Adapted and abridged from the fourth chapter of Life After Mercury, the third book of the Is There Life After Mars series, my not-released, most recently completed project. The books are set on the Martian Frontier in 2080s and feature helpful AIs.
Perhaps he should stop putting off a conversation sure to get him in trouble with his sister-in-arms. Holter gulped and bounded up over to Fernanda. The attractive, olive-skinned, seventeen-year-old Latina wore a pixie cut, black jeans, and a periwinkle long-sleeved t-shirt.
He rubbed his wrist. “As of today, every eligible lieutenant’s son between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five has asked me for permission to marry you, including Walker.”
“Que? Por qué pedirle tú?” Fernanda groaned, grimacing. “Of course they asked you.”
He cleared his throat, face warm. “It’s traditional for the senior officers to arrange their children’s marriages. The guys suggesting themselves as possible student husbands for you know your dad had a bad experience and feel his ‘neglected duty’ falls to me, as the eldest commander’s brat, even if I didn’t acquire that status by being a blood relation.”
Fernanda pulled the chest-bench seat across from the couch. She carried her vanity chair next to the first seat, snatched up a 3D printer slops bin by the vanity. She slammed the bin down as she propped the exterior door open with it before flouncing back into her chair. “Brother, is this leading up to, ‘are you sure God’s called you to life-long celibacy?’”
“Maybe,” he muttered.
“I am confident falling in love and marrying isn’t God’s will for me.”
He touched Fernanda’s shoulder. “Sis, you’re thinking like you’re still a civilian. We’re brats. Romancing our spouses is advised, but a brat’s marriage isn’t about romance. It’s about two officers sharing our inherited military titles, our governing responsibilities, and our duty to raise our replacement officers. You’re Commander Fowler’s heir. It’s tradition for you to have a co-heir and for you to marry him. Is a genetic fluke that’s left you sterile really worth bucking tradition?”
“Sometimes traditions aren’t worth keeping.”
So much for that. Holter sighed. “Sis, I promised Walker I’d put in a good word for him, and I do trust him with you. Give him a chance. He’ll understand.”
“Get behind me, Satan.” Fernanda’s dark eyes glinted hard, her fists clenched, her jaw tight. “Brother, you don’t know my private struggles with my gender and my sexual attractions. My present reality is uncertainty of what gender I’ll be in Heaven and thus of my true identity. I know only that I’ll be sinless like Christ and fully reconciled to God, others, and myself.”
He cleared his throat. “As I understand your medical issue, Fernanda, anyone who insists you’re a man might as well insist a green-eyed girl has dark brown eyes when we know she carries that gene and it is normally dominant.”
Fernanda glanced at the door she’d propped open. Her friend Annis stood there, holding it, and the blond cadet had brought along Warrant Officer Walker. Fernanda waved. “Please come in, but how long have you been standing there?”
“We heard what Holter said.” Annis swept in, carrying the 3D printer slops bin, as Walker held the door for her. They let it close and lock behind them.
Annis put the bin back by the vanity, right where it belonged and plopped on the edge of Fernanda’s bed, on her end, two arms’ lengths away.
Fernanda stared at Walker, a challenge in her eyes. “I’m a genetic male with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and struggling with my gender identity.”
Still in uniform, Walker settled on the bench beside Fernanda’s vanity chair. “My mom has briefed me on intersexed conditions. If I may ask, were you born with a prostate gland?”
“I was born missing all but my testes, and those are up inside my body. All they’ve ever done is pump out male hormones that my body can’t use. It converts them into female hormones. This was the results.” She waved at her most definitely female body.
Walker touched Fernanda’s forearm. “As medicine is practiced on Mars, if an intersexed patient has a prostate gland, the patient is male, and we measure his degree of feminization. In your case, you have a male genotype but a female phenotype. Per Holter’s example, his green-eyed girl has a ‘brown-eyed’ genotype but a ‘green-eyed’ phenotype. You are a woman, sterile, but a woman.”
“Thank you. But, for my conscience’s sake, taking up my cross and following the Lord does mean celibacy.”
“Is this about not wanting to use a surrogate? In New Plymouth, a doctor has performed a couple successful uterus transplants, and your mom is done using hers.”
“Gross!” Fernanda shuddered and ticked her fingers. “Aside from ‘ew,’ it’d be expensive, dangerous, and elective. No civilian would get approved. I won’t take measures not available to all people equally when it is elective, dangerous, and expensive.”
“If you married a girl . . . ” Annis clasped her hand over her mouth. “Forget I said that?”
Fernanda waved the apology off. “It makes my point. Genotype matters. If I married a man, we’d need a female donor, and our children would have three parents rather than the natural two. If I took a wife, and cloning techniques gave me artificial sperm, she could carry our child.”
The two friends were staring in each other’s eyes.
Fernanda glanced to the floor. “Phenotype matters, too. My disease stole my manhood. I can’t function as a husband, father, and brother-in-arms. My AI thinks God should ‘debug’ me by replacing my Y with an X chromosome. God may disagree. I don’t know if I’ll be a man or a woman in Heaven. I don’t know which of my attractions are same-sex. I know I am celibate.”
Oh. Holter cringed. He had cluelessly bumbled. “Sorry.”
“I forgive you, brother.” Fernanda cleared her throat. “To your valid concern, I will ask Mama to designate someone to succeed her. I will work with my co-heir and assist in preparing our successors for office. But I will not marry my co-heir or be a parent of my successors.”
Sometimes, a humble faith means saying, “My present reality is uncertainty of my true identity. I don’t know what I’ll be in Heaven. I know only that I’ll be sinless like Christ and fully reconciled to God, others, and myself.”