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Sins and Triumphs
Posted on August 31st, 2021 by D'bryn Zoë

Valendhar
Hedrikspool, Bajor
December 2, 2399

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

D’bryn Zoë was incapable of speech.

Dad sipped at his wine, gave Zoë a smile of self-congratulation. Shenna stared into the middle distance and offered nothing more than the occasional placative shrug.

Zoë stood up, spun around, searched the living room for some indicator of change. Of communication. Of anything. ‘What’s going on here?’ she said.

‘See?’ Dad said to Shenna. ‘She’s just like Amylla: so dramatic about everything. Watch.’

‘Do you hear me saying these words right now?’ Zoë said.

To Shenna he said, again, ‘See?’

‘Dad, answer me: do you hear what I’m saying right now?’

‘Oh, I hear it. And I can’t wait to hear what you’re gettin at.’ Another sip of wine, an uncross and recross of his legs, the smug simper of a master chef about to taste some rube’s backyard barbecue.

‘Shenna? You too? You can hear me?’

There was never a time when Zoë fully understood her stepmother, and this was no exception. The look Shenna gave Dad was either a silent, What the fuck is your daughter on about? or some gut-wrenching plea for permission to speak. At last she said, ‘Yeah.’

‘And I’m standing up right now, yeah?’ Zoë shook jazz hands. ‘And I’m doing this? You can see this?’

Dad started to say, ‘I can’t wait to see where this is go—’

‘I gotta go.’ Zoë 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 Zoë’s way through the arch toward the front door. ‘No. You’re not going anywhere.’

With a sigh Zoë pinched her nose. ‘I’m not doing this again. Just move.’

‘No. I’m not gonna just let you walk out of here and go kill yourself.’

Zoë rolled her eyes and, with a tired growl, said, ‘Whatever, dude, just move. Okay?’

‘Just like your mother. God, you’re just like your mother.’

‘Dad, just move.’

‘No. You’ll go kill yourself and make me have to live with it.’

‘Right, because of a poem I wrote when I was a teenager. Yeah. You read my poems, you watched my logs, you interpreted some morbid word choices as completely literal, yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’m over it. Just get out of my way or I’ll make you get out of my way.’

‘Oh-ho-ho, do you hear that, Shenna? My little Earth girl resorts to violence.’

‘You’re not real. You’re a projection of the Light, or whatever; if I kick you in the nuts, I’m not actually kicking my real father in the nuts.’

‘I knew it. I knew you were on drugs. All those years of telling me you “didn’t have interest” and “weren’t into altered states of consciousness,” I knew all of it was bullshit. What teenager doesn’t have an interest in those things? You are an ungrateful, untrusting liar. Those aren’t the traits of a kid who actually loves her father.’

Though (what had to be) a facsimile, the image of her father saying her father’s words with her father’s voice was more than enough to create a real reaction in her veins. Zoë’s neck grew hot, her stomach churned. This old chestnut had not been in the repertoire the first time around this night, but she supposed it was always waiting in the wings, waiting for Dad to pull it out for a show-stopper. The grand accusation: You never actually loved me. This stoked a deep and roiling rage in Zoë more than any slander against her mother, more than any underhanded emotional manipulation, more than anything this unimaginably wretched bastard had ever done or said.

Fuck you,’ she growled, shoving a finger in his face. He lost composure, stumbled back, shrank against the wall of the foyer. ‘Fuck you, and everything you’ve ever believed about love. Love and happiness are so far out of your understanding that you’re beyond hope, beyond rehabilitation. You’re a lost fucking cause, and here’s a fucking spoiler alert for you, you manipulative old shit bag: not a single day goes by after this that I ever wish things had happened differently. I find love, I find happiness, and I find peace in a world without you. And I could not give less of a rusty fuck what you think of that, or what you have to say.’

Zoë slung her bag over her shoulder, turned to see Shenna standing shocked in front of the couch, marbled in her ineffectuality. She mourned for Shenna, wherever the real Shenna might be. Who knows what she put up with.

