Posted on March 19th, 2022 by D'bryn Zoë
March 18, 2401
It can gather as a list, a string of index cards, a calender with inscriptions.
It can gather as a nebula, borne of chaos, built of uncountable particulates—a systemless shape of emotion.
It can drive a body to drink.
Jason Ziredac set his half-empty gin and tonic on the table beside him. It was his fourth one. This was far from his first night of doing this, since his conversation with Admiral Pierce. He wasn’t sure what it did for him, if anything; it was just something to do, a way to be, a frame to be in. Better than nothing.
He forgot who programmed this setting. Had to have been someone from before his time, because he had memories of using this space to address ancient obstacles. It was an observation of sorts. Chair, small table, nothing else. The chamber floated through deep space, where only stars, distant galaxies, maybe a nebula or two, were visible. All else was dark. Ambiance was held at one tiny notch above absolute silence, to avoid that phenomenon of hearing your own blood pumping through the vessels in your head.
Jason felt he could come here to pause existence. Existence needed that.
He missed his friends. Those were in short supply these days. Ariel was his only companion, and that was not unconditional. She had joined the others in their disappointment in him after the Hannah debacle. Stayed in Deria’s quarters that first night. Jason didn’t like to stretch his imagination toward what Ariel and Deria would have talked about then. Stabbed his heart, thinking about that. He downed the rest of the fourth gin and tonic. Ordered a fifth one.
Though he missed the friends he used to have in his current crew, he missed his friends from school. Joe. Steve. For years they were ride-or-die, even after Jason had taken command of Meridian, and Steven had his own command, with Joe in the XO seat. Then it began to crumble, one grain at a time, each undone by a zephyr so slight and without temperature that the mountain o their companionship had been rounded and shortened before he had noticed.
Who knew what they thought of him now. They had to have heard. Starfleet are a gossipy bunch.
He thought of Destiny. Whenever he did, even this negative space holoprogram grew more silent, more black. What would his life had looked like, if she hadn’t died? This thought was such a part of him that he supposed he had never gone a day without thinking it, even when he thought he had. They always told him how grief never leaves; they never told him how it never fucking lets up.
Kenton to Ziredac.
Are you coming back any time soon?
‘I don’t know. Why?’
Ariel sighed. Because I love my husband and want him around?
Jason shrugged like she could see him. ‘I’ll get there when I get there.’
Are you okay?
Well, I’m here for you, whenever you’re ready.
What’s that thing you always told me about true love?
That thing Destiny told him after homecoming that one year. That one stupid song lyric that he’d parroted ever since, even if it was just to get a girl to come back to his dorm at Academy. ‘Yeah, I know,’ he said.
It’s still true. Don’t hurt yourself. I’ll be waiting for you. I love you.
Jason let the words drift into the imaginary stars. The comm channel closed.
It was nigh on 2300 hours when Jason slumped out of the holodeck. The starship hum was all too present after the sensory deprivation. Light was pain. He’d just slung back the remaining finger of his final gin, tossed the glass back into the room to hear it shatter before the program deactivated. He meandered toward the turbolift, unsure yet if he was going to return to his quarters, or wander the guts of the ship until his eyes began to close on his own. That’s what he loved about his drunk brain: his body conducted itself with sucha autonomous precision that no one had ever said he looked intoxicated. His friends (when they were his friends) would often comment with envious amusement that, on nights he couldn’t remember, he would have fooled any onlooker that he was the DD. He could command half a mission one or two sheets to the wind, and had done so on more than one occasion.
He remembered his first drink, that cautious, lonely reach. Maybe a month after Destiny’s death. Bottle of non-synth vodka his parents had long forgotten in the back of a cupboard. Two in the morning, somewhere around there. Couldn’t sleep again; sleep-schedule all wonked anyway. Wound up shlepping around the neighborhood with three shots of the nasty stuff shooting through his brain.
It never stopped Destiny from reach his thoughts, but it raised shields. He could take it then. Not much of it, but he could take it.
Christ, did the stuff make him mean sometimes. Like when he…when he hit…
God, it was morning when that happened.
Made him mean to Ariel in their early days. He’d ignore her, pass it off as working too hard, being too preoccupied. She’d press him and… He never got physical, but he didn’t need physicality to injure her. Hitting his sister was the only time he’d ever really got violent, but he might as well have broken the nose of everyone who’d ever loved him.
Tears welled. Jason hustled toward the empty engineering labs, ducked inside, voice-ordered the door locked with his command code, and wept at the nearest console. All the faces of the people he had wronged sailed past his vision: the smiles of the people who had trusted him, the looks of fear, disappointment, and hatred after he’d done what he did. Out loud he whispered with a trembling jaw, ‘Where did it go wrong? Where did it go wrong? Where did it go wrong?’
