Carter had come up against a unique hurdle.

One of the problems with the genderqueer patient, the one labeled 0224ebe8 in their diagrams for anonymity’s sake, was that, although it was notionally feasible for em to have an X in their gender records and all the pronouns ey chose, not everyone had recognized that. Various pronouns flourished and died, styles of dress had come and gone, but the arcane triad of institutions — banking, health care, and government — remained stodgy and stuck in their ways.

As a result, patient 0224ebe8 existed in a unique limbo in some cases. Although eir passport specified X under the gender marker, although ey went by eir own pronouns (which, Carter was informed, were a truncated version of singular-they known as Spivak pronouns or Elverson pronouns, depending on the source), and although ey functionally lived life as a genderqueer person, without close ties to anyone, ey still had records that marked em as male in the arcane triad.

This, by itself, was not an interesting fact. Even though folks had been doing similar for going on centuries now, there were still articles and posts about the perceived barriers to entry when interacting with the world as a genderqueer person. Person after person had complained about the difficulties in changing one’s gender marker — a letter from so-and-so, such-and-such documentation — and person after person was turned down by clerks of the court for various reasons; take your pick of: “we don’t do that here,” “you have to do that at the federation level,” or “you’ll also need this [unrelated document]”, among countless others.

Everyone had imagined, as medical technology had advanced around the subject of gender, that such changes would become easier as the world moved on past gender. Some held decidedly more dire predictions in their heads than others, of course. It hadn’t quite worked that way, though. The fractious nature of identity combined with regime shifts had left quite a large gap for people to fall into. Nearly a hundred years after transgender rights had been codified, there still existed only the M, the F, and the X.

What Carter was learning was that the X came with a whole bouquet of baggage.

Before one grew up and settled on an identity, one was burdened with either an M or an F on official paperwork; this despite years and decades of campaigning. The result was, as far as she could tell, a duplication of records. One wound up with an M or F record that was linked permanently to one’s X record.

Carter had only the faintest idea of why it would be so difficult to change records unilaterally. Having worked for her fair share of time in academia, she had become inured to the committee culture of university life. Government, she supposed, was like university, only hundreds or thousands of times the size. Rather than one single database storing individuals embedded within a system — citizens, that is — there were likely countless such databases. Updating one’s gender record caused a ripple that propagated through databases in a way that was understood by the makers at the time, but ‘at the time’ often referred to a time when legislation was passed.

The result was that Carter was coming across two records. There was 0224ebe8 (X) and 0224ebe8 (M).

Oh, rather, Avery Croft, her subordinate in the stats and history department, had come across this problem and eventually kicked it up to Sandra, their lawyer. Finding no clear path forward that could be found under a ten percent time bargain, Sandra had kicked it further up the ladder, and now Carter was dealing with the multiplication of records.

That’s okay, she thought to herself. This is my job. I’m the one who ties things together, and this is just another one of those.

She was parked before three decks, delved into her workstation. She had a deck for 0224ebe8 (X) of pretty substantial size, a deck for 0224ebe8 (M) of much smaller size (some of which was, doubtless, duplicated in the first deck), and a deck that she was working on, titled simply ‘research’.

To her right were two additional decks. One for aca973d7 (M), the other anonymously labeled patient, and ‘research’. aca973d7 (M) was an enormous deck. Even among the countless decks of cards scattered through the shared system that the team was using, it was among the largest. aca973d7 had more than just a little bit of past behind him, documented through various channels.

Were Carter to zoom in on aca973d7’s deck, she knew she would find thousands, perhaps even tens or hundreds of thousands of cards detailing interactions with the DDR. These were ‘paperclipped’ together, a shorthand to say stuffed in a folder without being separated from the rest of the deck, such that, by leafing through the deck, she simply came across one large entry encompassing all its component entries: a grouping within a grouping.

From what she could tell, however, skimming through the ‘research’ deck, was that the two had encountered very different sorts of interactions on the ‘net, even taking into account their varied interests.

Patient aca973d7 was almost a parody of DDR addict, whereas 0224ebe8 was a quiet, introverted person online, choosing to interact, when ey interacted in public, on a one-on-one scale. However, they were both solid participants in the furry subculture.

Aside from that similarity, the two were decidedly different. While aca973d7 had acquired no small amount of notoriety and wealth in his actions in the DDR comments, his votes, and his accumulated social credit when it came to politics, 0224ebe8 had seemed to slip, unnoticed through countless filters, despite eir interests. For instance, it seemed that banks, governments, and health care institutions weren’t the only ones to expect a binary.

0224ebe8 had been tagged by few advertisers, or at least purchased few things through referrals. They were all required to accommodate eir gender, but the corporations didn’t exactly know what to do with someone in that position. In fact, it was one of the clearest aspects of 0224ebe8’s case. It seemed as though the corporate algorithms, when encountering something like that, had largely chosen to cut their losses and move on. The only corporate purchases and advertisements that had made it through were often ones that focused specifically on that segment of the population.

In addition, patient aca973d7 was in a devoted relationship with another furry, whereas 0224ebe8 seemed to have given the whole relationship game a miss; in fact, ey were somewhat active among a small community of asexual and aromantic individuals on the ‘net. Many advertisers had picked up at this, though there were still quite a few online dating organizations who were doggedly attempting to keep offering countless men and/or women to em.

