Posted on April 20th, 2022 by Hannah Ziredac
March 31, 2401
The bridge of the Roland bore a decorative resemblance to the office Hannah had seen Destiny in almost a year ago. Hardwood, wainscoting, lush curtains, low lighting. In place of a captain’s chair or helm control was the same wooden desk, stained dark, home to elegant consoles and minimalist ornaments.
‘Computer, tea blend Salladay Three, please.’
Destiny’s tea appeared in the middle of her desk. It didn’t take a clear and happy mind to realize that everything on this ship was a hologram, or overlain by one.
‘Can I get you something, Hannah?’
Almost at a whisper Hannah said, ‘No.’
‘You need only ask; the computer will respond to your commands, within reason.’ Destiny stirred her tea, blew on it. ‘We’ll be at Refuge in about nine hours,’ she said. ‘There are quarters for you. They’re also a holosuite, so whatever makes you most comfortable. I suggest you get some res—’
‘Program your computer not to give me any alcohol. Synth or otherwise.’
Hannah idled for a couple breaths. ‘So where is it? Down this hall, or…?’
‘Yeah,’ Destiny said, seeming to snap back from her own departure from the present. ‘I’ll show you.’
The corridor betrayed a space much larger than the Roland itself: the magic of Destiny’s state-of-the-art holotechnology. It felt like a lavish penthouse in some old Earth city like New York or London or wherever people liked to have mansions at high elevation. A door on the left opened up into a blank white space—different from any blank holo-canvas Hannah had ever seen. No seams, no visible projectors or panels. Looked like that old 1999 film, The Matrix, when the guy shows the other guy all the stuff.
Destiny voice-commanded the computer to form a small neutral living space. With a gentle sound the suite rendered a 500-square-foot studio apartment. Polished concrete floors, accented by a large, lush goldenrod area rug. Queen-sized bed on an invisible frame; gray down comforter, three pillows. Closet bathroom at the far end. Replicator near a small round three-legged table. Room-length window, drapes pulled closed. Sky-blue vase with a trio of white flowers on the nightstand.
‘I don’t know your tastes,’ Destiny said. ‘Feel free t—’
Destiny stood silent at Hannah’s side for a swelling moment. Hannah could feel the woman’s urge to do or say something consolatory.
‘I have something for you,’ Destiny said. ‘I don’t like that I have it, but just know it was necessary to do this.’ And she placed a PADD on the corner of the mattress. ‘Those are all of Zoë’s private logs. We’ve been monitoring you both since the beginning. Apollo needed to gather as much data as possible about the nurigan, so we…’
Justifications and platitudes continued to dribble out of Destiny’s mouth, unmeasured by time, as Hannah stared at the PADD. She did not know what to feel, or if she was feeling anything, until her id provided an answer.
‘…and I hope you know that none of your information was ever going to be used for—’
Contracting and tensing her entire body, Hannah screamed, ‘Get the FUCK OUT!’
Destiny faltered, blinked. ‘Alright,’ she said, and left.
Hannah’s brain did not record the time or distance from there to the nightstand, but she found herself hurling the vase full-force toward the far end of the apartment. It shattered with brain-stabbing report against the bathroom door jamb, spraying water, glass, and delicate petals across the perfect gray floor. Her body contracted again; she doubled over, her hands gnarled into claws, and loosed a throat-burning, face-reddening scream. Heaving in a husking breath, she loosed a second one.
And she collapsed, utterly, finally. She did not know how long she lay there on that goldenrod rug, weeping, bawling, screaming, growling, smashing the heels of her palms into the floor.
Hannah idled. There was naught else she could do.
She needed something. She didn’t know what. Food, probably. Water. Maybe a shower.
Rehab had, insofar, ushered in an age of structure. The program’s counselor, Cad, had been adamant about this. Make a routine and do everything at the same time every day. If it worked on substance abuse recovery, it could work on grief.
With a countdown from five she compelled herself to get up. Didn’t take on the first one, nor the second one, but the third countdown got her sitting up. Several more countdowns from five got her to her feet, got her clothes off, got the holopartment to switch the sonic shower out for a water one, got it running, got her to clean herself and not just stand under the hot stream.
She came out, laid the towel widthwise across the bed, then lay on her back—staring at the ceiling as she air-dried.
Not an inch of her was tired.
Not an inch of you deserves to be.
Hannah closed her eyes.
They fell open.
‘Fuck,’ she whispered.
