Cognitive Dissonance

File Jun 11, 10 27 00 PM

A Basil and Zoe story

“Basil… ” I hesitated because I know this is going to be a sensitive subject. “Why do you always hide your laser gun the second you come home?”

My partner regarded me with his sapphire eyes, and answered in his usual well-modulated tone. “I am not hiding it, Zoe. I am simply stowing it in a safe place until I require it for another away mission.”

“You’re not Security.”

“No, I am not. You are well aware my specialties are science and research, as well as navigation and – ”

“Basil!”

“You have more to say.” It was not a question. We’d been dating for two years… not that you can really date on a spaceship, especially when half the couple is away at a music conservatory a good chunk of the time.

“It’s not just for show, though, right? You’ve used it.”

“Yes, I have”

“And, when you’ve been on the bridge, there’ve been times when you’ve had to fire torpedoes or lasers or order someone else to do so?”

“That is also true.”

“But you’re not a killer.”

“I… do not believe so. My core programming includes a strong prohibition against committing violent acts of any kind, and the beliefs I have acquired since my activation support that belief.  Is there something specific troubling you, beloved?”

I sat on the couch, not in the corner as I often did when we were sharing tea, or watching an entertainment program, but in the center, cross-legged. Basil remained standing, directly across the coffee table from me. “The mission you just returned from… resettling the Seluvians… it made the news-nets. You… they showed you shooting at someone.”

“I did ‘shoot at someone,'” Basil confirmed. “But it was only after they shot at our team. It was self-defense, and we were careful to minimize the…” he paused before using the technical term. “… collateral damage.”

“I’ve never seen you fire a weapon before.”

“And it bothers you that I have?”

“No. Yes.  I don’t know. I think of you as a poet and a scientist, and then watching video clips of you being all ruthless and soldiery…”

“Soldiery?”

“You know. Military… scary.”

“You are having trouble incorporating the person you know me to be with the officer you saw on the news?”

“Yeah. Pretty much. I mean… I didn’t like seeing you firing the laser.”

“And I disliked that I had to. It was a last resort, Zoe. It is not a first choice, ever.”

“I guess it’s… there are people who think I’m with you because you’re somehow safe. Not a threat. And it that moment I realized how scary, how dangerous you could be. And it bothered me, and then it bothered me that it bothered me, because I know you’re not a killer. It was part of your job and…”

“The experience you are having is called cognitive dissonance,” Basil interrupted. “It is a typical response to  seemingly opposing information, ideas, or observations.”

“So, how do I get past it?” I asked.

“Perhaps begin by asking yourself if you are afraid of me.”

He had a point.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m truly not. I know you’d never hurt me, and it’s not just because of your programming. It’s because you’re just not that kind of person.”

“Perhaps it would also be beneficial for you to allow me to explain our missions to you, before we leave.”

“Can you?” I asked. “I mean… wasn’t it classified?”

“Officers are allowed to share sensitive information with their spouses, Zoe.”

“But we’re not married.”

“No, but we are in a committed relationship, are we not?”

“Well, yes.”

“And we share a home,” Basil added.

“We do when I’m not at the conservatory, yes.”

“Then if it will help you to be less ‘bothered’ by the more unsavory aspects of my ‘job,’ I see no reason to withhold information from you.”

I nodded. “Okay.” Then I moved from my cross-legged position. “Could we start now? Would you explain the background of the Seluvian conflict?”

“I will be happy to do so. Would you care for some tea while we talk?”

“I’d love some,” I said, and then I added. “Thank you for putting up with me.”

But Basil didn’t accept that. “There is no thanks needed, Zoe. You are my partner, and you are troubled. It is my duty to assist you in easing that state, if I can. Just as you have done for me.”

I laughed. “Okay, fine. But…”

Basil favored me with the slight smile that was just between us. “You are welcome, Zoe. Always.”

Milano Musings

A Basil and Zoe story – sort of.

This was for day 4 of this year’s Like the Prose challenge, in which we were supposed to write in third person, which I don’t do a lot.

