Pill of Offering
Posted on May 9th, 2022 by Hannah Ziredac
April 30, 2401
The process by which one could remotely access a nurigan and control its output was, after months of research at the Apollo facility, boiled down to meditation and extreme concentration. These were things Hannah had never excelled at, on her scant few attempts. Destiny could offer very little in the way of personal experience, since she had never achieved it herself. She did recommend a Vulcan meditation holoprogram, which had helped her in therapy in years past. It took a little bit of reprogramming to open the Vulcan program up to a modified approach, but when it was done, Hannah found herself seated on a floor cushion, with the little meditation lamp burning near her knee. The program’s instructor, a Vulcan woman named V’mín, spent the whole first day guiding Hannah through the basics. Breathing, clearing the mind.
This, the second day, saw the modifications come into play. V’mín used incense and advanced techniques to aid Hannah into the proper state, then guided her toward the Light—envisioning it in the emptiness of space, alone, unmoving, the universe revolving around it. The Light was Hannah’s every thought. It was the hardest thing she had ever done.
Has my mind ever been silent? Or have I just cranked the volume on everything around it so I didn’t hear it anymore?
‘You are thinking again,’ V’mín said. ‘Return your mind to the nurigan. Its luminescence is all that you perceive. Envision it in isolation, process the isolation that it must feel, and see the inconsequential nature of distance.’
For hours Hannah sat. Her knees ached, her feet went numb. She pushed forward, forsaking everything but water, shedding all other worries and thoughts and sensations. She was proud of herself, then shed that too. And after a total of nine hours, she made a breakthrough, following something V’mín had said: ‘Recall what it was like to connect to the nurigan when you held it in your hand. Your body and mind remembers the sensations. Access it. Setting all else aside, go further into your consciousness, and revisit your memories. Pay close attention to how your body felt, beginning at your extremities. Work your thoughts to your center. Then find your way upward to your mind.’
A heady tendril of incense ran through her as she inhaled. She recalled her first vision, then her second, then her third. The lightness in her head, the disconnect with her hands, the warm feeling in her abdomen, the loosening of everything. Hannah’s present body began to draw in mighty breaths, each louder and deeper than the last. V’mín continued to speak, but she did not hear her with her conscious mind. Recollection gave way to a naked present of sheer blackness, with stars twinkling in one by one. And there…there at last…
Hannah’s eyes opened. ‘I found it. I found the Light.’
‘Good,’ V’mín said. ‘Did you access its mind?’
‘No. I couldn’t. It wouldn’t let me; it was like it was…like it was cold.’
‘Try again. Practice. You must be able to do this at a moment’s notice.’
May 1, 2401
Hannah awoke in her gray apartment after a long dreamful sleep. Zoë was in them. Every one.
She replicated the biggest, greasiest breakfast burrito she could; yesterday’s impromptu fast had left her shaking. She was so famished that she bypassed her routine of getting dressed, drinking water, and stretching. With a loud belch she leaned back in her chair at the kitchen table and stared up at the ceiling. Today would be the day she would get it. They were going to find Sarreon today.
After restarting her daily routine, she cleared her apartment program and loaded the meditation program. For three hours she practiced with V’mín, and found it easier and easier to find her Light in the lonely black—but she couldn’t penetrate it. It was closed off to her.
‘Fuck,’ she said.
‘Control your emotions. They will not aid you.’
‘I don’t think you wanna start this age-old debate with me.’
‘You are correct,’ V’mín said. ‘I do not. So control your emotions. Try again.’
Hannah wanted the debate even less, so she conceded. Again she accessed her body’s past sensations, and her mind’s past thoughts—and again she found the Light, could almost hold it. The door was locked, though. Shutters closed. Lights out.
Instead of saying fuck, she thought it, and shot out a sharp exhale.
‘Hannah, please. Your emotions must be controlled if you wish to succeed.’
‘Nothing gets past you, does it. Alright. Let’s go again.’
Her door chimed. She paused the program, went to the door, and found Omen in the hallway.
‘I know I’m interrupting,’ she said, ‘but I thought I could lend a hand.’
‘Yeah? How?’ Then, ‘Sorry, come in.’
