Posted on May 11th, 2022 by Hannah Ziredac
November 22, 2398
Weird to be back here.
Weird to be at Hartman, specifically; Hannah couldn’t remember the last time she was at Hartman.
Yes she could. Took a spill off her bike at age seven, split her wig on the curb. Got a big talking-to about bike safety, once the concussion wore off. Everyone got in on that dogpile: Mom, Dad, Jason (of course), Grandpa Max, that neighbor dude who loved his lawn too much.
‘Oh, what happened to the kiddo, Celina?’
‘She fell off her bike.’
‘Was she not wearing a helmet?’
‘She was not.’
‘Always gotta wear a helmet, kiddo.’
Fuck you, Phil. Or Dave. Whatever Larry-ass name you had.
Hannah entered the hospital’s reception area, which was too big and resplendent for a hospital serving a town of Liesfort’s size. It would have even been a stretch for Dellenville. Like a San Fransisco spaceport concourse in here. Huge floor-to-ceiling windows that drowned the polished white tile in daylight, a spindly modern sculpture, a holo-water feature. The concept of hospital decor was a subject Hannah could have blogged about, if she were five years younger and five times more stoned on the daily.
She made the trek from the front door to the receptionist (seen here as ‘Patient Coordinator) station. The young woman at the console had the face of a fresh high school graduate and the all-business surliness of someone who’d been doing the same job for sixty years.
The girl spoke in a drone and made no eye-contact. ‘Visiting or self-admitting?’
‘Visiting. I make a point not to admit anything.’
Now there was eye-contact, but it wasn’t flattering.
‘What?’ Hannah said. ‘Did Colorado outlaw dad jokes?’
‘Who are you here to visit?’
The girl looked up the name. Hannah thought maybe seeing Rina’s problem list might divine some emotion out of this girl, but nothing doing. Actually the inverse: she sighed and spoke at the most bored, put-upon pitch and inflection possible. ‘Okay. I’m going to need you to fill out a visitor form.’
A console lit up on Hannah’s side of the counter. She stuck her left hand in her jacket pocket while her right hand pretended to poke through the form. In her pocket she activated a remote data module she had already tuned to the hospital’s patient-facing computer system. Nothing that would trigger the HIPAA firewalls, but a tiny little hack that would give a false green-light for the inaccurate name and contact data that would go in place of, Hannah Ziredac – wanted for theft, smuggling, and sundry other transgressions.
‘Alright,’ Hannah said. ‘Done.’
The receptionist pulled up the information, logged it, and said, ‘Okay. Ms. Ziredac is in room 212, second floor.’ She sounded more bored than with anything she’d said heretofore.
‘Thanks. Try not to steal my number for personal use; I think your joie de vivre would wear me out.’
Finger guns. ‘I shall. Shine on, you crazy diamond.’
‘What’d you just say to me?’
But Hannah was already moseying for the elevator. The girl hadn’t the giving-fucks necessary to pursue her, but she glowered at Hannah until the elevator doors whispered shut.
To the empty car Hannah said, ‘Still got it.’
Room 212 wasn’t far from the elevator. The door was cracked, but it might as well have been the hardest safe door Hannah had ever faced down. It wasn’t until an orderly or MA or whatever needed to get past with a hover cart full of medical supplies that Hannah could budge herself forward. With a sigh she courtesy-knocked, and stepped in.
Rina Ziredac lay supine behind a quarantine forcefield, sunken-eyed, thin. Hannah couldn’t remember what they were calling this new virus; the colloquial name for it was after the colony it broke out on, and she couldn’t even remember that. Whatever it was, the best minds in Starfleet Medical were sweating into the wee hours of every morning trying to figure out how to cure it. They knew how to head the vectors off at the pass so it wouldn’t become a pandemic, but everyone who caught the thing, they…
‘The mysterious visitor,’ Rina said. God, her voice sounded so thin. Victims tended to run out of breath easily. ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Kinslock, you’re… going to have to remind me where… I know you from.’
