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Log of the Month for January, 2021

Sins and Triumphs
Posted on January 21st, 2021 by D'bryn Zoë

[content warning: emotional abuse, mentions of suicide]

Valendhar
Hedrikspool, Bajor
December 2, 2399

‘I just can’t understand why you treat me like this.’

‘Treat you like what, Dad? I’m not—’

‘You’re just so disrespectful. I just can’t understand why you do this.’

‘You asked a question, and I answered it.’

Dad sipped at his wine, averted his eyes in a motion worthy of trashy holo-soaps. ‘I have nothing to say to you.’

Sauë closed her eyes and practiced a round of four-count breathing. Dad wielded a subtle arsenal that could dismantle even the strongest conviction. She reminded herself of what she and Ori talked about in a recent session: You are not wrong just because he says so, Sauë. He is not automatically right because he’s ‘Dad’.

Sauë was thankful for the presence of her stepmother Shenna, vestigial as the woman was. Shenna liked to play gang-up whenever she saw the opportunity to belittle a member of the younger generation—but only when she could justify it, only when there was a single thread to pull, however unfair. But on nights like tonight, when Dad was truly adrift in his resentments, Shenna stared into the middle distance and offered nothing more than the occasional placative shrug. She was the perfect barometer.

‘You don’t have to say anything to me, Dad. And I don’t have to say anything to you either. In fact, I’ve got an early shuttle in the morning, so I think I’m gonna head back to my hostel.’ Sauë stood up, checked her shoulder bag to make sure everything was in it.

‘Well.’ Another bid for the Daytime Holodrama Award. ‘At least you have your mother.’

Sauë dropped her arms to her sides. ‘What does Mom have to do with this?’

‘You’re going to turn out exactly like her.’

‘You’ve been saying that as long as I can remember, and I have yet to see why that would be a bad thing.’

The subject of Mom was the derrick that pulled Dad’s rage from the ground. At his age he at least had a good handle on his volatility, but Sauë saw a flash of it in his eyes. He said, ‘Oh, you really want to turn out like Amylla? You want to be cold and distant? No one loves someone like that.’

‘Speaking of things you’ve been saying forever, I never want to hear the words cold and distant ever again. I’m tired of it, Dad. It’s been 24 years; I’m an adult; you can stop trying to fight the custody battle. It was never enough that I loved you and Mom equally. You wanted me to love you and hate Mom, and I’m sorry to explode your narrative but I still love you both equally.

Dad fake-laughed so hard that his wine-breath wafted all the way across the living room. ‘Wow, Shenna.’ He liked to nudge his wife when she didn’t immediately jump into his boat during these fights. ‘You hear that? She loves us equally. I actually feel sorry for Amylla, for a change.’

‘Jesus Christ, Dad.’

‘See?’ He nudged Shenna again, gestured to Sauë like a model at an auction. ‘Just like Amylla. That’s such an Amylla thing to say.’

Sauë felt the first thaw of her cool, the first flare in her temples. ‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for years, Dad. The Amylla Isaev in your head is a completely different person than the real one. I’ve never heard Mom say Jesus Christ. She’s straight-up Russian, dude; she says bozhe moi, and always has.’

Dude, she says.’ He laughed a coy, vicious laugh at Shenna, who met it with a sickening, supplicant smile. Dad added, ‘Look at my little Earth girl.’

‘You haven’t been in the same room as Mom since 2377. You met in 2375. I’ve spent half my life with her. I know her more than you ever did. But you’ve never trusted me to know who to love and why. You’ve never trusted me to recognize Mom’s flaws without inheriting them.’

‘Oh, and you’ve done an amazing job at that, Sauëdeyan.’ Another nudge at his wife’s thigh, another gulp at his wine, another vogueing for the unseen camera. ‘Just like her mother. Right? Right, Shenna?’

The barometer opened her mouth to speak, shut it, opened it, shrugged, smiled, averted her eyes. Cumulative reading: Dad was off the rails and everyone knew it.

Sauë stooped to meet her Dad’s gaze, gestured with finality. ‘This is the last time we have this conversation. I love you and Mom equally, she is not “cold and distant”, and you need to get over her. Because if I ever have to repeat myself again—ever, Dad, I’m serious—I will walk out, and you won’t hear from me for a long time.’

Dad never surrendered the moral high ground, but from the way he held his nose in the air and looked at her as if she was a filthy vagrant panhandling for food scraps, he seemed to think the moral high ground was a venue for a high-society banquet. With a flourish he said, ‘So ungrateful.’

