Posted on October 5th, 2021 by Hannah Ziredac
(Note: The titular character of Erika Batten was part of Hannah’s backstory before we welcomed the crew member Ericka Archer. The similarity in given names is purely a coincidence.)
June 10, 2383 (Iteration 1)
‘Alright, smile! That means everybody, Steven Eagle; this is Graduation Day, not a military funeral. And Jesus Christ, boys, will you scooch in and take a picture like friends for once?’
‘Just take the holo, Mom.’
‘George! George, get in there with the boys.’
‘Mom, just take the holo, Dad doesn’t want—’
‘Babe, I’m trying to get this cake frosted in here.’
‘Well put the frosting down and come in here and take a picture with your son at his graduation party! Hannah? Hannah, come down and get in this holo with your brother and his friends.’
‘Mom, Hannah doesn’t need to be in the picture.’
‘Is she even here?’
‘Hannah! Jason, go find your sister, will you?’
‘Mom, just take the goddamn holo.’
North Paradise Road
June 10, 2383 (Iteration 1)
Hannah sat atop the faded wooden fence around Nondescript Agricultural Field #38,128, listening to the drone of the crickets that rose from the unkempt high desert floor. Her bike leaned against the corner post, already facing southward down Paradise Road. A backpack full of nonperishables, two canteens of water, and a super-compact pop-up tent lay by the back tire.
She twirled a long blonde lock with her left forefinger. It was the eight hundredth time she’d done so since she woke up in her childhood bed last week, in her childhood body. This had to have been one of the last times she wore her hair this long. It might have even been the last time.
She looked west down Nelson Road, then east. Nothing but heat haze moved on the narrow gray horizon.
For the nine hundredth time she touched the outer hemisphere of her left thumb pad, marveling at the sensation. This would be a good decade before a band of renegade minute factors of physics and circumstance caused that mason jar to shatter in her hand, slicing her right at that first crease and severing the nerve. And for the seven hundredth time she examined her knees and their lack of gravel scars. And for the five thousandth time she peeked down her shirt at the new lack there (not that there ever wound up being much to lack). Bizarre to be back in this smaller body, with this voice, these teeth, these feelings.
This energy; Christ, she must’ve still had a faint whiff of serotonin left back in ’83.
Crept up on two hours, waiting in the dry summer heat. Second squirt of sunscreen. She killed time by counting how many of those weird green bugs she had to flick off of her thighs.
Through the heat haze to the west came a skinny shape moving slow over the blacktop. Erika Batten was more of a short-distance bicyclist: always the champion when they rode from her house down to the market for root beer floats and holo-arcades, but always dead meat after mile two. She huffed up to the T-intersection in a sheen of preteen sweat, clambered off her bike, and gulped at the air from the inadvisable doubled-over position.
‘You’re lucky I love you so much,’ Erika wheezed.
Of course Erika said that; of course that was the first thing she said. A hot spike tore through Hannah’s ventricles, cauterizing every edge as it passed. These were the days when the I love yous were newfound and childlike—the discovery that you were permitted to say it to someone not linked to you by genetics.
Erika fanned herself. ‘So what happened? You said it was something about your brother?’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Hannah said. ‘Nothing happened. Not this time. I just made the decision that I didn’t wanna see that prick anymore.’
‘So, what, you’re running away?’
‘Not permanently. Just for, you know, the weekend.’
‘Oh. Well, good.’
‘Can’t believe I hadn’t taken a vacation from the family by this point. I do it a lot in high school.’
‘Nothin. You good?’
Erika fanned herself more, pulled her water bottle out of her backpack, took a long swig. ‘Gimme a minute.’
Seeing Erika this way was the most bizarre thing Hannah had experienced insofar. Part of her brain perceived Erika as a wholeness: a human in the superposition of eleven, nineteen, and all the years between. The other part perceived Erika as nothing more than a recent grade-school graduate, yet to learn and experience everything Hannah knew she would. There was the Erika in her mind, and there was the Erika heaving for breath in the middle of the road—and it broke Hannah’s brain to acknowledge they were the same person.