She went to the window and pulled the drapes apart. Before her was an unknown city at nighttime, its white and gold windows and streetlights warring the natural dark of the uncaring universe. Cars and shuttles scurried between the monoliths. A stray wonder flitted past her consciousness, curious how extensive the program was. If this suite had the same capabilities as the ones on the Skylark, Hannah would not have been surprised to be able to go down to that street and see real people.
But she shoved the thought aside.
The computer replicated some fresh clothes. Black jeans, black T-shirt with a Captain Proton design in the old monochromatic punk pastiche. One of her favorite vintage fits. Didn’t seem right to be in anything but messy, loose-fitting clothes, or just nothing at all, but structure compelled her to make herself presentable.
Just make yourself work. Make yourself operate. Keep coming back, it works if you work it, and all that jazz.
‘Now what?’ she said. Her throat hurt. To the replicator: ‘Water, 500 milliliters, tap cold, no ice.’ Drink. ‘Okay. Now what?’ Her abdomen felt light and weak. To the replicator: ‘Grilled cheese sandwich, hot, bowl of tomato soup, hot.’
She ate at the table, her open eyes unseeing. The sound of her own chewing was the march of an invading army, so she said, ‘Computer, play, uh… Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music for Nine Post Cards. Volume, um… reasonable.’
Plate and bowl cleaned. Particles recycled. Now what?
Hannah sat at the kitchen table and stared out at the nameless city until Music for Nine Post Cards came to its delicate end.
‘Computer, confirm that I’m restricted from replicating alcohol.’
ALCOHOL REPLICATION IS RESTRICTED FOR ALL USERS WITHOUT ADMINISTRATOR ACCESS.
Images of Refuge splashed into her mind: vendors of all kinds of intoxicants, shoving them in her face, offering free tastings; Venya Kashar summoning an attendant with a tray of luxurious spirits in each hand; Hannah herself, there, unable to hold herself back, saying fuck it, saying nothing matters now, saying all the things Cad told her she would say to herself; stumbling through some corridor or street or alley, trying to kill herself with all this poison, because anything would be better than enduring this pain.
Hannah’s eyes fell from the window to the corner of the bed, where the PADD full of Zoë’s memories lay. She retrieved it, returned to the table, sat, stared into the black mirror of its inactive screen.
An alien whim zapped through her mind: a change of setting. A specific change of setting.
‘Computer, do you have files on locations in Dellenville, Colorado?’
THERE ARE OVER 5,000 SPECIFIC DELLENVILLE LOCATIONS IN THE DATABASE.
‘Jesus, five thousand? Why?’
REFERENCE APOLLO PROJECT: ‘CYAN ANCHOR’, CONCERNING THE HOLOGRAPHIC ARCHIVING OF TERRAN CIVILIZATION. AUTHORIZATION REQUIRED FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.
‘Whatever, man, just, is Barb’s Diner in the database?’
BARB’S DINER, NORTH 3RD STREET. LAST HOLOGRAPHIC SNAPSHOT ON STARDATE—
‘Yeah, shut up. Just load it, please.’
North 3rd Street
Hannah sighed at the entryway to Barb’s Diner. The holographic snapshot might as well have been taken the last day she ever came to the real place, years ago. Not a single fiber of that tacky dark carpet was out of place. Cooking oil wafted on the air from a narrow kitchen window. Twenty different pies sold themselves from wire racks in a glass display case. Classic fruit pies with golden crusts, and cream pies so gaudily decorated and packed with so much sugar that just looking at them made your teeth want to preemptively evacuate your skull.
There were cooks back there, but Hannah couldn’t see them. The only human that shared the space was the lone server: a stout older woman with the kind of countenance that could be grandma-kind or matron-scary. She appeared from behind a corner, grabbing a giant laminated menu from a rack on a wall.
‘Just one, hon?’ she said.
‘Yeah,’ Hannah said.
‘Come on back.’
Hannah followed the little woman to the left, all the way to the back, where green vinyl cushions awaited at the final booth before an employees-only door. The waitress slid the menu in front of Hannah and asked, ‘Anything to drink, hon?’
Gallon of whiskey. IV of vodka. ‘Um…tea?’
‘What kind? I got green, peppermint, English Breakfast, Earl Grey…’
‘And do you already know what you want?’
‘A slice of dutch apple, please.’
‘Warmed up, à la mode?’
‘Warmed up, but not à la mode.’
‘Alright, hon. Be right back.’