Omen walked inside, taking quiet note of the drab interior. She spied the paused Vulcan and the frozen flame of the meditation lamp. ‘I don’t like doing this, but I literally can’t help it. I sensed that you were frustrated.’
‘Half,’ Omen said. ‘And it’s that half that I think can help. I was reading over Salladay’s research notes yesterday, and I picked up a pattern of nurigan activation. It’s tied to emotions, in a way. The way some subjects describe their Light is like an old friend, or a passionate partner. It’s not just an exchange of physical and mental information; it’s an exchange of emotion. It’s a true connection with another being, even though the other being isn’t what we call sentient. That’s just a hunch; I’m not a scientist. But seeing some of the personal logs of these folks—D’bryn Zoë included—I’m left with a reasonable hypothesis that you have to connect with it. That you have to love it, in a way.’
Hannah darkened at Zoë’s name, but masked it with humor. She smirked. ‘This shit’s getting hokier by the day.’
Omen also smirked. ‘Right? If I didn’t see all this research, I would’ve thought everyone talking about the Lights was cuckoo.’
‘So, how do I connect with it?’
‘My mother wasn’t the most disciplined Betazoid you’ve ever met, but she used to say that empathy was not as much a Betazoid superpower as other species made it out to be. All beings can feel the emotions of others, and open their own emotions to whomever they choose, just as a Betazoid can. She used to say it’s all about vulnerability. I had to snuff that out when I worked for the Section. By the time I quit in 2387, I felt like I couldn’t read anybody. I couldn’t be vulnerable as an agent. But I got it back with a little help from a friend. Now, Destiny tells me you’re sober. Just alcohol?’
‘Are you about to say you did mushrooms or something?’
‘Well, I was never really into anything else, so, I guess? Why?’
‘Okay, have you done mushrooms, though?’
‘Like, in high school.’
‘What was it like, for you?’
‘I stared at my friend’s tie-dye shirt for three hours, then peed on her neighbor’s lawn because I thought that’s how people clone themselves.’
Omen chuckled. She didn’t look like the kind of woman who chuckled often. ‘What about your thoughts? Did it open you up, or close you off?’
‘I definitely had thoughts I hadn’t had before.’
‘Are you open to something kind of like that? Completely non-habit-forming, completely safe, and something you probably wouldn’t even want to do more than once?’
‘Oh, so you’re a saleswoman in your off-time.’
‘It could really help. It’s the kind of thing that if someone does it at a party, they’re doing it wrong. It’s therapy.’
‘Tell me more.’
The Temple of the Toad
‘Strike what I said earlier. This is the hokiest shit there could be.’
‘I’ll be right here with you.’
‘You’re not like the other Section agents, are you, Chi’neh?’
‘Not when I’m myself, no.’
‘How’s that spelled, by the way? S-H-A-N-A-E?’
‘Not what I expected, but alright.’
The program in Apollo’s database was not the same ceremony Omen had experienced, but it would do. Destiny had to make some special authorizations, but the end-product would be the same. In fact Omen testified that the studio at the Temple of the Toad was a lot nicer than the one she’d gone to. Purple curtains hung on every wall. A soft mattress with a purple sheet lay in the center, with two floor cushions on either side. Candles and incense, of course, because you can’t have a space like this without them. Then you had the altar at the north end of the room, with different objects sitting on brass plates representing the compass directions. Daniel, the shepherd for the journey, had guided them through the orientation and opening ritual. No strange prayers—just a joining of hands, a synchronizing of breaths, and an acknowledgement of openness and trust.
Hokey though it was, Hannah kinda liked it. Daniel also could have totally been the creepiest pseudo-hippy you could meet, but he was rather genuine and down to earth, for all of the ritual stuff he had memorized. He did wear flowing white linens, though. Minus three points.
Daniel returned to the studio space with the Plate of Offering: the post-ritual charcuterie and fruit smorgasbord, hand selected by Hannah. Grapes, apples, cheeses, wheat crackers, and toffee almonds. The selection of the latter was a therapeutic step: Hannah and Zoë had gone through several pounds of toffee almonds together in their off-hours. To eat them without her was going to feel strange.
