By Strange Ways, part 6 of 6

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I wondered if she was asking the impossible. She had no work experience she could talk about, no references, and was a rank beginner at English writing and modern technology. Maybe there weren’t any jobs around here for someone like that that would also pay for transition care – insurance policies that covered it were rare enough as it was.



A couple of weeks later, Victoria and I decided that Permelia was probably as ready as she’d be any time soon to get a job. She was literate enough that we’d started teaching her to use the Internet, and one evening, she started browsing through a job listings site. She asked her spirits to point at listings for places that would be likely to hire her and would have insurance that paid for transition care as she scrolled through the listings, and I left her to it while I fixed supper.

She still hadn’t found anything by the time supper was ready. I was a little concerned; it was the first time I’d seen her spirits not give her an answer pretty quickly, but she didn’t seem to be worried.

“Sometimes it takes a while,” she said, “if it isn’t the sort of thing where the answer is within reach and the spirits can simply point it out. This phone shows only a couple of jobs at a time, and I have to scroll many times to see all of them.”

I wondered if she was asking the impossible. She had no work experience she could talk about, no references, and was a rank beginner at English writing and modern technology. Maybe there weren’t any jobs around here for someone like that that would also pay for transition care – insurance policies that covered it were rare enough as it was.

“Once you get the hang of web browsing, maybe you can teach your spirits about it and work with them to do a meta search?” I suggested. “Like search for job sites, and then let the spirits point out which one to visit, and then narrow it down from there. Or do a sortilegy with the books on my shelves to have them suggest the right search terms to use. I don’t know if they can do that.”

“I will think about it,” she said. “Perhaps we can look at the map again, and see if they can point out the location of a business that will hire me?”

“Sure, we can do that. You can do it on your phone, but it might be easier on a laptop-sized screen.”

So after supper, I got out my laptop and brought up Google Maps, focusing on the area within a few miles of my apartment at first. Permelia looked at the screen and murmured a question to her guides, then said, “Can we look over there, to the west?”

“Sure,” I said. “Here, use the touchpad to drag the map to the right so you can see what’s to the west – yeah, I know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s like you’re dragging a large map around while the frame you’re looking at it through stays still.” She’d used my laptop a little, but wasn’t used to the touchpad yet, though she’d mostly gotten the hang of her phone’s touchscreen.

She dragged the map until it showed an area a good twenty miles west and a little north, on the other side of the city, and finally zoomed in on what looked like an industrial park. My heart was already sinking once she got past downtown, thinking about how she could get to work – would public transit take her there, and if so, how long would it take? I couldn’t drive her that far to work every time and pick her up afterward, not with my irregular work schedule. And the traffic would be awful whether we went through downtown or around it.

She zoomed in further, but Google Maps didn’t have any further information on what business or businesses were headquartered in the building her spirits pointed out.

“I guess we’ll have to drive out there to see what’s up,” I said. “We can do that on my next off day.”

So we did. Once we reached the industrial park and found the right building, we found a sign out front that listed the businesses renting space there, and the spirits pointed out which one would potentially hire Permelia: Transcendent Technologies.

“Really?” I said doubtfully. “I doubt a tech firm would be hiring unskilled workers…” But I dutifully typed “transcendent technologies jobs” in my phone’s DuckDuckGo app and looked through the results, with Permelia slowly reading over my shoulder.

“Here you go,” I said. “Your spirits came through again. They’re hiring cleaning staff… And a technical writer. You know, I think I might apply here too.”

We didn’t go in and ask for jobs just then. I drove us to a nearby restaurant for lunch, and Permelia called the number on the website about the cleaning staff job. Within minutes, she had an appointment to come in for an interview later that day. I was planning to send them my resume and samples of my writing when I got home, but I didn’t have any of that on my phone.

So after lunch, we killed some time at a thrift store not far away, and then returned to Transcendent Technologies to drop off Permelia for her interview.

“Do you want me to come in with you?” I asked.

She looked uncertain for a moment, looking somewhere to her right, then shook her head. “I thank you, but no. I will call you when I have finished.”

“All right, see you soon.”

I couldn’t help worrying about her, even though her spirits had pointed this place out as a good place for her to apply. Even if she didn’t get the job, she should be safe here. But that logic didn’t help, not enough. I drove to a coffee shop and slowly sipped on a cup of green tea to help calm my nerves on her behalf. But I needn’t have worried; a little later she texted me saying “I got the job!” I went and picked her up, and asked her how it went as we drove home.