‘It’s me, Rina. It’s Hannah.’
‘Hannah?’ Rina turned her head along her pillow, squinting sleepily. The virus took the vision early on, anywhere from blurry to blind. ‘Hannah Banana?’
‘Oh, Hannah…’ A diaphanous laugh lifted into the air, then blew away. ‘My god, I was like, “Who’s… this Jeska lady?” My…my eyes don’t really work anymore. I see a shape.’
‘Yeah,’ Hannah said, scooting a chair as close to the bed as she could.
‘It’s a bigger.. bigger shape than…than the last time I…’
‘Yeah. It’s been a long time.’
‘All… all grown…up.’
‘Well, let’s not give me too much credit.’
‘How…h—…’ Rina sighed in a laborious bid to catch her breath. ‘How’ve you been?’
‘I’ve been alright. Rina, is it hard to talk?’
‘No, just to…just to use…use literally any energy.’
‘I don’t wanna wear you out. You want me to go?’
‘No, no, please. Please stay. I’ve m… missed you, Banana.’
Hannah choked, thanked fuck almighty that Rina was probably too blind to see the tears. She cleared her throat like she just had some dust stuck in there. ‘Yeah, yeah, I missed you too, Rina.’
‘I’m glad I got to…got to see you. Well…’ Rina fluttered her eyes: a substitute for a shrug. ‘See is relative.’
‘I’m, uh… I’m not going to…’
Hannah nodded, rasped, ‘I know. I knew I had to see you.’
Rina closed her eyes for a moment and smiled, absorbing whatever feeling of love and support she could gather from the air. Hannah always felt so self-conscious when someone looked to her for support. She didn’t make a good shoulder. Am I doing it right? Am I saying the right things? Am I showing them the love that I feel? Do they believe me? God, she hoped Rina could feel it. Just this once, Hannah hoped she was doing it just right enough.
‘They takin good care of you?’ she said
‘Yeah. They do… their best. Only problem is…the boredom.’
‘They can’t even get some holos in here? Ones you don’t need to see?’
‘They do. I…tried em the first…couple days, but…’ She eye-flutter-shrugged again. ‘Not seeing it just…frustrates me more than anything. Audiobooks are good, but they’re always so long that I…just…just fall as… asleep and miss the good parts.’
Hannah sighed. ‘Yeah, I get that.’
‘You know what wo… what works, though?’
‘People in the room tel…telling me stories. I stay awake because it’s…it’s coming from someone I love.’ Rina smiled as if she felt a warmth no one else could feel.
‘I wish I had some to tell,’ Hannah said. She leaned in. ‘I mean, stories that wouldn’t incriminate the storyteller, you know what I’m sayin?’
Rina laughed that misty laugh. ‘I won’t tell anybody.’
‘Yeah, well, the feds got ears.’
‘You can…you can tell me a made-up story.’
‘I’m not really good at those.’ She tried to say it in a tone that matched, But I guess I could try.
‘What was that…that story you…you liked as a kid? You used to show me those…those old games.’
Hannah had to think for a second. ‘What, you mean all those twentieth-century Nintendo games?’
‘Yeah. I loved…hearing you talk about… talk about them. You were so…passionate.’
The tears were going to start pouring out if Hannah didn’t get on a distracting subject soon. ‘Those didn’t really have… Well, a few of em had stories, I guess. There’s the one about the Brooklyn plumber who fights evil turtles so he can save a princess from a dinosaur. Then there’s the one about the pink ball from Dream Land who full-on Borgs his enemies to fight a Nightmare. Then there’s the one about the jeep that has to rescue a POWs in an ambiguously foreign country. Any of these grabbin ya?’
Rina, eyes still closed, the purest smile on her face, nods. ‘Anything.’
‘Oh wait, what am I thinking? What am I thinking, Rina? There’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Duh. You know what, I actually remember telling you about this years ago. It’s my favorite. You wanna hear that one? There’s a little more going on than jump on koopas, collect coins.’