‘Alright, Hannah,’ Daniel said through a bright smile. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Now, Chi’neh and I will be here for you the entire time, our hands open to you, holding space, holding silence, for whatever the great Eternal leads you toward. Remember what I said before: if you’re thinking about it, that means you’re thinking—which means you should have more. Do you remember the signal for “more”?’
Hannah extended the pinkies of each hand and tapped them together three times.
‘Everyone is,’ Daniel said. ‘And it’s natural. Even for old-timers like me, and I’ve done this twentysome times.’
‘What if I freak out?’
‘We’ll be here, like I said. Holding space. If you’re a screamer, we’ll welcome your screams. If you’re a cryer, we’ll welcome your tears. If you’re a “laughing Buddha”, we’ll welcome your laughter. If you’re a feeler, we’ll give you your time with respect.’ A feeler, as Daniel had outlined in the orientation, was a person who became aroused, and, well, felt things.
Per Daniel’s instructions Hannah sat in the center of the mattress, positioned so that her head would find the pillow when she fell back into it. Daniel readied the Pill of Offering and the nebulizer, then brought both to Hannah on one of his brass platters.
‘The liquid in the capsule will be a little bitter, but, in my experience, no more than raw kale. Once you feel the liquid in your mouth, activate the nebulizer and inhale deeply until you can’t anymore. Hold your breath, fall back onto the pillow, I’ll count to three, then exhale. And remember, above all, let go. Got it?’
‘Then, Hannah Ziredac, by the power vested in me by the great Eternal, I hereby invite you to take this Pill of Offering, and welcome you into the infinite space.’
The Pill was a small, cloudy white capsule, whose insides seemed almost pearlescent. Daniel placed the Pill on Hannah’s tongue. She broke the capsule open and felt the warm liquid spill into her mouth. It was not bitter at all; she almost tasted nothing. As Daniel held up the nebulizer Hannah pressed the activation button, and felt the liquid turned to mist. She inhaled to the bottom of her lungs, held her breath, fell back.
She became a little dizzy.
Her vision developed an aura.
This was not a color.
These were not shapes.
This was not air in her lungs.
She did not have a body.
No, she did have a body; she remembered it.
But it didn’t matter.
Hannah Ziredac did not matter.
None of this mattered, matters, or will matter.
This was all a happy accident.
All of it.
Every inch of this universe was chaos, is chaos, will be chaos.
Everyone and everything is so small.
So small as to almost not exist.
Hannah felt herself laughing, felt her abdomen pulsing, felt her breath quickening. Lines of warmth ran out the outside corners of her eyes, down her temples, past her ears. The volume of her laugh filled her ears. There was no timbre, no pitch; this was not her voice. She was laughter. She was joy. Everything that ever made her feel joy. She was a mosaic of it all. Mom, when Hannah was young; Dad, when Hannah was young; Erika, Zoë, everyone. All of her friends. Even the people who might not have liked her, but she’d enjoyed. Scott Ammora. Kate Harper. Everything was laughter and joy.
She was thinking.
She needed to not think.
Unsure if she even still had hands, Hannah reached her pinkies up into the air, though all she could see was this symmetric collage of non-light/non-shape/non-color. She tapped them together three times.
Booming and present, Daniel’s voice ran over her. ‘Okay, “more” she says. Go ahead and sit up if you can.’
Hannah did. She didn’t know how, because she didn’t have a spine or any muscles or an equilibrium, but she was upright, and another Pill of Offering was lain atop her tongue. Daniel pressed the nebulizer button for her this time. Deep inhale, held breath, exhale…
And Hannah heard herself speak. All she said was, ‘Yes.’
47 minutes later
Hannah was upright, standing at the purple curtain at the far end of the room. Her body felt warm and light and radiant. She was back, though she knew not from whence.
She was nude, but felt no shock of embarrassment at this. To confirm her corporeal body she ran her hands from her clavicle all the way down the front of her body, down her thighs, to her knees. Then she crouched so she could reach her toes. From there she ran her hands to the back of her ankles, up her calves, rear thighs, buttocks, lower back—until her elbows would not allow more. Her hands reconvened on the back of her neck, and she raked her fingers through her hair.