To Dad she said with a new evenness, ‘Goodbye, and goodbye forever, you miserable, miserable man. I hope you find happiness someday. But it won’t have anything to do with me.’

Zoë grabbed her shoes and left. Again. Her gut was swarmed not with butterflies but with a whole reservoir’s worth of mosquitos. The sensation multiplied in powers of ten as she made her escape, for Dad did not scream after her this time. No accusations of being ungrateful, no comparisons to her mother, nothing.

Anger, and the management or weaponization thereof, was one of the more significant things Dad had ever actually taught her—both inadvertently and otherwise. Before this later-life iteration of his abusive self, he once taught a young Sauëdeyan that anger was like a grabbing a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else: it’s you who is burned after all. Years after this lesson she would learn that he got this from Mom, who wielded it at him to try and cool his anger problems, surprise, surprise, yawn.

But she did have to give Dad a bit of credit: anger felt good.

Whatever this was, it did not conclude at the end of her encounter with Dad. She had little reason other than fictional reference points to believe that it would, but Zoë had to admit a bit of surprise when she found her way in the swooning swank of downtown Valendhar without any familiar Light sensations. When she experienced other people’s memories, the inability to control their body was merely the practical signifier that the world around her was not real. Not unlike dreaming, there was an indescribable sense when the Light showed her something. Even when that Destiny woman pulled her to that house and invited her to SK-19 19.

There was no such sense now. The salty seaside air wafted through the clean and winding streets, the music lilted from the wine bars and neighboring villas. She felt the cobblestone creases through her shoe soles. She was here, in Valendhar. She was here on that night.

Skipping her hostel Zoë strode shoreward through the town, found a different access path through the beachfront residential strip, and came to the wide moonlit beach. As it was still in the evening this time, she saw others strolling the edge of the tide, some in romantic coupling, others not. The light of a bobbing headlamp came from behind, and Zoë turned to see the shadow of a nighttime jogger. Her heart leapt at the chance that this could be the reality-breaker, that it would be the captain on another beach run: a pull from her mind to show her that none of this was real—but, alas, it was some guy. He muttered, ‘On your left,’ and ran on.

It would be some hours before her Light would fall from the sky, so Zoë took her time. For awhile she sat in the sand and just watched some distant boat lights making a languid pass along the water. Amazing how real the Light is making all this.

Mostly out of boredom she said, ‘Destiny? You out there? Are you doing this?’

Only the waves gave a crashing answer.

‘Is anybody doing this? Can I go back now?’

Nothing.

‘Anything? Is there anything I need to do? What’s the score, here? What do I have to do?’

Nothing.

‘Making me work for it, I guess.’

The night aged, and Zoë trudged her way west beyond the more popular stretch of beach, over the rocks, to the tidepools. There she waited until, yes, of course, right on schedule: the Light dropped from the sky with an unnatural slowness and deliberateness of trajectory. Seeing its landing up close was fascinating; she’d give this whole experience that much. Just as before she retrieved it, and just as before she saw someone else’s memory—in fact, the same memory as the first time.

And when it passed she wandered back to her hostel, and when she got there she repped some tea, and as she finished it the sun started to rise, and when it rose she left for the spaceport, and at the spaceport she boarded a shuttle, and the shuttle took her to the starbase, and at the starbase she boarded the transport, and the transport took her to rendezvous with the USS Atlantis.

Six days passed. The vision did not end.

The towering Xovul on the viewscreen straightened to their full height, a muted strain of consternation and reluctance on his face as he decided to accept aid. ‘We were harvesting helium-3 when we had a catastrophic equipment failure. The details of it, I cannot divulge. Regardless, we have been stranded, slowly sinking, for weeks. We still have injured, and could use some raw materials to fuel our replicators for food and replacement parts.’

Captain Harper clasped her hands in front of herself. ‘We can provide medical assistance, and I am sure we can devise a way to make the fuel for our replicators work for y—’

‘Oh, that’s right!

