Posted on June 29th, 2021 by Hannah Ziredac and D'bryn Zoë
June 19, 2400
Hannah took a tremendous whiff of that Spring 15 air as she kicked rocks back past the bus stop. The holoprogrammers who adapted this game really had nailed the immersive aspects that couldn’t have appeared in the 21st-century original, the olfactory aspects foremost among them. They were always pleasant, never saccharine, never overwhelming.
This was what she needed, if she needed anything before going into battle. Calming morning walk down to the beach to gather coral and check the crab pots, perusal of the quest board in front of the mayor’s house, and, when she got back, she and Zoë could wolf down some parsnip omelets before harvesting the coffee beans.
She found Zoë sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse, resting the dusty leather boots of her costume on the smithing trunk, swiping and tapping her restless fingers spiderlike across the the surface of a PADD. Hannah closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and approached.
‘Okay, but if the plasma conduits in the stern are vulnerable to thoron radiation, but the hub they’re all connected to is shielded, then the whole system will just recycle in 2.7 seconds. If I could find an antipolar kind of…no, that’s stupid. There’s… I mean, 2.7 seconds is a relatively long time. What if we just time an alternating pattern of thoron radiation and a, uh… What else could cause catastrophic but nonlethal mechanical damage? God damn it, Xovul, you’ve really crossed all your i’s. If you have i’s in your alphabet. You’ve really dotted and crossed whatever you dot and cross, I’ll say that.’
‘Ooh, what if we construct a sort of… radiation palette? Thoron to get through the shields, alternating to ion to permeate the hull, then back to thoron to get auxiliary systems, then…well, then what? Then—’
‘Oh, waitaminute-waitaminute-waitaminute, their propulsion systems! Yeah, if I construct a radiation palette that we can just blast their propulsion systems with, they’d be—’
‘Hey.’ Hannah snapped her fingers and whistled. ‘Zoë.’
‘I heard you, Hannah. I’m ignoring you.’
‘Well, a) rude, and b) you—’
Zoë looked up, her manic temper undercut by the grave-dark circles under her eyes. Her words came rasped, enervated, spat out upon the last vestiges of breath an patience. ‘I am trying to figure out a way for no one to get killed.’ She deflated a bit. ‘Go get your coffee beans or whatever. Don’t let me stop you.’
‘Zoë, will you listen to me for a second?’ Hannah joined her on the porch, urging her to pivot and face her. Zoë’s eyes were closed, her lids no doubt acting as stoppers for some anxious release or another, but Hannah went on gently: ‘If you can’t find a way, you have to eventually accept that there isn’t a way.’
Shaking her head, heaving in a big prelude to something, Zoë began with, ‘No, no, I can—’ but Hannah gave her hand a light squeeze.
‘Zoë, please listen. It is not your responsibility to solve this. It’s—’
‘Yes it is, Hannah.’
‘No. Listen. It’s not your responsibility to solve this. It’s your responsibility to do your best to solve it. And after that, it’s your responsibility to deal with not solving it.’
Her eyes now spilling over with new tears, Zoë opened her eyes and her face lemoned up into a weep. ‘I don’t want anyone to die because I couldn’t figure it out.’
And Zoë fell into Hannah’s arms and sobbed, her head cradled in Hannah’s lap. Hannah scratched Zoë’s back. ‘If anyone dies, it won’t be because of you. Not unless you aim a phaser and fire. And even then, you know, war and stuff. Like, who can find blame for a soldier dying in a war? Who do you blame, the soldier who killed them? That soldier’s commanding officer? That officer’s commanding officer? The government that sent them? War’s complicated. It’s fuckin beyond me, that’s for sure. Reason just flies right out the airlock.’
‘I’m so scared.’
‘Yeah, me too.’
‘They even trained us for this. I thought I’d be ready, because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Stupidly thought. Joined a defense force with a long history of fighting in wars, and I thought, Oh not me, wars happen to other Starfleet officers, not me. I’m so fucking stupid.’
‘You’re not stupid, Zoë.’
Sunset came to the Valley. Crickets sang unseen in the bordering wilderness. Hannah called off the program, returning them to the floor of the Skylark.
‘You eaten recently?’ she asked.
Sniffing away one of her last sobs Zoë shook her head. ‘Not since breakfast.’
‘Jeezy Creezy. I’ll rep you somethin. What do you want?’
‘You’re lucky you found yourself a girl who doesn’t truck with the whole, I-dunno-what-do-you-wanna-eat back-and-forth, because I’m just gonna choose. Anything you absolutely hate?’
Hannah ordered up two plate-draping slices of pepperoni pizza from the replicator. Nothing soaked up tears like carbs and processed dairy.