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“I’m about to make some coffee; would you like some?” Charlotte greeted as her roommate, Zoe,  entered their apartment. They two young women had gotten lucky, scoring a two-bedroom, top-level place with a real kitchen – not just food replicators – and a view of the docking rings as well. Other members of their troupe had not been so fortunate.

“Thanks,” Zoe answered, reaching up to pull her chestnut hair out of the elastic keeping it in a high, tight, ponytail. “I thought today would never end.”

“Team-building with the cadets again? Charlotte asked sympathetically. The blonde woman knew that her friend hated working with the newest members of the Star Navy. They always wanted to ask questions about the other woman’s relationship with her partner, the Coalition of Aligned Worlds’ only sentient synthetic lifeform.

“Worse. Teaching improv at the middle school.” Part of their job as members of the Astral Theatre Troupe was Theatre Education, and while Zoe was actually fairly good at it, she also hated it. “Their principal told me they ceased to be intelligent beings when they turn twelve, and don’t revert to their native species until they start high school at fourteen.”

Zoe flopped on the couch, and Charlotte moved to join her, bringing two mugs of coffee and a bag of cookies on a tray.

“Dark chocolate Milanos? You never replicated these! And I know the station store charges an arm and a leg for them.”

“And a couple of ribs, yep,” Charlotte grinned. “A certain silver-skinned gentleman had them delivered and asked me to hide them til you ‘really required them.’ Feels like today was a good time.”

“Basil, I love you,” Zoe said the words to the air.

“And he loves you, too. Which begs the question: Why are you spending the summer break here on a space station in the back of beyond instead of on his ship, in your quarters, canoodling between his duty shifts.”

The darker-haired of the two grimaced. “It’s not a masochistic streak, I promise. Basil isn’t on the Cousteau this summer. He’s temporarily assigned to the Ballard, filling in for the executive officer. It was entering its spawning period and had to return home to Okeanos Four.”

The other woman nodded in sympathy. “So even if you went home, you’d still be apart? That’s all kinds of suckfulness.”

“It is, and it isn’t. This assignment will make Basil a better candidate for exec on the Cousteau when Captain Kr’klow retires. Maybe even captain. He has the required time in rank, after all.”

“So, you’re gonna be a captain’s wife someday? How fancy!” the blonde woman teased.

“It’s just a job, Char, and honestly, our jobs are just as fancy to people outside the troupe. Now… do you want to share these Milanos with me or not?”

“Not… ” Charlotte began claiming one of the cups of coffee and pushing the tray toward her friend.”

“Charlotte?” Zoe looked shocked.

“Kidding!” the other sing-songed. “Just trying to keep you on your toes.”

“Why, exactly, are we friends?” Zoe demanded, only half-joking.

“Because I keep you from missing your fiancé and I make excellent coffee.”

Zoe gave her friend a look. Well, at least the coffee part was true.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

The Ballad of Basil and Zoe

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He was found alone, unwanted

Lying in the dust

The realized he was mechanical

(Amazed there was no rust).

 

They took him to their starship

Found the switch to wake him up

Offered water, coffee, tea…

(Of course, he crushed the cup)

 

His questions were unceasing

Sometimes basic, sometimes deep

They crew tried to answer everything,

But humanoids need sleep.

 

Back to Earth they finally went

Dropped him with fleet command.

They said he wasn’t sentient.  He said,

“I do not understand.”

 

For four years he was studied

As he completed menial tasks.

But he was programmed to evolve

He said, “I have an ask.”

 

“Admit me to the Academy.

Let me prove I can.”

Only one dissented

Insisting he was not a man.

 

But he met their every challenge.

He showed that he could grow.

And proved there were no limits

To how far that he might go.

 

He served on many spaceships

He rose up in the ranks.

He won awards and honors

World leaders gave him thanks.

 

When he was nearly thirty

(At least in human years)

He found her in the aquatics lab

With a book, and padd, and tears.

 

“What is wrong?” he asked her.

“May I join you sitting there?”

“I cannot fathom math,” she said.

“It really isn’t fair.”

 

He helped her through her homework.

By the end, she cracked a smile.

But she touched his hand before he left

“Stay and talk a while.”

 

She was but a student.

Her mother was on his team.

