as possible and would take as much of it from you as they could. Since the world was improving again, it didn’t feel that way anymore, at least not to most people. Zenith felt like ne would be watched at every moment after ne placed the pad of nir fourth digit in the middle of the oval.
After a few seconds, a line grew at the bottom of the screen. Once it reached the other end of the screen, the name “Zenith Anderson” flashed in green letters.
“Perfect,” Vee said in reaction. She turned and pointed down the corridor. “Now if you’ll just head down to the end of the hallway and go through the double doors and up the stairs, you can declare up on the eighth floor.”
“Stairs?” Zenith said, “All the hormones you all put in this place, you couldn’t afford an elevator shaft or something?”
Vee peered at Zenith as if she would set off on a diatribe about the entitlement of youth, but her face softened. “I keep asking the same thing. I guess the money goes to other services. At least I hope.”
A second representative, and a second fingerprint scanner, now stood in front of Zenith. Just when ne felt like nir breathing was under control, ne began to hyperventilate again.
This time, the screen was different. There were two ovals instead of one. Above the left oval was the word “FEMINATION” and above the right the word “MASCULATION.” The two astrological symbols for each sex sat in their respective capsules. Above everything was the most daunting phrase imaginable: “Choose one”.
Zenith’s emotions were near impossible to control. Nir hands were shaking at nir sides before ne lifted them. Nir vision blurred until ne heard a man’s voice whisper, “Breathe.”
The world became clear again once Zenith inhaled. Ne forgot ne wasn’t alone in the room. An older man across from nir was watching the entire time, adding to the pressure ne already felt. The decision was much more difficult than ne imagined it would be over the last day. Even though the choice was obvious, Logen’s words resonated in nir mind. 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. It wasn’t until this moment when the words actually hit nem, and hit nem hard. Zenith stared into nir reflection in the black screen between the options and wondered if ne would be able to look at nemself the same.
After first cracking nir knuckles at nir sides, Zenith slowed nir breathing and placed nir fourth digit into the femination oval. Three seconds later, a dull sound rang from the fingerprint scanner to acknowledge the declaration had been received. There was a sense of relief, but Zenith’s hands still quivered.
“Congratulations, Zenith,” the older man said with a smile. “You are now on the glorious road toward womanhood.”
“Do you say that to everyone?”
The man furrowed his brow. “Uhmm, yes?”
“I wouldn’t,” Zenith said. The man’s face resembleded a sad animal more than a human being. The gesture had an effect on Zenith’s outlook. “I’m sorry.”
“Trust me,” the man said, the smile slowly returning to his face. “That’s not the worst reaction I’ve ever heard. You can go ahead and make your way through these doors to my right and walk into room four. One of our doctors will be right with you.
“Thank you,” Zenith said, feeling a little bit of repentance.
Sitting alone on the examination table, Zenith gave some thought to the situation.
This day was the turning point. Ne was no longer a ne. Ne was now a she, and would be a she for the rest of her life.
How would her friends and family react? How long would it take before they learned to speak of her rather than nem? How long would it take Zenith to learn to refer to herself as herself and not nemself? With a touch of a button, her life changed, and would never return to the way it was.
The sound of the lock clicking made Zenith jump when the doctor arrived. A caramel-complexioned woman with dark brown eyes and scrubs came through the door and introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Doctor Mortensen. Are you Zenith Anderson?”
“Yes,” Zenith said, “but most people call me Zen.”
“Alrighty, Zen, it’s nice to meet you, dear. According to my file, you’ll be feminating, right?” The doctor hardly looked down at her e-tab, maintaining disturbing eye contact with Zenith.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Okie-dokie,” Dr. Mortensen said as she set down the e-tab on a counter across from Zenith. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a general medical exam to make sure your body is healthy and ready to take on the femination therapy.”
“Sure,” Zenith said. While the doctor inspected her ears, nose, throat, eyes, and various other parts of her body, a question came to Zenith’s mind she could not keep from asking. “Am I the oldest patient you’ve ever had?”
Doctor Mortensen hesitated, but clearly tried to pretend it didn’t catch her off guard. “Well, as a matter of fact, you are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not something you see every day. For various reasons, most young people declare far before they turn seventeen. Happy Birthday, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Zenith said. “I guess that would explain why you keep speaking to me like I’m a toddler.”
“I suppose it is. I apologize, I typically deal with such young people I am used to making my patient’s comfort the first priority. But it seems to me like you’d be more comfortable if I treat you like a mature adult. Take normal breaths while I listen to your heart and lungs.”
Zenith waited until a moment she could speak again without disrupting the doctor’s listening. “What do you think are the biggest reasons people declare so young?”
“Sex,” Dr. Mortensen said, abruptly becoming more frank. “At least that’s what most of them tell me. Andies can have sex, but it’s not quite like it is after assignment therapy. So, they declare as soon as they decide what they want to be. Then the genetalia fully form and they’re free to have as much sex as they want. It also opens up their options for marriage. If someone declares, they are more marketable, for lack of a better word. In a way, I can’t blame them, and I think it’s better, from a medical perspective.”
“You’re very inquisitive,” the doctor said, smirking as she typed on her e-tab. “Most people are too nervous to ask questions.”
