Joy in All Things (A Basil and Zoe Story)

Joy In All ThingsStarhaven Transit Station
02:00 hours, local time.

Two in the morning isn’t typically a busy period on a starbase, especially if that starbase is little more than an interstellar transit station in a sector populated mostly by recently admitted members of the Coalition of Aligned Worlds – members whose planets are still dealing with the kind of wars and strife that the Founding Worlds resolved centuries before.

My wrist-comm vibrates against my pulse-point and I flip up the protective cover. As expected, it’s my fiancé, Basil, calling from the C.S.S. Cousteau, his billet, and the closest thing to a permanent home either of us has at the moment.

“Zoe, I am gratified to be speaking with you in real time,” he opens. “Time delayed messages are inefficient and lack feeling.” It’s a two-d image, flat on the tiny display panel.

“No disagreement here,” I respond. “But you were the one who said I should take this gig. ‘Using theatre skills to help flood-displaced children process their trauma would be a useful way to spend your semester break,’ you said. I could be spending the next five weeks doing Shakespeare in the Park on Hunter’s Moon, where there are cafes and restaurants and cushy hotels.”

“You could,” he says, “but you enjoy helping others. And, as I believe you pointed out, the time you spend on Repostus will look good on a resume.”

“There is that,” I agree, my tone slightly rueful. “But at least on Hunter’s Moon you could visit.”

“I miss you also,” Basil says, comprehending the words that were unsaid as well as those that were, and cutting off any further whining from me in the process. “However, assuming that there are no unforeseen events while you are away, your return shuttle will rendezvous with the Cousteau in forty-one days, seven hours, and seventeen minutes.” He leaves off seconds and fractions thereof, but I refrain from commenting on that.

“See you soon,” I say with no little bit of sarcasm in my tone. But the last word becomes a yawn. “I have three more hours to kill. I’m going to find the replimat and a rest pod. I’ll send a message as soon as I’m checked in at the hostel.”

“Very good,” he says. “I love you, Zoe.”

“Love you too,” I answer, flashing him a tired smile. “Harris out.” I cut the channel and snap the copper-colored cover back down.

Two and a half hours later, I’ve napped, washed up, and obtained a café mocha from a kiosk that claims to ‘proudly serve Red Sands Coffee.’ It’s not awful, but it’s not as good as the real thing. Better than the replicator though. My luggage has been checked through, so I only have my daypack and the coffee to deal with as I make my way to the boarding lounge.

Four-thirty in the morning is busier than two o’clock was, and most of the rows of chairs are at least partly occupied. I choose a seat in the front row, next to a conservatively dressed woman who appears to be human, and about the same age as my mother.

She bids me good morning and asks if I’m waiting for the shuttle to New Zaatari, the capital city. Then she says, “You look familiar. Should I recognize you?”

I get that a lot, partly because I’m the daughter of a celebrity composer who’s a bit of a playboy, and partly because I’m engaged to the Star Navy’s only officer who is also a sentient AI, and partly because even though this gig is an unpaid externship I’m doing during the winter intersession of my senior year of university, I’ve had several paid jobs, including a tour with the Idyllwild Theater of the Stars. Translation: for someone who’s not quite twenty-two years old, I’ve been in the press a lot.

Still, I hedge. “Not necessarily.”

“You must be an aid worker then, coming to help with the survivors from the fires?”

The smaller continent on Repostus recently suffered a debilitating drought followed by terrible wildfires, and complicated by floods. It was all comparable than what had happened in California, on Earth, in the first half of the twenty-first century, but on a much wider scale.

“Sort of,” I say. “I’m here with Beyond Theater. We’re going to be working with the kids from Safirah, using theater skills to help them process.”

“Ah, so you’re on a mission! That’s worthy. I, too, am a missionary of sorts.” I open my mouth to tell her that I’m not a missionary, just an actor, and a student, but she goes on. “I travel to planets in strife and bring them the word of The One.”

I can’t help shivering. The last time I encountered someone following ‘the One,’ it was Basil’s twin leading a coalition of artificial intelligences that wanted nothing more than to eradicate all organic life from the cosmos. Never mind that organic life created them and kept the power on.

