The men grumble as I glide out of the teleporter with my arms outstretched. I bow my head and crack a smile, too small for anyone to notice. They look at me in anger and disgust.
“This bitch thinks she’s the queen of the universe,” their captain mutters.
The others try to hold back laughter while he cracks a bullshit smile.
“Alyssa! Welcome to our ship,” he says, annunciating carefully, ensuring that his words are understood by the lip-reading implant that he just assumes I have to use to understand him. “We’re happy to be taking you to Dagnarc space!”
Then he mutters:
The other men are ‘secretly’ in stitches. I smile broadly, like the magical girl I literally fucking am, then let my feet drop to the ground and engage my vocaliser:
“Thank you, I am very glad to be here,” the anime-inspired female voice says. “Hai!”
I curtsey in my pastel-pink Lolita dress. The tiered fabric flutters.
“I really wish he’d let us fuck her, take her down a peg,” one of the leering crewmembers laments.
“You know how the captain is. Has to keep his ‘gold star’ rating,” his buddy says, complete with air quotes.
All the crewmen laugh. The captain shakes his head, but I can see him grinning too. I feign shock and look towards them quizzically.
“Boys will be boys,” the captain says. “It’s just a harmless joke.”
I nod demurely. I’ll definitely make him lose his ‘gold star’ after this.
The captain takes my hand and leads me to my quarters, babbling incessantly about the technology that drives his ship, which I’ve read about a million times before. Naturally, he never thinks to ask. I dial my hearing down and turn back on the anti-gravity function on my knee-high white lolita heels and float six inches off the ground. I do this everywhere I go, except in high risk situations, and men especially detest it. I watch the captain look at me and cringe, then give a frazzled smile. I smile too, watching the relief spread on his brow. He thinks I think he’s lovely. Won’t he surprised? I’m not sure how the rumour started I was deaf, but the rest of it just comes down to my autism. I’m technically non-verbal thanks to my vocal dysphoria and crippling anxiety, but have been able to speak with a vocaliser since I was a toddler. They assume that my condition means I can’t read body language, but I learnt it. They assume that I’m dumb because I have a hyper-feminine persona, but actually I planned it all. The thing is everybody says that they aren’t sexist, that we live in an egalitarian society, but girls like me have always known the truth. There’s something rotten in the core of masculinity. All I ever do is bring it out.
“Now I know it’s probably smaller than the quarters that you’re used to,” the captain says. I dial my ears back up. “But if you need anything…”
I use my vocaliser:
“Thank you very much! Arigatou gozaimasu!”
He stiffens, with a little twitch under his chin. Fantastic. The voice is custom-programmed with a pseudo-AI chip that peppers everything I say with superfluous, cutesy Japanese. It makes these assholes furious. But the only thing that they can do about it would be try to kill me, and I have a chip that live-records my consciousness for automatic installation in the nearest of my many frozen clones, who’d come back with a vengeance and a hefty lawsuit, so I’m not really too worried about that. Besides, it’s only ever happened once. I made that guy a hell so awful that he took himself out six months later.
“Anything at all,” the man continues, grimly.
He clears his throat.
“Anyway, you know where to find me,” he says and turns away.
“Thank you! Sayonara! Bye!” my vocaliser says.
I hear him mutter something underneath his breath. I go into the room and flop down on the bed, covered in stuffed animals and pastel-coloured pillows exactly like my rider specified. Then I burst out laughing. These men are terrified of me! They’ve even left a bottle of my favourite champagne, and I didn’t think to ask for that. I briefly do a scan for poison, not that anyone would dare, and take the bottle to my ensuite bathroom. I run a bath with bubbles which I colour pink and baby blue with a setting on the tap, then remove my clothes. I slide into the water with the bottle in my hands. I remove the cap and drink, then notice that they’ve left the bong I asked for too. It’s even packed! I drop the bottle, light the bong and close my eyes, savouring the feeling of the bubbles on my skin and the calming smoke that fills my lungs. I exhale, and take another swig of the champagne. These men are everything I look for in a taxi service: sexist and afraid. I’ll have to give my manager another raise.