And there it was. Ungrateful. You criticize the man, you’re ungrateful. Sauë’s cool thawed, melted, and evaporated. She said, ‘That’s enough, that’s it,’ and made for her escape.

Wine might have made others sleepy, but it put a fire in Dad. He was up off the lounger in a half-second, barring Sauë’s way through the arch toward the front door. ‘No. You’re not going anywhere.’

‘Dad, get out of my way.’

‘No. I’m not going to let you kill yourself.’

Sauë blinked. ‘What?’

‘I said I’m not going to let you kill yourself.’

‘The hell makes you think I’m going to kill myself?’

‘I’ve been waiting for you to kill yourself for years.’

Less confounded, softer, more breathless, Sauë said again, ‘What?’

‘Come on, Sauëdeyan. I watched your logs; I read your poetry and your stories.’

The previous blow robbed the affront that would’ve been, but Sauë managed out, ‘You watched my…?’

‘I believe the line was, I’m suddenly courageous.

Sauë had indeed written a poem about the contemplation of mortality pertaining to the impact one has on those around them, framed in the common images of suicidal ideation wandering over a high bridge in the dead of night; of feeling invisible in a world without any discernible system into which one can be installed; of feeling watched by a shapeless power that bestowed no cosmic importance upon any one being. But, Exhibit A, she wrote it when she was a very angsty sixteen, and Exhibit B, if Dad had actually comprehended the very plain, blatant poetry, he would have seen that the line, I’m suddenly courageous was about the decision to forge one’s own meaning in the uncaring cosmos. To choose life, in a more abstract way that actual physical mortality. Not to mention Exhibit C of never once having ideating suicide.

But that was Dad: the Cherry-Picker-in-Chief when it came to his narrative.

‘Get out of my way, Dad.’

‘No.’

‘I said, get out of my way.’

‘No. You’re staying here.’

The scream set a burn in Sauë’s throat. ‘Get out of my way!

Sauë pushed through him, sent him elbow-first into the wall. In tears Sauë grabbed her shoes and walked out the front door in her socks. Dad followed her to the threshold shouting incoherent things, none of which could penetrate the fog around her mind, nor the sound of her own stifled sobs. The things he shouted were of no value in the moment; after all these years, Sauë could have accurately guessed their nature, if not the words themselves. At the center of them: ungrateful.

=Λ=

Though it may have been ill-advised to go to Dad’s house for dinner at all, since she knew another fallout was likely, Sauë at least had had the perspicacity to book her own accommodations. Her hostel sat on the northwestern edge of Valendhar, just short of four kilometers from Dad’s place. Gave Sauë almost a good hour to walk off her cry.

If this new little haven for vacationers and retirees was good for anything, it was empty streets after sundown. Sauë heard the scant laughter of gatherings from distant verandas and penthouses; she heard the swanky nothing-music of the finite late-night spots in the winding little ‘downtown’ stretch; she saw the odd couple or small party cantering back to some villa or hotel. But the pedestrian roads were abandoned and unwatched for the night.

Valendhar was the refuge of the upper-middle-aged, where they could come and freeze their resolve, let whatever debris of their lives finally settle into mucky sediment. There was no spirit, no culture, and its history was buried beneath its manufactured quaintness. When Dad and Shenna moved here a few years ago Sauë did her usual curious read-up. She found that before its renovation Valendhar was a dried-up fishing port from before the advent of replicators, whose only export in modernity was livestock from the surrounding farmland. Sometime in the postwar whirlpool someone got the idea to amp up the tourism trade in towns like these all over Bajor. Slap some plaster on the old prefabs, attract artists, boost the natural allure. Her hostel, for example, was of a mock-retro architecture, decorated with old-looking artwork pilfered from some other region of Hedrikspool with a deeper historical well. Always incredible how marketers could make a world feel so small, even in the endlessness of this epoch.

Sauë couldn’t wait to leave.

The rooms of her hostel were more neutral, and the modern construction behind the visage of antiquity provided the soundproofed isolation she needed that night. Her shuttle was scheduled to take off in about seven hours but she was still riding the adrenaline spike. She showered, replicated a chamomile and lavender blend, linked her PADD to the room’s computer so she could put on her go-to relaxation playlist, and resisted all urges to distract and escape through a novel or film. Nothing worked. The events of the evening and of all identical evenings in the past spun through her mind. For an hour she tried to sleep but her eyes wouldn’t stay closed. Eventually she gave in, grabbed her PADD, read by the window.