Zoë slapped her hand to her mouth. All attention, including that of the Xovul on the screen, snapped to her.

‘Well, I, uh… I know that, uh, the uh… The replicator systems that, uh… Apologies, Captain, I—’

The captain said, ‘Do you have something to share, Ensign?’

‘It, uh… Um. The, uh, the replicators on Xovul ships use a, uh, an alloy that, um… It, uh.’ Zoë gulped a arduous, dry gulp. ‘The electro-plasma exchange with the fuel we use is, uh… It… We need to make new fuel for them. Ours won’t work.’

‘How do you know this, Ensign?’

‘I, uh…’ Well shit, now you’ve done it, Zoë. It’s like you never saw any of those films or read any of those stories about time travel, and now you’re going to create a major paradox that will cause a chain reaction that destroys the entire universe. ‘I read it,’ she said. ‘In a log,’ she said. ‘About the Xovul,’ she said. ‘You know, on the, uh…to prepare for the, uh… When I—’

The Xovul onscreen said, ‘Captain, tell your officer that we know you raided information from our shipyard.’

‘Y-y-yeah,’ Zoë said. ‘Sorry, I didn’t…I didn’t know how to, uh…’

Grunting, the Xovul said, ‘I will transmit the data on our replicator fuel.’

‘Thank you, Vash!’ the captain said. And when the channel closed she added, ‘Next time you have something to add, Ensign, try not to interrupt me.’

‘Aye, Captain. Sorry, Captain.’

‘No apologies necessary. Just don’t do it again.’

Zoë nodded her assent and quit the bridge with as much velocity as would appear normal. Normal, she thought in turbolift. Normal. I have to be normal. This thing isn’t ending, and I might be fucking up timelines here. Restraint had never before been among her difficulties, so it was nothing short of herculean to—for example—not warn sickbay that these Xovul might be confused and impulsive upon waking up surrounded by their enemies.

That evening, as as it had been on all previous evenings, she ate. She drank tea. She slept. She dreamt. Hallucinations and dreams never filled in the crevices of minutiae and mundanity this way. And in the morning, as it was on all ensuing mornings, she did it all again.

=Λ=

Whatever this was, it did not conclude at the end of her encounter with Dad. She had little reason other than fictional reference points to believe that it would, but Zoë had to admit a bit of surprise when she found her way in the swooning swank of downtown Valendhar without any familiar Light sensations. When she experienced other people’s memories, the inability to control their body was merely the practical signifier that the world around her was not real. Not unlike dreaming, there was an indescribable sense when the Light showed her something. Even when that Destiny woman pulled her to that house and invited her to SK-19 19.

There was no such sense now. The salty seaside air wafted through the clean and winding streets, the music lilted from the wine bars and neighboring villas. She felt the cobblestone creases through her shoe soles. She was here, in Valendhar. She was here on that night.

Skipping her hostel Zoë strode shoreward through the town, found a different access path through the beachfront residential strip, and came to the wide moonlit beach. As it was still in the evening this time, she saw others strolling the edge of the tide, some in romantic coupling, others not. The light of a bobbing headlamp came from behind, and Zoë turned to see the shadow of a nighttime jogger. Her heart leapt at the chance that this could be the reality-breaker, that it would be the captain on another beach run: a pull from her mind to show her that none of this was real—but, alas, it was some guy. He muttered, ‘On your left,’ and ran on.

It would be some hours before her Light would fall from the sky, so Zoë took her time. For awhile she sat in the sand and just watched some distant boat lights making a languid pass along the water. Amazing how real the Light is making all this.

Mostly out of boredom she said, ‘Destiny? You out there? Are you doing this?’

Only the waves gave a crashing answer.

‘Is anybody doing this? Can I go back now?’

Nothing.

‘Anything? Is there anything I need to do? What’s the score, here? What do I have to do?’

Nothing.

‘Making me work for it, I guess.’