I haven’t always hated men the way that I do now. Actually, I used to fear them. I grew up in a Mormon family, who obviously used their ‘freedom of religion’ to abscond from mainstream thoughts on gender and assume that since I had a body their religion told them was a male one, I’d be happier to spend my life with boys than girls. Non-binary wasn’t even on their radar. You know how it is. We were dirt poor in a shitty ‘single resource’ colony, a boring, painful history shared by probably every interesting person in the universe. I don’t think about it very much because the person I was forced to be there was a person who bears no resemblance to the person that I am today, but I remember everything she suffered: the taunts from ‘other boys’ and ‘other girls,’ and the physical abuse she witnessed of the braver gender non-conforming kids, all of whom had killed themselves before adulthood. I got out of there through nothing more than luck, discovered holo-clash, and later got into ideomancy. My career snowballed after that. I was in the right place at the right time. If it wasn’t me it would have been another girl. And the joke that’s always lurking under my entire deal, the punchline that I wait for everyone to see is that I know it, I absolutely fucking do. I’m not a goddess, just a very lucky girl. So I use that luck to show the world the things I’ve seen. To show the world, that yes, actually it pretty much is “all men,” and that Humans, as a species, need to look at that and figure out exactly what it means. The lights go out as I pack another bowl. I frown, light it up, and take another hit. The lights don’t come back on. I put the bong beside the empty bottle on the ground, step into my clothes which sculpt themselves around me, then go back to my quarters. I check the room’s communicator, but it’s unresponsive. I notice there’s a thick light seeping out from behind the porthole curtain so I open it, and see the pulsing red of a Yztussian slave shield. I close the curtain. Great. The only thing I hate more than Human men is the fucking Yztussians.
Don’t mistake me for a racist. It’s nothing fundamental to their species. I mean, they’re insects, sure, but so are the Xzt Xzt and there’s nothing wrong with them, except the way they made our colonists have to give up that libertarian capitalist planet “William’s World,” and boo hoo hoo to that. Individual Yztussians are amazing. There’s a proto-feminist art movement brewing from their disenfranchised brood mares, and a growing social consciousness amongst their largest idle class whose purpose roughly translates as “consumers.” But as a culture, they’re completely fucked: an “ethical capitalist” race of masculinist nationalists who enslave other aliens to keep their unsustainable economy from burning out entirely. So yeah, I hate the Yztussians, similarly to how I hate “all men.” It’s not about the individuals, it’s about the group: the way they’re socialised from when they’re children, and the pain that causes them and other species. The statement serves a social purpose too. Legitimately left-wing Yztussians know it’s venting that they earn because they hurt us, not a thing we actually believe, but a lot of right-wing Yztussians act like they’re supportive of reform. They’ll pile on to a left-wing alien saying that they hate them, for the literally endless slavery and war crimes that the Yztussians perpetrate against their species, and act like that’s the reason that they won’t reform, rather than the life of luxury that every Yztussian earns from slavery. So I’m sorry if I say I hate the Yztussians, but I hope you understand that I have good reasons for doing so. I don’t care too much if you don’t though. You’re either on the side of justice or you’re not, and every moderate requires radicals to look a bit more civil by comparison.
I do a little spin to tell the nano-machine fibres that make up my outfit to rearrange themselves into my “battle mode”: a white with powder blue detailing flexi-metal armour-dress with a sensible amount of lace and bows that pulses at the edges. In this mode, the nano-fibres have a pseudo-AI function called “reactive sculpting”: a fancy way of saying that my armour-dress is capable of expanding and contracting to cover my entire body in response to threats. I can add additional parts in real-time too, by making alterations to the design of the dress. I pull back my hands and watch the nano-swords emerge from both my palms. They’re still okay, even though they’re six months overdue for their expected service, and the light-blade function still works fine. I retract the blades, and remove my vibro-pistol from the lacy garter-holster on my calf above my knee-high pastel-coloured candy-printed stockings, now revealed since my knee-high boots have reconfigured themselves into combat-ready cat-faced Mary Janes. I test fire at the floor to check the gun’s okay, then put it back and briefly flex my nano-wings. It’s not as though I think that I will need them: it’s just a good idea to check your tools before you go into a dangerous situation. I even do a small projection, though I’m pretty sure my AR stuff is working fine: a tiny fluffy gremlin on the bed. There’s no need to do a stop and scan, it’s much too small for that. The creature waddles up to me with its multi-coloured fur and roars, filling the room with the sulphur smell of its disgusting breath. I pet it on the head and it looks at me quizzically. Then I make it disappear. I look towards the door.
“Alright,” I whisper, in the only natural vocal tone that I can stand. “I guess it’s time I saved the crew.”