Sauë was not enamored by Hermione Yamura’s writing, nor by the story told in The Instigation Braid. Yamura was able to communicate her themes and the occasional pearl of wisdom, and was not inept at emotional engagement with the characters, but there was something a little too plain about the writing voice. She also couldn’t keep her stories grounded for very long; there always had to be some shelf-clearing element like espionage or time travel or mysticism, often introduced at a point in the story where the author transparently got bored with family drama and social politics. Not that Sauë turned her nose up at high fiction, but she liked her authors to pick a lane and stay in it until The End.

The Instigation Braid was another in the long tradition of examining the true meaning of family. The opening quote, again showing Yamura’s own boredom with her subject, was the full adage: ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.’ In the story a young man challenges familial obligation by confronting his abusive father (hence why her therapist, Ori, had recommended the book), and at one point he thinks about changing his name to distance himself from the abuse. Sauë didn’t know yet whether or not the young man ended up doing so—because Yamura decided to introduce an angelic river spirit in the forest behind the father’s house who whisks the young man away on a voyage of discovery in the unknown—but it got her thinking.

Sauëdeyan was an ungainly name even on Bajor, long since spurring her to truncate it to Sauë. After enrolling at Starfleet Academy she found that, until corrected, people misheard her introduction and called her by the human name Zoë. The vast majority of her classmates took the correction, of course, but on the fringe of her social circles there were people who by forgetfulness or obstinacy called her Zoë regardless. Thing was, she rather liked the name Zoë.

She put The Instigation Braid down and gazed out the window. Valendhar had light-pollution ordinance, so the scant house lights along the shoreline were dim enough to allow the stars their brilliance. They lit the moonless night, dotted occasionally by the passing starship or satellite. The sea, in its perfect blackness, devoured the stars that sank behind the curvature. And it was here in this envelope of darkness and distant light that Sauë—no, let’s try on Zoë this time—that Zoë sat for the next uncountable span, waiting for sleep to make itself known.

Thought strayed to her Bajoran heritage. Zoë hadn’t worn her earring since childhood, but this had nothing to do with the line of D’bryn or Bajor as a whole, and everything to do with distancing herself from the history of D’jarras (an eschewal Dad actually approved of). Sifting through what she knew of her family history, Zoë had no reason to separate from the D’bryn line. Just Dad. Everything she understood about his life suggested the War as the source of the dark infection in him. Though she admittedly knew very little about what her paternal grandparents were like.

In the end she held onto the name of D’bryn, as well as the custom of placing her family name first. There were some things in life worth leaving behind, but other things were worthy of repair. A healthier line of D’bryn could restart with Zoë; the old cycle could cease, and a new one could take its first turns.

It was in the short ensuing moments after D’bryn Zoë settled on her new path that her eye caught a light in the sky: just another starship or satellite, by its size and speed. The light came from the top of her view, dropping toward the north horizon. Zoë watched it idly, her mind still wrapped around her identity, until the light fell in front of the horizon instead of behind it. She blinked and refocused to check her depth perception, and indeed the light was falling slow as a snowflake toward the beach on the north shore.

=Λ=

The closest beach access path to the light’s approximate landing spot was near the east end of the beachfront residential strip. It was unpaved, uneven, of a treacherous slope, such that Zoë’s feet lost purchase halfway down. She skidded and wobbled at first but tumbled at last, her knees hitting deep sand and her hands hitting thick, fleshy tufts of grass. She stood, brushed off, and hiked west down the starlit shoreline.

Tricorder readings were nil so far. Zoë scanned her brain for a memory of any bioluminescent fauna in this region (or anywhere on Bajor), but biology wasn’t her major. Her best guess was that it was something like those paper balloon lanterns she and her Academy friends loosed in the Bay for someone’s birthday. At the very least it must have been something unremarkable, because no one else was out here trying to find out what it was.

The beach houses came to an end, and trees dark and enormous rose in their place. Their leaves gave quiet applause as the breeze roamed in off the ocean. Here the sand receded to many shelves of black volcanic rock. Starlight was still sufficient for Zoë to hike over these in confidence but she took extra care. Little tidepools between the rocks returned a fragile silver blue to the night sky.