But this woman isn’t referring to Castor. Instead she was referring to the focus of a relatively recent religious movement. The old religions – Judaism, Islam, Christianity, the Cruastean Practice from the planet Chelea, and many, many more – all still exist, but religious practice has become largely personal. People no longer proselytize, and I don’t remember ever encountering an itinerant evangelist before.

“I didn’t think people still did that,” I tell her.

“I don’t know about ‘people,'” she says. “I only know about myself. Bringing news of The One’s loving kindness to the unenlightened is a personal quest. I used all my personal savings, moving from planet to planet, and when that ran out, I started working odd jobs in exchange for food and transit.”

“That seems like a lot…”

“It is, but my cause is true. If more people truly embodied The One’s teachings, the universe would be a better place.”

I notice, now, that she has a satchel full of data-flimsies, presumably holding religious tracts. She is staring at me, her face open, expectant. “The universe could use more kindness,” I say.

But what I’m thinking is that on one level I agree with her – more loving kindness is never a bad thing, as long as it comes with equal measures of acceptance and understanding. I’m also thinking that I don’t want to tell her I agree with her because she’ll assume that I’m also a follower of The One, and conventional, human, religious practices have proven challenging to mesh into my life with Basil. Not that I’m particularly devout or anything, but I grew up in a family that actually went to church on occasion, and part of me misses the community and the rituals involved.

But this inner dialogue is  actually an improvement over former versions of myself, because two or three years ago what I would have been thinking – and possibly saying aloud – is that this woman is a freaking nutcase with no life.

To her credit, she doesn’t offer me any of her data flimsies. Instead, she says that she’s also going to Safirah, to offer spiritual succor to those who need it. “So many parentless children there, now,” she says, real grief in her voice. “And so many childless parents.”

An announcement for our shuttle – it’s delayed forty-seven minutes – makes her last few words unintelligible.

Curious, and with more time to fill, I ask her, “What motivated you to do this?”

“My husband,” she shares, her voice soft, “and my son. They were both in the Navy and served during the Oligite Invasion. Both their ships were lost.”

I’d been living with my mother on the Cousteau during that war but had been with my father on Centaurus celebrating the winter holidays, and his wedding to my stepfather, at the time. I’d returned home to find my mother injured, and it had been Basil’s support that helped me through it. But I don’t tell her that. I just say, “I’m so sorry.”

“The NFS sent a counselor and a priest, and after spending time with both of them, I reconnected with the teachings of The One,” she explains. “My family was fairly religious when I was young, but I’d lost my way, as so many do.”

I’m distracted by the sight of a family with three children and a luggage pile you could build a fortress from attempting to navigate through the increasingly crowded lounge. The adults in the group are both wearing the uniform of the Coalition Medical Service. They were probably reassigned to Repostus because of the extreme need for doctors. I think about the two bags that are being routed to the shuttle for me – a privilege accorded to me because of my Navy fiancé – one of which is stuffed full of packaged chocolates and hard candies from Earth and Centaurus. My cheeks flush with embarrassment and guilt. Sure, the snacks are meant to share, but I could easily manage with far less than I brought.

My new friend follows my gaze. “Packing light is a skill taught by necessity. They should be grateful they have so much to carry.”

“I’d never thought of it that way.”

“I learned it the hard way.”

We chat for a few more minutes, and then the shuttle finally opens for boarding.

“Thank you for the conversation,” she tells me. “You will be doing a good thing, a worthy thing. It will be hard at times, but there will be moments of joy. Remember that The One teaches that it’s right to embrace joy wherever we encounter it.” And I can tell that she really means the words she’s spoken. Then she glances down at my left hand, where my engagement ring gleams against my vacation-tanned skin. “Your partner must be proud of you. Lean on that when you miss him.”

I realize that I hadn’t mentioned Basil or having a partner, and I suddenly wonder if I should be checking to see if she filched my identi-chit while we were talking. Shaking my head, I stand up, sling my pack over one shoulder and step toward the open hatchway that leads to the shuttle. It strikes me that we’d never exchanged names, and I turn back to ask for hers and offer mine, maybe see if our seats are close together, but the chair she had occupied is empty, and I don’t see her walking away.