Hannah shoved the menu out of her way and replaced it with the PADD. She tapped it on, opened up the last folder that had been updated: Vermont Songs. The title was a hot brand to her mind; she tapped the PADD off and pushed it away, knocking the menu onto the opposite booth seat. At this point she would strangle a puppy for just a quarter bottle of bottom-shelf, plastic-bottle booze. Any kind; fuck it.
The waitress returned with the tea and pie, then snatched up the knocked-off menu and told Hannah she’d be around if needed. Hannah let the steam of her tea drift up over her chin and into her nose.
PADD, tap on, Vermont Songs, tap off, slide across the table.
‘God damn it.’
Slide back, tap on, Vermont Songs, hover, hover, ‘Fuck,’ tap off, slide.
You gotta do something.
You gotta do something.
PADD. Tap on. Vermont Songs. ‘Vermont Songs, Ch.1’.
Hannah took a deep breath and let it out slow.
‘Alright. Let’s not fuck this up.’
Zoë clears her throat. She clamps a red capo on the third fret of an acoustic guitar, frets two strings, and begins picking a quick pattern. [Hannah knows shit-all about music, but it sounds pretty.]
‘I am listening to the same old songs.
‘I ask and you’ve forgotten all your wrongs.
‘I was wrong, and you dance round a promise.
‘Got a ticket to fly through time—no, no, fly through time sounds stupid.’ She sighs. ‘How do I even apply something poetic to something completely supernatural? How do you find a pretty way to say, “I lived nineteen lifetimes with you”? Ugh. I just can’t fucking write lyrics anymore. Isn’t sadness supposed to help with that?’ She laughs.
‘The first song needs to set the stage. Set the tone of the album. That’s what the good ones do. Salter Carolina kicking off Mentions with “It’s a Rain”, Crea Landstrom kicking off Right Here with “Right Here”, Frightened Rabbit kicking off Winter of Mixed Drinks with “Things”…
‘But how do I set the tone for something like this? How do I tell the listener, “This album is going to be about all the lives you lived with someone, about seeing all the happiness in your future, only to have it fall apart like a dream? Having to face and accept that your future isn’t going to be what you always wanted, what seemed so real and…and doable?
‘Oh, you know what? “Vermont One” should be about how I kinda always knew it wasn’t going to work. But, like, before I actually knew. Mention how much she drank, mention a couple things she said that clued me in, maybe write in my own denial at the time. That can be the outro part.’
Zoë frets a chord, goes from the quick arpeggiating pattern to a strum.
‘Can’t this fold, can we just stop our talks?
‘Can we stow these words and go out for a midnight walk?
‘Another day for the dreams and their heavy, hollow space,
‘what would it take to get out of this place?’
The chord progression resolves. Zoë’s last lyric lingers. A silence follows.
‘That’s good,’ she says. ‘Yeah. Yeah. That’s good.’
‘Alright. So “Vermont Two” is a retrospective on the good times. The dinners, the Stardew Valley, the things we did that made each other laugh. That’s where the album truly starts. Like, if it wouldn’t fuck up the numbering, “Vermont One” would be a prologue, and “Vermont Two” would be the first chapter. But I’m not gonna do the listener like that.’ Zoë adopts a hyperbolic snobby affect to her voice. ‘Mm-yes, you see, track number one is not actually chapter number one. Track number two is chapter number one.’
She blows a raspberry.
‘Anyway, the bridge of “Two”, where the whole band drops out, that’s where future-Zoë comes in, looking back on these fond times with a sort of wistful joy. Wistful; am I using that right? Computer, define wistful.’
WISTFUL. ADJECTIVE. FIRST DEFINITION: FULL OF YEARNING OR DESIRE TINGED WITH MELANCHOLY. SECOND DEFINITION: MUSINGLY SAD. SEE ALSO: PENSIVE.
‘Okay, yeah. Wistful joy. You feel that after someone you love is gone. Any anger or sadness you felt about them when you parted is still there, but so is the happiness you felt when things were good. Both are valid. Both exist. It’s really important that these good memories aren’t projected with bitterness. I’m not sure if that’s coming off in the current lyrics, though. I might need to add another verse.
‘The chorus goes, though. I’m really proud of myself; it’s catchy as hell. Thank the Prophets for session musician holograms.
‘Okay, so then, “Vermont Three” is where everything goes down. We flash forward in time. It’s the end. I get really metaphorical here. I wonder if a listener is going to pick up what I’m saying. So, the imagery is from a happy memory from one of our lifetimes in Vermont. We were throwing a tennis ball for Crumb. That was our dog, in that one. I hucked it way too far and it went right into the lake. Since Crumb was afraid of water, Hannah got this playful look on her face and said, “Fuck it!” and just ran into the lake in her clothes to go get the ball.’