Hair. This body has hair. And hands to feel it with. The body has bones and muscles and skin. These are the shoulders. These are the breasts. This is the navel. These are the hips. I remember hips. Thighs, knees, toes. These are eyelids. Eyes live under those. Lips. Mouth. Voice.
This body has a voice. I’m in this body. Me. Hannah. Hannah Ziredac. I’m Hannah Ziredac. This is my body. This is my heart. This is my joy. This is my pain. This is my sorrow. This is my rage. This is my passion. This is my hunger. This is my thirst.
Hannah explored the space, relearning how to be. Eventually she noticed that the fitted purple sheet on the mattress had a her-shaped sweat-angel on it—except, from the head, there grew a large bubble of wetness to the left. ‘Oops,’ she said. ‘I threw up, didn’t I.’
‘Big time,’ Daniel said with a warm smile. ‘You handled it well. Chi’neh was quick with the rags.’
Hannah looked to Chi’neh, who still sat on the floor cushion with her hands palms-out toward the mattress. She smiled, welcoming Hannah back to this plane.
‘Welp, you know what I look like naked, now. There’s that.’
‘That’s okay,’ Chi’neh said. ‘Don’t be embarrassed.’
‘So, how’d I do? I remember laughing; was I the “laughing Buddha”?’
Daniel said, ‘You were, at first. You kinda ran through all the phases.’
Daniel gave a humble, somewhat sheepish smile, and nodded yes. Chi’neh mimicked this.
‘Welp,’ Hannah said, feeling a stunning lack of embarrassment. ‘Sorry, Chi’neh. Sorry to you too, Daniel, but I don’t really mind if a hologram sees me having a ménage à moi.’
‘If it helps,’ Chi’neh said, ‘even though it’s a sexual act, it’s not necessarily an erotic one in this setting. Your consciousness drove into that very fundamentally human part of your self, and your body reacted.’
‘You said, “Yes,” a lot.’
‘I tend to do that.’
‘No, I mean… before and after your feeler phase. You said it while you laughed, while you cried, while you screamed. You looked at me and said, “Yes,” you looked at Daniel and said, “Yes,” you cried it out to Salladay, Lacuna, Vector; your parents, Zoë, someone named Erika, Jason…’
Absent was the rage that usually kicked up at the thought of her brother. ‘I said, “Yes,” to my brother?’
‘You said that a lot too.’
‘Wow. Let me at that Plate of Offering. I’m starving.’
‘I must say, Hannah, I do not approve of your companion’s involvement.’
‘Trust us, V’mín, we need to do this. I need both logic and emotion to get what I need.’
‘You are lucky that my program can be modified. A real Vulcan may not be so lenient.’
Hannah took her seat on the floor, with the meditation lamp burning beside her right knee. V’mín began her guiding speech as Chi’neh lit the incense. Chi’neh joined Hannah in the practice, sitting close in support. Before they got too far into the process, Chi’neh reached over and touched Hannah’s knee. ‘You can do this,’ she said. ‘Open yourself up completely. Remember your yes.’
Several elongated breaths later, Hannah returned to the void, shedding all of her self save reason and objective. As before, the stars pushed through the veil of the infinite one by one until—there—the Light shone before her. Per request V’mín stopped guiding her by voice, retreating back to a monitoring stance. In the new silence Hannah did not greet the Light with the cold, unfeeling request, but rather with a warm extension of, ‘Hello.’ She said it aloud. Her voice almost felt like it came from another body.
At first her Light did not react. Hannah harbored a fear that somehow she had killed it, that transporting it into space had frozen it beyond recall. Instead of pushing through and discarding that fear, she embraced it. ‘I’m sorry I left you,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry I abandoned you. I miss you.’
There! Hannah couldn’t describe how she perceived a reaction, but it was there; she felt it; it was real!
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Yes. It’s me. It’s Hannah.’
Another reaction. Jesus H., was this really working? Hannah’s eyes filled with the first happy tears she could remember for a long time.
‘I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need something from you. I need to see the treasure of an evil man. His treasure is your brothers and sisters.’ She didn’t know why she called them that. Was she beginning to acknowledge that these Lights were alive? ‘He’s using them to bring the Fall from another timeline into this one. We need to find him. We need to stop him. Please. Just one more time. One more time and you’ll have all of my gratitude and love. I need to see where he keeps it, where he is, how to get to him. Please.’
