The Twins and I

The Twins and I

Amanda Weber and Zaliel Sel are best friends living together in San Fransisco. But when both conspire to help the other, things go wrong and their friendship will never be the same.

To be released in 4 installments.

Content Warning

I’ve rated this PG-13 for some stronger language and implied sexual content, none of which is described to any extent.

Story Links

Each link will navigate to a reply to this post.


Santa Barbara, California, Earth 2403

“Do it, you coward,” the tiny woman said as she stood on the kitchen counter. Ben rolled his eyes, exasperated.

“Hell no, Amanda,” he replied, waving a dismissive hand through her. The holo feed buzzed irritably as it reset.

Amanda waggled an angry finger, her crisp uniform a contrast to the messy faux-marble countertop. “When was the last time you went out, huh? Eight months?”

“Nine,” he admitted, annoyed that he only proved her point.

“It’s time to get your sh—hey! Watch it!” She said as a cutting board, knife, and pear landed with an angry thud on top of her.

“Listen, sis, I appreciate you want me to ‘get out there’ and there’s ‘plenty of girls on Risa,’ but none of that is going to make me forget about Jessica overnight.”

“Nine months, Ben!” she reiterated, stepping around the pear. “You’re depressed, I can tell. Mom thinks—”

“I already know what mom thinks about everything.”

“That’s mom,” the siblings said in unison. Ben started carving up the pear with slow, deliberate strokes. “I’m not depressed,” he said finally. His attention shifted a moment as he dug a seed out of the pear’s core. “Look! I’ve taken up cooking. You know, it’s a—”

“‘A lot like chemistry,’ yeah I read your post. And you’re hiking. And your grades are improving,” she counted each one off on a finger. “You’re doing everything but moving on,” she shook her head.

“And what if all this is my process, you know? Taking time for me—to improve me?” he asked not a little defensively. “Jessica was a great partner and I screwed that up.”

“Bullshit! Jessica couldn’t, hang on a sec.” She leaned away from Ben and acknowledged someone outside the projection field.

Ben resumed preparing his lunch, which at this point consisted of several fruits, melons, berries and—wait, were berries a fruit, or were they just berries? He picked up a blueberry and examined it carefully, not unlike his ancient ancestors who chanced to see of it was edible.

He plopped the berry in his mouth and delighted at the crisp pop and mouthwatering sweet and tangy flavors.

“Hey pal!” his sister’s voice rang out clear and authoritatively, “the booth says I have five more minutes, so go space yourself.” She turned to face Ben, only to find a tomato between them. “Real mature, Ben,” she chided.

“I could have put you in a glass again,” he teased stiffly. He wanted to end the call, but closing coms before Amanda was done had a way of turning into six more calls, two from his mother and one from his father, begging for peace.

“Listen, there’s an impatient and very rude Andorian who’s about to discover that I can Ushaan-tar my foot up his ass,” she said loudly, as though the offending Andorian could hear, which was unlikely, but the idea of his sister trouncing an Andorian was enough to bring a smile to his face.

“That would be a cold day in Florida.”

“Hey, just because my collar is blue doesn’t mean he stands a chance.” A beat. “Do it.”

“Damnit!” Ben cried, placing a freshly cut finger in his mouth. “Let it go, Amanda! Ahhh!” He reached for the dermal regenerator he kept on the counter for this exact contingency. “I’m not going out with your weird roommate!”

“One date!” she pleaded. “You’ll like her! She’s, you know, quirky.”

“‘Quirky?’ Didn’t you say that word was reserved for engineers and sociopaths? Which one is she?”

“Neither!” A pause. “Okay, she’s like our department’s programmer.”

“Oh well, why didn’t you lead with, ‘she’s definitely a sociopath,’ and spare me the preamble. You’ve totally convinced me,” he said with such heavy sarcasm, Amanda’s holobooth spared a cycle to consider whether it’s transmission would constitute a safety hazard.

Amanda kicked a grape. “You’re being stubborn. I promise you’ll like her.”

Ben let out a heavy sigh and placed both hands on the counter. He looked at the ceiling and heard himself grimace, voice defeated: “Name three things we have in common.”

Amanda wasted no time to pounce. “Okay, she’s really into food—,”

“What food?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she replied as if he hadn’t interjected at all. “Sweeter the better, but spicy’s a bad idea. She’s an artist—,”

“I thought she was a programmer?”

“People are allowed to do more than one thing, Mister Cooking, Hiking, and Moping.”

“Touché,” he conceded.

“And she’s really passionate.”

“About what?” he asked after waiting a moment.

“You’ll see!” she replied cryptically. “Yeah buddy, I see the time, who the hell do you work for? Temporal Investigations? Yeah? Then you should have known to grab the booth twenty minutes ago, yeah, fine—Ben? Hey, I have to go, I think this Andorian might go back in time and keep me from being born.”

“Really?” he asked, a wicked smile on his face. “Can you get his info?”

“Haha,” she said in monotone. “Here I am, your generous, loving, concerned, brilliant, beautiful—,”

“Modest,” he interjected.

“Modest! Sister just looking out for her brother and this is the thanks I get?”

“Fine fine,” he laughed—how long had it been since he really laughed; probably the last time Amanda called. Maybe he was lonely. He looked out over the counter into the living room, through the open double-doors, at the Pacific Ocean. It was a beautiful day, the kind that begged for surfing, or just walking along the beach; activities he loved doing with someone, but lately no one. Ben felt a tug on his heart and considered that one date probably wouldn’t kill him, all joking aside. “So what’s your quirky, Definitely-Not-An-Axe-Murderer roommate’s name?”

“Gah! Fine! Hey, Ben? I gotta go, if I wind up never existing I expect you to miss me!” she yelled with a wave.

“Wait! What’s her name!” he cried, dropping down to look the hologram in the eye, but all he saw was a perturbed pair of antenna and a long, thin blue scowl.


Amanda left the holobooth with more than a little irritation as she stepped back into the café. It took her a moment to reorientate to being normal-sized. While she preferred holo calls to less immersive means, it typically involved some oddities when calling someone without a dedicated holo booth. Usually that meant she had to navigate a coffee table, counter, or (in one remarkable experience) a friend’s purse.

After a few long, exaggerated steps, Amanda returned to her table. She was disappointed to see her roommate still typing away at a fold-out PADD as a cup of barely-sipped coffee cooled beside a half-eaten cheese danish. “I’m back,” she said, reaching for the danish. “Any progress, Zaliel?”