She looked upon her young love and thought, It’s far more than your future I know, babe. I don’t know how long this is gonna last, but I hope I can see you through it one more time. Plus, I forgot you had a chubby puberty phase in middle school, and I can’t wait to not be an asshole to you about it the second time around.
‘So where we goin?’ Erika asked.
Hannah nodded her head down Paradise Road, which ran north-south along the western foothills of Marlow Butte. ‘There’re a bunch a little inlets in the hills I was gonna explore.’
‘I mean, whenever you’re ready.’
Erika gulped in a tired breath and righted her bike. ‘Yeah.’
They spent the afternoon diverted by blissful exploration. Many areas they saw required that they abandon their bikes on Paradise Road and trespass across empty, useless fields. All the while they talked about their impending adolescence and the promises of near-adulthood. Hannah tempered her talk, slipping the wisdoms of a twenty-something in wherever she could under the guise of precocious lucky guesses, but otherwise trying to play like any other kid who had no real idea of what lay ahead.
Such paradoxes were beyond difficult to comprehend. Her consciousness was 27 years old, but her physical brain was only ten. Thus she had memories of more adult things like romance and sexuality, yet had no desire or drive for anything under those umbrellas. Erika, for example. Hannah remembered how much they loved each other later in their teens, and felt ersatz shades of that love now, but it meant something else. Something vague, yet something perhaps sweeter.
Innocence was as much a myth in practicality as the old-world religions made it out to be. It meant nothing. Abstaining from hedonistic tendencies or swan-diving into each and every one; neither choice meant you were a better or worse person. Still there were filters placed over life by maturity, and this whole mental exercise went downright boogedy in Hannah’s brain pan.
For the most part she ignored it. As much as she could.
The greatest find along Paradise Road was an inlet, a little faux-canyon, where someone had long ago built a cottage amidst a rich green field of grass and clover. Looked abandoned from the road, so they ventured in, and found their suspicion correct. There was nothing interesting inside but the look of the house itself. The floor was stone and brick; the walls were of thick, rich wood; the many windows each had a seat in their nook.
‘This is beautiful,’ Erika said. ‘I wanna live in a place like this.’
Hannah shrugged. ‘Eh, it’s fine. Charming, but, I dunno, I like a little more modernity.’
‘Modernity. Uh…I like when things are more modern.’
‘Oh come on, this place is cute.’
‘I’m not sayin it ain’t. I like cute in doses; I just don’t wanna live in cute.’
‘I think this place is paradise.’
‘Ha. Cuz of the road name.’
‘Well they got the name right, cuz…’ Erika gestured at everything.
Hannah’s 27-year-old consciousness elbowed its way forward again as she watched her future partner dance through whatever domestic fantasy was racing through her little brain. I could probably live in cute if it was with you, Hannah thought. Hey, maybe I can make that happen this time around.
The E & E
927 NW Bond St.
June 7, 2391 (Iteration 1)
‘So I toog er out there, right? Fuggin showed her the place, right? The place we went when we were eleven. Or, ten and eleven. She’s a lil older’n me. Anyway. Wha was I sayin? Oh yeah. Toog er out there, showed her, an she says—you know what she says? She says, “I preciate the geshure, an I’m flattered you remember that I liked this house, but I don’t think I wanna live with you.” An I’m like, “Bitch, what? What the fug you mean, you don’t wanna live wi’ me?” An she’s like, “You’d be runnin off all the time. It’d be lonely out here all by myself.” An I’m jus like, “What the fuck, dude?” An she’s like—’
Hannah turned to the bartender. ‘Hold on. I’m tellin this guy a story.’
The guy in question said to the bartender, ‘Please interrupt. By all means.’
‘Oh come on, I’m gettin to the good part.’
‘Hey,’ the bartender said again. He was half-Klingon, and he was bringing out that Klingon dad-voice on her.
‘I don’t know how you did it, and I don’t wanna know how you did it, but your ID’s fake. I had to run a third-party face-scan on you. You’re not old enough to be drinki—’
‘You ran a face-scan on me? What, you don’ truss me?’
‘Man, come on, the whole drinkin age thing went tits up wi’ the inveshion of synth’hol. I can—’
‘Law’s law. I said, out.’
‘Iss a stupid law.’