Uncounted minutes passed. The Light did not go dormant, but it did not show Hannah anything. Silently she beckoned it, reached out with her feelings, sought for the Light’s pain and joy and rage and sadness. ‘Show me,’ she whispered, repeating until it became a mantra. The mantra softened in breath and annunciation until it was naught but a twitching of her lips.
Then she felt an almost alien impulse. The Light wanted Hannah to show it something.
A moment of confusion came and went. A leaf in the brook.
Then, ‘Yes.’ A reaction. ‘Yes.’ Another. Hannah broke into a sob. ‘Yes.’ It was a sob of happiness and mourning. ‘Yes.’ Of rage and loss. ‘Yes.’ Of mortality. ‘Yes.’ Of being finite. ‘Yes.’ Of being infinite. ‘Yes.’ Each yes ascended in volume and intensity, and then she doubled over, a great ball of tightness straining to escape her lower abdomen, and she clenched her jaw and all the muscles in her neck, a deep part of her fearing to let out what needed to emerge, and all at once every dam within her burst, and out came a deafening, throat-shredding, ‘YES!’ that didn’t end until her lungs squeezed every atom of air through her teeth.
And then she saw it.
A black moon in a violet nebula. Growing like a horn from its northwestern hemisphere was a great dark tower, hundreds of miles in diameter. Her consciousness swirled through the exosphere toward it. All power in the universe; it was immense—impossibly immense. That it was built by any living mind in any corner of existence was inconceivable, yet its sheer sides and corners could not have been born from chaos. In a nauseating descent she was then shown a bright field of long, hard, red grass growing from black soil. The tower rose in the uncrossable distance, a constant shadow against the violet backdrop. A mountain, no, a ridge of rocky buttes rose between this field and that shadow. Built into the ridge was a structure of dark stone, unlike the tower, but of similar purpose. And to it, Hannah’s mind rushed forth.
An entrance. A lock. The key. A black corridor. Bulkheads, built of sheer black stone (this was the same stuff as was used to build that tower), that would shut around the place, section it off, trap intruders. An interface. Inscrutable language. Telepathic input. Manual bypass. Yes. Transporter. Biometric scanner, down to the atom. (All of this: Fall technology, beyond anything Hannah had ever heard of.) End-to-end transporter, leading to the tower itself. Elevator. Undercroft.
The Lights hung in a wide circle of perfect dimension, illuminating the cavernous chamber. Around them, Sarreon had built sensors and transmitters of unknown design. And there: there he was, hammering away at the machinery, leaping from component to component, laughing like a madman as he went.
And she saw his teeth.
His perfect white teeth in that sickening simper.
Mercifully her Light pulled her away from Sarreon’s face, zooming all the way out to the orbital view. Hannah was gifted the knowledge of the course to that star and its designation.
She had done it.
She found him.
Hannah returned to her body, which was still doubled over. Chi’neh’s hands were on Hannah’s back and her leg, steadying her, checking on her. V’mín was quietly upset at the display of emotion in a Vulcan’s sacred practice, but Hannah reverted the program back to her apartment so she could catch her breath.
‘I know where he is, Chi’neh.’
‘You do? It worked?’
‘Yeah. Let’s go tell the others.’
Chi’neh hopped to her feet and helped Hannah get to hers. ‘You doing okay?’
‘Yeah,’ Hannah said. ‘I’m fine. I can’t begin to thank you enough, Chi’neh.’
‘It’s what I do.’
‘How is that even physically possible?’
‘Will you drop the whole tower thing, Luke?’
‘Just…that would disrupt the moon’s magnetic field, its orbit, its rotation.’
‘It didn’t feel like it was entirely real,’ Hannah said. ‘Like, it was there, but it wasn’t. It’s gotta be something about how Sarreon’s pulling things into this timeline. Maybe it’s halfway through, or in a constant state of flux. I don’t know. Who cares. He’s there. We can go get him.’
‘Lay it out for us again, Hannah,’ Vector said. ‘Piece by piece.’
