It’s a Rain
Posted on March 31st, 2021 by D'bryn Zoë
March 20, 2400
2338 hours, ship time
Inadvisability could not stop D’bryn Zoë from jumping into an arduous repetitive task at 2100 hours ship-time. It hadn’t stopped her before, nor would it stop her in whatever time her corporeal convergence point had remaining on this plane. When something needed fixing, or teased improvement, or could simply spritz her brain in dopamine, Zoë was on it.
At almost midnight she yawned for what must have been the fortieth time in an hour. Light paled; shadows grew stale; movement was slow and felt even slower. She was alone in the port nacelle, butt on the floor, back against the wall just below the warp coil chamber, a PADD and an interphasic compensator across her splayed lap. Atlantis wasn’t due for a routine warp-coil alignment check for another three weeks, but there wasn’t a rule that said one couldn’t take a look-see if they wanted to take their mind off the rest of the world.
Plus, after The Mystery of the Haunted Turbolift and its harrowing sequel The Haunted EV Suits of Doom turned up zero clues, she was aching for some kind of win.
Zoë pulled up out of the yawn, wiped her scratchy eyes, gazed into the new blur down the corridor. She could almost hear her mattress calling to her through the framework of the ship, on the same frequency as the resident hum.
‘Alright, have it your way, nacelle,’ she said, pushing herself up with a grunt. ‘But don’t think I’m not coming back for you. You and I are far from done.’
She stood up, gazed down the nacelle, and had Yawn #41. Bidding a silent goodnight she turned to find, waiting for her at the mouth of the corridor, a toddler-sized plastic table. The top was white, square, depressed just enough to contain spills; the legs were a rich peacock blue; the four chairs sitting around it were a brilliant dandelion yellow. Despite the unfaded vibrance of the colors there were old water stains like a map of continents drawn across the tabletop, and there were whitish scuff marks along some unfortunate corners.
Despite her spate of sensory peculiarities the past few months, Zoë could not form even a dimwitted assumption as to what the fuck was going on. As she drew closer to the table to test its reality, her surroundings changed almost without her noticing—as in a dream.
She now found herself in the backyard of an empty house, built on an outstretched loop of a ghost-town subdivision. The trees between the houses were brown and bare, and the lawns had all grown wild and weedy before going gold with thirst. Where the yard ended a precipice began, sinking to a lower part of a strange, small city. Dark hills stood sentinel on the horizon, skirted in low, gray clouds. The sky was an unblemished gray. A tepid breeze wafted northward.
Again with dreamlike suddenness there was a woman standing by the children’s table, facing away from Zoë, looking out over the precipice at the gloomy splay of abandoned buildings below. The woman was dressed in muted colors—a magenta cardigan over a long, wheat-colored dress—leaving the bright blue and yellow of the children’s table as the only vivid mark. Her hair was a late-autumnal brown, threaded with silver. It danced unbound with the breeze.
The woman called her by name, but not the one she used.
Her voice was low alto, sleepy, almost mournful. She added, ‘That is your name, right?’
‘Yeah, but I go by Zoë now.’
‘I won’t tell you not to be frightened, Zoë,’ the woman said, ‘but I promise that you have no need to be.’
‘Are you…?’ The question, for lack of words, caught in Zoë’s throat.
‘Am I the Light? Do I control the Light? Do I know everything there is to know about the Light? To all three: sadly, no—and none of us likely ever will. Can I interest you in some tea?’ One of the woman’s arms unfolded and held out to her side a crystal-clear teacup full of a rich ruddy liquid. ‘I can recommend the Da Hong Pao.’
‘I’m good, thanks.’
The arm retracted, the shoulders gave a sluggish shrug. ‘More for me.’ The woman’s head turned, giving Zoë the first glimpse of her face. It was hard to tell exactly, but she appeared a little younger than her graying hair suggested. ‘I’d offer a seat, but those chairs aren’t really comfortable anymore.’
Zoë asked, ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Destiny.’ As if she sensed Zoë’s perked eyebrow, the woman added, ‘That’s my actual name. Destiny Salladay.’
Sweeping a hand in a vague gesture at everything Zoë said, ‘And this? Is this a hologram?’
Destiny shook her head. ‘Far as I can tell, it’s as real as Kansas. Or it’s an incredible facsimile.’
‘Far as you can tell? You mean, you’re not doing this?’
Destiny Salladay turned and walked toward her, clutching her cardigan around her shoulders. She had a kind look to her gray eyes, and a weatherworn but rather lovely countenance. With a grim half-smile she said, ‘The Lights are a complete unknown. All I’ve figured out how to do is broadcast on their signal, so to speak. Please take that so-to-speak as indicative of an extreme metaphor. Just be glad you’re seeing and hearing me as me.’
‘I don’t get it.’
Destiny flashed her eyes wide, smiled a mock-mad-scientist smile. ‘Neither do I. Seriously, if you’ve never had Da Hong Pao before, I suggest it.’
‘I’ve had it before. And thanks, no, I’m really okay. Did you say, “Lights”, plural?’
‘You’ve had it before, huh?’ Destiny raised her eyebrows. ‘Really quick, would you help me with a theory and tell me the circumstances of the first time you tried Da Hong Pao?’ Before Zoë could interject she added, ‘Trust me, it’s at least tangentially relevant.’
Zoë sighed. ‘Chief Science Officer on my ship—my previous ship, I mean—recommended it to me. Tea came up in small talk one time off duty. One of the only times I ever really talked to her.’