You can’t trust men with anything. In the time it took for me to run a bath and have a bong or three, the entire ship has gone to shit. I set my brain to flush out all intoxication as I step into the hall. A heavily-armoured group of Yztussians clumps from door to door, capturing men with energy lassos and throwing them to a bored-looking brood mare, who catches them in a shielded box attached by bloody claws to her fleshy belly. It looks painful, but that’s what life is for a brood mare, as their elongated fatty bodies and vastly lower birth-rates practically ensured the male majority would constantly deny them personhood, and relegate them to a social standing only marginally above their slaves. Transgender Yztussians never make it out of childhood, and they have a lot of “philoscience” proving that they can’t exist. Another reason why I hate the Yztussians: their misogyny colours every part of their society. Even Yztussian as a word specifically refers to men. “Female Yztussian” is an oxymoron. It can’t exist according to their language. The Yztussians point at me and time appears to stop. The walls of the ship become translucent, and I fill them in with pink then layer over 2D images of unicorns and teddy bears, which roll past like a carousel over images of Disney-inspired princess castles and animated cherry-blossom trees. I keep the ground metal, but change the look of it to zebra print: a little tell to let the Yztussians know they’re in the space that they were in before, but that it’s changed because of me. I place a little girl in the middle of the hall with her back towards the Yztussians, put a prop background in front of me to hide behind, and then allow myself to return to the world.
I feel the tiny drones imbedded in my spine release from every pore and bathe the room in light as time returns to normal. The Yztussians gaze around in open shock. They would have seen a flash of light, and now they’re standing in a wildly different place. I control everything that happens in here now. My defensive use of this technology is not unheard of, but it doesn’t happen much because of what it takes to use it. Being an ideomancer requires general creative aptitude, specialised technology, and years of mental training. The images you project are always born in your subconscious, in your dreams. Even if you had the aptitude, the tech, and the willingness to train in cultural sciences and lucid dreaming, you’d still have to want to be a soldier. You’d still have to have had the right experiences, usually from childhood, to have the sort of dreams that can be militarized. The government could do it all with gene modding and VR training, this is true. But even if that process wasn’t unethical and illegal almost everywhere in the galaxy, the government would still be dealing with profoundly broken people, and the truth is we don’t make good soldiers. We’re good at doing what we’re good at though, and I am very good at this. The Yztussians see the girl and move towards her. They try their energy lassos, but they pass through her. Their leader puts up just one claw for caution. He sends a lone man forward. He taps her on the shoulder and she turns around and laughs.
There’s another flash. I push the wall forward so it closes up the space then make sure the door behind them looks like just another wall. The colours run from the images on the walls like peeling paint as the bears and unicorns accelerate, shaking off their skin. The scene goes from day to night behind them, the cherry blossoms lose their leaves and the castles turn to rubble. The girl’s laughter rises to a crescendo and is taken up by every image in the room. Once the colour leaves the room entirely, it starts to leave her dress as well. The laughter stops as she watches the grey creep up her dress towards her neck. The 2D skeletons reach out from the wall to touch her then they start to laugh again. The Yztussians form a tight formation like they’re roman legionaries, lashing with their whips and firing their guns at my illusions. Once the grey has spread to the girl’s neck her eyes go wide. I retract my nano-blades and watch the Yztussians hear it. I smile, and run directly through my imaginary nightmares as the girl turns to dust. The skeletons remove themselves from the wall and fly around the air. These insects are already dead. I jump out through the image of the wall in front of them and do a mid-air spin. My blades flash, separating their heads from their bodies, and covering my armour-dress in luminescent blue Yztussian blood.
“Baka,” my vocaliser says and plays my victory tune.
I retract my blades as my dress cleans itself. My AR projections disappear.
The brood mare is shivering in the corner so I go to her and disengage the clamps. The box releases, turning off the shield, and the men pile out. They look embarrassed.
“Thanks, Alyssa,” one of them says.
“No worries,” I whisper.
“You can talk?” says another one. “Jesus christ.”
“Tell anyone, and I’ll make you wish you hadn’t,” I reply.
“I believe it,” the first man says. “Name’s Yusuf, by the way.”
I shake his hand. His grip is firm, but isn’t overpowering.
“The Yztussians took us by surprise,” Yusuf says. “We didn’t have the time to stop them.”
“I don’t need your male excuses,” I spit.
“Look, I get where you’re coming from. I’m actually trans myself,” he starts.
“Man,” I reply. “You’re a trans man.”
I slam my fist against the button for the turbo-lift and remove my vibro pistol from its holster.
“We don’t have anything in common,” I say.
The door opens. Yusuf looks at me.
“Stay here and look after the others,” I continue. “I’ll need you to retake the bridge.”
“You’re the only one I trust here not to fuck this up, but that doesn’t make us friends,” I say.
He shakes his head and looks at me with pity then he says:
I step into the turbo-lift and overhear him giving orders to the other dudes. I realise I am thankful he was there.
“Fucking men,” I whisper.