“I’ll let you know in a sec. How’s your brother?” Zaliel asked in a distant way, her eyes glued to the screen. Her brow was furrowed, a line visible on her forehead just behind her red bangs. As Amanda’s hand reached the for danish, Zaliel’s typing paused and she eyed the pastry as it was slowly pulled away.

“Fine, he’s being his usual, stubborn self.” She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “You should meet hi—,”

“Damnit!” Zaliel cried, followed by more typing.

“Uh, Z?” Amanda asked, waving a hand in front of Zaliel’s screen.

The programer blinked and looked at Amanda for the first time since she sat down. “Ah, I’m sorry! I’m trying to get this code right for that meta analysis I was talking about and,” she waved a dismissive hand at the screen. “I can’t get it.”

With a smile, Amanda reached across the table and slowly closed the PADD. “I’m sure you’ll get it, Z.” She gestured with the danish, “You always do. That’s why you made Junior Grade while the rest of us are still Ensigns.”

“That was an accident!” she glowered defensively. “I thought I was going to be writing reports for Admirals, not automating the department. This really wasn’t the job I imagined,” she added, tucking the PADD way in her satchel.

“I thought you wanted a planet-side posting? Isn’t that why you chummed up to Admiral what’s-his-face?”

“Roshvok—and you don’t really get chummy with a Tellerite.”

“Didn’t he take you to Paris?” Amanda grinned devilishly, a bit of frosting on the tip of her nose.

“Yes, as part of an attaché observation program,” Zaliel replied flatly, annoyed at what she perceived as insinuation. She also tried to mime politely that Amanda had frosting on her nose, who instead took the gesture as a clandestine acknowledgement and scratched her nose, coincidentally removing the frosting. “Anyways, Z, about my broth—,” but the sound of Zaliel’s watch alarm interrupted her. “Oh! Come on! Lunch just started!” Amanda complained.

Zaliel picked up the coffee mug and downed the remainder in one, long gulp. “And now it’s over. Let’s get back before we’re missed.”

And with that, the women deposited their trash in the recycler and walked briskly to the nearest transporter pad.

Amanda knew it was a lost cause trying to talk to Zaliel while at work. “Roommate Zaliel” and “Work Zaliel” were two very different people. She adored the roommate, but found the coworker could be snippy and impatient; definitely not the type to suggest she see Ben. Over the past four years—since their last year at the Academy, where they met—Zaliel had barely dated but Amanda was sure the two would hit it off, if only she could get them in the same room together. At first, Amanda figured she was just having trouble finding time in the schedule: year four was brutal, especially if you’re not some Wesley Crusher type. God, she hated that guy. Well, not him exactly; rather the expectation his experience and ability placed on her, which was really a tirade about her mother and—

Shit, what was I thinking about? she thought suddenly as she sat down at her desk. She took a look to her left—there was Miga, what a weirdo—and to her right—Jorgant, who Amanda was pretty sure was the one “forgetting” to clean up after himself in the break room, the ass.

Jorgant gave a small wave in greeting. “Good lunch?” he asked.

“Always!” she replied instantly, with a stunning beam. She might think Jorgant a slob, but her mind was too preoccupied with all the things she wanted to say to the Andorian from earlier and didn’t get a chance. But, like so many one-sided, imaginary arguments, it only left her unsatisfied and moody.

The rest of the day was uneventful: Amanda would review some fresh scientific data, write a report on it, fix any number of errors typical of exploratory crews (did none of them understand the importance of proper sample collection or did they just lick everything before putting it under a scanner?), invalidated their conclusions (again, licking?!), and just generally tried to get through the day without falling asleep at her desk.

The truth was—and she hated to admit it, especially to Zaliel—but her planet-side posting wasn’t what she thought it would be, either. She wanted easy hours that gave her time to get out, meet people, and have fun. She was, unknowingly, crossing the threshold from college aged partier to responsible adult. It was awful and clung to her like some skin of evil. She had a self-imposed bedtime now. A BED TIME! It made her angry.

She wasn’t like Zaliel who never partied or hung out in the venues that catered to cadets. “I bet she only knows twenty-two hundred hours exists at an academic level,” she muttered, annoyed with herself for being angry about a bed time.

“What’s that?” Miga asked.

“Nothing!” Amanda beamed in response. Uhg. Weirdo.

The regular morning yell of horror was Amanda waking up and suddenly remembering she had work. She blew through her morning routine at warp speed and crashed into the apartment’s common space like a meteor screaming towards the Siberian tundra. She was halfway out the door when she realized Zaliel’s bag was on the coatrack and her boots were tucked neatly under the antique bench Amanda found on the curb—cracked and worn, she thought it had character and was most certainly not anyone else’s property; why else was it on the curb?

Amanda did what any responsible roommate would in this scenario: she bounded across the room to Zaliel’s door and began pounding on it furiously. “Zaliel! Zaliel! Z!” The last thing either of them needed was another lecture from Donavan about punctuality—and Amanda especially needed to avoid another demerit.

There was no immediate response from her pounding. “Uuuummm what was her door code?” she cried urgently. “Something something twenty-eight? Or was it?” She bounced in place with impatience until arriving at the next logical step: she ripped the door panel off the wall and tried to bypass the controls.

All the best holo-stories about engineers had them bypassing things, so it couldn’t be that hard. Why did locks even exist if you could just bypass them all the time? The panel came away easily, revealing a neatly ordered set of cables and components, none of which looked familiar.

“Shit!” she yelled, placing a finger in her mouth, red from a probing touch of the panel’s inner workings. “Okay this is dumb, I’m being dumb, I should just,” and she tapped her communicator. “Zaliel! It’s Amanda!” and again no response. Her frantic, failing effort was quickly becoming less of a fear of inconvenience and one of desperate concern.

Amanda set her own bag down and considered her options: she could call for Security to override the door, but that seemed extreme and the potential of finding Zaliel naked passed out on the bed would be an embarrassment like no other. She couldn’t engineer the door open, her knowledge of environmental and biological science would be no help, and phasering the door down was almost as bad as calling Security. She took a step back and pulled her hands through her hair. “Think, Amanda, think!” she said, adding a well-timed thunk on her head. It was then that she looked past the living room and at the balcony door. An idea struck her.

The apartment was designed with roommates in mind: a private room and en-suite for each of two occupants with a shared common room between them. The common room opened to a lovely balcony which overlooked San Francisco. Each private room also had its own smaller balcony. A plan started to form in Amanda’s head as she rushed out onto the middle balcony: “I’ll just step over to the, oh fu—,” she recoiled from the gap between the two balconies. It was at least two meters between them and forty stories down.

