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.



Like the Prose: Challenge #18 – Write a gothic horror story in a contemporary setting. (Please note. This is a very rough draft. I had a concept, a main character, a plot, but I was having a bad writing day, a bad migraine, and couldn’t make it flow. It’s something I’ll come back to. I’m posting it anyway, for completionist’s sake.)

house fire



It ended in fire of course, but then, these stories always end in fire. At least the great mansions in them always do. That is, when they don’t tumble into the sea or crumble into the mines upon which they rest.

In the case of Adelaster, however, there was no sea, despite the fact that the great, gloomy structure was situated on a private island, and there were not mines, so it had to be fire.

Standing on the mainland, I could see the flames turning the night sky as orange as the setting sun… ah, but I digress. My name is  Hugo Gleason, an unlike those who travel to the island to steal video footage or illicit photos of the denizens thereof, my time there began with an invitation.

Well, that’s not precisely accurate.

It began with a job hunt.

In any case, I arrived at the island mansion as the latest tutor to a fifteen-year-old girl, the only daughter of the renowned neuroscientist Elizabeth Lassiter.

The child herself met me at the door wearing a toque to cover her bald head and chattering at breakneck speed. “So, you’re Hugo, huh? I’m Emmaline, but you can call me Emma. Mom says you have a degree in folklore. Does that make you kind of like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”

“I do have a degree in folklore,” I confirmed, “but I’ve never met an actual vampire. Maybe we can find some here if we look. It seems like the kind of house that might have secrets.”

The girl’s face flashed a haunted expression, then cleared. “Yes, there are secrets. But I don’t think we have vampires. Maybe we can go looking. I haven’t ever checked out the old chapel on the north shore.”

“I didn’t know there was one.”

“Jessie can get you a map, if you like.”

Jessie, I knew, was the island’s caretaker. She’d been my pilot on the boat ride over, and she’d explained that there was a cleaning staff and a kitchen staff, and she was in charge of everything else. “IT, basic handyman kinda stuff, that’s all me. I even take care of the dogs.”


“We keep a collection of border collies on the island. If you’re so inclined, I’m sure you can choose one for yourself. I’ve got two that are mine, specifically, and Morris, the head chef, has a dog named Jasper that sleeps in the kitchen while he works.”

I had always enjoyed the company of dogs and told her as much.

“Well, that’s great, Hugo; you’re gonna fit in just fine,” she’d responded. “Just… don’t worry if Emma seems a little strange from time to time. She’s a special kid. Been alone a lot. Sometimes it gets to her.

But that had been on the ride over, and now I was faced with Emmaline – Emma – herself. “I’ll ask about the map,” I promised.

“Cool, cool. Let me show you to your room now. You’ll meet Mom at dinner, and she’ll give you all the rules and regs, but it’s Friday and we won’t start real work until Monday, so you’ll have the whole weekend to get acclimated.”

The girl turned and headed up the left-hand stairway and I had no choice but to follow. (My bags, Jessie had informed me earlier, would be taken to my room before I ever got there.)

Over the next several weeks, we established a routine. Jessie, Emma and I would breakfast together and then take the dogs for a walk, then Jessie would go off to her work and Emma and I would focus on her studies. Her best subjects were English and literature and her imagination was incredibly vivid, but she was hardly shabby at math or history, either, and we incorporated technology into all of our courses. Science was her mother’s forte. Twice a week, Emma would spend the afternoon in Dr. Lassiter’s lab working on things I knew not of.

For the most part, it was a typical tutoring assignment. My weekends were my own. I had access to a boat if I wished to go back to the mainland, I had, in fact, adopted one of the dogs, I got on well with the doctor and my young student, as well as Jessie, but I also noticed a few oddities…

The dogs, for one… I knew they were all the same breed but even within a litter there should be some variation in markings. These were all nearly identical. My own Tiberius (named, I admit, for Captain Kirk) was virtually a twin to Jessie’s pair though hers were at least two years older than my pup. It was spooky.

And then there was Emma.

I knew she was homeschooled because she had a health condition, but because of her hair loss I’d assumed it was some form of brain disease or cancer. When I questioned her, she was vague. When I asked the doctor, she brushed me off. “You’re a tutor,” she would say. “Teach.”

And so, it went on, but Emma grew thinner and frailer.

Our morning walks with Jessie soon required that she use a wheelchair. I didn’t mind pushing her. Neither did Jessie. A pack of pooches joined us. It was still pleasant.

But when her nose began to bleed during an algebra class, I new something was terribly wrong.

Dr. Lassiter was called over the intercom.

Jessie and I helped get Emma bundled into bed.

Before I was told to take a long weekend so the girl could rest, I sat with her at her bedside. “You’ll get better,” I said. “You must. We still have to check out the chapel.”

“Do it for me,” she whispered. “I need to know what’s there.”

I promised her I would.