He wasn’t sure how long he was there, or if he’d slipped out of wakefulness. Puffy-eyed, mouth filled with snot, Jason lifted his head and found nothing but dark and silence.
Stilton to Captain Ziredac.
The sudden needle of sound made him jump. His heart pounded in his chest while he caught his breath.
Stilton to Captain Ziredac, come in. It’s urgent.
Badge. ‘Ziredac here, go ahead Lieutenant.’
Sorry to wake you, sir, but, you’ll wanna come see this. Stay where you are, though. I’m sending Lieutenant Martin to retrieve you for escort.
Jason stood. ‘Lieutenant, what’s going on?’
I can’t say over the channel. Are you in your quarters?
Heart rate jumped up again. Synthehol vanished from his bloodstream. He fumbled for his type-1, readied it. ‘No, I’m… I’m in the engineering labs.’
Whatever this was, the ever-vigilant Emari Stilton didn’t ask any follow-up questions to this inconsistency. Something had her laser-focused. Lieutenant Martin’s en route. Stay put. I need to confirm your identity, Captain. I’m going to give you the passphrase now. Six, alpha, theta, niner, four, seven, omicron, four, seven.
Jason’s heart was about to climb out of his body and run for the hills. ‘One, phi, omega, three, three, one, alpha, seven, two.’
Good, sir. Do not respond to that passphrase again. Do you understand, sir?
Captain, we cannot discuss this over comm. Lieutenant Martin is going to confirm your identity in a different way when she arrives, and will confirm hers before she takes you anywhere. If anyone else arrives, or if Lieutenant Martin comes within arm’s reach of you before your identities are confirmed, you need to shoot them.
Do you understand, Captain?
Good. I’ll explain when you get back here.
Jason cursed the type-1 in his quivering palm for not being a type-3. He watched the door, forgetting to blink, for a gut-wrenching span of time. Through the silence at last came footsteps, which halted outside the door.
Martin to Captain Ziredac. I’m outside the engineering labs. Do not shoot.
Badge. ‘Copy, Lieutenant. Come on in.’
Lieutenant Martin could darken a door like no other. It had to be his most ice-hearted security officer to come retrieve him, didn’t it. She showed her empty palms, then reached for a device hooked on her belt. ‘We configured this medical tricorder to confirm identity with blood. I’ll do me first.’
Martin took a small hypo to her thumb. It hissed as it pulled in her DNA, then she inserted it into the receiver at the top of the tricorder.
‘I’m going to slide it to you,’ she said. She crouched, set it on the floor, and bowled it in his direction. ‘Then ask me something only I would know.’
Jason knelt, opened the tricorder, and saw the DNA registering as Olivia Chance Martin, Lieutenant, USS Meridian. ‘Isn’t this enough?’ he said.
‘Okay, uh…’ Jason rifled through his memories, trying to think of anything specific to Lieutenant Martin. ‘Wh-what’s your mother’s name?’
‘Ask me something that isn’t in a database.’
‘There’s something you can ask me, Captain. I can’t feed it to you, but there’s at least one thing you can ask me.’
Jason knew what she meant, and somehow his heart darkened even more. They hadn’t said one word to each other off-duty. Nothing stood between them that wasn’t in a log somewhere, some official report—except one thing.
‘Who did…’ The words caught in his throat. ‘Oh, god damn it.’
‘Just ask, Captain.’
‘Who…’ Jason sighed, and mumbled out the words: ‘Who did I cheat on my wife with?’
Jason sighed again. ‘This isn’t an elaborate ruse to out me, is it?’
Lieutenant Martin eyed him like a snake eyes a mouse. ‘No. Come on, Captain. We need to get you to the security office.’
Jason followed her. ‘What’s going on, Lieutenant?’
‘I can’t say, sir, not until we’re secure.’
‘Tell me what’s wrong now, Lieutenant. That’s an order.’
‘Consider it disobeyed, Captain.’
If it weren’t for the urgency, Jason would have stopped dead in the corridor. Martin might have been cold as hell, but she didn’t disobey orders—almost to a fault. She’d been ordered to secrecy on his indiscretion, after all, with nothing to gain.
Two meters from the turbolift, the corridor lights flicked out. Emergency lighting kicked in, then also went dark.
Martin lit up her wrist-light, shone it both ways. Jason followed the beam. Nothing. Martin summoned the turbolift but the console didn’t respond.
She whispered, ‘We’re compromised. Shoot anyone you see.’
Jason saw the darkness closing, the enveloping nothing he sought in his troubled hours, the endless light in the endless nothing—and it was cold.