But he enjoyed their conversations.

And she did too, it seemed.

 

They bonded over music.

She set a goal to make him laugh.

Their friendship became solid.

Friends called her his “other half.”

 

But he waited for her birthday

The night she turned eighteen

To ask her for a change…

“In parameters, you mean?”

 

She’d found him in a hidden alcove

Overlooking the warp core.

She asked him why he was brooding.

He told her he wanted… more.

 

Their first kiss was magic.

Their second, just as sweet.

She wrapped herself around him.

He reveled in her heat.

 

Four years of separation

While she went to Earth for school.

But they called and wrote and visited

Breaking every warp-speed rule.

 

She became an actress

Found success upon the stage.

He published his poetry,

Writing her into every page.

 

They married, they had children.

(Some were built, and some were born.)

Their careers continued to ascend

Like stars on every morn.

 

He became a captain.

She an ambassador for arts.

They were the perfect team.

And they both enjoyed their parts.

 

When the time came to retire,

He passed on his baton,

To their first synthetic daughter…

Then they danced until the dawn.

 

He was a synthetic lifeform.

She was organic, completely.

But to each, and all they loved,

They were just Basil and Zoe.

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Note: this very bad poetry was for challenge #3 of Covid Metamorphosis. I’m woefully behind.

Family Planning

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Note: this story is for prompt #2 of “Covid Metamorphosis,” in which we were asked to begin and end with provided quotations from Ovid.

“I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms.”

I looked up at my partner, who was hovering in the door of the workroom while I was slicing tomatoes for a salad. “Basil?”

He held up the head – or ‘cranial unit’ as he preferred to call it – “as you know, my first attempt at creating a child did not go well.”

I remembered. We’d become friends not long after his first child – Noelle – had died after a series of cascade failures caused her neural net to disintegrate.  “And you’re concerned it will happen again?”

“I am, but only in the sense that any parent is worried about the survival of their children. I worry about Elizabeth injuring herself while snorkeling with you, or climbing trees with her friends or…”

“Okay, I get the point. So… what’s this about bodies and changing forms… and why are you quoting Ovid, anyway?”

“Ovid’s line seemed an appropriate entrée into this conversation.”

“Oh.” I rinsed tomato guts off my hands and dried them on the towel near the sink. Turning around and leaning against the sink, I gave my husband my full attention. “So, which bodies are we changing?”

“This one. I believe… I believe it would help me to move past the loss of Noelle if, rather than allowing this child to choose their gender and appearance, we select it for him.”

“Him?”

“You lost a son.”

We lost a son,” I corrected. And we had, two years before Elizabeth was born. Our son, Jake, had been stillborn. There had been no discernible cause. Sometimes, even with all the technology of many, many worlds, horrible things just… happened. “We are not building a replacement.”

“No, we are not. But, we have a living, thriving, daughter. I believe this child should be a son. For balance.”

“Balance, hmm?” I sensed there was more to it than that. “Not because a son would likely be a lot like you?”

“Perhaps, partially, but, by choosing his gender and appearance, we could blend our features to create a child that truly represented both of us.”

“My skin, your eyes?” I asked, with only a hint of a teasing lilt in my tone.

“Precisely.”

“Your hair, my nose?” It was bad enough Elizabeth had inherited my wild, unruly hair. We would not curse a synthetic child with the same.”

“If you wish.”

“You feel really strongly about this, don’t you, love?”

“I… Yes, Zoe, I do.”

“Alright.”

“All-right?”

“Alright,” I repeated. “Congratulations, Dad, it’s a boy.”

Basil turned back to the workroom, but I called his name, and he paused. “Dearest?”

“What’s the other reason – the true reason – you want a son?”

“Elizabeth is our daughter, but she is your child. Blood of your blood. I wish… I wish to have a similar child, to follow after me.”

“A legacy.”

“In a sense. Many poets have written of immortality via offspring, as well as great works….”

“And that’s why you want a son?”

But Basil didn’t give me a simple affirmative. Rather, he quoted Ovid again,  From anyone else it would have seemed pompous. From my husband, it made perfect sense:

“If there is truth in poet’s prophecies, I shall live.”