‘Your Chief Science Officer on the Meridian-A, just to clarify.’
Destiny smiled, gazed down at her teacup. ‘She’s got good taste.’
With that she gazed back out to that faceless horizon, where the clouds were beginning to streak downward a few kilometers off from the empty town. The wind picked up, tepid, laced with petrichor, zipping through the spindly fingers of the trees. Destiny closed her eyes and drew a long breath in through her nose, luxuriating in the aroma.
‘It’s a kind of rain that rattles kindness.’ Turning her wide gray eyes to Zoë she said, ‘If you come to the system SK19 19 in 176 days, you will have all the answers I have to provide, and the possibility of so much more. By that time you may be able to provide answers to the others who would come. You are under no obligation but my strong insistence. SK19 19, 176 days from now.’
Zoë began to say, ‘Why can’t you give me answers now?’ but barely got out the first syllable before she again stood in the port nacelle, with a compensator at her feet and naught but a long lit corridor ahead of her.
In lieu of the question she sighed, slumped, said aloud, ‘Oh for fuck’s sake.’
0056 hours, ship time
‘Computer, search database for an individual. Given name: Destiny; family name: Salladay. Let’s start with narrowing the search to individuals who are currently alive, then work backward.’
Zoë gulped down some chai-blended yerba maté and chose not to acknowledge the reckless hour she’d pushed herself to.
The computer said, No living individuals found with that name.
‘That’s what I figured. Sneaky lady.’
Zoë got up to replicate herself a midnight snack of Gusmati fro’ik-cheese fries. The computer interpreted her spitballing as a command, and began listing matches working in reverse chronological order. It said, The most recent person to have that name is Destiny Charlotte Salladay, born 7 January, 2359. Died in a shuttle accident on 3 May, 2380.
Zoë’s stomach rumbled at the sight and smell of the fries. She grabbed the basket and headed back to her terminal saying, ‘Classy. Taking identity from dead peop—Whoa-wh-wh-wh-whoa, computer, hey, are you…? Can you…?’ And she lost herself in the photo on Destiny Charlotte Salladay’s file: a radiant holo of a 21-year-old woman with rich brown hair and wide gray eyes.
Awaiting unfinished command.
‘Sorry. Do you have the capability to speculatively age someone?’
Please specify aging parameters.
‘I’ll take that as a yes. Okay, give her twenty years.’
And there she was: the woman in the vision: Destiny Salladay. The computer even got the silver threads in her hair.
‘God damn, Destiny,’ Zoë said. ‘Looking pretty good for someone who’s been in the ground for two decades. What is your skincare regime, lady?’
Zoë emptied her maté and half the basket of cheese fries as she read Salladay’s life history. Born in Geraldine, Colorado, raised in Dellenville, Colorado, studied journalism, worked for a local news journal until her untimely ‘death’ in Denver in ’80. Nothing terribly remarkable or edifying yet.
She looked up at the time. 0114 hours. ‘Well, when you dive, fall,’ she said. ‘Or…when you fall, dive. Tomato-tomato. Okay, computer, will you,’ but the following words were gummed up by the bountiful introduction of cheese fries to the foremost components of her articulatory system.
Last command unintelligible. Please repeat last command.
Zoë swallowed. ‘Sorry. Computer, will you look up star system SK19 19?’
A very short file came up onscreen. System designated SK19 19, discovered by the USS Monroe, stardate 54051.5. Four planetary bodies, no M-class planets, no Federation installations or colonies. Currently off-limits to all security clearance but that of Fleet Admiral.
‘She wants me out in the middle of nowhere, in a sanctioned system. Yeah, that doesn’t sound sketchy at all.’
Zoë spun around in her chair, stared caffeine-eyed into space, crammed another bouquet of fries and curd into her mouth.
She swallowed, said, ‘I’m not going.’
Then she stood, wandered to her table.
‘Yeah, no. Not going. That’s a trap.’
She replicated another cup of chai-blend yerba maté.
‘I wonder what I could find out about the Light if I went, though.’
Back to the chair at her terminal.
‘Maybe everyone else has a piece of the puzzle and we all need to put em together.’
‘I’m going to get zapped in the back of the head if I show up there, just dumped into space like garbage. Fuck that. I’m not going.’
Bed, prostrate, an ill-advised posture motivated by the need to digest the sudden lump of carbs and dairy in her gut, not to mention the caffeine.
‘What if I just go in with my eyes open? Like, be ready for an ambush, then I could… What is this, a Ludlum novel? The fuck am I talking about?’
Aimless corridor stroll.
‘I’m not going.’
Aimless Engineering stroll.
‘I wanna go, but I shouldn’t.’
‘I should go, but I don’t know if I want to.’
‘I should jettison the Light and forget anything I ever experienced with it.’
Back in the corridor.
‘That’s stupid. It came to me for a reason.’
‘For a reason? What, like I believe in destiny now?’ Then, ‘Oh, har har, universe.’
Back to her quarters, about twenty minutes before her alarm would’ve gone off.
‘No, it came to me for a reason in the same way the Atlantis found this star system for a reason. It came to us out of chaos, but we’re compelled by our nature to investigate and classify it. Life is exploration, small stuff included. I found the Light for no reason, but I have the Light for a reason.’
‘I have to go. I want to go. I should go.’
Clean, dressed, out the door.
‘I don’t wanna go.’
‘For fuck’s sake.’