Voyager Chapter 1

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This story is set in the world of The First Mother and relies on that story for context. If you haven't, please read that one first. Click here.

It was quarter to three in the afternoon and my worst fears had just come true. I was sitting outside the pharmacy where Mr. Benson had just given me the bad news.

"I'm sorry Alina, I tried" he'd said.

I know he did try and I was grateful for that atleast but what was I to do now? Mr. Benson operated one of the only pharmacies that had remained open in the middle zone even as the whole world crumbled around us.

Everyone else had closed down months ago but he remained open for people like me that needed him to survive. At a time like that when everyone was doing all they could to survive, he could have priced those meds at exorbitant rates but still he kept them reasonable. A true pillar of the community.

It helped that I only ever bought the same thing from him. Hormone Replacement Therapy. An estrogen pill that was the only reason I was still alive.

Somehow, even as food and water and all other essentials became scarce, Mr. Benson had always managed to find this pill to sell to me. When the dollar became worthless, he started letting me have it in exchange for food. For two years, he hadn't failed me once, until today.

I reached into my pocket to reveal my last batch. With apprehension, I counted the pills in the bottle. If I lowered my dose, maybe I could squeeze in another two weeks before I was out forever.

=^..^=

It took me a while to get back home as more riots and lootings had begun. Whether it was the masked men setting fire to a police vehicle or group of literal teenagers breaking into a supermarket, I did my best to avoid them all.

I don't even know why they bothered. Those places had stopped being stocked months ago. Nowadays, the only way to get food was from the weekly ration dispersal or to trade with someone that had hoarded before everything went to shit. The rations weren't nearly enough and most hoarders had their stashes plundered so those methods weren't even reliable.

I was able to get by without starving because both my parents had passed but their deaths hadn't been registered by The System so I was able to get ration for 3 from which paid for protection and my meds.

Somehow, I'd gotten by in this apocalypse but now I was well and truly fucked.

I took off all my clothes and stared at myself in the mirror as soon as I got home. The meds I'd been getting wasn't any of that fancy stuff that can change you completely in a matter of weeks. No, my meds were still the old formula that needed years to work it's magic. Two years later and it had definitely been good to me.

My breasts were small and my hips were almost nonexistent but I had a small waist and narrow shoulders so it was good enough.

My face was the star of the show. I looked very much like a girl which always made me smile.

I realised that all that progress was about to be for nothing as the longer I went without my meds, the more my body and face would revert to the ugly boy that I had once been. I was distraught.

Everything I'd gone through the last few months had been for nothing. I'd thought that even if the Earth was dying, as long as I was a girl, I'd be fine.

Now I didn't even have that.

A banging at my door caused me to jump. These days, visitors only meant trouble. This used to be a vibrant community when my parents bought this house. Now most people were either dead or just kept to themselves.

I was able to relax a bit when I remembered I was expecting someone. I hurriedly dressed and rushed to the door. Vance didn't like to be kept waiting.

I opened the door and stepped back for him to walk in. I glanced past him and breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed he was alone. That atleast meant he wasn't here to cause me any problems. He just wanted his protection fee.

"What took you so long?" he frowned and we walked in with that trademark limp. The result of a knife injury that healed wrong I heard.

"Sorry, I was getting dressed." I said cautiously. Vance was known for his short temper but still he treated me well enough and I wasn't in any hurry to change that.

"Where's the stuff?" he asked as he made himself at home on my couch.

"Let me get it, it's already packed"

I hurried into the kitchen to retrieve a bag that contained a large portion of the rations I'd received this week. Still, nobody messed with me so this was a small price to pay for peace especially at a time like this.

"Here" I handed the bag to him and stepped back "It's all there" I assured him.

"I know" He said struggling to his feet "You know what happens if there's even a grain missing. See you next week"

He limped to the door and that's when it hit me. The most brilliant idea. I had nothing to live for here. Without my medication, I would slowly waste away until there was nothing left. I had to try to find some more and I knew just where to start looking.

"Wait" I called out to Vance.

"What?" he sounded annoyed but I didn't care.

"I need... I need a way into the high zone" I stuttered.