Amanda pushed the lovely wicker furniture set she was pretty sure she had won in a fair contest of wits—or was it cards?—during one of her pre-graduation benders. This wasn’t the time for reflection though, because Amanda was already running at full speed. She vaulted over the side and crashed stomach-first into the opposite railing. She screamed while her body frantically clamored over the side.

Out of breath, she hugged the balcony’s floor a long moment.

Amanda sat up and moved toward the balcony door, stepping around a tripod telescope a she did so. It occurred to her at that moment to wonder if it could be locked. Did she ever unlock her own? With dread, she tried the door.


Cupping her hands around her eyes, she tried to look into the bedroom, but could see nothing. “Stupid privacy glass!” she spat as she pounded on the door, calling for her roommate. Amanda concluded there was no way Zaliel could have missed all of the noise she was making.

Adrenaline pounding in her ears, she looked at the door, set her jaw tight, and swung the telescope into the glass using every ounce of power fifteen years of softball could muster.

Both shattered spectacularly.

Glass crunched loudly under Amanda’s boots as she inched into the room, still holding the tripod like a bat. Her eyes took a moment to adjust. Amanda had rarely entered Zaliel’s room, as was part of their mutual arrangement. Clothes in piles, empty bottles that should be recycled, and Zaliel, naked, face-down on top of the bed, a d*’k tahg* protruding from her back.

Amanda dropped the tripod and rushed over, turned her friend over in her arms, but it was too late, she was cold as ice, laying on the soft, plush, bed.

The soft, plush, dry bed.

“You bitch!” she yelled, dumping Zaliel’s carcass on the floor. She kicked a nearby pile of clothes.

Zaliel appeared, stepping out of the wall, howling with laughter. Amanda immediately seized her by the shoulders and flung her onto the bed, where Zaliel bounced and landed on the floor next to her corpse. This prompted another bout of hysterical laughter which was slowly starting to worm its way into Amanda. She cracked a smile, then shook her head. “You’re demented, you know that? I could have died.”

“How should I know,” she gasped between belly laughs, “That you would come in through the fucking balcony?”

“Purely demented,” Amanda chuckled. Zaliel’s laugh had a way of disarming her; maybe it was the sound, or the earnestness, or how it had a way of lighting her face. Or maybe it was because it was so rare; this was the Zaliel no one else knew: the prankster, the joker, someone who wasn’t always at yellow alert.

“Anyways, we’re already late for wor—why are you still laughing at me?”

“It’s Saturday!” she heaved.

“But, I,” her face flushed red. “You screwed with the clock, didn’t you?”

Zaliel stifled a laugh and nodded somberly.

“You are seriously messed up.” She offered a hand to Zaliel, with the intention if turning it into a wrestling hold she had seen once and was sure she could safely reproduce with no formal training whatsoever.

“Hey,” Zaliel said, accepting the help up. “Thanks for having my back,” she added with a surprise hug. Amanda forgot the hold and returned the embrace. She smiled. Zaliel is nuts, but fun in a weird kinda—wait a second.

“Your…back? A murder pun?!” she tightened her grip. It became a bear hug. “I’m going to throw you off the balcony!”

The two fought a little longer before calling a truce. They set terms for who would clean and who would explain the broken door to the superintendent.

As for revenge, the gears in Amanda’s head were already turning.


It had been a few weeks since Zaliel had faked her own grizzly murder to get a rise out of Amanda and no retaliation had occurred. In fact, Amanda was more attentive and helpful both at work and in their apartment than usual.

She’s definitely plotting something, she thought. But, as the days went by and nothing happened, Zaliel slowly started to forget, falling back into the comfortable rhythm of sleep, work, and rest. Rhythm was good. As a scientist, she liked accurate predictions. It allowed her to feel as though the universe operated on a consistent, reliable schedule.

Pulsars were her favorite: like stellar lighthouses, they spun quietly in the sky. Compact stars, they emitted beams of electromagnetic radiation from their poles. Some were crazy fast, rotating in milliseconds while others spun at the leisurely pace of a few seconds. She had studied them extensively before joining Starfleet and the Academy had only encouraged her to pursue that passion.

The hardest part was the cultural stuff. Soft sciences be damned, people were unpredictable messes that no reliable model of certainty could be devised.

As a Trill, Zaliel often felt uncertain with Humans. Though they were very similar to her physically, they were also very different, with gestures and phrases that she wasn’t prepared for—and neither was her translator.

Fortunately, Amanda was a good teacher of Human custom, even if she drank and fraternized a little too often for Zaliel’s taste. That was okay, she was fine with that; even if the most Zaliel could manage was living vicariously through Amanda’s stories of daring and dating, that was “okie-dokie” as long as she had her routine of sleep, work, and rest.

That wasn’t to say Zaliel was uninterested in sex, romance, and really wild things. Rather, those concepts were complex and difficult to manage. People were unpredictable and handling them took two key components that she lacked: the confidence to act and the will to be vulnerable. It was only in those extreme moments, when the music was just right and the energy of the crowd crackled like electricity, that she felt like it was possible to let go of timidity and embrace primal liberation.

Despite what she might feel in those moments, there existed this underlying anxiety that what she had would never be interesting to them. Oh, certainly there were people solely interested in her for her spots—her parents were quick to warn her again and again, even years after she had moved to Earth. Despite Earth’s post-scarcity utopia, there were still objects of scarcity—and non-Human partners were one of them. She had expressed this concern to Amanda once who laughed and sang loudly that she should just, “FLAUNT IT GIRLFRIEND;” whatever that meant.

But all these things she thought and felt and experienced never seemed to be a priority. She didn’t travel all this way to go out and party. She did it to—why am I here?

“I dunno,” Amanda said. They were at their usual table in the holo-booth café. “Why is anyone anywhere doing anything?” she asked, waving a hand to sweep the entire café, or perhaps universe .

“I mean,” Zaliel paused for a moment, “From a cosmic perspective we—,” but Amanda shook her head like a worldly professor teaching her new apprentice.

“You’re thinking too big, when you should get small: all carbon-based life is built on the principles of cellular reproduction: cells live and thrive, eventually becoming specialized components of a larger organism, until finally we have you and me.”

“Uh-huh,” Zaliel nodded, a hot cup of tea in her hands.

“From birth, an organism’s goal is to reproduce before they die. You exist because the chain of life stretches back and back and back to the moment the first proteins came together to make the first organism; ultimately, you exist to make other versions of yourself and/or ensure the continuation of social constructs which permit life to thrive, such as serving in Starfleet and giving me the rest of your Danish.”

“I appreciate your ‘or,’” Zaliel said, her cheeks having pinked during their conversation. She slid her Danish toward Amanda, who did not pick it up right away.