“I think I’m too nervous not to,” Zenith said, shrugging. “Plus, I’m going to school next year and might study medicine. At least that’s the plan; so, some of this is intriguing.”
“Studying medicine at seventeen, huh?” she asked as she donned gloves. Zenith nodded. “Good for you. Drop your pants, please.”
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Mortensen said, a bit abashed. “I usually warm up to it with the younger patients, but you don’t want that, so I’m trying to find the balance. Also, most children are afraid of needles, so I put them to sleep while I do this. But anyways, I need to have access to your pelvic region so I can take a blood sample.”
“Why my pelvic region?” Zenith asked, feeling a bit skeptical of the entire procedure.
“It’s more than just a blood sample,” Dr. Mortensen explained. “We say blood because it’s simpler. As you probably know, Miss Future Doctor, sex differentiation used to occur before birth. Since the SHF, not only does sex differentiation occur later, but we have to initiate it medically, hence assignment therapy. We do this, and replicate the process of natural puberty, between the ages of thirteen and eigthteen, otherwise there are health risks. That five-year period is prime for a declaration, hence we have our laws. But it all starts with tissue samples. I need a sample of your gonads, blood, and a few other things to make sure your body won’t fight the therapy as soon as we start it. It’s rare for anything to go wrong at this stage in the process, so you shouldn’t be too concerned…Pants, please.”
“But something can go wrong at other stages?” Zenith said as she pulled her waistband down and laid back on the table.
“Something can go wrong at all stages.” The doctor said as she pulled out the longest needle Zenith had ever seen. At the right angle, Zenith figured it could pierce through her whole body. She tried to focus on what Dr. Mortensen was saying to keep from thinking about the pain she would likely endure. “That’s why I support the laws of the land. We need people to declare early on. If people could choose to be epicenes their whole lives, there is a chance the human race could go extinct. It almost happened once and it can certainly happen again. That’s only a small part of my medical perspective.”
“What are some of the other parts?” Zenith asked through clenched teeth.
“Well,” Dr. Mortensen began, “there’s always the issue of haptica. With how many kids come through these doors with overdoses, and how many more end up dead from it, I think it’s better they declare early. Chances of abusing haptica dramatically decrease after assignment therapy, because you don’t need it as much to get off anymore. People still use it as adults, but it’s not nearly as detrimental. It’s all pretty disturbing, but that’s just how I feel about it. Okay, you’re going to feel a pinch in your pubic area, try and relax for the few seconds this takes.”
Zenith craned her neck and stared at the wall opposite Dr. Mortensen. She was prompted to take a deep breath and did so with ease. Until a searing pain between her legs made her instinctively jump. “Ah, fuck!” she yelled out of reflex.
“Relax,” Dr. Mortensen said with a previously unheard sternness. Zenith tried to exhale with more control, but it came out as smoothly as a rolling allo with a broken wheel. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, and she could feel them dripping down her arms and legs until the needle finally slid back out of her belly. Any longer and her eyes would have watered.
“Take this gauze and hold it here.”
“You call that a pinch?” Zenith said, trying not to raise her voice too much.
“Like I said, I usually put kids under. I know it’s painful; I’ve gone through it. But if you think the needle was bad just wait until the therapy kicks in. It’s the same as childbirth will be, only in a different way.”
“What kind of way?” Zenith asked, wiping the sweat from her brow.
“Well, in childbirth you know what’s causing the pain. But in this case, you really have no idea what’s going on. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know when it happens.”
“When is that?”
“Three months in. If you have an e-tab I can upload a file with all the information you’ll need. You won’t want to delete that. I’ll take this sample to the lab, and they should have their results in six hours.”
Zenith’s eyebrows raised. “I have to wait here for six hours?”
“Not here, just in the hospital. Since you’re going to be on the expedited version of the assignment therapy, we will begin today rather than after one week. You should feel special, it’s like you’re getting VIP treatment. There are a number of things you can do while you wait. Like I said, you can read up on what changes will occur to your body. Most people get real freaked out when the genitalia start to form. You’d be surprised how many visits I get due to false alarm. Another thing you can do is set up your appointment to get your sex identification tattoo. You would start by getting the initial circle for now, but after your therapy is complete you’ll get the cross at the bottom.”
“That won’t take six hours. I can’t just leave and come back tomorrow or something?” Zenith bargained.
Zenith stared at her doctor, hoping if she waited long enough Dr. Mortensen would guffaw and admit it was all a joke and she could go wherever she wanted. After ten seconds, nothing happened.
“I’m pretty sure I liked you better when you treated me like I was a child.”
Doctor Mortensen broke a smile before Zenith finished her statement. “Most children do.”
Zenith briefly considered pouting, but it would only prove the doctor’s point.
“Also,” Dr. Mortensen added, “on level two they have the station where you can go to change your name.”
“What do you mean?” Zenith asked.
“Well,” Dr. Mortensen said, “your name is fairly neutral, so you may not want to change it. But since this is a time when people feel their identity is changing, the government makes it free for them to change their name at any time during their assignment therapy. So, if your name was Jesse, and you were feminating, you would have to option to modify your name to Jessica, or you could even change your name completely. So, if you’re interested, you could change your name today. It could help you pass the time.”“Thanks,” Zenith said, “but I think I’ll pass. I don’t think my identity is different, and I think I’ve changed enough about me today.