‘Alright. Let’s see how much I can remember without looking any of it up.’ Hannah leaned back. ‘There was once an adventurer who grew up where he didn’t belong. He had no family, one friend, and a quest to defeat an evil sorcerer…’
For a moment Hannah thought Sarreon had grown overconfident, slipped up, left himself vulnerable. Living and fighting all these years, and this dope thinks he can just knock the wind out of someone and turn his back? When I can breathe again, I’m gonna get up and brain him with a brick. Even funnier: she thought he’d punched her so hard that she had urinated, or maybe thrown up without realizing it. Either of those had to have been the warm liquid trickling down either side of her right thigh.
Her sense of humor was always a bit misaligned from everyone else.
Hannah had even seen the knife. Her eyes had received that information and her brain had stored it, but it wasn’t until she collapsed back into a support column that she processed what had happened. The thought came tender and calm: Oh. He didn’t punch me. She looked down at the spot of her belly where Sarreon had stabbed her, then looked back up after a quarter-second. That was enough confirmation. No need to dwell on it. Nope.
Then the pain began to chew through the shock. Oh no.
Sarreon danced silhouetted in that flood of Light, hectic, ecstatic, darting from power console to power console, trying to leash the incredible output of the gathered nurigana. She wondered what she would see when he succeeded, if anything, and wondered if she’d live to see it. She didn’t want her last sensation to be some sudden thing, a strike of a cosmic drum, an explosion, a shot. Hannah wanted to see her boat moor at that final dock, climb in, and go gently down the stream.
Like Rina had.
Like Zoë hadn’t.
The thought was no more complicated than that: just Zoë. Just she, all that she had been. The mortal carriage, the thoughts and feelings and beliefs that powered her, the name, the face, the eyes, the words and the voice that carried them, the breath—all of it, encapsulated in one simple firing of a synapse, five millennia of meaning in the span of a picosecond.
Then, a second thought: No.
No universe that has even the tiniest chance of creating someone like D’bryn Zoë deserves this fate. Not in a trillion realities where she could exist, has existed, will exist. No. No.
Hannah closed her eyes and took as deep and steady of a breath as her body would allow. When it was not deep and steady enough, she mastered her pain long enough to make it happen. V’mín’s breathing and shedding of all emotion came first; Daniel and Chi’neh’s intimate connection to the emotional came next. And she reached out to the nurigana.
All of them.
They were all here now, every Light, emanating that dead civilization’s essence: a glow across galaxies, an immeasurable statement of being, of existence, of reality as is made by the minds that perceive it. She could feel all of them within that gathering, every ripple made by every mortal being, every collision of those ripples, a downpour of life across the lake surface of reality. She felt their joy, fear, despair, boredom, hunger, love, hate, rage, relief. And to them she issued no question, no entreaty, no prayer; she only gave them her answer to her own reality: No.
That no became a full-body, full-mind, full-will intent. As it repeated in her mind it transformed into its more familiar opposite: Yes.
Yes to a world that can continue in peace.
Yes to a world where love can thrive.
Yes to the lives—the happy, full lives—of everyone she had ever known, and everyone they had ever known, and everyone they had ever known.
Yes to everything that stood against this darkness.
Sarreon howled. ‘Is this it? Is it happening? Is now the time?’
Hannah opened her eyes on the real world. The nurigana surged with Light in colors humans were never meant to see. It was pure. All became enveloped, as if the Light were a tangible substance, embracing the columns, the crossbeams, the tiles, the machinery, and, at last, Sarreon himself.
Perhaps he never knew what happened. Hannah knew. She didn’t know, but she knew. He was simply gone. Not here, not there. Sarreon no longer was.
And it was over. Everything that had come through, and threatened to come through, was closed behind that impassible gate.
And the Light of the nurigana retreated, slow as water trickling over the desert sand. Soon there were only the little glowing marbles Hannah had known since she found her own. The tiny things like what Zoë kept around her neck. (Oh, Zoë. Oh, I love you, Zoë.) They floated in that broad circle, revolving like a suspended bicycle wheel in a spring breeze.