“It’s true,” Amanda replied quickly and earnestly. “While primitive cultures might hold certain expectations for their different or divergent genders, we know that those so-called roles only served to oppress and constrict. We,” she said firmly, gesturing to include Zaliel, “know better; you don’t have to have kids to be valid, damn whatever expectations anyone else has for you.”

“But you just said that my purpose is to uphold social constructs which promote life. Isn’t my position on children in conflict with that?” Zaliel asked in a voice she hoped was academic. She hadn’t expected the lecture to become so personal—or maybe she did, in the hopes Amanda would sooth the gnawing feeling in the back her mind, the hopes she dashed when she left Trill—but she also knew and trusted Amanda enough to go down this path without fear.

“Hell! No!” she slapped the table with each punctuation. “Because you also have free will and a life of your own. When we talk about this stuff from a group perspective, of course we say, ‘evolution demands we reproduce whether we like it or not;’ however, when we consider an individual we have to endow them with certain rights, otherwise women would be nothing more than brood-sows and men little more than sperm factories.” She picked up the Danish, signaling that she had made her point. “And I’m not entirely unconvinced of the latter.”

“Okay, so, from an individual perspective, why am I here? What’s my purpose?” Zaliel asked, trying to steer the conversation back to her original existential question.

“The fuck if I know,” Amanda replied, her mouth full as she chewed on the Danish greedily. “But seriously, only you can answer that, Z,” she added after a moment of reflection and hard swallow, chased with orange juice. “We can answer your relationship to the universe from a biological, chemical, physical, and spatial perspective and none of those explanations defines why you are you, or why you feel the way you do.”

Zaliel took a sip of her tea. “How do you answer those questions about yourself?”

Amanda smiled broadly. “I don’t.”

“You don’t think about your place in the cosmos?” Zaliel asked, raising her best academic eyebrow.

“Presently? Pasadena, California, Earth, Sol, Sector 001, Beta Quadrant, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Observable Universe.” She picked at the Danish as she listed each cosmological factor aloud, gently pulling it apart so the frosting, cheese, and pastry were more or less separate. The display reminded her of children who pulled the wings off flies; Zaliel pushed the uncomfortable thought away while Amanda went on:

“Here we have a dissected Danish, each piece delicious in its own right, but we don’t eat just the frosting, then filling, then pastry right? No, I mean we could,” she added quickly, “But for this argument, we don’t. So,” Amanda took a deep breath, “Your existence is really the intersection of a lot of things. First, we have the Universe,” and she set the pastry on the table between them. “This is the physical reality you live in. Then we add all the beauty and horrors that culture provides.” Here she added the filling, squishing it haphazardly onto the flaking crust. “Finally we have—,” but Zaliel interrupted and added, “And I’m the frosting, right? Sweet of you to say.”

“Nope!” Amanda exclaimed, triumphant . “The sugar would be entropy; the slow decay of the cosmos—which would be a much better analogy if tooth decay were still a thing.”

“Tooth what?”

“Never mind that. So, do you see what I’m saying about you?” Amanda asked, retrieving a fork from the table’s dispenser.

“You didn’t say anything about me, just environmental factors,” Zaliel protested.

That’s the point,” she said, cutting a piece of Danish. She was kind enough to offer the first piece to Zaliel who waved it away.

Zaliel leaned back, took a long pull from her teacup, and said. “I don’t matter.”

“To me?” Amanda smiled. “The world, Z, but cosmically? No one does, not really. You know this better than anyone, right?”

“Proton decay means eventually yes, all matter in the universe becomes less than nothing; not even black holes will remain.”

“And that’s why I don’t worry about this stuff,” Amanda chewed, a hand in front of her face. With a swallow she added, “Because you taught me not to.”

Amanda’s last sentence on the topic haunted Zaliel for the rest of the day. She stared at her terminal, the cursor blinking quietly, steadily, like a pulsar in the evening sky. She sat half-paying attention through meetings, speaking only when directly addressed. At the end of a seemingly unending day, she lay on her bed, now staring at the ceiling; a projection of stars as they would appear over her parent’s home, light years away. The room’s speakers piped the sweet sounds of rural insects and animals from Trill.

“Maybe I’m homesick,” Zaliel said aloud. She glanced at a clock on her nightstand, did a little math, and sighed. “Computer,” she called.

A pleasant chime informed her to continue.

“Call,” she paused for a moment of thought, which became a feeling of doubt, settling on guilt. She thought about talking to her dad; he had a way of unwinding the knot in her stomach that made her miss the only other world she’d known. But, it was more than that tonight. The thought of a quaint country cottage filled with her father’s paintings and mother’s technical manuals

It was years since she had been there last and though her parents kept in regular correspondence, now that she had graduated, the steady stream of messages slowed. Zaliel opined if this was just part of becoming an adult: parents and children alike withdraw into their own lives. Considering they spent eighteen years raising her, Zaliel figured they could use the break. Maybe, she reasoned, maybe I shouldn’t call for this—at least until I know what to say.


That night, Zaliel’s dreams were scattered and disturbing. She woke often, spun enough to create electricity, and sweat through two sets of pajamas. The effect was to leave her useless the next morning; a zombie who stumbled into the apartment’s common area, blearily barked at the replicator with a horse throat, and stalked back to her room without so much as a glance to the couch for fear she might catch Amanda’s worried face looking back at her.

She didn’t care, except she did, but she also didn’t all at once. Entropy was going to consume everything anyways, right?

Fuck it.

And so, feeling as though she had been dragged backwards through an entire hedge maze, Zaliel sat on her bed for a good mope. She sat, taking long dregs of coffee, and feeling sorry for herself.

A chime alerted her to an incoming call. She looked, sighed, and gave the command to accept it.

“Z? Are you coming?” Amanda shouted over the sounds of music and talking. It was audio-only, which was a little unusual, but Zaliel was grateful Amanda couldn’t see her.

“Coming where? Work? I’m taking a personal day,” she yawned.

“Yeah, duh, because it’s Sunday, Zaliel,” her roommate replied. “You slept through Saturday.”

Zaliel blinked several times and looked at her clock: Sunday. That explained why her mouth was so dry and head felt like sludge. “What’s Sunday?” she asked, trying to remember what she might have agreed to that would demand an early rise.

“It’s either the last or first day of the week, depending on who you ask,” she shouted. “But that’s not important right now. It’s Donavan’s Birthday Party slash cookout slash get your spotted ass over here before I end my career because I drowned this man in the atrocity that is a vinegar-based barbecue sauce.”


“You, Zaliel, me Amanda. Sunday plans, Raleigh.”