Shrugging, I let the gate attendant scan my chit and I take my seat on the shuttle, but I can’t shake the woman from my mind, and when they close the hatch for launch, I ask the onboard attendant if anyone is missing.

“Nope, everyone’s checked in,” she says.

Basil often reminds me that the universe is full of strange things, and not all of them are massive events. I resolve to think of the evangelist as one of them. I further resolve to take her advice during these five weeks of separation from my partner: find joy in all things.

Notes: New Zaatari is named after a city in Jordan, where Clowns Without Borders spent time with Syrian refugees. Safirah is named after a city in Syria. This piece was partly inspired by their work. Thanks to Fran for naming Repostus and CJ for naming Starhaven.


Saturday, San Francisco, ’73


Note: For prompt 4 of Covid Metamorphosis, we were to retell a friend’s story, making it into something new. I used a story my former pre-school teacher told me, long after I was legal. I started writing this without picking names for the characters, and decided to keep it that way.

Saturday, San Francisco, ’73

They exited the restaurant, laughing. She was still wearing her server’s penny around her waist. He is jeans (and part of his shirt) were covered with spaghetti sauce. They both had long hair and both their jeans ended in bell-bottoms.

“I have a washer in my apartment,” she told him. “No dryer, but there’s a line on the balcony, and the coffee’s free. Or I could just give you quarters… ?”

“How far’s your place.?”

“Not far. Half a mile.”

“Got parking?”

“Just the curb. You’ll have to move it in the morning, though. Street cleaning.”

“You’re assuming I’ll be there in the morning.” It wasn’t a question. He was teasing her. Flirting.

“Mmm. Maybe. If you like my coffee.” She was teasing too.

“I’ll drive.”

They got in his old red beater, the perfect representation of the word “jalopy,” even though no one used that word anymore.

Her apartment was a flat carved out of what was once a single-family home. The balcony was really a broad landing on a fire-escape out the back, but the bathroom had a clawfoot tub and a Victorian shower, and the kitchen was bright and airy.

The bedroom… the bedroom was small, but neat. Colored scarves were pinned to the walls to hide the cracked plaster. They were hung over the windows, too, to filter the light. The living room had one of those famous San Francisco bay windows that everyone took pictures of.

“Strip,” she told him, directing him to the bathroom. “There’s a bathroom on the back of the door.”

Her robe, he realized putting it on. It ended a few inches above his knees. The arms came to a stop midway between his elbows and wrists. He walked out of the room on bare feet and handed her his balled-up clothes. Sheepishly, he told her, “My, uh, shorts are in there, too.”

She laughed. “So, you’re naked under my robe.”



She pulled off the penny and kicked off her shoes, both at once, then stepped out of her jeans in front of him. “We’re a little more even now.” All the discarded clothing joined his in the small washer tucked into the kitchen. She added soap and started the machine. “65 minutes, and don’t be alarmed if you hear thudding. It’s off balance… and really old. Coffee?”


She brewed it in one of those stove-top espresso machines that he’d only seen in art films – French and Italian, mostly – and it came out thick and strong. “There’s milk in the fridge.”

He found it, doctored his own coffee, and after a nod from her, splashed some into the other mug as well.

She brought out a box of Stella D’oro anisette toast. “I know… only old people eat these, right? But my grandmother loved them, and they taste like home.” He followed her into the living room, and they sat on her couch (it was covered with Mexican cotton blankets) and got to know each other.

“So, you’re not from the City?”

“Is anyone? No. From New Jersey.”

“I’m from Philly!”

“Practically neighbors!”

He learned that she wanted to be a writer, and he could tell from the books piled everywhere that she was also a reader. He shared that he played the guitar, but really wanted  to open his own café someday. “The kind of place that’s like a pub, but with coffee, you know? The neighborhood hangout.”

She told him about the “penny universities” from 18th and 19th century England and Europe, where scholars and writers and philosophers would often hold court all day, and people could come in and listen for the price of a cup of coffee – a penny – and a story.

He grinned. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

“I’ve always wanted to have a table in a place like that, where I could sit all day and write and just let the sounds of the rest of the customers’ conversations wash over me,” she said.

The rain started just as the washer stopped.

“No problem,” he said. “Your oven work?”