He didn’t need to vocalize the next utterance of, Out. His flared nostrils did it for him.
Hannah swiveled to face the bartender, extended her hands to frame what was supposed to be a well-tempered argument. ‘Look, I know this’s gon be hard to buh-lieve, but I’m not actually 18. I’m actually twenty…uh…wait, I was 27 when this started, iss been eight years, and…’
The bartender crossed his arms and perked an eyebrow while Hannah counted on her fingers.
‘I’m 35,’ she said, matter-of-factly. Her palms slapped the bartop like twin gavels.
The bartender leaned in. ‘If you don’t get out on your feet, you’ll be getting out on your ass.’
Hannah finger-gunned. ‘That a promise?’
The impact on the sidewalk was enough to shake the synthehol out of her brain. ‘It’s a stupid law!’ she screamed at the edifice of the E & E. ‘It’s a relic of pre-war stigma! What, are you gonna call the cops if I light up a joint next? You gonna call in an indecent exposure if you see my nipple, you buckle-shoed, buckle-hatted puritan? God, fuckin grow up, already!’
47 North Paradise Road
June 7, 2391 (Iteration 2)
‘Man, remember when we came out here the first time? When you ran away from home?’
Hannah sighed. ‘Yeah. One of my most cherished memories.’
Erika sighed too, wandering over the stones into the kitchen. ‘Can’t believe no one owns this yet.’
‘Actually, someone does.’
Erika turned, brow pinched, a split-second of radical concern for vacating the premises flashing in her eyes. But she was no dummy. At Hannah’s knowing grin Erika said, ‘No. No way.’
‘How’d you get authorized to own a house at 18?’
‘I have my ways.’
‘Oh my god. Well…well, congratulations, love!’
‘Congratulations to us both.’
Erika’s jaw hit the floor, broke through the stone, shattered the foundation of the house, speared through the crust and mantle of the earth, and popped out on the sea floor between Madagascar and Antarcica. ‘What?’
‘Welcome home, babe.’
August 20, 2391 (Iteration 2)
Erika’s bags were already in the car when Hannah came home. The conversation was brief. It had all been said at some point before.
‘I can’t be the only one to compromise,’ Erika said. ‘You have to make some concessions.’
‘Erika, love, I’m sorry. Please, just—’
‘No. I’m not letting you talk me into staying again. This was a mistake. We shouldn’t have lived together.’
‘Erika, no, please. I—’
‘No. No. You can’t have everything you want. You can’t bully me into accepting things I don’t want to accept, you can’t go behind my back, you can’t… You can’t do that to me, or anyone.’
‘Erika, there is no anyone. There’s only you.’
‘Then why are we non-monogamous?’
Hannah had tried for many years—a lifetime, literally—to extract her tendency to roll her eyes and groan, but to no avail. ‘We’ve been over this, dude, it’s not abou—’
‘I know we’ve been over this! I’m tired of going over this! I fucking know what non-monogamy is, and I would want it with or without you. But with you, it fucking sucks because you’re bad at it.’
‘I’m not bad at it, I—’
‘Fuck you. Goodbye.’
The E & E
August 20, 2391 (Iteration 2)
The impact on the sidewalk was enough to shake the synthehol out of her brain. ‘The law is antiquated! It’s obsolete! It only exists in legislature out of precedent alone! There’s literally no data to support that a legal adult of any age can’t handle the effects of synthehol! There’s not even any data to support that a minor can’t handle the effects of synthehol! This is such fucking bullshit!’
July 5, 2394 (Iteration 3)
‘Hannah, it’s not about religion and legality. It’s about celebrating love.’
‘We celebrate love all the time, Erika. We literally have parties on our anniversaries.’
‘Anniversary parties aren’t weddings.’
‘You’re right. They’re better than weddings, because we get to have one every year.’
‘You think that makes them better than weddings?’
‘I’ve yet to hear any of these “reasons” you have that we should get married.’
‘I’m starting to not really have any, the longer this conversation gets.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I’m going to bed. Alone.’
