Doing the Right Thing (a Basil and Zoe story)

cassiopeia-a-11180_1920

“Why does doing the right thing never feel good?”

“I do not understand.” Basil’s voice was mild as always.

“Well, take us for example. We’ve been dating since I was seventeen, but until I was eighteen, we never went farther than kissing. Seventeen is legal throughout the Coalition of Aligned Worlds, so why did we wait? It made me antsy and worried you didn’t feel as much as I did. We waited because we were concerned your reputation would be…”

“… besmirched?” Basil interrupted, his tone amused.

“Yes, thank you.” I took a breath. “But it turned out no one cared. So why did we do it?”

“We did what we felt was right at the time,” he reminded me gently. “And we went farther than kissing, Zoe.”

“Well, yes… if you want to be technical.”

“I am technical,” he reminded me. It was an old joke, and one that he’d never cease making. “And you are using the fact that we did not ‘jump into bed’ as a deflection for your true concern. I cannot help you work through it if you do not tell me what it is.”

“See, you’re doing the right thing, and it doesn’t feel good.” I paused for a beat. “Well, it doesn’t feel good for me right now.”

“You are still deflecting.”

“Must you always be right?” I grumbled.

“Yes, even when being so doesn’t ‘feel good.'”

“Brat.”

“Sometimes,” he agreed. “But you have yet to tell me what is troubling you. Dearest, whatever it is, it cannot be ‘that bad.'”

I paced back and forth in front of his console for a few minutes. Then I stopped, and said, “It’s the Kazoines.”

Basil’s last mission – the ship’s last mission – had been an attempt to relocate a colony of twenty-thousand people. The Kazoine sun was failing, and the Stellar Navy had been sent to rehome the colonists. Except they refused. Well, some of them. Some had come aboard the Cousteau and a few of the other ships in the fleet, but not enough.

“You believe we should have enacted a forced evacuation, pulling people from their homes, even though they understood the danger of remaining on Kazo Prime.”  Basil wasn’t asking. He knew how I felt. He knew a good number of the officers and crew felt the same.

“Yes.”

“But you know that those who chose to stay were honoring their faith, and their commitment to the homes they built on their planet. And you also know that the vast majority of those who remained behind were disproportionately aged and infirm. The rigors of space travel and resettlement may well have caused as much harm as staying on a planet that was losing its sun.”

“I know,” I said. “I know it was an informed choice. I know they would likely not have survived planting a new colony and all the work that entails. I know that even now the Kazoines who did come with us are complaining about lack of space and creature comforts.”

“Do you believe living on the Cousteau is a hardship?” Basil changed the subject, but I knew we’d go back to my issue.

“Well, no, but I share private quarters with you. And this is home to me now. The colonists have been ripped from their homes and are basically living in dorms.”

“That is true, but it will only be for two weeks, and they are aware the situation is temporary.”

“I still feel awful about it all,” I said. “But especially that we left those people to die.”

“It is alright to feel that way,” Basil assured me. “We had little choice in this mission because Coalition regulations do not permit us to supersede local authorities unless criminal acts are being committed. I, too, regret the loss of life and separation of families that will and has happened as a result. But we did rescue seventeen thousand people who will continue to live fruitful lives.”

“And you believe those seventeen thousand negate the three thousand who stayed?”

“Not at all, Zoe. But saving those who were willing to come was the right thing to do.”

“I know,” I said, collapsing onto the couch. “I know. But it still feels pretty awful. Why does doing the right thing always suck so much?”

“It does not,” Basil said, “always.”

And I had to accept that.

Written for Brief #23 of Like the Prose 2021:  First line prompt.

 

 

 

 

 

If Only It Would Rain (a Basil and Zoe story)

seaside-1149687_1920

Her head hurts.

And there’s this weird choking feeling in the back of her throat as if she stuffed grief whole into her mouth but can’t swallow it down where it won’t hurt anymore.

And the storm clouds are overhead, and thickening.

If only it would rain.

She goes through the motions… She meets friends for pedicures, but the colors seem overbright. She makes nice meals for herself, but the food all tastes like sand.

And the sky is black above her, no sun to be found.

Sundays are the worst.

Any other day, she could go up the street to see Sissy or Gina and share a frosted glass of iced tea on the porch or call across the fence to Becca and accept the invitation for a dip in her pool.

But Sundays are family days.

And her family is far away.

And her partner is further away than just “away,” because he’s dead, and she can’t wrap her brain around it, quite.

And the sky is getting thicker and she can feel it in her brain pressing harder and harder.