“I’m not—,” she looked at her clothes hanging on the bar of her open closet; the party dresses she had because she liked them, but rarely saw the light of day. She could feel them calling to her, a chance to break out of the cycle: sleep, work, rest—where rest meant to read, or watch, or idly scroll through holos of cute animals. She heard the sounds of silverware scrapping and wine glasses tapping, and laughter. Come with us, they called. Come be who you’ve always wanted to be.

Zaliel wanted to go, to be like Amanda, but the allure of her bed was too strong, like a Siren it pulled her down, down, down into the depths of slumber. The dreams took her, the dresses gathered dust, and Amanda, well, Amanda was pissed.

“You totally ditched me,” Amanda said the next morning on the walk to work. The pair strolled in the cool San Francisco morning. “James Donovan is, by far, the most boringest man on this planet—possibly in this entire sector—and I had to endure him alone.”

“Why didn’t you talk to someone else from the department?” Zaliel asked, feeling both ashamed and defensive. She didn’t want to leave her friend in the lurch, but she also didn’t appreciate Amanda’s sharp tone.

She rolled her eyes and gave Zaliel an annoyed look. “They were smart enough to bring their partners; I was the only one flying solo—except Donavan himself so guess who he spent the whole party clinging to.”

Zaliel frowned. “He wasn’t, um, inappropriate was he?”

“Ha! Not unless you call cooking a steak well-done and slathering it with vinegar ‘inappropriate.’”

Zaliel had observed over the years that Amanda had several very specific and passionate positions about food. She didn’t always understand this, but Amanda’s food fury made her smile.

“I don’t know what that means,” Zaliel admitted, “But, to be clear, you’re upset at Donavan because he cooked a streak?”

“No, Z, I’m upset with you because we had a deal and you slept through an entire weekend and came out of it looking worse than when you went in.” She placed a hand on Zaliel’s arm and stopped so they could look each other in the eye. “What’s going on with you?”

“I don’t know what you mean?”

“Bullshit,” Amanda pressed. “You haven’t done that in years.” She lowered her voice, “Not since—,”

Zaliel hushed her quickly. “Why yes, ensign, that’s an excellent idea,” she said a little too loudly as a pair of officers walked by. When the cost was clear, she dropped to a hushed tone. “I, um, I’m not sure,” Zaliel admitted under the weight of Amanda’s gaze. She clung to the strap of her small leather satchel and unconsciously brushed a hand over it, feeling for the weight of her big PADD, hypo, and few odds and ends she sometimes needed. Their presence was familiar, stabilizing.

“The existential questions, your mood, the whole pigeon thing,” Amanda pressed.

“That was an accident,” she replied flatly. “I thought they could talk. Like penguins.”


“Whatever,” Zaliel sighed with exasperation.

Amanda offered a sympathetic smile. “You know you can talk to me, right?”

“I will—once I know what to say.” If they had been somewhere more private than the Headquarters Concourse, maybe Zaliel would have sat with Amanda and picked at her emotions until they figured out what it was, if anything specific, that was bugging her. But, they were in public and there was too much noise and too many people. Zaliel nodded again, turned, and walked smartly to the security checkpoint, leaving Amanda standing alone among all the noise.

Amanda shook her head. “What am I going to do with her? Maybe Ben’s right: hiking or something new to shake things up that’ll—OH HEY MIGA!” uhg, what a weirdo.


“Architecture is one of the most important expressive works a corporeal society can develop. While paintings may last hundreds of years with care, monuments and buildings may last thousands,” the museum guide droned on. “Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus! They each invoke powerful images of endurance, elegance, and yes, even hubris. But, long before the invention of holos or photography, there were attempts to bring the ancient world to the parlors and museums of the day. This exhibition of Miniatures of Ancient Buildings includes some of the most detailed recreations, some now older than the sites they were made for at the time.”

Ben stifled a yawn and moved with the rest of the class. Did he want to be an architect? Maybe. Did he need this class? Unfortunately. Stone, concrete, iron; these materials bored him. What good were ancient ruins compared to the sleek lines and glass panels of today? Why look at rocks when there were spires that stretched into the sky? Then again, people were still talking about these places thousands of years later. “There must be something here, after all,” he thought idly.

He retrieved his sketchbook and began carefully recreating the lines of what the placard called the Burj Khalifa. “That’s more like it,” he muttered, as he worked the pencil slowly across the paper. The sign didn’t say what happened to the building—probably destroyed in the third world war, if he had to guess. That’s what happened to all the nice things from that era.

As Ben took in the building, he started to put his own spin on it: lines that would take it from twenty-first century achievement and make it a twenty-fifth century masterpiece. It was going well; he was getting a real groove and then he just completely lost it. When he took a moment to step back and admire his sketch, he could only conclude it was hideous. And, like so many artists facing their own work, he tore the page from the sketchbook and stuffed it in his bag.

The class had moved on to another display. He was about to moodily stalk toward it when a soft chirp alerted him to a call. Ben held the comm to his ear as he turned his back on the group.

“Ben?” came an unfamiliar voice. “Ben Weber?” the voice pressed.

“Yeah, who is this?”

“I’m sorry, Ben Weber of Santa Barbara, California. Sister is Amanda Weber?” the voiced asked again.

“Yeah, that’s me; who’s calling?” he asked, irritated. When Ben looked back for the class, they had moved on again. He frowned, trying to concentrate on the caller while looking for the parade of students.

“Oh thank goodness did you know there are fifteen Benjamin Webers in North America?” the voice asked relieved.

Crap. The class was gone. Maybe they left the floor? “That’s fascinating,” he said in a tone that suggested he did not find that fact in the least bit interesting.

“Anyways,” the voice resumed, “I’m Amanda’s roommate, Zaliel.”

That got his attention. “Is she okay?” he asked with his heart in his throat. He didn’t even know his sister’s roommate’s name. At least, he never remembered if it came up.

“Oh, yes! She’s great, actually I’m calling—this isn’t a bad time is it?”

“Um,” he did one more check. The class was gone. To hell with it. “Yeah,” he answered as he sat on a bench where he could admire a miniature of London Tower.

“Oh, it’s a bad time? I’m sorry should I—“

“I mean, yes now is fine,” he said, his irritation rising to “slight annoyance,” on a level or so below, “irked”.

“Oh, great, so I wanted to get your help with a gift for Amanda.”

Ben smiled. “And you called me?” he chuckled. It was so absurd—so unexpected—how could he not laugh?