He scoffed, "Are you joking?"

"I'm dead serious, Vance. Do you have a way or not?"

"Maybe I do, maybe I don't. First of all, how are you willing to pay for the trip?"

"You're standing in it" I said quickly.

"The house? Worthless. There's abandoned houses all over the place." he turned to leave.

"I have more food stored away. You can have all of it. Just leave me enough to make the trip"

He seemed intrigued atleast, "You're really serious about this"

I responded with a quick nod.

"Like I said, I may have a way. You'd have a better chance sneaking into Canada though"

From what I'd heard, the situation was little better there. The high zone here was my best bet. I hadn't thought yet about how I would buy it even if I made it there and found it but I couldn't think that far ahead.

"Not Canada."

He shrugged, "Okay then. There's a run happening tomorrow night. Show me how much food we're talking about and I'll see about getting you a spot".

=^..^=

I arrived at the compound where Vance's gang, Omega based their operations. They'd popped up recently and saw themselves as Earth's last residents. As most people were trying desperately to flee our dying planet by running to Mars or the Moon, Omega were more interested in taking over this one and enjoying their final days on it.

I'd made sure to dress warmly and comfortable because I didn't know what to expect from the trip.

A pair of jeans, a layered jacket and one pair of comfortable shoes were now all I had to my name. We'll that and the backpack that contained enough food to last me a few days.

The rest, I'd left in the hands of Vance and his Omega friends to do with as they pleased.

I took a deep breath before walking through the gates of the compound. The stares from all the men that guarded the perimeter made me wonder whether I was making a mistake trusting them like this.

The large compound itself used to be a government building but Omega took it over after all the officials fled the zone.

"Alina!" A boy I didn't recognize called out my name. He was young, around my age, barely old enough to drink.

"Where's Vance?" I asked as soon as the gap between us closed.

"Out. Come on, I'll take you to the others"

=^..^=

The boy led me through the large house where all kinds of people worked on something or another. A lot of them were either too old or too young to fend for themselves. Most would have starved out in the world by now.

"They are the families of our militia" the boy offered when he noticed my stares.

I didn't respond. I had my own problems. Since yesterday, I'd taken two more pills and another dose was due soon. I didn't have time to worry about other people.

The boy ushered me into a dimly lit room illuminated only by candles and the evening rays coming through the windows. I tried my best to keep from panicking as the young boy closed and locked the door behind me.

I scanned the room quickly and noticed there were three other people with me. 2 men sat together, maybe in their forties. The last person was a woman. I thought she might have been in her thirties but the apocalypse had a way of making everyone look older than they actually were.

I waved to her when I noticed her staring.

"I'm Shana" she said from across the room.

"Alina" I responded.

"Do you have anyone waiting for you?" she asked. I wasn't in the mood for talking but I also didn't want to be rude or make any unnecessary enemies.

I shook my head.

"My husband is waiting for me"

'Good for you' I thought to myself.

My lack of a response didn't deter her because she continued telling me about herself. Apparently she was a therapist before all the old systems collapsed. Her husband worked at RAW's branch in our zone. When the branch closed and all essential personnel were called up to the high zone, they were separated.

He was supposed to make an application for her but then with the total anarchy in the zone, that wouldn't have been possible.

After a while, her talking started to help me relax so I just listened. The two men mostly remained quiet or talked privately with each other which I didn't mind.

Some hours later, the four of us were packed into the back of a van with no windows. The first thing I noticed was the smell. It smelled like chemicals and cleaning agents. As soon as the van hummed quietly to life, I wondered where they found the power to charge a whole vehicle.

=^..^=

We rode in silence for the duration of the journey. Even Shana kept to herself. The nerves were finally getting to her. The fact that we were approaching the high zone was finally dawning on us. The border patrol was famously ruthless. If they caught us, we were in for a world of hurt.

I began to wonder whether my medication was worth all this. I could have been sitting in my living room right now or lying in bed curled up with a good book.

"It's okay" I heard Shana say. She looked more worried than I did.

The van drove for another half an hour before coming to a complete stop. It was totally dark outside when two men opened the back of the van.