“The woman who hired me is like us,” she said. “Trans.”

“Awesome,” I said. “No wonder they have insurance that pays for trans healthcare… Or at least your spirits said it does. Did you ask about that?”

“I was going to, but she told me about it first.”

“Wow,” I said. “I have got to get a resume in to them.”

We talked about how she was going to get to and from work.

“I think you can get most of the way there by public transportation,” I said. “You’d take the bus from the stop nearest to my apartment, about a block away, to the train station, then the train across town, and then another bus or two should probably get you within walking distance of the office. But we’ll need to look at the transit website to figure out the exact bus routes. I can drive you on my days off, or on days when I get off early enough, but as long as I’m still working irregular hours at the diner, I’ll often be at work when you need to leave here, or need to be picked up.” Her initial work schedule would be in the evenings, arriving when most of the office workers were leaving and leaving after cleaning the place, though on her first day she would have to arrive earlier and meet with HR to sign a pile of paperwork. “Come to think of it, even if I get the technical writer job there, we’d still have different work schedules and couldn’t commute together. And I’m a little worried about you walking to the bus stop and waiting there after dark… Promise me you’ll always check with your spirits about a safe route?”

She nodded seriously. “Always.”

As soon as we got home, I updated my resume with the last freelance copywriting job I’d done and the last article I’d gotten published (I hadn’t found much time for writing or job-hunting since Permelia had shown up) and sent it to Transcendent Technologies with samples of my writing. Then I got Permelia to sit down with me and went through the transit website with her, figuring out the buses and train line she’d take to her new job. She’d have kind of a long walk from the nearest bus stop to Transcendent Technologies. She wrote down all the information and put it in her bag, and we ate supper.

The next day, I had to be at work before she would be leaving. I made her promise to text me when she left the house and again when she got to the office. I wasn’t too worried about her, with her spirits to guide her, but it would be the first trip she made on her own in this world, which she still had such a superficial acquaintance with. Any number of things could trip her up along the way. Had I explained about how the ticket machines worked clearly enough? About avoiding the handicap seats on the bus and train? Fortunately, it was a busy shift and those worries were mostly driven from my mind by work until I took a bathroom break and checked my texts, seeing Permelia had left home but hadn’t arrived at the office yet.

Then my worries started up again, and despite how busy I was, they didn’t let up until I got a text from Permelia saying she’d arrived.

Permelia got home a couple of hours after I did, while I was loading my supper dishes into the dishwasher. “How’d it go?” I asked.

“Well, I think,” she said. “I had a little trouble with the vacuum cleaner; it was not like yours. But it didn’t take me long to learn how to use it.”

“Good. I expect they gave you a lot of papers to sign?”

“Yes. My spirits didn’t see any danger in signing them. I brought them home, along with a few books.”


She showed me; they were the member guide and drug formulary for her health insurance and the employee handbook, which was more of a pamphlet. “It’s too late at night for me to go over this with you,” I said, “but maybe tomorrow before work we can figure out what your next step is for using this health insurance to transition. You might have to work there for a while before you’re eligible to use it for that – it might depend on the policy.”

As it turned out, her insurance didn’t have a waiting period, and we scheduled her first endocrinologist appointment for a couple of months later.

Meanwhile, I waited to hear back from Transcendent Technologies about the technical writer job. It was a tense few days, but I got an email early in the following week asking me to come in for an interview, and I replied telling them when I’d be free over the next few days; we arranged for me to come in two days later at ten in the morning.

When I came in for the interview, I was met by Keisha Halmi, the CEO and head developer. As Permelia had told me, she was trans; taller than me, with glorious long black hair. “We’re looking to hire a technical writer to write software specs and, later on, help text and user manuals. Also, you might be called on to write advertising copy at some point – we don’t exactly have a product ready to sell yet, and when the time comes we might hire someone else to write that, but maybe not. Would you be comfortable with all that?”

“Of course,” I said. “My last job involved writing specs and user manuals, and I’ve done some freelance copywriting since leaving there.”

The interview went much like other interviews, with questions about how I would resolve various hypothetical workplace conflicts, and a test problem where I had to take an email printout from one of her developers, describing a feature they were working on, and rewrite it in a customer-readable way. The only hard part was when she asked about the gap in my resume, when I’d been unemployed or working at the diner and only managing to find occasional freelance writing jobs, but I got over that by vaguely gesturing at “the economy,” at which she nodded sympathetically.