She considers traveling, but she’s not ready to leave the house they built together, the things they so lovingly collected (trinkets from a myriad of planets) the bathtub he had installed just for her, because it echoed the one he’d installed in their cabin on the ship.

She considers going back to work, but she’s not ready to face auditions, and she’s spent enough time away that she no longer gets straight-up offers. Or at least, none that don’t repel her.

Her daughter tries to make her smile, asks her to play, demands beach days… and she does her best to be present in those moments, but inside all she feels is numbness, blackness, a void deeper than a black hole.

And the thunder is unceasing.

If only it would rain.

Written for Brief #13 of Like the Prose 2021: Depression

The Tenth Time (A Basil and Zoe story)

Anger“Take this,” he said as we approached the shuttle bay. “In case I do not return.”

It’s a ritual we’ve been through ever since the Cousteau’s mission had changed from exploration to war. Except no one called it “war.” They called it, “defending the Coalition of Aligned Worlds.” Basil and I knew the truth though. The Kastellian Hegemony had been attacking planets on the fringes, and now there was an incursion into Coalition space that threatened the lives of no fewer than six colonies and eight systems.

“Come home to me,” I said, accepting the data solid from him. I knew what it contained. His final message to me. His final wishes. Nine times he had returned from one of these missions and I’d given the solid back to him, without ever scanning it. I wasn’t religious, but I prayed there would be a tenth.

“I promise to try.”

Five days later, Captain Rousseau came to my quarters in the middle of the dog watch. I invited her in and offered her tea. Tea made everything better… Almost everything. But I knew – I knew – she wouldn’t have come at that hour just for a chat.

“Zoe, I’m so sorry. As you know, Basil’s mission was to rescue a team of scientists from Beta Capella. The Kastellians were waiting. There were no survivors.”

“No.” I said. “You’re wrong.”

“Zoe… as his captain… as your friend… I’m not wrong.”

“No!” I said again, louder, more emphatically.

“Zoe, I’m sorry. His shuttle was destroyed.”

“NO!” I shouted the word that time. “Damn it, Cecile… he never should have gone on that mission. He’d already done back-to-back away assignments. He wasn’t supposed to be in the rotation.”

“He had special abilities that I felt were required.”

“You mean, you sent him because a machine who doesn’t get tired or burnt out.”

The captain – Cecile – was quiet for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Zoe. I made the best decision I could.”

“Fuck your decision,” I hurled the epithet at her. “Fuck your decision. Fuck this ship. Fuck this war. Fuck YOU.” Tears flooded my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. Cecile stepped closer to me, probably meaning to offer comfort but I wasn’t thinking clearly.  I raised my hand, and without any conscious plan, struck her on the cheek.

She let me do it.

And the slap of flesh on flesh snapped me out of my blind rage.

“Oh, gods,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” Her words were grave. I got the feeling she understood me. I also  got the impression she felt she deserved it. “I’m going to go now, Zoe. I hope we can talk again in a few days. I’ll have our mental health department contact you.”

I just nodded.

The captain left, and I collapsed on the couch. I was thankful, in that moment, that Elizabeth was on Centaurus with my father. Safe. Sheltered. I tried to do the time conversion in my head and couldn’t. I’d call her later. In the morning – evening – whatever.

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black backgroundI went to Basil’s desk and removed the data solid. I knew I should play it, but it was too soon. And maybe, maybe if I didn’t play it, he would come back.

Except, of course, he couldn’t.

I wanted to scream more, but my energy was rapidly draining. Sleep. I needed to sleep.  I took the data solid into our bedroom. Holding it in the palm of my hand, I sat down on the bed. “You promised me forever,” I said into the room. My words were directed to my absent partner, and to the computer chip I held.

“You lied.”

Written for Brief #11 of Like the Prose 2021: Anger

Wait and Hope (A Basil and Zoe Story)

“How much longer?” I asked, feeling like all the time in the universe had passed at the same time that none of it had.

My partner’s response was patient. “Three minutes, twenty-six seconds.”

I sighed. “That long?”

But Basil, always imperturbable, didn’t react to my mood. Instead, he went to the other end of our quarters and replicated a single cup of chamomile tea with honey. “Sit,” he said, gesturing to the couch. “Drink,” he continued, once I’d followed his first instruction. “By the time you finish this tea, the required time for the test will have elapsed and we will know if our most recent insemination attempt was successful.

I could have argued with him, but when organics attempted to argue with synthetic life forms, it was never pretty. Especially when said synthetic life form had known you since you were seventeen.

“Do you think it worked?” I asked, after making a show of sipping from the cup.