All of these were perhaps ancillary. However, Avery’s job in the stats and history portion of this little project of Carter’s was to dig into the social aspect of what had gone on in the lives of the Lost leading up to their disappearance. There wasn’t too much that was available aside from ‘net activities, to be fair, and then only the ones that had been provided to the team by their board. All the same, it was Avery’s task to sift through these countless records to pull out bits and pieces of the story leading up to the patients getting lost.

What Avery had found so far, though it had only been a day since ey had started working on the task, was that, in the period leading up to the disappearances, there had been an increased interest in politics and political issues. Nothing seemed to match exactly between the cases they had before them, but there was enough of a correlation for Carter to go off of, so she set Avery to digging even further.

The situation, as they had discovered, boiled down to two separate cases. In the case of patient aca973d7, and about two thirds of the other patients, there had been an uptick in political discussion prior to them getting lost. Interesting, perhaps, but the discussion had been all over the place. There hadn’t been much interaction on similar issues outside of what was to be expected by a fairly diverse, if somewhat affluent crowd.

In the remaining third of the cases, including that of the genderqueer 0224ebe8, there had been some uptick in political interest, but not to the same extent. Rather, the social factor had increased in terms of networking surrounding the concept of the Lost themselves. For 0224ebe8, it had been eir receipt of a deck consisting of information concerning a friend (while nothing was definite, it almost had to be the other furry, aca973d7). If the deck Carter had on aca973d7 was anything to go by, then there was no doubt that ey would be staring at much of the same numbers.

Unfortunately, that’s all they had to go by, so far. There would be lots more digging to come.

There was a soft ding within the sim, and a similar reaction from all of the shadowy avatars lurking about. Everyone looked up. Directly above them in the middle of the ‘ceiling’ in place of a light or fan, was the current time in faintly luminescent letters. Again, for each member, they would look a little different, but for Carter, traced out in fine cotton string was the ‘12:00’ that indicated lunch.

Carter’s workstation began to fade, so she ensured that auto-save was turned on — it was — and backed out. The university, like many modern companies, had a policy that employees working in a sim not work longer than five hours in a row without fully backing out, so when Carter pulled back from her workstation, she saw everyone’s head doing the same thing simultaneously, leaning back from headrests.

Most of the members headed towards the fridge and microwave over by the coffee station to collect their lunches, but Carter, waking up late from a restless night, hadn’t had the chance to make lunch before heading out for work.

She was hardly alone, of course. There was a regular coterie of folks, if two or three could be counted as such, who made their way across the street from the building to the shops, hunting falafel or curry. She put on her best chummy face and tagged along with them, making her way from the repurposed classroom on the second floor down and out through the building’s lobby. The group chatted, inevitably but amiably, about work, comparing notes on the cases they were focusing on.

The group — three of them, with Carter — decided on a small Vietnamese place nearby. It would be a little slow, with the wait and all, but she was promised that the food was amazing, so she went along with. Even the boss can enjoy a lunch every now and then.

They found themselves standing outside as they waited on a table, an obvious target for the tabloid seller. They were wandering a little further than usual from the tube station entrance. Even so, the restaurant wasn’t that far away, and the owner hadn’t noticed them yet to shoo them off.

Carter rolled her eyes as one of the stats and history folks bought a tabloid on a whim.

“I promise I read it for the laughs,” she said, in defense.

Carter shrugged, “It’s less about you reading it, and more about you giving money to those…those…”

The other two stood in silence, eyes on Carter. They exchanged glances before the one holding the tabloid finally broke in, “Hey boss, you doing okay?”

“Can I see that?” She didn’t wait for an answer before she snatched the tabloid from her coworker’s hands.

Soho Theatre Mourns Lost Tech

RJ Brewser was the pride of the Soho Theatre Troupe’s tech department.

The brainy American who blessed them with boosted bass was admitted to the University College Hospital after apparently getting Lost during a rehearsal on Thursday. Ey was discovered during an intermission completely unresponsive. Medical crews declared em Lost on the spot after analysing eir implants.

The genderqueer young man was described as “bright, but obsessed.” Ey was a member of the furry cult and spent most of eir time on the ‘net, which friends blame for em getting Lost.

The Soho Troupe promises that productions will go on as planned, with their back-up techs running the sound board.

Brewster represents the 135th case of the Lost marked in the world. Ey will be cared for by doctors at the UCH. Members of the University College London studying the Lost were unavailable for contact.

Carter slowly let the paper droop from her hands. Her colleague retrieved it before it was closed completely, opening to the page where she had been reading.

“Oh, hey! Stuff about a Lost person!” She read down further, then looked up at Carter, asking, “Did you get an interview request from them?”

Carter shook her head. “Nor did we even hear about that today. I bet it’s that GQ person that cropped up the other day, got us on the hunt.”

The two subordinates, sharing the tabloid now, read in grater depth. “They call em a ‘young man’, do you know about that?”

“Yep. Born male.”

The other young coworker chewed on his lip briefly before offering up, “Do you think we could go see hi-er, em? We’re with UCL.”

Carter shook her head once more and shrugged, “We can’t have any contact with the patients we are studying for a whole bunch of really arcane rules. It’s against the regulations, in short.”

“But what about the theater troupe?”

Carter caught herself in the act of shaking her head again and turned toward the shop, tilting her head back and examining the sharp contrast between the gutters of the building and the steel-grey sky. Her mind was churning, but she was distracted, thankfully, by the host inviting them in to eat.