Hannah was in no place to sit there and count, but in the same way that she knew Sarreon’s fate, she knew that the forty-seventh Light—her Light—had joined the others and completed the ring.
‘Good,’ she whispered. ‘Everyone gets to go home now.’
And the Light swelled once more, this time extending only to Hannah Ziredac. This time the colors were known only to her.
No. Not a color.
‘Hannah?’came a voice.
She took a breath. Her self was eclipsed with those shapes.
No. Not shapes.
What? she thought she said, but might not have.
‘Hannah? Hannah? Where are you?’
Destiny Salladay gathered her bearings in the dark of the undercroft. The second the barriers went down she beamed in, supertricorder scanning for Hannah’s signature, phaser at the ready for Sarreon and his horrors.
But it was quiet.
The sole source of light was the nurigana in their circle under the highest of the undercroft’s arches, revolving gently clockwise. Destiny wandered before them guileless, lulled to a wonder akin to that of a child watching the electric parade of blinking holiday lights, wrapped around a tree in a cold city square. Her breath felt thin. She forgot all aches and burning joints; she forgot all fear and anguish.
There was blood on the floor: a splotch, a trail, and a greater pool at the foot of a column. A synapse fired in her brain a full second before she looked at her tricorder’s readings, and she knew it was Hannah’s blood. She could only hazard blind, failing guesses as to what happened here—where Sarreon and Hannah could be now, what had happened between them—though she could not evade the theory that they were both gone.
Destiny sighed, let her arms fall limp to her sides. Mourning crept in. She breathed in that silence space for some time.
The air then began to glitter with a sense of peace, tranquility—even gratitude. Destiny lifted her head. This is was no vague tapestry beyond the conscious sense; it emanated from that ring of nurigana, these embers of memory and connectivity between all that lived.
So clear was this sense that Destiny said, ‘No, thank you. You held strong, even at your weakest. You were scattered, desperate, reaching out to anyone who would listen without really knowing how. And you did it.’
At once the nurigana began to fade, brighten a bit, fade more, brighten, fade.
‘Wherever you’re going, I hope you find rest,’ she said. ‘You must be so tired.’
And after a long while the fading overtook the brightening, and the Lights passed from this world. All was dark, cool, and quiet.
November 22, 2398
‘So the hero won?’
‘In a way, yeah.’
‘Good. Did he and…and the prin…princess live happily ever…after?’
Hannah squinted, pursed her lips. ‘It’s hard to say.’
‘Well, here’s how it ends.’
June 10, 2383
‘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.’
‘Yeah, Han!’ Jason shouted. ‘Join the world of the living!’
Mom shook her head. ‘Girl turns ten and suddenly starts sleeping like a high schooler.’
‘Ah, it’s gel, Mom, she can sleep if she wants.’
‘Gel?’ Joe said. ‘And how old are you, again?’
Jason shrugged. ‘Hey, you spend enough time with your kid sister, you pick up the next generation’s lingo.’
‘Jason, when is that girlfriend of yours getting here?’ Mom said. ‘She should be in the holo too.’
‘Destiny will get here when she gets here, Mom, just be patient. Chill about the holo.’
‘Fucking ironic that a girl named Destiny is always late to everything.’
‘Hannah! Wake up!’
Rolling his eyes and breaking from the now-uncomfortable pose for the holo, Jason said, ‘I’ll go get her. I’ll deploy the USS Tickle Monster on her if she’s unresponsive.’
‘Why are you still the only one who gets to do that?’
‘Because big brothers are cooler than parents.’
‘Oh fuck you, Jason.’
‘Mother, language.’ And as he climbed up the stairs, Jason Ziredac put on a docking controller’s voice saying, ‘USS Tickle Monster, mooring is disengaged; you are cleared to disembark.’ He switched to an orotund captain’s voice and said, ‘Captain’s log, stardate 60439.6. The Tickle Monster has received reports of a ten-year-old sleeping until noon, and our special task force has been asked to address the matter with all speed.’