I hit the buttons for the shuttle bay, since the ship’s network is down and it can’t read my chips. The turbo-lift doors close. I sort of wish I wasn’t such a bitch to Yusuf, but I always get too caught up in my firebrand aesthetic. I look down and realize that I’m shaking. I’m such a fucking fuckup and this sort of thing is why I don’t have any friends. But it’s hard because I’ve drawn a lot of strength from it. It’s the only way I know to not feel like I’m not powerless. It’s the only way I know to distance myself from everyone who hurt me, when even the body I was born in feels complicit, and I’m crying now, I’m fucking crying. I wipe the tears out of my eyes as the turbo-lift door opens, and push the sadness down inside myself until I’m hard, like diamonds. This is how I’ve always understood the phrase that they’re a girl’s best friend. They’re beautiful and almost indestructible, like me.
There are five Yztussians standing around one of their Invader starships: it looks a little like a pustule-ridden classic sci-fi rocket ship, but horizontal, painted in a lurid brown and lime green pattern considered aesthetic to Yztussian eyes but almost no one else’s. They obviously haven’t had a slave delivery in a while and it looks like they’re annoyed about it. I stare at them and time appears to stop. The walls of the shuttle bay become translucent. I fill them in with lucky cat faces in a variety of different clashing colours, and decorate the floor with manga imagery. There’s a flash of light and time returns to normal. The Yztussians look confused. I hit them hard and fast, making the cat mouths open up and start to howl, crying bloody tears. The manga images on the ground have become animated pictures of Yztussians torturing each-other and the noise I that I create inside the room is so intense that I have to turn my ears off just to function. But the silence bothers me, so I fill my head with Grimes’s Kill V. Maim instead. Classic girly Earth music is definitely my aesthetic, and it really hit its peak in the first half of the 21st century, when female musicians all around the world had finally been allowed to express themselves after decades of direct and indirect repression. It got a little harder after that because the men suppressed it, naturally. They ruin everything.
The Yztussians aren’t retreating. They’re covering their tympanal organs and falling to the ground, but soon enough they’ll realize that they’re not in any danger. I can already see one of them tentatively realizing that it’s only images and sound so I aim my vibro-pistol at his guts and pop him in a burst of blue. I run forward and do a flip, extending my nano wings, and fire two more times, killing two more Yztussians in time with the beat. One of the surviving Yztussians wises up and fires at me with his plasma rifle as I land, and my nano-fibres flare to block the shot. B.E.H.A.V.E Arrest us, the ancient Earth musician sings, Italiana Mobster looking so precious. I run the plasma rifle-toting Yztussian through with the nano-blade in my left-hand and he looks down at his wound and gags, while I blind-fire with my vibro-pistol at the other Yztussian on my right. He explodes in neon shower of green blood, because they do that sometimes, and we haven’t done the research to know why. I pull the blade up through the other Yztussian’s body, cutting him in half while Grimes screams, you gave being good when you declared a state of WAR! Then turn back on my ears and turn off the projections. I climb inside the Yztussian spaceship. While galactic gender studies was my major and thought projection is my art, space ships are my primary autistic special interest. I know everything there is to know about them generally, so I understand exactly how to fool their bio-ship into thinking I’m a Yztussian pilot. I see a drop of blood splash on my exposed thigh and touch my face, wincing as I feel the gash left by the jagged edges of the nano-fibres. It stings but I can fix it later. At least I’m still alive.
I sit back in the slimy chair and watch the alien UI boot up on the viewscreen while Grimes sings about how she doesn’t behave. I wrench the fleshy throttle up and pull the joystick back, and the Yztussian rocket lifts into the air. I push the throttle forward and ease the ship out through the slave-shield into open space. I hang there a moment, mouthing along while Grimes sings: are you going to the party, are you going to the show, because I love that part, and hit the afterburner on the beat. I close the gap between the travel liner and the Yztussian mothership immediately, because Yztussian rocket ships are just that fast. Where most ships would have forward thrusters the Yztussians just have smaller 4D drives. It’s a fascinating method to propel the ship, albeit very dangerous, but the Yztussians think the risk of sudden death is worth the shock and awe of instantaneous arrivals. I press down on the trigger for the plasma cannons, and rip a hole in one side of the Yztussian mothership, spin the joystick head 180-degrees, then push the throttle forward, smashing my Invader into the hull before the mothership repairs the damage. I do this so the exit of my spaceship lines up with the entrance to the bridge, making sure that they can’t call for reinforcements. I turn off the music, since I need to focus, and exit the Invader to the bridge. There’s no one here. I narrow my eyes. I go over to the captain’s console and I try to use it, but it’s locked. Time stops as I scan the room.