It did, and he’d learned that if you bake jeans at 200(F) for 45 minutes, they were dry enough to wear. T-shirts, socks and shorts didn’t take as long, but they were using all the racks, so they set a timer for an hour.

She was standing behind him when he stood up, and it seemed only natural that they should kiss at that point.

Coffee and anise flooded his senses. Coffee and anise and sunshine, because her strawberry-blonde hair was bright like the sun and smelled like summer.

They kissed until they were out of breath.

“I want to make love with you,” he said.

“With? Not to?” She seemed amused.

“Sex should be equal, don’t you think? So, yeah, with.”

“Your clothes will burn.”

“Read me something you wrote then?”

They went back to the couch and she read to him from a well-worn moleskine notebook filled with penciled lines. Her poetry was raw and real, and her voice was strong as she read. As if she was used to it.

“You read to all the guys you spill spaghetti on?” he asked, teasing.

“No… only the ones who let me wash their shorts,” she shot back.

They laughed together, her warm alto and his lower base blending together.

The timer went off.

The clothing was still damp.

“I’ll turn it off,” she said. “Let them finish on their own heat.” She clicked off the oven, and they stared at each other for a long moment. “Bedroom’s this way,” she reminded him, and led the way.

* * *

They woke up hours later to find that the rain was still falling, and his clothes were dry. “I should go,” he said, more to give her an ‘out’ than because he truly wished to leave.

“Why?” she asked.

He didn’t have an answer.

In the morning, they showered (separately) and brushed their teeth (together) – she had a spare toothbrush. “Mom always sends one in every package,” she told him. “Yes, it’s true: my mother’s a dental hygienist.”

“My mom teaches Sunday school.”


“You know it.”

She didn’t work that day, so they got back in his car and went to find bagels and coffee. They ended up at a café in the Haight, not far from the diner where she worked. It was a busy morning. But then, all Saturday mornings were busy in that neighborhood, unless the Dead were in town. You could always tell if the Grateful Dead were playing nearby because the Haight would be empty.

They inherited a section of the daily paper from the previous occupant of their table – the obituaries – and had fun reading them aloud to each other and making up background stories for the people they’d read about.

“Vic Johnson, 79, leaves behind a wife, and three Puli dogs. Donate to the local Humane Society in lieu of flowers,” he read.

“Ohh, that’s sad. They tried to have children for years, and never managed. They adopted dogs instead and doted on them, except for the one time the oldest dog urinated on the wife’s heirloom quilt. They were His Dogs after that.”

“You’re better at this than I am,” he said.

“Well, I am a writer,” she pointed out.

They exited the café holding hands, only to find someone – tanned skin, dark brown hair and beard, paisley shirt draped carelessly over faded, ratty bell-bottom jeans – leaning against the car. He recognized him as the guy who lived down the hall from his apartment.  They bummed weed from each other from time to time.


His neighbor started laughing. “Man, I saw your car and had to wait for you. I have this freaking fantastic story… I’ll tell it for a toke.”

He didn’t have anything, but she stepped forward. “A story for a joint?” And she pulled one out of the macramé bag she was carrying. “Do tell?”

The neighbor turned and pointed. “See that blue bug over there?” They looked at the car he was indicating. “So, I was walking by and I saw a fur coat in the back of that car. And I thought… that coat would buy a shit-ton of grass, right? So, I was gonna break into the car and steal the coat… and I put my hands up like this – “and he cupped his hands around his face – “to see in better, and I tapped on the back window to see if it was gonna be easy…”

“Seriously?” she was incredulous and turned to him. “How do you know this guy.”

“Neighbor,” he answered.


The neighbor kept going. “Anyway, I tapped on the window and all of a sudden the coat jumped up and started barking. Three heads. Gnashing teeth and curly black fur. Crazy, man. It was crazy. And then I saw your car and I thought, “Man, I gotta tell Barney.”

“It’s a good story,” he said, trying to ease out of the conversation. “But… I’m not Barney.”

“You’re not?” The neighbor peered into his face. “Man… you’re not. You’re… wait I know this… you live in 2 B.” He glanced at the woman with the strawberry-blonde hair. “Wait, then… you’re not Sheryl, are you?”