From her hostel window Zoë had only been able to estimate a possibility that the light landed on the shore and not the ocean. As she traversed the rocks she worried this would be another one of those dreadful anecdotes of mystery and intrigue that ended with, And I never found out what it was. She climbed a higher boulder, cursing this hypothetical future, and began to entertain the idea of turning back when she spotted it. Below her the black rock gave way to a stretch of unbroken sand before reconvening up the beach and climbing up to an impassible cliff face. And there, in the sand, was the light.

She checked her tricorder again and nothing came up. This time it was strange; at this distance the tricorder should have at least displayed telemetry on the observable attributes: lumens, dimensions, mineral/vegetable/animal/other. The readings on the tricorder were as if she were scanning any other square foot of bare sand.

She climbed down and headed for the light but stopped after only a couple meters. Though not a seasoned lucid dreamer, Zoë made sure she wasn’t dreaming by rereading the words on her tricorder. For it was as if the light in the sand decreased in brightness and size in direct proportion to her proximity. Slowly she continued toward it, and just as slowly it adjusted itself so that it appeared exactly the same at arm’s length as it did from her hostel window. As if it would come alive if she moved too fast, Zoë crouched above it, and stared at it for a long while.

The light was the size of a small pearl. Though gentle (almost soothing) on her eyes, its luminescence was difficult to properly discern, like the colors you see when you press on your eyelids. Yet it was solid, apparently unchanging, showing no signs of life. Up close the brightness was no more intense than candlelight. After a few more minutes of observation and double-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-checking the anomalous tricorder readings, D’bryn Zoë of the Infinite Wisdom, reached out a finger and touched it. Had she gone down more of a science path at Academy, she may have gotten the Don’t Touch Any Goddamn Mysterious Thing You Find lesson installed a little deeper in her subroutines, but on this evening luck was on her side. As if it were indeed a simple pearl, its only effect of being prodded was to be nudged a half-inch in the sand.

Zoë touched it again. Nothing. After heavy deliberation she reached out and grasped the light in her palm, wincing in anticipation of whatever eldritch horror would overtake her body and mind, forcing her to assist a malevolent presence in overtaking the planet in a matter of days—but, again, no effect. The light sat in her hand like a pearl would, rolling with each tilt of her palm. And it seemed to have no perceptible weight at all, as if it were hollow and made of a light polymer, but the surface felt more like cool metal or polished stone than anything else. Zoë sat down on the beach and examined the light, played with it, tried to get any information at all, but she got nothing else.

Until she drew in a sigh, and a euphoric warmth radiated from her sternum. This was the first sign.

The second sign was a weightlessness in her head, and a hypersensitivity to sound.

The third sign was a deeper warmth radiating from her navel. This wave of warmth rolled through her body to the tips of her fingers and toes, and when it finished it ran a brief not-unpleasant shiver through her spine.

The fourth sign was something she would struggle to describe for the rest of her days. The best she could ever do was, ‘You know how you feel an emotion from a powerful memory? It’s like that, only without the memory.’

And the fifth sign—the one that made her pass out on the beach until the sunrise hit her eyelids—could be described simply and in no other way than, ‘And then the memories come. And they’re not mine.’


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6 Comments

  • Kathryn Harper Kathryn Harper says:

    The emotion in this is intense, and with such detail, as well. From the wine breath wafting to the description of the book and its author to the mysterious object at the end, everything is described so well, helping to vividly bring Zoe’s emotional journey to life. What an intro to the character!


  • Kuari Kuari says:

    A sad story, or is it a sad beginning to an exciting adventure? By the end I feel the latter, and I’m left wanting to know more. I learned a word I didn’t know, and read half a dozen more I haven’t heard in a long time. Your descriptions are smart and relatable. At first I thought the novel’s description to be nothing but a frustrated diversion for Zoe, but in the end I couldn’t help but see the pearl as the river spirit. Very well done!


  • D'bryn Zoë D'bryn Zoë says:

    Wow, thanks for the great feedback, guys! And yeah, I like to use self-criticism and foreshadowing, so I combined the two. ;)


  • Scott Ammora says:

    The description is mind-blowing, my friend. It was a pleasure to read this.


  • Emilaina Acacia says:

    This was amazing. Stellar job! I really got to know Zoë and your descriptions are impecable.


  • Alexis Wright says:

    I’m late, but having finally gotten a chance to read this, I must say that it’s very well done! I love what you’ve done with description – one that particularly sticks with me is describing the sound of the leaves as “applause.” I definitely dislike the “Dad” character, I think you did your job phenomenally well in evoking those emotions. Very nice introduction! Well done.




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