I walked out of the building the Outcasts called the immigration center with a bag of provisions, wearing fresh clothes they had been kind enough to find for me.  Leslie stood outside, wearing a light pink dress that’s hem fell right under their knees, perfectly designed for the heat of the day.

            “About time you got out of there,” they said with a smile.  “We may not be tehsetiedmssg, bueodnskdsgefheiml.”

            I tilted my head to one side, staring at the dress.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen clothing that color,” I commented.

            “You’re not like other former bytes, you know that?” they stated.

            I looked up to meet their scrutinizing gaze.  “What do you mean?”

            “You’re surprisingly accepting ofjehwtjfmkldshtiojemdksjh.  Moseihtejdsklmfahehitejiiemuhnwdjhidhienfhders.”

            ‘Surprisingly accepting,’ they’d said.  It didn’t take much for me to figure out what they meant by that.

            “You’re not exactly the first number I’ve met who had a different gender than assigned,” I replied with a grimace.

            “Person.”

            “What?”

            “We’re people, not numbers.  Alright, now follow me.  Inoeikfmhtedpadlgjftiegning take you in.”  Leslie turned and started walking along the cobbled streets, their heels clicking against the stones.

            Buildings no more than two stories tall lined the streets, seeming to form one continuous wall.  Everywhere I looked were num-people wearing thin and brightly colored clothes.  Almost no one wore the dark suits and dresses the System would’ve deemed appropriate.  Simply seeing it was oddly freeing.  I felt like I could breathe out here.

            “…and they won’t attack us!” a female voice called as we entered a crowded square.  “The System won’t be tempted to steal us if we simply leave them alone!”

            Murmurs of agreement ran through the crowd as we pushed through to the center where the speaker stood on a raised platform.

            “But we must convince Illagwen officials to stop sending people out there!  Together, we can – ”

            “Are you insane?!” Leslie called as they climbed up onto the platform.

            I stepped back from the stage, searching frantically in the crowd for guards coming to arrest everyone there.

            “We should just leave people imprisoned in the System forever?!  They deserve freedom!” Leslie continued.

            “How is that our right?!” the speaker shot back.  “Of course, regedmsgidngahdgkwmedj, buteoirkmfntghfjdkewetm not our concern!”

            Mutterings spread through the crowd once again.  I stared at them in awe.  Why weren’t they scared?  Shouldn’t this be stopped?

            “Don’t be ridiculous!” Leslie argued.  “If we see an ingjaehd, wewgmdhiajkmegnhjdck!”

            “Doing that will only make the System want to attack us!”

            “There’s never been an attack!  Your endiohwtfmdksjuhrijfekmdjjrisklm!”

            Slowly, the crowd drifted away.  Leslie and the other speaker continued to argue until almost no one was left in the square.

            “Congratulations,” the speaker said with a sigh.  “You completely ruined my objective.”  She stepped down from the platform.

            “Well, my job is on the line, after all,” Leslie replied, stepping down from the platform themself.

            The speaker looked at me curiously.

            “This is the feogdmsdgjheidnvkbghdigthgdmat,” Leslie told her, gesturing to me.  “112628,” they said to me, “this is my best friend Ramona.  She’ll give you a place to stay.”

            “Pleasure,” Ramona said with a smile, extending a hand.

            “Best friend?” I asked, accepting her hand.

            “What?” she replied.  “You think just ‘cause we disagree on something, we can’t get along?”

            “I…I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

            “You’ll get used to it,” Leslie said, clapping my shoulder.

            “I’m glad you hadmgkmehdvngkfagjdmcnh,” Ramona said to Leslie.

            Looking down at the ground, I waited for their conversation to end.  They were talking about me, I was sure, but my condition wouldn’t let me understand them more than half the time.

            “Come on, hon,” Ramona said finally.  I looked up to see her smiling face.  “I’ll take you to your new home.”

To be continued…

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