June 7, 2391
Erika Batten didn’t think she’d be accepting her high school diploma in the afternoon, having a beautiful dinner with her parents and extended family in the evening, and slurping three Jell-O shots in a row off of Alison Bloomford’s bare navel in the shortest time out of four other pairs of shithoused graduates before midnight. Cheers erupted as she straightened up and opened her mouth wide to show that the shots had gone down. Someone unbound her wrists and two other someones lifted her up above the crowd. Alison pulled her shirt back down, raised her arms in a V and screamed mighty victory.
The winning partners grabbed some water bottles from the repli-cooler (The Danfords have a repli-cooler? Gellish!) and hit the deck. The house was on an ever-so-slight hill that gave a decent vantage over Dellenville’s lights as they stretched west and bent around Sacker Butte. Erika leaned on the deck railing, took a big whiff of that early-summer high desert, and took a swig of hydration.
‘Nice suckin, Erika,’ Alison said.
Erika sprayed a mist of water out of her lips. They laughed too long.
When they caught their breath Alison said, ‘Christ, I’m gonna miss you.’
‘We’re not gonna be too far apart; Earth-Mars commute’s a breeze.’
‘I know, but I’m gonna miss seeing you every day.’
‘Me too, Al.’ Erika swooned, took another swig of water. ‘A-a-a-a-and those Jell-O shots are hittin fast.’
‘No kidding, dude.’
‘Gonna have to pace myself the rest of the night.’
‘Yeah. You, uh…you doing okay?’
Erika turned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You know, you and Hannah…’
‘Oh. Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, I’m okay. We’ve actually been talking about this for a couple months.’
‘Yeah. You know, with me staying here for school, her going off across the quadrant, our individual relationship needs… It just made sense to split now. End on a good note. Walk away with love in our hearts. That kinda thing.’
Alison touched her heart and heaved in a breath. ‘Yeah. You two were so good together.’
‘We were. But that means we’re gonna be good together with new people. We get to share the love we learned from each other.’
‘I stole it from a holocast.’
‘It’s still beautiful.’ Alison sighed. ‘I’m gonna miss her. She was always so grounding.’
‘A lotta people always say it’s weird when someone who doesn’t drink hangs out at a party, but that always just made me trust her more. Like, she knows some shit about me that no one knows. She made me feel safe and secure.’
Erika smiled. ‘She’s good like that.’
They raised a toast with their water bottles, crushed them, then went back to the celebration inside—but not before Erika looked skyward, knowing Hannah was already out riding the stars into her future, with her heart full of love.
The Diruban System
December 18, 2397
The USS Coldstream and the civilian carrier Honah Lee dropped out of warp above Diruban IV, both crews buzzing with excitement as they prepared to set down roots of a new colony. Diruban IV boasted the most robust and fascinating biodiversity science expeditions had scouted in over a year, from flora to fauna, micro- to mega-. This mission was shaping up to be a glittering favor on the legacy of Captain Hayes McQuarrie.
Diruban IV! The lynchpin of the greatest leap forward in decades for the field of exobiology! While our scientists and colonists are the real heroes of this venture, it would not have been possible without the valiant efforts of Hayes McQuarrie, Captain of Starfleet’s finest and most impressive ship, the USS Coldstream! In this exhibit, we will explore his early years, when he—
Hayes blinked. ‘Yeah?’ He blinked again, stood from the Big Chair. ‘Yes, Mr. Benson?’
Lieutenant Markstrom Benson’s brow was deeply furrowed as he stared at the bridge’s operations console. ‘There’s a…a buoy in orbit over the planet. It’s civilian.’
‘What? Were there civilian ships in the science expedition?’
‘None were documented,’ Benson said. ‘Plus, this buoy is timestamped four days ago.’
Commander Narin Silteaux stood from her chair. ‘You say civilian, Mr. Benson. Are you saying it’s a Federation buoy?’
‘Yes, ma’am. Clear Federation source.’
‘Who dropped it?’ Silteaux asked.