A sorrowful serenity passes over Zoë’s face.
‘I need to revise the lyrics, make em more succinct, but I think I succeeded in taking that happy memory and fading it into a metaphor of what happened in real life. In real life, I watched her plunge into gray water and disappear beneath the surface. It’s revealed in the lyrics that she’s deliberately not swimming, not even trying to keep her head above water.’
Zoë is silent for a minute. She perks up, reminding herself not to wallow. [Hannah remembers how good at that she was.] She keeps her red capo on the third fret, frets a chord.
‘And it goes a li’l sum’m like this.’
Sparse picking pattern over dolorous chords. Technically there is resolution in the progression but it does everything it can to resist it. The first verse is sung with a gentle but steady voice; Zoë is not a breathy vocalist [to Hannah’s taste, as if that matters anymore]. After another round of those chords, Zoë digs in with a hard strum, and her voice becomes full, ringing like a church bell. [It’s a voice Hannah never knew Zoë had.]
‘My fingers ache for you.
‘Got a nemesis on my wrist.
‘I’ll turn around for now.
‘I’ll turn around from this.’
Another round of the chords, softer, sparser, at a gentle ritardando. Ends on the fourth chord. Doesn’t resolve.
Zoë smiles at the camera.
‘Right? That’s like…my best song. And it’s so short.’
‘I am just chuggin along. “Vermont Four” might actually be my favorite now, but I’m not sure. I had to change a couple lyrics, though, because they sounded mean. I don’t want to be mean. I hate that about breakups: the tendency to get mean in situations that don’t call for it.’
Zoë sets her guitar aside.
‘You know? Like…okay, if someone, like, abuses you, then they’re an asshole. Talk all the shit you want. Sure. But Hannah, like… she might have fucked up a bunch of times, but none of it calls for meanness. I feel weird just calling her a bitch, even when no one can hear me.
‘I mean, well, she’s a bitch, but she’s the kind of bitch someone should be proud to be, if you know what I mean. Like, I wish I could be that kind of bitch sometimes. Bitch as a compliment, I can do. Bitch as an insult, just… It doesn’t feel right.
‘Anyway, I think “Vermont Four” is better now. “Vermont Five” is actually just “Morse Code”, that old song I wrote about Neil. It doesn’t feel right for Neil anymore. I had to change some of the lyrics, but they’re some of the best from that era of my life. It’s this emotional zoom-out, where I’m kind of facing this…this litany of factors and emotions—Am I using litany right? Computer, define litany.’
LITANY. NOUN. FIRST DEFINITION: A PRAYER CONSISTING OF A SERIES OF INVOCATIONS AND SUPPLICATIONS BY THE LEADER WITH ALTERNATE RESPONSES BY THE CONGREGATION. DEFINITION 2A: A RESONANT OR REPETITIVE CHANT. DEFINITION 2B: A USUALLY LENGTHY RECITATION OR ENUMERATION. DEFINITION 2C: A SIZABLE SERIES OR SET.
‘Okay, so no.’ Zoë makes an oops face at the camera. ‘So chapter five is a…huge mess of factors and emotions, from the perspective that they’re all unchangeable. Or that they could change, but they probably won’t. I might need to simplify the lyrics, though. I was really wordy back then and they’re coming out as obsequious. Wait. Computer, define obsequious.’
[She meant opaque.]
‘Ba-boom, sixth, seventh, and eighth songs all drafted. I’m really liking where this is going. I have a rough sketch for “Vermont Ten” also, but it’s not there yet. I’m thinking “Vermont Nine” will actually be an instrumental. Started picking around on something that could really work like that. But let me back up and tell you about “Vermont Six”.’
Zoë leans back in her chair, balances her guitar on her lap, and raises her arms in a V.
‘I am a songwriting goddess! Lightning in a freakin bottle. “Six” just fell out of me. Chords, melody, lyrics… I actually wrote the lyrics orally; didn’t even write them down until I had them more-or-less dialed in. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before!
‘“Six” is the moving on song. Or, I guess, the moving on too soon song. Or, the, uh… the failing to move on because it was too soon song. There’s…’ Zoë laughs in spite of herself. ‘There’s a lot going on here.