One carried a folded ladder while the other carried a thick fabric that kind of looked like a blanket but wasn't any material I knew of.

"Stay close" they cautioned as we ditched the van and made our way through what I imagine was once a thick forest, now just a collection of tree stumps.

We walked for a long time through the former forest eventually coming to a section that had suffered severe fire damage. The path we followed told me that other groups had embarked on this same journey which atleast made me feel more reassured.

Shana looked to be struggling so against my better judgment, I let her lean on me. It was cold and my legs were sore but I couldn't think about that. I had come this far and there was no going back now.

Soon, I began noticing sweeping lights in the distance which signaled that we had reached our destination. The two men in charge had us hide low behind the stumps as the automated lights made their rounds. Peeking from cover, I could just make out a large fence that spanned the horizon. Atop the fence were multiple turrets scanning for the slightest bit of movement.

I hurried behind cover as the gravity of the situation hit me. There were guns and I was the intended target.

I looked to the others who lay low behind the trees. One of the men in charge regularly checked his watch before peeking out of cover.

This stalemate went on for a few minutes before the lights went off.

"Come on, hurry!" he urged us.

I helped Shana to her feet and followed the man. The lights were off, the turrets lay motionless.

One man set up the ladder, climbed it and placed the fabric atop the barbed wire fence.

"Hurry before the power comes on. The fence is electrified, you don't want to be on it when the power's back"

I helped Shana up the ladder then began to follow before I was pulled roughly to the ground. I'm sure it hurt but I was running entirely on adrenaline so I got right up to my feet.

The perpetrator, one of the men from the room had quickly taken my place on the ladder and had reached Shana at the top of the fence.

It looked to me like she was having issues jumping from that high up all the way to the ground. In similar fashion, he pushed her without a second thought.

She hit the ground hard and screamed. The man quickly climbed over the reinforced fabric and dropped down from the fence.

The other man from the room actually helped me up on the ladder which I was very grateful for. Not to waste any time, I made the climb as quickly as I could and jumped over.

Shana's screams drew the attention of a nearby searchlight which focused in our direction. An alarm was sounded. I was still reeling from the pain of the high jump but I had to get moving.

As I struggled to my feet, the second man made his jump, reunited with the other man and and hurried away. That's when the gunshots started.

I crawled to where Shana lay on the floor crying, her leg was broken. I could see the way it twisted in an odd direction it wasn't supposed to.

More gunshots in our direction which caused me to duck sharply.

'I'm sorry' I mouthed the words. There was nothing I could do for her. The two men on the other side of the fence had retrieved their ladder and fabric and were making their way back through the trees.

If I stayed there, I would have been caught.

"I'm sorry" I said to her before retrieving my backpack and putting as much distance as I could between myself and that fence.

I ran and ran until the gunshots were muffled by the distance. Eventually I came to a body of water. I couldn't tell how deep it was and didn't have time to weigh my other options because I swear I could hear dogs in the distance and getting closer.

I put one foot in the water. It was so cold. I shuffled forward until my entire body was submerged by the cold liquid. I walked forward until my feet could no longer find the floor and I began swimming.

It was cold, almost like a thousand needles piercing my skin even through the jacket.

And it was so heavy. The weight of the wet jeans and the jacket were just manageable but the backpack was impossible to stay above water with. I made the difficult decision to remove the pack. It was either that or drown.

It broke my heart to think about all the food I had left in the world sinking to the bottom of that dark abyss. But what choice did I have.

Freed from that extra weight, I was just able to make it to the other side. I was out of breath and heaving from the cold night air but I couldn't stop. I had to keep going.

I stumbled the first few steps and fell. My body was giving up on me. It was so cold, and I was so tired. All I could do was crawl behind a tree and let myself sleep.

=^..^=

When I awoke, I feared that I was frozen. I could barely move, my clothes had dried and stuck to my skin. Every slight movement ached but the worst by far was my leg which hurt like hell from the jump last night.

Oh God, Shana. I wondered where she was. If she was even alive.