“Yeah, see I’ve known her for a while and we’ve become really close and I’ve—OH HEY AMANDA!” he heard Zaliel shout suddenly. Ben pulled the earpiece away in surprise and dialed the volume down. Even lowered, he couldn’t help but shake his head in increasing bemusement as Zaliel flailed wildly to cover up the call, while yelling like a C-rate actor reciting Shakespeare in the park. The call ended abruptly when Zaliel declared loudly, “ANYWAYS THANKS FOR YOUR HELP,” before the line went dead.

Ben sat looking at the miniature of London Tower, scratching his head. He was weighing the possibility of finding his class or seeking out a sandwich when his communicator chirped again.

It was a text message from Zaliel which included an address.

For a moment, he considered blowing her off. She was a stranger who called out of nowhere. She wasn’t his problem.

But, then again she was trying to do something nice for Amanda. Of course, this could be Amanda’s way of setting them up. He thought carefully: if it was a setup, why have Zaliel call? Why not just arrange a meeting together? It was true that work and school made it difficult for them to meet, but not impossible. Ben wasn’t usually a fan of the company his sister kept: typically loud, muscular types who talked about squats and delts and whatever the hell a glute was.

He checked the address: Italian food in a very public setting.

Ben was hungry.

Life often presents people with very simple, binary choices. In this moment, he could stay and attempted to further his education or leave, meet someone new and (most importantly) have a much needed meal.

In the end, his stomach won over his grades. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Ben stepped off the transporter pad at the Seattle hub and took the monorail to Seattle Center, a tourist trap for off-worlders who wanted the experience of gentrification and cultural collage that only Seattle could offer. As the Space Needle came into view, Ben grabbed his sketchbook and tried to pencil the general shape. If I’m going to go rogue, he reasoned, at least I can make the most of it. He liked how the sketch was coming along and found the curves and sweeps fun to draw. He was enjoying it so much that, be missed his exit while his head was buried in the sketchbook. He wound up completing the circuit again before the picture was at that precious point where it could be put aside without it gnawing at him. He might be running late, but then again it was an impromptu arrangement. Could he really be late?

The afternoon was cool—much more so than the museum he had left which seemed to run on solar energy and hot air. Most people were wearing long sleeves as the clouds loomed overhead, threatening rain. He missed the California sun already.

Ben reached the restaurant which was nestled between two museums—one for rock music and the other for political activism. In fact, as he approached the restaurant he began to realize that every building around him was either reserved for history or food, with wide green lawns separating them.

“Why is everyone so fixated on the past?” he asked with some annoyance. To him, all those times before were not as interesting as where life was going: a new age of peace and prosperity. Sure, there were great, galactic affairs to consider. But, these were distant, abstract concerns that a twenty-something Ben, living in the jewel of the Federation had little care for.

He pushed open the door where a maitre’d greeted him and asked for his reservation.

“I don’t know?” he replied. “She said to meet her here? It’s under,” he checked his comm, “a Za—un, Zaliel? Am I saying that right?”

“I’m sure I could not say, but I have your table this way,” the man rhymed, then walked briskly through the maze of tables, guests, and staff. Ben took this moment to appreciate the restaurant’s interior: what had appeared as a dull red-bricked building on the outside featured dark marble floors and white pillars with gilded trim. Recreations of Ancient Roman murals covered the walls from floor to ceiling. Large, gold wall scones and floating chandeliers lit every surface evenly, leaving little room for shadow.

It was hideous.

“Your table,” the maitre’d said before making a hasty retreat. He had other stories to enter just as quickly as he would exit.

The woman at the table didn’t acknowledge Ben’s presence which gave him a moment to consider her: Zaliel was about his age and dressed in warm earth tones. Her hair was auburn and about shoulder length which almost hid her spots. Furrowed in concentration, her brow drew thin, tight lines as she typed away on a foldout PADD; a small smile on the edges of her lips. An untouched wineglass rested near her, while an empty basket of breadsticks waited on the table’s edge for replacement.

“Uh, hello, miss?” Please don’t make me butcher her name that I only heard once while not paying attention, he silently prayed.

Zaliel’s head jerked up and she nearly spilled the wineglass while snapping the PADD closed. “Aaaahhhhh Ben, right?” she asked, half standing in greeting. She held a hand out which Ben took firmly and released just as quickly. This is already awkward enough.

“Yes, but typically the screaming doesn’t come until after the date.” He smirked, trying to push through the awkwardness with humor.

Zaliel tilted her head slightly. “I don’t get it?” she asked as they both sat opposite each other in the booth. “Oh, well, you see the thing about that is,” and he was saved by the waiter who arrived, spent a long time explaining the fresh meals available, then left with Ben’s request for whatever Zaliel was drinking.

“So, why Seattle?” Ben asked, hoping to drum up a casual conversation.

“Oh, well, Amanda is out of transporter credits,” Zaliel began.

“Typical,” he scoffed.

“I know, right? And I didn’t want the risk of her spying on us.”

“About her present?” he recapped.

“Yes!” Zaliel nodded enthusiastically. “I overheard her the other day talking to Cheryl—do you know her?”

Ben shrugged, “We don’t really share friends,” he admitted. He made a face as he considered how rude that may have sounded. If it hurt Zaliel at all, he couldn’t tell.

“Anyways, she was talking to Cheryl about how your grandmother used to make her favorite cookies.”

“Memaw’s Fantastic Fudge Clusters,” Ben laughed. “That recipe has been passed down for generations.” He sighed and expression became bright and wistful. “She used to make them when we visited her lake house in Wisconsin. Amanda and I would go out on this ancient paddleboat for hours. When we came back soaked and covered in mud, she would sit us in front of the fireplace, pour hot chocolate in these tall mugs, and stuff us full of fudge until she practically rolled us up the stairs and tucked us in and I just realized this is probably boring you to pieces.”

“What? No, seriously, it sounds perfect,” Zaliel replied sincerely.

“It was,” he nodded first with a smile, then a frown. “It was,” he repeated, solemnly.

There was a long pause where neither spoke. Ben found himself missing is grandmother. Those were simple, carefree days where the only expectation anyone had of him was to dress himself and stay out of trouble. Now, everyone in his life expected something of him. To “make life his own!” as his father said countless times. While he could choose a life of aimless wandering, he wanted something more. He just couldn’t say what.

He watched as Zaliel picked up her glass and set it down a few times without drinking it; sometimes resting it in both hands, rolling the dark liquid thoughtfully. Hesitantly, Zaliel carefully placed a hand on Ben’s. He appreciated the gesture, even if he was unsure how to feel about it.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “You wanted to know about the cookies.”

She nodded slowly and withdrew her hand. “Do you, um, do you think it’s a good idea? Like, I don’t, uh, I don’t want to upset her?”