The E & E
July 5, 2394 (Iteration 3)
The impact on the sidewalk was enough to shake the synthehol out of her brain. ‘There actually is precedent for people under the age of 21 being permitted to drink synthehol in public establishments, all the way back to Fielding versus the State of California, 2368. I can go get the fucking file from the library for you, if you can even fucking read!’ She kicked the public trash can, breaking her big toe on her right foot. ‘God damn it! I turn 21 in a month! A month!’
July 11, 2391 (Iteration 12)
‘This isn’t working. I have to go.’
‘Wait, no, this didn’t happen all the other times. What happened? What went wrong?’
‘I just…I just can’t. I can’t do this.’
‘Erika, wait. We can work this out. We’ve worked out much worse. What’d I do this time? What was it? What do I need to fix?’
Breaking into tears, Erika pulled her hand from Hannah’s grip. ‘Please, please… Just…’ And she left the house, leaving all her things behind, never to return for them.
The E & E
July 11, 2394 (Iteration 12)
The impact on the sidewalk was enough to shake the synthehol out of her brain. ‘They don’t give a shit over there at Codey’s! I’ll just take my business there!’
August 2, 2421 (Iteration 18)
‘I’m sorry, Hannah. I wish I could explain it. I don’t think there is a way to explain when this happens. It just… You know that song, right? The Salter Carolina song? That line at the end, Love isn’t payment to invoice and bill. Instead it’s a fern that’ll die when it will. It’s just that. We grow, we move on, we… We change. We never stop changing, even until the day we die. Something may seem eternal for years and years, but that doesn’t make it invincible.’
‘But…I just don’t get it. I don’t get it. After all this time, it just… There’s nothing? There’s nothing I said, nothing I did? Or didn’t say, didn’t do? There’s no one else you fell in love with along the way?’
Erika was so gentle. Her movements were slow, her voice low and sweet. ‘Hannah, you were perfect. The most perfect love I’ve ever felt. I couldn’t have asked for a better 33 years. And no, there’s no one else. None of my partners have ever occupied the space you occupied. Not even Kris. But people outgrow one another, and that’s natural.’
‘But why can’t…why can’t you just stay? Stay here, as my friend. As my…you know, as…?’
‘I can’t. I have to go.’
‘What’ll I even do without you?’
‘I’m sorry, Hannah. I’ll always love you.’
The E & E
August 3, 2421 (Iteration 18)
The cork cap thoomped off the bottle of Parnassus for the fourth time that night. Before sliding the glass in front of Hannah the bartender said, ‘You okay, there?’
‘Are hunched patrons who stare into space while they sip their fourth whiskey generally okay in your experience, or are you new?’
‘I was doing a drunk-check,’ the bartender said.
‘Need me to close my eyes and touch my nose?’
‘You’re fine, but if you’re gonna be shitty, I don’t have to serve you.’
The whiskey slid over.
Hannah looked up. The bartender was youngish, mid-twenties, short, cute, the kind of girl Hannah would’ve rolled up, smoked, and flicked into the grass when she was her age. Or, when she was really her age. Funny how a thousand years doesn’t dull such desires.
She wouldn’t act on it, though. Gaydar wasn’t beeping at all, for one, but the bartender was easily half her age. Half her age this time. Everyone alive was a fraction of her actual age.
Huh, she thought. Over a thousand years of life and I’m still dumb as shit and can’t make love work. Hannah took a small sip of Parnassus, then just knocked back the rest.
June 7, 2391 (Iteration 19)
Hannah stood with Sam, Berit, and Karsen on the front lawn of Shen Danford’s parents’ house on the east side, pounding a ‘cheerleader drink’: something so infused with sweet mixers that you can’t taste a drop of the apocalyptic amount of alcohol in it. It was her second of the evening. Mills was in there singing karaoke in naught but his mortarboard and boxers. Teagan Voshi was already horfing in the guest bathroom. Several drunk teenagers were tempting fate in the backyard swimming pool. And everyone was pretty sure G’Rah and Liti had hooked up on the roof outside Shen’s bedroom window.
It was 9:28 PM.
Five hours ago this pack of wild jackals were deemed by the education system to be ready for adult life. Bottoms up.
Erika showed up in tow with Whitney Landers, Alison Bloomford, and Erikah With An H. Sam said, ‘Hey guys!’ All four girls whooped in response, high as shit on graduation. Everyone who knew each other beyond brief hellos hugged each other.