“Nope,” she said smoothly.

“You look familiar though… like… I’ve seen you before. With a plate. Dude! You’re the chick from the diner. Wow. Congrats, 2-B. Nice score!”

“And with that remark,” she said. “You’ve lost your chance for a joint.”

“Man, I didn’t mean… I’m sorry…” the neighbor turned around and pinned his gaze on someone else, up the street. “Hey… I see Barney. Actual Barney. He has to hear this story…” and the neighbor unpeeled himself from the car and walked off, still laughing.

They watched him go, then got in the red beater. It was, as far as they could tell, unharmed. “It’s a nice day,” she said. “Wanna go to Ocean Beach? Share this joint. Watch the waves?”

“Clam chowder after is on me.”


They drove through the city, enjoying the freedom of a sunny Saturday morning, when suddenly he slammed the breaks. “Damn!” he said. “I bet those dogs were poor Vic’s Pulis!”








Like the Prose: Challenge #1 – So today we write about birth. Perhaps write an autobiographical story about a memorable birthday party? Or a funny anecdote that happened to a friend at a birthday? Perhaps a surreal story about someone being born?



It’s hot. It’s hot and it’s humid and the only thing that makes this hot-and-humid different from the hot-and-humid he was in a week ago is that a week ago there was blood in his boots from marching through the jungle in the dark and now he’s not wearing boots; his feet are wrapped in cotton gauze and there are blue cloth booties over that.

There’s gauze around his right bicep, too, and bandages over that, and he can’t tell if the wetness seeping through the layers of cotton and gauze is sweat or blood or both, and he wants to look but he also doesn’t.

It’s early morning, the time when choppers usually come out of the night… or the planes come to blanket the jungle with strafing fire. Ignoring his arm, he turns his head to look out the window. There’s a partial lunar eclipse, they told him, but he’s not sure he wants to see the moon in shadow.

The moon has always been his friend.

He closes his eyes, but he swears he can hear the blades of the whirlybirds circling closer and closer and feel the breeze from their spinning blades….

The smell of bacon – bacon? – and antiseptic take him out of the war-torn jungle and put him back in the here-and-now.

He’s Private Miller. Gregory Miller. Drafted. Taught to shoot at people he never had an issue with. People who were shooting at him for reasons he’s still not sure of. And they didn’t miss, but they also didn’t kill him, so he’s back stateside in New Jersey, in August, in a hospital with no a/c and a rickety fan that sounds like an incoming helicopter… at least to someone like him.

A corpsman comes with a breakfast tray and he asks about the heat.

Energy crisis, he’s told. Only the surgical theaters, ICU, and maternity wards have cooling, per orders of the commander-in-chief.

He’s been taught to respect the office, if not the man, but he can’t help but wonder if Tricky Dick is doing this to punish the military for not crushing the VC and ousting Ho Chi Minh.

He eats his breakfast. The bacon and eggs are real, not rations, and the coffee is amazing, despite the hot-and-humid that’s settled into his bones, even here, in the clean, bright, hospital.

When the corpsman comes for the tray, he asks for help to use the bathroom, and then he goes back to bed and loses himself in sleep. He isn’t really sleepy, but at the same time, he’s exhausted.

* * *

The light has changed when he wakes again, in time for lunch. A burger, fries, a salad, an icy cold Coke in a glass bottle. Vintage. He’d kill for a beer, but the cola is almost as good right now. It’s proof he’s really home. Or close to it, anyway.

After lunch another corpsman comes to help him to the bathroom. He’s shaky. His feet are tender, but he’s grateful to have them. He was half-convinced he’d wake up to find stumps – he remembers the line of infection starting up his leg. Luck. It’s all just fucking luck.

The corpsman has a wheelchair waiting when he leaves the bathroom, but he doesn’t take him back to the ward.

“Am I being kidnapped?” he asks, only half-kidding.

“Nope. Rescued.”

The corpsman is the size of a linebacker, black, with dark eyes that are difficult to read. His looks make him more likely to be on a football field or at the door of a disreputable bar than in a military hospital. But Miller feels like the bigger man can be trusted.

“Thought I already was.”