I left the house, planning to head to the dock and take a boat to the mainland. I hadn’t seen my parents in a while. I thought Emma might like a comicbook I remembered telling her about… maybe I’d get her a few issues.

Sunday night brought me back to Adelaster, but I was told Emma was still unwell. “Take Monday to rest,” I was told. Morris made lasagna… comfort food.

Jessie wasn’t available to take our walk that morning, so I kept my promise to Emma and went north toward the chapel. I was surprised to meet the caretaker returning from the direction I was heading, a shovel in the back of her golf cart.

“You would pick today…” she said. “Well, better you find out from me.”

“What do you mean.”

“Hop in.”

She turned the cart around, and we went north.

The old chapel felt like something out of a novel. Ivy covered stone. Carved figures of angels. It seemed old and damp and somehow … wrong.

And yet it was also compelling.

And strangely beautiful.

The kind of place a vampire would love.

But I was certain that Emma would be disappointed. There were no vampires there.

“This way,” Jessie said. She stepped out of the cart and led me to the churchyard behind the building. Several old gravestones dotted the area, and then, closer in, several newer ones. Six of them, and at the end of the row, a fresh grave.

“Emma… died?” I asked. “No one told me. There was a funeral already?”

“There won’t be a funeral.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at the headstones.”

And so, I took a closer look at the first row. Emmaline number 1-A. Emmaline number 1-B. Emmaline number 2-A. 2-B. 3-A. 4-A.  Suddenly the dogs made sense. And suddenly I knew Emma would be fine when she returned to class.

“I have to leave.”

“Best if you don’t try.”


“Oh, don’t worry, you won’t be murdered or anything. But you won’t work again. Doc’s connections are deep. Best thing to do is show up for our walk tomorrow like nothing happened.”

“But she can’t… a new Emma won’t remember…”

“Oh, she will.”

“But… how?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

I managed not to vomit until I was back in my own suite of rooms.

As Jessie had promised, Emmaline was just like new on Tuesday morning.

“I have bad news for you, Emma,” I told her. “No vampires at the chapel. New target?”

“The south tower. Next time there’s a storm.”

“It’s a date,” I promised.

Our days continued. Another six weeks. Another cycle. Another Emma fading out and a new one brought in. How long, I wondered, could this go on?

And the Dr. Lassiter told us at dinner that she’d be going away on a speaking engagement and would be gone for a week. I knew it was time to act.

I knew where the lab was even though I’d never been in it. I waited for the third day of the doc’s trip… just to make sure. Then I headed down there. The code on the door was easy to figure out – Emmaline’s birthday.

I don’t know what I expected to find… gurgling tanks of murky fluid, I guess, like in a horror film. The reality was much worse. Six Emmalines-in-waiting in glass stasis boxes, and a seventh lying in state in the center of the room. Except, I realized, the seventh wasn’t waiting to be a fresh replacement. The seventh was the original.

I approached that one. The girl who wasn’t dead but wasn’t alive. My proximity triggered something because a monitor awakened above her… station… and a video began to play.

This is this the last wish of Emmaline Lassiter, age fifteen. I don’t really want to die; who does, but I know it’s gonna be hard for my mom to say goodbye. So, when it is my time, I want to be very clear: it’s okay to let me go. It’s right. I’ve had a disease my whole life. It’s made me hurt and bleed and lose my hair. I’m so tired. Just… let me rest, please?

And then it ended.

I had never been the most tech savvy of men, but I understood several things. Emmaline the original was alive because Dr. Lassiter couldn’t let her go. The clones were her way of holding on. But when you clone a sick person, you clone their sickness. So, the clones didn’t have a great shelf life. But they were all connected through a neuro transmission system. That’s how the new ones had all the memories. The doc was a neuroscientist, after all.

“Can you do it?”

I heard the doctor’s voice behind me.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have intruded….”

“I expected you to. So many tutors. No one can do it. I can’t can you. You and Emma get along so well, but can you do it? Can you turn her off?”

“It’s wrong that you did this. She wanted to let go.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“She’s done.”

“She’s everything.”

“You have your work. You have so much….”

“Can you do it?”

“Do you want me to?”


“I can. For Emma I can.”

I pulled the plug. I left the room. And the next morning Dr. Lassiter “returned early” from the trip she’d never been on.

Together, we watched this last Emma die.

And this time there was a funeral.

I woke up to the smell of smoke and the sound of dogs barking and someone pounding on my door.

I went to open it, standing there, bleary-eyed in only my boxers. “Jessie?”

“Get dressed. Get Tiberius. Get downstairs. Crazy bitch is torching the place. We have to go.”

And that was my last hour at Adelaster. A mad rush of smoke and chaos and grief.


It ended in fire. Jessie and I stood on the opposite shore, on the mainland, and watched Adelaster burn with Dr. Lassiter still inside.

She’d be with Emmaline again.

She’d be with all the Emmalines.