I dragged myself to my feet, I was cold, starving and itchy. I had to get out of the woods. And so began my long walk. After a while, time sort of just blended together. I walked until I couldn't walk anymore and then I rested. My immediate problem was water. If I didn't find some water soon, I'd be in serious trouble.

I knew I couldn't rest long so I forced myself to my feet and kept at it. Eventually, I encountered civilization. It was a community of beautiful houses, more beautiful than I had ever seen in real life.

I quickly learned to stay off the roads as there were frequent patrols and cameras throughout the streets.

So this was the high zone? It was beautiful, there were actual green leaves and it smelled amazing. I stayed on the paths I could find behind the houses while still seeking food and shelter.

The first house I felt confident enough to enter had no cars out front and no sign of people. I just needed some food and I was sure they had more than they knew what to do with. Maybe a change of clothes as well. I easily made my way unto the property as there were no fences or security.

The backyard had what I recognized to be a swimming pool but there was no water in it. I guessed the apocalypse was affecting everyone.

I made my way to the back door but was scanned by a security camera I hadn't noticed and a dog just seemed to appear to my left out of nowhere and was barking aggressively. I took a cautious step back and it lunged at me. I tried to run but didn't make it very far before tripping on my own tired feet and falling to the floor. I winced from the pain but had to face the immediate threat.

I remembered thinking that I was about to die. I'd gone through all of this just to be ripped to shreds by some guard dog. I really should have just stayed home.

I accepted my fate, waited for the dog to reach me and finish the job when I noticed it was flickering like an old TV channel. I wasn't moving and neither was the beast. It just barked in the same motion like a repeating animation.

I reached forward to touch it and my hands passed right through it. Son of a bitch.

I dragged myself back to my feet, dusted myself off and made my way off the property. If they didn't want intruders that badly, who knows what else they had in store for me?

=^..^=

I continued the journey through the community still in search of food and shelter. My luck turned when I arrived at the back door of a house that didn't use any cheap tricks. In fact, the door opened by itself when I approached it.

I hurriedly walked in and was greeted by a warm interior. The house was made mostly out of marble and glass and unlike those in the middle zone, there was even electricity.

From the living room, I explored the other rooms of the house in search of the kitchen. My eyes widened with joy when I found a stocked fridge. With each gulp from a bottle of water, I finally started to feel like everything was going to be okay. I would just take some food and then I could begin my search for a pharmacy.

I might have to resort to stealing because there was no way I'd be able to pay for my medication now but I decided I would do what I had to do. I couldn't go back to being a boy. I just couldn't.

When I brought the bottle away from my lips, I noticed there was a man standing in the doorway watching me.

"Are you hungry?" Those were the words he spoke to me.

"I'm sorry, I was just thirsty, I'll leave" I replied.

The middle aged man made his way to me which caused me to stumble backwards. I was no longer thirsty but I was still hungry and tired so it was unlikely I'd be able to fight him off. I looked passed him and to the door out of the kitchen.

I realized I could run, that was one option. But the more I watched him cautiously, the more I realised there didn't seem to be any malice behind his smile.

Still I kept my distance as he walked up to the fridge which I later found out had a built synthesizer. At the time, the technology seemed more like magic than science.

"I'll make you something. Would you like a shower?"

No matter how long I lingered on his words, I couldn't detect any ill intent. If anything, he seemed happy to be able to offer me the help I desperately needed.

Still I couldn't let my guard down. I slowly walked passed him and out the kitchen.

"Up the stairs, last door on your right." he called out to me "Use any towel you find, they're all clean"

Instead I headed straight for the back door and pushed it open. The outside world was staring me in the face. I inspected my disheveled clothes and felt my stomach grumble.

After much deliberation, I closed the door and headed up the stairs.

=^..^=

Following the best shower I'd had in months, I followed his instructions and toweled myself dry. I noticed a polka dot dress and white underwear neatly folded on the counter that hadn't been there when I walked in. I'd been so engrossed in my warm qshower, I hadn't noticed anyone come in.

I might have wanted to complain about the invasion of privacy but I was just too happy about having a fresh set of clothes.

I slipped on the clean underwear and began working on the bra when it hit me.