‘That’s the only thing that isn’t clear. All ID information is scrubbed.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Hayes said.
‘Or,’ Silteaux offered, ‘very hard to accomplish.’
‘All the buoy’s putting out is a warning. It’s very informal. It says, “There’s a really bad virus on this planet. It fucks you up. Don’t settle here. No, I’m serious. It’s bad news. If you don’t believe me, at least go down there in, like, suits or whatever you have.’
Silteaux said, ‘It’s written that way? With the likes and swear-words?’
‘God damn it,’ Hayes said. ‘First Admiral Pierce reassigns himself to a “more useful” ship, then we get denied membership in the Olympus Force because we’re “too unwieldy”, and now we can’t get this colony started because of a virus that “fucks you up”. What’s next? Huh? What the hell’s next? Why can’t this ship catch a god damn break?’
Mount Antigone, Colorado
November 22, 2398
Rina Ziredac took a holo-selfie with her boyfriend as they rode the hoverlift to the top of the slope. Their cheeks were red from a morning on the mountain, their bellies were full of good breakasts and warm drinks. She sent it to the family subspace thread with the caption, Wish you were here! ♥
November 22, 2398
‘Aww, so…everybody got…to live a hap…happier life.’
‘Yeah. Only the adventurer and the princess hadn’t met each other in the new timeline. And they likely never would.’
‘But the adventurer remembered. He remembered everything that almost happened. And he knew right where she’d be, and when she’d be there…’
May 5, 2400
‘Slipstream systems green.’
‘We came in a little hot; I’m reading some stress on the inertial dampeners.’
‘I’ll go take a look.’
‘No-n-no, I got it.’
‘Yeah I— Whoa.’
‘Whoa, what the fuck was…’
‘What the fuck was what? Are you gonna faint? You like you’re gonna faint.’
‘No, I… No. I just had a… Did you feel anything just then?’
‘Me? No. What’s going on with you?’
‘I need to go to Sickbay.’
‘Yeah, I’d say so.’
‘No, no, like, I’m being…called to…Sickb—Look, I can’t explain it. I just need to go to Sickbay.’
‘You’re freakin me out, D’bryn.’
‘I’m fine, Connor, I just… I’ll be right back. Five minutes. And you can call me Zoë, by the way.’
Ensign D’bryn Zoë hopped in the turbolift to Deck 15. This was bizarre. Those images and feelings that drew her to Sickbay didn’t feel anything like the telepathic demonstrations she experienced at Academy. It almost felt like a memory, crazy as that sounded. Maybe that Yamura novel was getting to her: those weird supernatural things the author never cared to explain, but were in place to keep the plot moving. Sappy, sentimental, lazy-ass writing.
Then again, weird shit like this was supposed to happen all the time on these voyages.
Zoë shrugged to herself as the turbolift doors whizzed open on Deck 15. She was trying to listen to her gut more these days. Her gut was telling her to follow this weird summons, so follow it she would.
Sickbay was drowned in chaos. Biobeds were full of the most urgent cases from the Xovul’s brutal attack on Refuge. Triage nurses treated whoever they could until biobeds opened up. Other patients with less severe injuries had to stand or sit around and wait their turn. An injured Orion man howled in pain and panic, having to be held down and tranquilized.
What am I doing here? Zoë thought.
Then she looked down, behind her, to the right. Against the wall sat a human woman about her age with some mild cuts, burns, and contusions. When she looked up at Zoë, it was with the warm, restful look that you’d see at the altar, on a deathbed, or after a long voyage away from someone you loved more than life itself.
And the woman said, ‘Hi.’
And Zoë said, ‘Uh, hi.’
‘Hope you got more than a headache, Button-Nose, cuz you picked a bad time to pop in.’
‘No, I… It was… Yeah, I better just get outta everyone’s way.’
Hannah’s smile grew even warmer. ‘I’ll see you around, Zoë,’ she said.
‘Yeah,’ Zoë found herself saying. ‘Yeah. You will.’