Once finished with hugs Sam gestured to Hannah, said, ‘You guys know Hannah, right?’
‘Yeah,’ Erikah With An H said. ‘We had geometry together, sophomore year, right?’
‘Yeah, I think so.’
Whitney said, ‘I’m Whitney.’
‘Yeah, I’ve seen you around.’
Alison, with whom Hannah had done many group projects in Klingon 1, said, ‘Hey Hannah! Congratulations!’
‘You too, Al.’
Then Erika said, ‘I’m Erika. I dunno if you remember, but we were in Mrs. Kimmel’s third grade class together.’
‘Oh totally. Always meant to say hey when I saw we went to the same high school, but…sorry, yeah, never got around to it.’
Erika laughed. ‘Same. Well, hey.’
‘I’ll see you inside?’
Sam led the girls inside, directing them to the kitchen island, which was now a glass forest of pilfered booze bottles. Hannah stuck around on the front lawn until her cheerleader drink was empty, talking shit and smoking weed with Berit and Karsen, watching the rest of the attendees filter in from this new night.
Around ten o’clock Hannah scraped her joint dead on the front walk, set her cup by the front door, and said, ‘Think I’m gonna take off.’
Berit said, ‘Aw, really?’
Karsen said, ‘Come on, Ziredac, this is graduation night! What’re you gonna do, go to bed early?’
‘I’ll party in my own way.’
‘Okay, old lady.’
‘I’ll see you guys around. Congrats.’
They blurted a mix of yeahs and you toos.
Hannah walked the six miles home. All nineteen of these iterations, she was always glad to have her young body back. First few times she made it past age fifty, her hips and ankles didn’t much like long perambulations anymore. Had to get into yoga and basic self-care and all that bullshit. Always a refreshing feeling to return to this ache-less, agile existence.
She came home to an empty house. Mom and Dad were off visiting Fuckhead at some starbase where the Meridian was docked. Or something; who gave a shit. She disrobed, sonic-showered, got into her sleep shorts and a t-shirt from middle-school volleyball camp. Yet when her head hit the pillow her eyes didn’t fall in line. For twentysome minutes she stared at the ceiling, willed herself to close her eyes, switched positions a couple dozen times, until at last she gave up and stayed awake all night.
Hannah Ziredac lived until 2471. She held a few careers throughout her life, but the job she held onto the longest was as a security systems consultant. Pulled the old Sneakers angle on everything from private storehouses to Starfleet vessels. That made her happiest: being able to, as the film said, break into people’s places to make sure people can’t break into their places. Good honest work. Erika taught her that.
Erika. Erika Batten.
Hannah couldn’t possibly know for how long, but it looked like Erika would outlive her. Through her less-than-legal methods she watched Erika’s life unfold throughout the decades, spied on her successes and failures, her sins and triumphs, her loves and losses. Hannah sometimes snagged on an impulsive regret that she never went inside Shen Danford’s house. Until her final day she remembered those thoughts:
You don’t have to go through with this. You can go inside, you can start something, you can try again. Think of all you learned. You can give every inch of yourself up and be exactly what Erika wants and needs. Even if it ends before one of us dies, you can take what you have the power to get. One more time. Come on. You can do it.
And every time, her last day included, Hannah thought, No. She’s better off without me.
September, 2400 (Iteration 0)
Hannah crossed through the glittering veil of death onto a biobed on a Starfleet vessel. She knew in an instant that it was over. Not just because she wasn’t ten years old this time, not just because half of her thumb pad was numb again—but because she felt the indescribable affirmation that this was her actual consciousness.
That this was real life.
That things with Erika ended…that way. And would always have ended that way. That it was now uneditable.
That this was real life.
The details, though, she had to work to remember. What ship was she on? Why? Was she an officer? She’d never been one before. Okay, no. How did she get here? Oh, that’s right. Who’s the sleeping hottie on the biobed over there? Oh.
What was her name?
That’s right. Zoë.
No, Bajoran. D-something Zoë.
One of those apostrophe names. D’… D’…
Come on, Hannah. You can do this.