My remaining pills were in my backpack which was now at the bottom of that body of water. I slapped my forehead in frustration. I was about to miss a dose for the first time in two years and I would miss another tomorrow and the next.

I quickly rearranged my dreadlocks in a ponytail and exited the bathroom. I was then hit with the overwhelming smell of fried eggs and bacon. My stomach grumbled again but I wouldn't be deterred.

I hurried downstairs and into the living room where the man was waiting for me with a plate of food.

"I thought that dress would suit you" he exclaimed happily "It belonged to my daughter and you both are around the same size"

"Thank you so much for your hospitality but I need to go" I said to him "Where's the nearest pharmacy?" I asked.

"Now hold on, you need to eat"

"I don't have time" I insisted "I have to go so if you can just tell me..."

"Whatever it is can wait. Eat first and I'll happily tell you whatever it is you want to know" he countered.

I was in no place to argue. I was starving and the food smelled good.

"Okay?" he asked.

"Okay" I answered.

"Good, now sit"

I sheepishly took a seat on the couch closest to the plate of food, "Thank you" I said to him.

"It's not real bacon or eggs so thank me when you've tasted it" he smiled.

I did, it tasted different, not bad, just different. I didn't mind it, it was food.

With each bite I took, he seemed more and more pleased. It crossed my mind that the food might have been poisoned but it was too late to care. I ate everything and let out a satisfied sigh.

"Would you like some more?" he asked.

Yes.

"No, thank you" I answered. "I need to get going"

"The pharmacy, right" he began, "Things don't work like that here in the high zone"

He knew I wasn't from here.

"We have synthesizers that can make whatever we want. If you tell me what you want, I can buy it for you"

"I can't ask you to do that" I said but I really wanted to take him up on his offer especially if pharmacies didn't exist.

"Really, it's no bother. I'm happy to help" he assured me.

"Why are you being so nice to me?" I asked standing up from the chair "What do you want from me?"

He seemed heartbroken but I didn't let up. He was acting weird and there was no reason for him to do this much for a complete stranger.

"It breaks my heart that the world we have created is one where someone as young as you will be so wary of a good deed"

I didn't respond.

"Just tell me what medicine you need, I'll buy it and you can be on your way" he continued.

I thought long and hard. Was I going to come out to this guy I just met? Did I have a choice? He allowed me time to think and didn't pressure me. I decided he was a good man.

"Hormone Replacement Therapy. It's an estradiol valerate tablet" I said while avoiding eye contact.

"You're transgender"

"Is that a problem?" I turned quickly to face him.

"No, it's not" he replied. The compassion in his eyes didn't seem to fade so that was a good start.

"Listen, I'll check but most likely that stuff is controlled and I won't be able to print it without a prescription. I have someone that may be able to help with that if you don't mind waiting"

I nodded.

He smiled back at me, "I'll just make a call".

=^..^=

I probably shouldn't have but I couldn't help eavesdropping on that call. In truth, I still didn't trust him and I felt shitty when the call went exactly as he'd said.

He'd called a woman I assumed was a doctor and asked for a prescription to be sent to his synthesizer. She'd asked what he needed it for and he'd asked her to just trust him.

In the end, she agreed and I hurried back to the living room to pretend I'd never left.

"Listen, I've got good news and bad news." he began when he returned "We have the prescription but it only allows printing of one dose at a time"

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Each dose is administered weekly. The synthesizer will only print one dose"

"That's not good" I voiced.

"Listen um, this may be forward but you're welcome to stay. The way I see it, I doubt you have anywhere to go"

"I couldn't..."

"If I'm being honest, it's a big house and it gets very lonely at times. You'll be doing me a favor"

"Why are you being so nice to me?" I asked again. "You don't know me"

It didn't make any sense.

He began making his way over to the synthesizer. The computerized voice walked him through the process and soon one dose of Accelerated HRT was being printed.

"You remind me of my daughter" he finally answered my question.

"I can't live here with you. I don't even know your name"

"My name is Dr. Winston Finch" he answered quickly "Whats your name?"

Where had I heard that name before?

"I'm Alina. Alina Whitmore" I replied.