“No, it’s a great idea.” He stiffened slightly. “I will help you make the cookies,” he added definitively.

Zaliel smiled. “Great! We can feed the specs into a replicator and—,” she began.

“No!” Ben interjected, offended. “By hand, with fresh ingredients, just as Memaw would have made them.” He was set, determined.

“You can cook?” Zaliel asked, impressed.

“Bake,” he corrected. “And no, but we can take the time to learn.”

“We can’t do it at my place: Amanda will know instantly that something is up,” a pause. “Plus, we don’t have a kitchen,” she squinted in thought. “We might—we might need one of those?”

“My place it is, then.” The waiter returned with Ben’s drink as they were exchanging information. He asked if they were ready to order. Both confessed that no, neither had looked at the menus, and the waiter stalked away to see to his other tables.

Ben lifted his wine glass and took a sip which he promptly spit back into the glass. “What the hell is this?” he asked as he wiped his tongue with a napkin.

Zaliel, initially startled, replied shyly, her face turning bright red: “Hot fruit punch.”

Why?” Ben asked, agog. “Why hot? Why in a wine glass?”

“Is that what those glasses are for?” she asked, gesturing to the other tables. “I thought it was traditional. You know,” she pointed at the murals, “Moldavian.”

Ben laughed which Zaliel fell nervously into as well. “Okay, okay,” he said after a moment. “These are Roman murals.” He pointed to a few, naming them. “But why? Why is it so hot?

“Oh, I,” Zaliel picked up her glass and held it with both hands. Ben noticed the way she cradled it and slowly rubbed the places where liquid swirled on the other side. Her demeanor had changed, and the laughter thinned. She seemed to be doing some mental math. “How much do you know about me?” she asked suddenly.

“Like, what Amanda’s told me?” he blinked, surprised by the tone shift. “Um, nothing really. I think,” he reached back about a month to the exchange they had; where Amanda tried to play cupid and get him interested in Zaliel. But, nothing came of it; Amanda didn’t mention it again, even when Ben later hinted that his interest was piqued. What was it he wanted to know more about?—except: “She mentioned you’re an artist?”

“Sculptures,” she nodded with a smile. “Clay, usually. I’ve been doing it since I was little. I share a studio space near our apartment. If you’re ever in the neighborhood,” she let the invitation float in the air.

He leaned back and prepared to settle into the conversation. Art seemed to be a safe topic to discuss while he chewed through the emotions connected with his grandmother. He missed her. When she passed years ago, a hole was left in his heart and all the hot chocolate and boat rides in the world wouldn’t bring those days back. He loved her and she was gone.

A part of his brain alerted him that Zaliel had just told him something important and his attention snapped back to see her holding a Starfleet combadge to her ear. She was saying some big technical words that he didn’t quite know the meanings of, so he waited and gingerly sipped from his glass. Why hot fruit punch? he wondered again as he looked at Zaliel over the glass’ rim.

The call was over and Zaliel started packing her things. “I’m very sorry, Ben,” she started. “Something’s come up and I have to go to the office.”

Ben stood. “Can I walk you to the hub?” he offered.

“You’re sweet, but I’m going to catch a beam-out just outside the restaurant.” Zaliel took a bold step, paused, turned toward Ben, and added. “This was, um, weird? Thanks again for your help. Let me—Could you—?” she seemed to be pulled in several directions at once.

“I’ll send you my schedule,” he gave a thumbs up. “Don’t worry, we’ll bake soon!”

Ben watched as Zaliel quickly navigated the dining area before crashing through the exit. He swirled the wineglass in his hand and put it to his lips. He managed a ponderous hrmmmm before he sipped and spat the sugary drink back into the glass.

After a few days of careful coordination and false starts, Ben and Zaliel managed to arrange a baking day. It would be perfect: Amanda was taking a three-day weekend to visit some friends off-planet which gave them nearly the whole weekend to work. Ben, for his part, gathered the ingredients and—most importantly—spent the week scrutinizing the cleanliness and arrangement of his home.

He dusted every surface, angled every trinket, and fluffed every pillow in the hopes of making a good first-impression. He did not do this entirely consciously. If he had any visitors over at all, they might point out that it was a lot—a lot a lot—of work for his sister’s roommate. They might even suggest he had something else in mind.

But Ben, being Ben, would naturally dismiss these accusations and point out that Amanda’s roommate was vicariously Amanda; if he was living in a mess, it would get back to her and he’d have the whole family in crisis-mode again. It was too much to deal with or even think about, so he happily cleaned and polished and straightened and arranged literally until the moment Ben saw Zaliel walking along the (freshly power washed) stone path toward his door where upon he gracefully leapt over a couch to greet her before she pressed the chime.

Ben opened the door and waved her in. “It’s good to see you, Zaliel,” he attempted.

“Nice to see you as well, Ben,” she replied. Zaliel pulled her wide brimmed hat off, a thin white strap held it against her back. Ben was reminded of a cowboy, except it wasn’t that kind of hat, or that kind of dress, or that kind of twirl she did as she stepped into the foyer, taking everything in at once. “This place is gorgeous! Is that the ocean?” she asked excitedly.

Ben proceeded to give Zaliel what he called “The Nickel Tour” which briefly became a lesson on ancient American currency.

“How did you wind up with this place?” Zaliel asked once they settled on the deck with drinks; a cold lemonade for Ben and a hot blueberry tea for her. They were beneath the canvas canopy which extended from the home about mid-way the length of the deck. A warm breeze ruffled the fabric intermittently. Ben was grateful for the shade and lemonade, even in the temperate California weather.

“Well,” he began, stirring the drink idly as he talked. “It was a crafty bit of total and complete luck.” He smiled a beat for the joke to land. Zaliel’s snicker carried him forward with renewed aplomb. “I got it as part of the university I’m attending. The other students I was supposed to share it with dropped out.”

Zaliel laughed, “And you get it all to yourself?”

“At least until next year, when more students enroll. Assuming,” he added, “that I’m still here.”


He made a gesture with his hands. Zaliel tilted her head slightly.

“What is this?” she clumsily repeated Ben’s gesture.

“Oh, um, you know like, ‘so-so’, or like ‘más o menos.’”

“More or less?” Zaliel confirmed, repeating the gesture again. “I wish this translator covered hand gestures. Anyways,” she went on, “How are you more or less graduating?”

Ben reflected as he drank lemonade. “Are you sure Amanda didn’t send you?” He added what he hoped was an amused chuckle.

Zaliel blinked. “Well, yeah, I mean I came here because of her?”