I went home not knowing if I’d get the job, but two days later, Keisha called me back and told me I was hired. I gave notice at the diner, and reported to work the following Monday.

With my new work schedule, I barely saw Permelia during the week. I was leaving the house at eight and getting home a little before six, and Permelia was leaving the house at three and not getting home until around the time I went to bed. We still spent a lot of time together on the weekends, though. Victoria and I were gradually introducing her to more and more Earth culture, showing her classic movies and games and talking about them with her; she usually had a lot of questions, though gradually fewer as she got used to life in America.

We did our grocery shopping together on the weekends for a while, but once Permelia got used to things, she started doing some shopping trips on her own while I was at work, and then branching out and doing some more exploration on her own in the mornings before work. So by the time her appointment with the endocrinologist came around, after we’d both been working at Transcendent for a couple of months, she was easily comfortable getting there on her own, and to the drugstore afterward. I missed watching her take her first dose of estradiol, but after she got home from work that day we celebrated, staying up late and baking brownies.

The long commute was getting to us, though, and I figured Permelia was getting tired of sleeping on my sofa, though she didn’t complain. So as the lease on my apartment was up for renewal soon, I suggested we get a place closer to Transcendent. Permelia readily agreed, and we spent the next few weekends apartment-hunting, with some help from her spirits to narrow down our choices. (They pointed out some mold under the sink in one apartment that I don’t think we’d have found by ourselves.) We found a good two-bedroom place a few miles from Transcendent just in time to move before my lease ended.

After I’d deposited a few paychecks and built up my depleted savings a bit, I started working on scheduling bottom surgery, which I’d had to postpone indefinitely after I lost my last job with good insurance. Permelia, meanwhile, started getting laser hair removal.

Living on the other side of the city, we weren’t seeing Victoria or Chris or my other friends as often. It wasn’t as long a drive on the weekend as it was during rush hour, but still long enough to discourage casual visiting back and forth like we’d done when we lived ten minutes from Victoria’s apartment. I was making a few casual friends at work, but Permelia, starting work just before everyone else at Transcendent went home for the day, barely knew anyone there. So we turned more and more to each other for company on the weekends.

One Saturday afternoon, we were sitting in the living room between lunch and supper, browsing the web on our laptops (she’d gotten one of her own after saving up a few paychecks) and sharing funny things we’d come across. Then Permelia turned her screen toward me and said, “What does this mean? I have seen it said often enough that I begin to think it is an idiom, with more layers of meaning than I thought.”

I leaned over and looked at the phrase she had her finger on.

“They were roommates!”

I felt my face get hot, and stammered a little as I explained.

“Oh!” Permelia said. “That makes a great deal of sense. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

Then about a minute later, when I thought I was safe, she said, “Would you like to date, like the women in that comic?”

I’d thought more than once about doing exactly that, as I mentioned before. But I’d always suppressed the thought because Permelia was new to this world and so dependent on me. Was that still true, though? She was paying half our rent and utilities out of her income, and she could get around the city on her own, and manage her own money. If dating went badly and we broke up, she wouldn’t have any trouble moving out and getting her own place.

And it didn’t hurt that she was getting prettier every day.

“I think so, if you’re sure you want to,” I said after too long a pause for thought.

“Oh!” Her smile was the cutest thing I’d seen all day, and as I’d been watching baby otter videos for the last half hour, that was saying something. “Would you like to kiss?”

It had been a long time since I’d dated, and I was out of practice at kissing, but I think I did a halfway decent job.



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perfect ending to an amazing tale

as usual, you take a situation I couldn't even have imagined, and make a story about people. This is what good sci fi does, and this is a good example.

well done, have a huggle!


A Double Transition

joannebarbarella's picture

Firstly to a new world and then for the original purpose, to a new gender.

I really enjoyed this story. Thanks for posting.

A very solid story

Beoca's picture

My favorite part of this is the fact that it is surprisingly easy to find real-world parallels.

For example: my uncle grew up in Bulgaria, during the later years of the Cold War, while my aunt was from a small town in the US (and not a family with any eastern European connection to speak of - WASP, and not recently arrived to the US at all). When he ended up coming to the US for the first time, and visiting her hometown, he declared that the shopping center there (which had maybe 10 stores or so) was the biggest shopping center in the world. He couldn't comprehend the idea that something like the Mall of America existed - it was so foreign to the existence he had grown up in.

No doubt that defectors from North Korea, refugees from Africa and the Middle East... may have had similar experiences assimilating into first world societies (South Korea, Europe, USA, et cetera).