"Nice to meet you, Alina. I hope you're not afraid of needles" he replied holding out the syringe filled with a clear liquid to me.

=^..^=

That was how Dr. Finch best known as the founder of the International Relief Fund, a non-profit dedicated to helping regions most affected by the planet's slow death became my host. If you were affected by drought, famine or any form of the increasingly common natural disasters, the IRF could be called on to help you through it.

Even before the IRF, Dr. Finch had founded countless Clean Energy Initiatives. He used to be very public and vocal about the climate crisis until his daughter and only child died, after which he was rarely heard from again. The IRF continued its good work but without the man that started it all at the head.

So tell me why I now had that same man, a legend in some circles, sitting across from me ranting about the bureaucracy happening on Mars while we ate synthesized food together.

It had been two months since I first arrived in his home. True to his word, he'd let me stay and every week since, he'd provided me with a syringe of AHRT free of charge and never asked for anything in return. Sometimes it felt like I was dreaming. Like someday I would go to bed and wake up back in my house in the middle zone.

His only request was that I never leave the house since I wasn't registered in this zone. A small price to pay. The AHRT I was on now was a lot more powerful than the old stuff and I was seeing a lot more changes in just a few weeks than I saw in two years.

The breast growth especially was overwhelming and made it so I had outgrown the old bras and had to have new ones printed.

Of course with the new effects came new side effects. I was dizzy and tired a lot but like I found myself saying more often recently, "a small price to pay".

Winston's phone rang which promptly ended his rant and that told me the call was important. I usually couldn't get him to stop talking especially about Mars and the government.

"I'll clear the table" I informed him.

He smiled briefly at me before answering the call, "I've been waiting" he spoke into the microphone

As he walked briskly out of earshot, I was just able to make out his last words, "The planet is viable?".

=^..^=

Winston and I continued our normal routine for a few more months. We'd wake up, exercise, eat and just talk. Actually he'd talk and I'd listen which suited me just fine. He'd lived a long, full life and he had so much to say. I loved listening to him talk about advancements in Science, the government and life on Mars.

The more time we spent together, the more I started to realise just how much I missed having a grown up in my life. I was able to let my guard down and stop worrying about everything. I no longer had to take care of myself alone.

I still worried about this life getting stripped away from me but as the months went by, I stopped entertaining the possibility that he'd ever let me go or let anything happen to me.

As we spent more time together, I realised that I missed my parents and he missed his daughter and we filled those roles for each other.

The confirmation came about five months into my time here. I'd thought I'd eventually get tired of being stuck in this house but that never happened. The outside world sucked and I had everything I needed here. I had him.

I was lying on my bed that afternoon reading one of Winston's old books when he knocked and walked into my room with a serious look on his face.

"Hi" I stifled a laugh. He looked so uncomfortable.

"Listen, can we talk?" he asked sitting at the edge of my bed.

"Yeah of course" I forced a serious expression.

Was this the moment? Had my time in paradise come to an end?

"What you got there?" I asked when he revealed a tablet.

He didn't answer, he just handed it to me. Apprehensively, I took it and inspected the words on the screen.

I scanned it quickly before spotting a few key words and then rereading it carefully.

I gasped.

It was a letter of adoption. My hands were shaking before I knew what was happening.

"Listen, I know this may seem to be coming out of nowhere but I hope you'll sign it. I can't tell you why right now but I really..."

"Yes" I interrupted his rambling.

"Really?"

"Of course" I said happily. I'd only known him a few months but nothing would have made me happier. I didn't know why he was proposing this nor did I really care. I signed that document and officially became his daughter.

Three weeks later, as a late birthday present, Winston handed me an envelope. Inside was a single ticket that granted me access to Voyager IV for a trip across the stars to our new home.

"As my daughter and beneficiary, I was able to get you a ticket to come with me." he explained "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get you a ticket for you to be on Voyager I with me, that one's VIP only I'm afraid"

He reached over and touched my arm gently, "So we'll be travelling separately but atleast we're headed to the same place. Our new home."

At the time, I didn't really understand what he was saying but I didn't care. I would have followed him anywhere.

=^..^=

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