Yztussian bridges have a gas release for just this very situation. I follow the tubes up from the floor into the ceiling and notice that it’s just starting to come out of the vents. I instruct the nano-fibres in my dress to construct me a rebreather then I lie down on the fleshy floor. Around me, I place a box that will display a 3D image of me reacting to the gas and across my face and another 3D image of myself with no rebreather. Then I notice the distorted outlines hanging in the air: stealth suits, a Yztussian staple. That means they’ll see my flash and know that something’s up. I notice that the gas is creeping out a little more and start to sweat. This slow time doesn’t last forever. It’s subjective, an internal trick to help me interact with what’s effectively an instant process. I look out of the viewscreen and see the other ship. Suddenly, I know what I can do. I hold my breath and time returns to normal. The gas seeps out and fills the room as the nano-fibres build me a rebreather. I breathe in. The light flashes at the same time as the travel liner appears to explode. The Yztussians disengage their stealth, looking at the image of my choking body and the floating rubble on the viewscreen. They’re not sure what to deal with first. My translator picks up this exchange:
“What happened?” one Yztussian says.
“We’re not sure,” says another. “Looks like the Human Ship has just exploded.”
“<alien expletive> this entire operation’s gone to <alien expletive> I knew I couldn’t trust in <untranslatable name>,” the first Yztussian says.
“They could have hit the self-destruct?” A third Yztussian says and moves towards me.
He pokes me with his gun.
“Who’s this then?” he continues.
“<untranslatable slur>” the first Yztussian says.
The Yztussians laugh. I roll my eyes.
There’s only four of them, but their stealth suits are a form of power armour, and my weapons just aren’t strong enough to breach it. They’re also holding auto-aiming gatling railguns, which will rip me up in seconds if I try. But those suits and weapons have to draw a lot of power, and neither one is big enough for an internal core. The power armour is the same shape as their exoskeletons, but thicker, while the railguns are designed to be as light as possible, presumably for easier deployment on the field. I look towards the power nodules that I know are built into the roof from all the starship blueprint books I’ve read and notice weblike crystal fibres running from their weapons to their armour. They must be the power cables. That means that all I have to do is figure out a way to have them cut the power on the ship. Their suits should disengage and then their weapons will be useless. Time stops and I tell the room to keep my current changes. Then I change the image on the viewscreen. I create a multi-coloured ASCII 2D image of a laughing skull, based on the aesthetics of late-20th century Earth computer viruses, which informs the Yztussians, in their native language, that their ship has been infected with a virus. They won’t understand the imagery, but they’ll know the skull is Human, which will make them think the virus was transmitted by the travel liner. I couple this with the appropriate warnings from their ship’s computer: shields are down, weapons down, engines are inoperable, and a message from the captain of the liner demanding their immediate surrender. The light flashes and they do as I expected: cut the power to eject the virus from their system. I end all of my projections. The crystal fibres shoot back up into the ceiling, and their armour retracts into a basic metal frame. I get up and fire. One Yztussian explodes.
“What?” says another one, before I blow him up as well.
“It’s a trap!” the other Yztussian says and looks at me. “Quick—restart the systems,”
I blow him up too.
The third one backs towards the viewscreen.
“I don’t want any trouble,” he says, his feelers searching around wildly for escape. “If you let me out of here I’ll turn the ship around. You’ll never have to see me again.”
“Not good enough. Jūbun janai!” my vocaliser says.
He closes his eyes and gulps. I blow him away, and my vocaliser plays its victory tune. I turn off its AI functions.
I go back to the Yztussian captain’s console and hail the Human ship. I ping it once, twice, then Yusuf answers. He’s covered blood, both the Yztussians and his own.
“Took you long enough,” my vocaliser says.
Yusuf shakes his head and grins.
“We can’t all be as functional as the great Alyssa,” he says. “But I think we did okay without your AR tech.”
I smile, and drop the shields on the Yztussian mothership.
“Can you lock on to my brain chip and teleport me out of here?” I ask.
“We’ve got a lock. Ready to transport on your signal,” he says.
“Alright thanks, I’ll let you know,” my vocaliser says.
I use the internal sensors to scan the Yztussian mothership. It looks like the only people left aboard are captured slaves. I set up a distress beacon on police-exclusive channels and I wait until I see their frigates popping out of warp. They hail, but I don’t answer, which will mean they’ll board the ship. Once they do, they’ll rescue the slaves.
“Alright, beam me up,” my vocaliser says.
I watch the frigates move towards the Yztussian mothership.
“Acknowledged,” Yusuf says. “See you soon.”
I’m going to be late again but my fans will love the story. That’s what being an ideomancer is all about. I close my eyes and feel the warmth spread throughout my entire body as the teleporter turns me into light.