They sat on the floor as they ate, both too hungry to keep up conversation. When they were done they lay together there, digesting. Hannah activated a simple stargazing holoprogram Erika had made in high school: some field near her uncle and aunt’s ranch on the fringes of Dellenville, where you could watch the galaxy stretch across the sky unhindered by light pollution. They had actually gone to the real-world spot a few times.
Food and a good cry seemed to have evened Zoë out. She had been able to stray toward other lighter subjects of conversation, had even laughed a couple times, and now lay staring up at the stars with her hands laced behind her head.
‘Smells real nice out here,’ she said. ‘What is that?’
‘I think that’s alfalfa. There are a lot of alfalfa fields out here. You know, plus the juniper and sage and stuff.’
‘Hannah, can I ask you a serious question? You don’t have to give any details about it if you don’t want.’
‘You ever killed anyone?’
‘Oh. I mean, good, but, oh.’
‘Why, Zoë, has something about me given you the impression that I’m, in some way, unsavory?’
‘Well, you still haven’t told me anything about…you know. What you do.’
‘I will. Just gotta make sure the moment’s right. Just trust me that, whatever I am, I’m not a monster.’
Zoë reached over and caressed Hannah’s face. ‘I’d never think you were a monster.’
Hannah grinned. ‘I can be a different kind of monster, though.’
She rolled over on top of Zoë and kissed her. Right away Hannah sensed a new tension and reluctance in Zoë’s body, even in her lips as she kissed back. She wasn’t the first person Hannah had kissed who didn’t seem interested in tonsil-hockey, so she backed off with the tongue, sure, yeah, fine, sure. There was just enough passionate reciprocation that Hannah chalked the tension up to nerves. No assumptions, she reminded herself, but she found it entirely possible that Zoë’s dance card might have had far fewer names on the register than her own. Sure, yeah, fine, no problem there, sure.
Then Hannah disengaged from the lips and moved the kisses down to the neck. Hands began to wander. Her legs vied for a new position. Breath grew hot, with soft, shapeless voice beneath it.
And Zoë said, ‘Um.’
Hannah knew this number. She pushed up, came face to face. ‘Too fast? Not the right time?’
‘You could say yes to both of those.’
‘There somethin wrong?’
‘No.’ Zoë pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes. ‘I mean, potentially. Look, I… Hannah, I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner. I don’t usually hide this; it just never came up. Things have been so busy in our brains lately, and I…’
‘What? Zo, it’s okay. I won’t be offended. Well, unless it’s some weirdly convoluted thing where I’m suddenly mixed up in an insurance scam now, and—’
‘Then, what? What, you already got somebody?’
‘No, I…’ Another press into her eyes, accompanied by a soft frustrated growl. ‘I’m really disappointed in myself for letting things get this far without communicating this to you.’
‘What, are you asexual or something?’
When Hannah asked this question, it wasn’t like she had asked, Are you a secret praying-mantis demon and you’re going to eat my head when you’re done?; no, she meant it. She had long been educated about the sexuality spectrum, including that of asexuality, graysexuality, demisexuality, all that. Despite having meant the question in earnest, Hannah had no protocol for the answer she received.
‘I, uh… oh.’ Hannah moved off of Zoë, sat on the blanket next to her, picked at her hands. ‘Shit, I’m sorry. I didn’t wanna…you know. I’m, uh…sorry for, um, making you uncomfortable.’
Zoë sat up. ‘Don’t be sorry. I should be the one who’s sorry.’
‘Zo, don’t be sorry for who you are.’
‘That’s not what I’m apologizing for. I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. I could see us getting to this point, but, I dunno, I was just too distracted with everything else going on.’
‘Well, don’t apologize for that either.’
Zoë sighed. ‘I’ve been in a relationship with a sexual person before. It was really hard for him.’
‘See?’ Hannah said, trying to come off unbothered. ‘I didn’t even know you were bi. And if that didn’t have room to come up the past few weeks, you really shouldn’t blame yourself for not mentioning that you’re ace.’
‘I just… I really like you. You’re exactly what I need.’
‘There’s a sentence no one’s ever said to me.’
‘I just really don’t wanna be an obstacle for you.’
‘You’re not gonna be an obstacle for me.’
Zoë took on a languid mask of surprise, said, ‘You still wanna be with me?’
‘If you still wanna be with me.’
‘Do I need a reason?’
Zoë shook her head.
Hannah scooted toward her. ‘Then let’s not get caught up in one,’ she said. ‘You do like kissing, though, yeah?’
‘Yeah, just, easy on the tongue.’