“I prefer not to speculate. But I sincerely hope our change of venue was helpful. Certainly you were more relaxed during the process this last time.”

“Babies shouldn’t be created in antiseptic surroundings,” I said. “I’m glad that you agreed to try again after we lost…” I trailed off. The infant son we’d lost eight months before had barely lived long enough to breathe. It might have been caused by the extreme levels of radiation in the region of space we’d been in during his conception and the early months of my pregnancy, but Dr. Ogillvie had told us that sometimes “things just happen,” even in the twenty-fourth century, and even when you live on a spaceship. “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Basil requested. “Zoe, I could remind you that my studies of human emotional states have shown that feeling grief months, or even years, after such a loss is normal. I could also remind you that you did nothing wrong while you were pregnant. Instead, let me remind you that I also feel that loss, and I believe we will eventually have a child.”

“How much longer?” I asked again.

“One minute, seventeen seconds.”

I nodded, sipped more tea, and thought about how our most recent insemination attempt had been private and low-key. Dr. Ogilvie had expressed her concern over not doing the procedure in med-bay, but Basil and I had prevailed. We’d taken the vial of donor sperm back to our cabin, piled pillows on the bed, and made it a romantic event. We would never be able to make a baby the way two organic beings of compatible species could, but we could  – and did – at least remove the clinical element.

After I’d waited the proscribed amount of time after the technical part of the act, we’d made love, talking softly as we moved against each other, and making it as natural a process as possible.

Basil joined me on the couch, and I leaned up to kiss him. “Zoe?”

“I love you,” I told him. “I’m not sure I say it often enough.”

“I will never tire of hearing it, Dearest. I love you, also.”

I set the tea down – chamomile was my least favorite herbal brew – and kissed him again, turning our waiting period into a make-out session. We were just getting to the point when relocating to the bed would typically occur when Basil held me away from him.

“Basil… ?”

“It is time, Zoe.”

“Oh.”

We went to the bathroom to read the result on our test-kit, and once I saw it, I buried my face in Basil’s solid chest, letting the thrum of his internal systems move through me as I cried happy tears onto his uniform jacket.

“Zoe…? Dearest…? Are you alright?”

“No,” I said. “I’m happy and scared and nervous and excited… but I have a feeling it’ll stick this time.”

Basil held me close, stroking my hair. “We can only hope,” he said softly. “We can only wait and hope.”

 

Written for Brief #1 of Like the Prose 2021: Waiting.

Sleeping Positions (A Basil and Zoe vignette)

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background“You don’t sleep.”

“Zoe?”

We’d just been intimate – sexually intimate – for the first time, and while there’d been some pleasant pillow-talk before and some flirtatious talk during, after had me feeling a bit off-kilter.

“You don’t sleep,” I repeated. “I mean, I know people don’t always spend the night after sex, but skulking back to my mother’s quarters isn’t my idea of fun, ever, and especially after…”

“Have I done something to cause you discomfort?” Concern filled Basil’s voice, and when I turned onto my side to look at him, I saw that it was evident on his silvery features as well.

“No, not at all. It’s just… you don’t sleep, and I’ve never… I mean all my other experience was in summer camp dorms or at home, hoping a parent wouldn’t show up at an inopportune time. I don’t know the protocol for…this… especially with you. You don’t sleep.”

Basil reached out and brushed some of my hair out of my face. “It is true that I do not require sleep,” he said in a gentle tone. “But I am capable of sleep. However, I do not believe that is your real concern. You have ‘crashed’ here many times while I was working or writing.”

“Yeah, but none of those times ended up with us naked in your bed.” I pointed out. “It’s different.”

“It is,” he agreed. “And it is not.”

“Now you sound like me.”

“Zoe, dearest,  if I ‘sound like you’ it is only because we are spending significant time together and your patterns are becoming integrated into my own. However, we are digressing from the issue at hand. If you are truly uncomfortable remaining here, I will not be offended if you return to your mother’s quarters. It will not be ‘skulking,’ however, as we have nothing to hide.”

“O… kay?”

Basil continued. “I would much prefer that you remain here, though.” His silver features softened into a vulnerable expression. “I have never had a sexual encounter last through the night. I’ve also  never had a lover wake up in my bed. I find I want both.”

“With me?”

“Yes, with you.”

I relaxed back into the bed. “So… your programing prevents you from hogging the covers, right?”

“I am afraid we will have to discover that together.”

I couldn’t think of an adequate response, so I just curled against him. “I can live with that,” I said. “But if you decide to experiment with snoring, it’s grounds for a break-up.”

Basil didn’t answer me. Instead, he just ordered the computer to dim the lights for sleeping.