‘It’s all about Lieutenant Cook.’ [Hannah’s gut goes cold.] Zoë smiles, shakes her head a little. ‘Man, what that could’ve been, if I hadn’t messed it up. Ugh, her kiss…’ Zoë sways in a theater-kid swoon. [Hannah almost feels nauseated.] ‘But Cook’s no dummy. She saw how unready I was to move on before I saw it. I hope we can be friends, still. Or, you know… Maybe after some time goes by, I’ll be ready, and she’ll still be available…’
Zoë smiles, shrugs.
[Hannah does neither.]
Zoë wears a somber mask, her eyes half-fallen in concentration. There is nothing in this log but a song. ‘Vermont Ten’: the album closer.
Did you hear my call
or just my voice?
Was your final fall
your nature or your choice?
What would you have me do,
when you scream at me to leave?
All that I can offer you
is, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’
Once used for kisses
all so soft and sweet.
Now used in hisses
through my gritted teeth.
What would you have me say?
What would you have me believe?
Endless war from tender play.
‘Ask and you shall receive.’
This all feels so strange,
as if not meant to be.
Would you spare some change
for the likes of me?
I live to raise the dead in you,
and I refuse to bereave.
Nothing more remains to do.
‘Ask and you shall receive.’
North 3rd Street
Hannah wept over untouched pie and cold tea. When the server came around, the old woman barely got her second word out before Hannah barked for the computer to return her to that gray apartment. There, she crawled under the down comforter, clothed and shod, and did not remember falling asleep.
She dreamed of many things, all horrid by one classification or another. Zoë’s face. Jason’s face. Sarreon’s face. In one dream it was Jason who killed Zoë instead of Sarreon; in another Jason killed himself, as did everyone else on the Meridian; in another the Atlantis suffered the same fate, everyone she knew posed at their stations like pieces of a gruesome exhibition. Then she drowned in the middle of Lake Granby at night, far from shore, with no one to save her. Then she relapsed and drank her way through an entire bottle of tequila.
Then, the woman returned.
The one she saw in those Light hallucinations. The one who claimed to be married to Jason, in some alternate timeline or something. The one she watched get phasered down in Paradise Canyon.
Into the dark, the woman said. Into the dark with the Light. All Light must return to the dark.
A few hours later
Her mind was all too ready to escape the nightmares. Hannah’s eyes fell open, though the weight of fatigue hung at the front of her skull.
Hannah? Are you awake?
‘Yeah,’ she groaned.
Can I come in?
‘It’s your ship.’
Destiny took slow steps through the door, kept her distance from the bed. ‘Just wanted to let you know we’ll be arriving at Refuge in about twenty minutes.’
‘How are you feeling?’
Destiny hummed an understanding. ‘I apologize for Apollo’s b—…for my breach of your privacy, and Zoë’s. I won’t implore you to understand my perspective.’
‘I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you. Anything.’
‘I said it’s fine.’
Destiny almost stepped on Hannah’s words with, ‘Okay. I’ll leave it alone.’
‘I’m sure you won’t find that to be challenging.’
Hannah threw the comforter off and advanced on Destiny. She got in her face, willing herself not to touch her, though Whomever Almighty knew she wanted to. ‘Your death threw my brother over the goddamn edge. I don’t know what fucking happened to you, but one word—one fucking word—to let Jason know you were still alive, and he wouldn’t have become the fucking monster who made my life a fucked-to-death nightmare.’
She saw then, in Destiny’s eyes, a long, gray untold history since her supposed death. Whatever led to it, whatever resulted from it, her road had not been easy. Maybe she wanted to send word. Maybe something about her situation would have endangered him if she had. Hannah backed off, turned around, raked her hands through her hair.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
‘You’ve nothing to apologize for, Hannah.’
A grim laugh. ‘Oh. Oh-ho-ho-ho, is that ever an inaccurate statement.’
‘Grief is powerful. No one can deny that. It can break someone, inspire them to do monstrous things, or start a toxic pattern of behavior, but only if they don’t have support. That’s what Jason didn’t have. He rejected it. He did. Grieving me doubtlessly affected him, but in the end, he chose to behave the way he did. Rather, he chose not to stop.’
Hannah sighed. ‘Yeah.’
‘I’m no therapist, and I haven’t been a friend to you, but you have my support, Hannah. Even if that support is a therapy holoprogram in my database. I have space for you. I don’t think anyone told your brother that.’
‘I don’t think so either.’
‘Has anyone told you that?’
Hannah bowed her head. ‘Only one.’
Destiny allowed that moment its space, then said, ‘Now you have a second.’