“Rescue,” the corpsman says, “is an ongoing process.”

He accepts the statement as they leave the general ward and enter the maternity ward. Cool air wraps around him almost immediately, and he sighs, sinking into it. “Ohhh, that’s nice.”

“Yup, it is. But ya gotta earn it.”




They enter a room full of bassinets. About half aren’t in use. Some hold sleeping babies. The rest… he realizes that while some of the people in the rockers are new mothers, new fathers, some are wounded vets, like him.

“I don’t have a kid here,” he says.

“I know.” The corpsman stops him near a bassinet with a baby girl in it (he knows it’s a girl because she’s got a pink bow taped to her bassinet. There’s no name yet.) “Did you know that human contact in the first few hours after birth is crucial for newborns? This little girl just joined us today. Her mother’s asthmatic. It was a rough delivery. She’s exhausted. It’d be a big help if you could hold her for a while.”

“I’ve never held a baby.”

“I’ll teach you.”

“But… I… won’t her father be pissed…?”

“He’s – ah – not in the picture.”

He moves to the rocker, lets the corpsman place the tiny baby in his hands. She’s not even as long as his arm, from elbow to wrist. And she smells clean and new… Ivory soap and new beginnings wrapped in a cotton blanket.

The rocking begins unconsciously. He’s in a rocker. It’s what you do. The singing. Well. Probably no one’s ever tried to turn “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” into a lullaby before, but the baby doesn’t seem to care about the lyrics.

And the air conditioning is bliss.

* * *

He comes to rock the little girl every day that week, always in the late afternoon. On Friday, they wheel in a woman wearing a yellow nightgown under her hospital-issue robe and slippers. “I think you’re in my spot,” she says, her tone wry.

“You’re her mother?”


“She’s beautiful.” He gives up the rocker, and hands over the baby, asking, “Have you picked a name yet?”

“I was going to name her after my brother, but he insisted that I can’t burden a child with a name like his.”  She shares the name with him, and he agrees it’s awful.

“Is your brother a soldier?”

The woman looks away. “Not exactly.”

AWOL then, he’s guessing, or something else. “I’m sorry. I’m just – ”

Yellow-nightgown woman is quick to assure him, “No, it’s fine. My father’s career Army. He’ll fix it, but it hurt him, and… it’s just hard.” She pauses. Her tone is softer when she asks, “Were you at Ripcord?”

He is surprised she knows the name. Most people just know “Vietnam” and nothing else. Most people don’t care about the details. “Yeah. It was… ”

“You don’t have to tell me,” she says. “I’m glad you got out.”

“Thank you,” he answers, because he doesn’t know what else to say. The corpsman comes to take him back to his bed, then, but he offers, as he leaves, “Maybe you could use the first letter of your brother’s name. And… if it helps? I usually find inspiration in the shower.”

She smiles at his suggestion then turns her entire focus on her tiny daughter.

He goes back to bed. Someone in the ward has found a radio, and he finds himself listening to the Phillies play Houston in a double header. They win one and lose won, and he chuckles as he eats his dinner, because the results seem a perfect metaphor for his life, the war, the world.

* * *

On Saturday, when the corpsman wheels him to the nursery, the little girl is gone, and a baby boy with tight black curls is waiting to be held. Mark is his name, and his skin isn’t as dark now as it one day will be, he is told, but a baby is a baby is a baby and there’s something cleansing in holding these new lives.

Still, he is pleased to find that the charge nurse has a message for him: “The captain’s daughter says to tell you that the shower helped, and the baby’s name is Melissa.”

He is Private Miller, comma, Gregory, and he served three years in Vietnam, and made it home wounded, but alive. He will never tell anyone – not his priest, not his best friends, not even the woman he will one day marry – about the children his unit killed, or the children his unit left parentless and homeless, or the families whose homes  were burned, or any of the other horrible things he saw. He  will wrap those memories inside a piece of olive drab canvas and hide them in the deepest part of his heart.

But he will also hold onto a better memory: On the day after the eclipse, on a hot and humid day in the middle of August, he met a brand new baby and was reminded that hope still exists in the world.

He will continue to be reminded of that every time one of his own children is born, and his grandchildren as well.

And he will often volunteer to rock them.