Destiny and Omen constructed a holographic model based on Hannah’s description. Vector and Lacuna drew up attack patterns and infiltration routes. There were still many variables, such as what defenses Sarreon would have constructed or recruited by the time they got to him, so they got to work on contingencies. Nobody fooled themselves that this was not likely a suicide mission doomed to failure, but for the rest of the night the Roland crew rode a high from gaining a plan of action. They had located the heart, and they were aiming the spear. It just needed to land.
‘Fitting, isn’t it, Ziredac?’ Lacuna said, as he poured his third cup of coffee for the night.
‘What?’ she said.
‘After all of this, it’s coming down to a heist.’
Hannah shrugged, fired off a finger-gun. ‘The bitch is back.’
‘Atlantis, this is Hannah Ziredac aboard the Roland. We’ve found Sarreon. Say again, we found the son of a bitch. Sending coordinates for the rendezvous. Smoke em if you got em, y’all. Let’s end this.’
‘Understood, Hannah,’ Harper said. ‘We will meet you there.’
‘Thanks, Kate. See you on the other side.’
Hannah closed the channel, leaned back in Destiny’s office chair. The Roland was heading into its final night. Lacuna, Vector, and Omen had all retired to their cabins. Destiny was still awake, but drooping more by the minute. Though she knew she needed sleep, Hannah was higher than she’d ever been. She didn’t like using sleep-aid hypos, but that was likely her only recourse.
Destiny kept herself awake by watering the plants on the far side of her study, yawning at each one.
‘Alright, Des, I’m outta your hair,’ Hannah said. ‘Is this your room when no one’s in it?’
‘Hm? Oh. Oh, no, I have my own cabin.’
At the mouth of hallway Hannah stopped, turned. ‘I wanna thank you.’
Destiny turned, brushing her unkempt gray-brown hair from her face. ‘Oh. Of course, Hannah. It was my pleasure.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Hannah said with a smirk. ‘I’ve been a perfect asshole to you.’
‘I didn’t take it personally.’
Hannah approached. ‘Maybe you shoulda. I take it back now, but I meant everything when I said it.’
‘Oh. No, it’s okay.’
‘Destiny, come on, hold me accountable, will ya? It’s not okay. I blamed you for the way my brother turned out, and you’re the last person I should’ve blamed. I poured all the anger of my grief on you. You didn’t deserve that. I’m really sorry.’
Destiny finished watering a large, spidery plant that Hannah would never have been able to identify, then set down the watering can. ‘I’ve carried a lot of guilt, Hannah. In my isolation, it grew into me. Because of what happened after my “death”, I couldn’t see my own parents. Jason’s far from the only person who loved me who thinks I’m dead. And where I ended up, I could watch all of them living their lives without me. It’s like I’ve truly been dead, and have been looking down on everyone from a cloud. A miserable, lonely existence. And over time, I didn’t lack the means to change any of it—to come back and tell my loved ones that I was alive. No, I lacked the courage. I thought it was all too hard. So, do I deserve your hatred and anger? Maybe not. But it sure fit me, so I didn’t fight it.’
Hannah sighed. ‘It doesn’t fit you. It doesn’t fit any of us. There’s no room for that in me, anymore. Ain’t nothin you need to be guilty about.’
‘Thank you for saying that.’
‘Yeah. For sure.’
Destiny reached out before Hannah left. ‘I have to confess something.’
‘I won’t do it—I won’t even put myself in the position to do it—but I confess that I’m tempted not to just stop Sarreon from doing what he wants to do, but to commandeer it. To change reality for good.’
‘Oh. Shit. Yeah, definitely don’t do that.’
‘It’s so tempting.’
‘Shit yeah, it’s tempting. But setting aside the fact that we don’t know how it works, and we could fuck it up, where’s the fun in just changing reality?’
Destiny only raised her eyebrows.
‘Okay, yeah, I could see how it’d be fun as hell, but you see my point, right?’
‘Yeah. It’s not right. It’s not natural.’
‘The Lights need to…I don’t know. Not exist. Or go far away where no one can find them.’
‘Well, I guess we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.’
Destiny cracked a warm smile, held up an aha finger. ‘A malaphor.’
‘A what, now?’
‘Okay. I’m gonna go zonk my ass out. Rest easy.’
And Destiny did not stop until all her plants had enough to drink.