The night aged, and Zoë trudged her way west beyond the more popular stretch of beach, over the rocks, to the tidepools. There she waited until, yes, of course, right on schedule: the Light dropped from the sky with an unnatural slowness and deliberateness of trajectory. Seeing its landing up close was fascinating; she’d give this whole experience that much. Just as before she retrieved it, and just as before she saw someone else’s memory—in fact, the same memory as the first time.

And when it passed she wandered back to her hostel, and when she got there she repped some tea, and as she finished it the sun started to rise, and when it rose she left for the spaceport, and at the spaceport she boarded a shuttle, and the shuttle took her to the starbase, and at the starbase she boarded the transport, and the transport took her to rendezvous with the USS Atlantis.

Six days passed. The vision did not end.

=Λ=

The towering Xovul on the viewscreen straightened to their full height, a muted strain of consternation and reluctance on his face as he decided to accept aid. ‘We were harvesting helium-3 when we had a catastrophic equipment failure. The details of it, I cannot divulge. Regardless, we have been stranded, slowly sinking, for weeks. We still have injured, and could use some raw materials to fuel our replicators for food and replacement parts.’

Captain Harper clasped her hands in front of herself. ‘We can provide medical assistance, and I am sure we can devise a way to make the fuel for our replicators work for y—’

‘Oh, that’s right!

Zoë slapped her hand to her mouth. All attention, including that of the Xovul on the screen, snapped to her.

‘Well, I, uh… I know that, uh, the uh… The replicator systems that, uh… Apologies, Captain, I—’

The captain said, ‘Do you have something to share, Ensign?’

‘It, uh… Um. The, uh, the replicators on Xovul ships use a, uh, an alloy that, um… It, uh.’ Zoë gulped a arduous, dry gulp. ‘The electro-plasma exchange with the fuel we use is, uh… It… We need to make new fuel for them. Ours won’t work.’

‘How do you know this, Ensign?’

‘I, uh…’ Well shit, now you’ve done it, Zoë. It’s like you never saw any of those films or read any of those stories about time travel, and now you’re going to create a major paradox that will cause a chain reaction that destroys the entire universe. ‘I read it,’ she said. ‘In a log,’ she said. ‘About the Xovul,’ she said. ‘You know, on the, uh…to prepare for the, uh… When I—’

The Xovul onscreen said, ‘Captain, tell your officer that we know you raided information from our shipyard.’

‘Y-y-yeah,’ Zoë said. ‘Sorry, I didn’t…I didn’t know how to, uh…’

Grunting, the Xovul said, ‘I will transmit the data on our replicator fuel.’

‘Thank you, Vash!’ the captain said. And when the channel closed she added, ‘Next time you have something to add, Ensign, try not to interrupt me.’

‘Aye, Captain. Sorry, Captain.’

‘No apologies necessary. Just don’t do it again.’

Zoë nodded her assent and quit the bridge with as much velocity as would appear normal. Normal, she thought in turbolift. Normal. I have to be normal. This thing isn’t ending, and I might be fucking up timelines here. Restraint had never before been among her difficulties, so it was nothing short of herculean to—for example—not warn sickbay that these Xovul might be confused and impulsive upon waking up surrounded by their enemies.

That evening, as as it had been on all previous evenings, she ate. She drank tea. She slept. She dreamt. Hallucinations and dreams never filled in the crevices of minutiae and mundanity this way. And in the morning, as it was on all ensuing mornings, she did it all again.


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2 Comments

  • Kathryn Harper Kathryn Harper says:

    I almost get a Groundhog Day feel from the repetition, which is effective! The subtle differences from how those events actually happened to this version of them are interesting, as well. I’m certainly curious what this is all leading to, so well done!


  • Emilaina Acacia says:

    Wow, this was trippy. I thought right from the beginning, haven’t I read this before? Poor Zoë, stuck in a loop. I figured this Light business could be trouble! Now Emily is just poking and prodding Zoë in the real world. Awesome log!




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