“I, well, yes but, anyways,” he struggled, trying to find his stride again. There was something in the way she sat and looked at him which was vaguely unsettling, like it was an imitation of a behavior that should be familiar, but was just slightly off. He glanced away—shit! don’t look at her legs!—he glanced back—shit! don’t look at her chest! So, he had no choice but to hold her gaze even though he badly wanted to avoid eye contact. He was embarrassed, afraid she would guess that he wasn’t nearly as well-adjusted as he was trying to be. He was aimless. He wasn’t so sure of himself that he could commit to something like she had to Starfleet. He was just here, on the beach, trying to act like he knew what he was doing.

But she wouldn’t stop looking at him in that way. What was it? Was she confident in herself? Did she really have that much strength? Or was it the spots that ran from her bare feet to temples? Was she really that alien?

He kept stumbling over his words so he did what any self-respecting man would in this situation and chugged lemonade until his mouth collapsed from a sour overload. He pointed to his glass as if to say, “I’m going to get more lemonade, please excuse me,” and gratefully she nodded in understanding, so he was free to retreat to the kitchen.


Zaliel watched Ben go back into the house, unsure what he was trying to gesticulate, but she knew when Humans made exaggerated gestures it usually meant they would be right back or something obscene. Ben didn’t strike her as the kind of person to smile and make a rude gesture and it’s not like she parked a shuttle on her old flight instructor’s bicycle, again.

She sat and watched the clouds and ocean and the few people walking along the beach. She felt a great sense of peace as she sipped fresh blueberry tea; nearly forgetting what brought her here, to her best friend’s brother’s house.

Since Amanda confronted her a few weeks ago in the concourse, all Zaliel wanted to do was make it up to her. Then maybe she could sleep at night. It was torment upsetting her, even though Amanda hadn’t brought Donovan’s party up since.

I really messed up, she reminded herself again and again: Amanda said she was there for her, even loved her in that sisterly way Zaliel had always wanted growing up: to have and be someone’s sister. To get into trouble and go on adventures and talk about books and school and always protect each other. Now that seemed in jeopardy, Zaliel had to go to the the ends of the Earth—or, at least to the beach—to do something before it was, in her mind, too late.

All of those things, all of those fears were melting away. She listened to the surf, the gulls. The air was just the right amount of salty, just the right taste. She closed her eyes—Ben’s prolonged absence didn’t register—just a moment, of course, just a moment, to capture this joy in her mind forever.

Zaliel awoke several hours later. It was night, cool and clear in California. The docile sounds of the beach still played calm melodies in her ears, though she couldn’t see the ocean in the darkness. Luna was mostly dark except for the thousands of pinpointed lights which reminded her that millions of people called that cold rock home.

She shifted and realized, for the first time, that a heavy, warm blanket had been draped over her. A soft orange glow on the railing nearby caught her attention. It was different from the strings of gentle, white lights which twinkled dimly like distant stars; winding their course around the deck’s railing.

Zaliel slowly sat upright and yawned long as she stretched. That’s when she saw a movement from her side: Ben was reading a book from a small display, the screen tuned so dark it barely lit his face. He looked so serious, so contemplative that Zaliel was reminded of A Great Thinker. She watched him for a time as he methodically scrolled and drank from a mug. He eventually noticed her and smiled, warm and kind. She was reminded of a passage she once read; I would touch such lips with mine o’er a life bereft of knowing. Zaliel had always loved the passage as the hopeless romantic she wanted to be, but it wasn’t until Ben smiled that she understood what it meant.

“You’re awake,” he said. She watched him set his reading to the side to come over to her. He sat on the edge of her lounge chair and reached for the little orange light on the rial. He had to lean slightly over her legs and she noticed he steadied himself on her shin—but only for a moment, which he immediately apologized for.

“What does that do?” Zaliel asked. He had been very gentle with the object as he lifted, inspected, and set it down again.

“It’s a bug repeller: it deters most of them, but it traps others.” He pressed a button and the light changed so she could see about a dozen insects dormant inside the cone. “They’re alive,” he said assuringly. “I’ll set them free when we go to bed.”

Zaliel raised her eyebrows.

“I mean,” he stammered, “when we leave the deck and, I only assumed since it’s so late, you’d take one of the other rooms, of course.” Even in the soft twinkle light, she could see him blush.

Zaliel smiled and touched his arm—his body was so warm!—and said, “Of course,” but offered nothing else. She was analyzing him, weighing what she knew: he was contemplative, affectionate, gentle, and respectful. And she sensed his interest in her. Not in the supernatural way a telepath might; rather, by reading his behavior; the way he stayed close and stumbled over himself as he tried to explain why he let her sleep (for five hours!) instead of wake her. How he noticed she still seemed cold after he put the first blanket on (and replaced it with the heavier one she had now). How he made sure to keep the bugs and sun away while she napped.

Though they had shared so little time and few words together, she found herself developing a rather strong affection for him. She reveled in the feeling of it; wondering how far it would go. But he seemed so shy that it hit her: he’s afraid of me like I’m afraid of him. It was a revolutionary thought.

She resolved not to wait and find out how far things would go. She would challenge herself here and now.

“How late is it?” Zaliel asked in a quiet voice. He was still at the foot of the lounge chair.

“A little past midnight.”

“Hand me my purse, please,”she asked him. It was seated on a stack of extra deck chairs. She watched as Ben moved and imagined the way his muscles shifted as he leaned and stretched. “Have you ever been sculpted?” she asked as he handed her the bag. She made a point of brushing her hand against his during the exchange.

“No?” he responded. “I once modeled for a drawing class for points towards a grade, though.”

“Drawing? That’s so impersonal!” Zaliel dug into her bag and retrieved a hypospray. She applied it to her skin, released its dose, and placed it back in the bag. She imagined he noticed, but he didn’t say anything.

Ben seemed more comfortable talking about art. “I don’t know. You can get a real feel for an object when you trace its lines.”

“But that’s not real feeling, is it?,” Zaliel asked as she slid closer. “When you sculpt, you feel the weight, the pressure, the shape in your hands as it takes form.” She turned him slightly and ran her hands along his back to his shoulders. He didn’t protest, so she stayed there, kneading his shoulders, feeling out his muscles, as if he were clay to be molded.

He gulped and offered a strained, “Yeah,” as if he might find everything very casual, except it wasn’t.

“Working with clay requires your whole body,” she said as her hands traveled along his muscles. “The strength to shape, the wisdom to know when to be firm or gentle, the endurance to keep going when everything aches at once. Is anything else like it?”

Ben didn’t reply. His eyes were closed and he was very content to let whatever was happening keep happening.

Zaliel turned him gently so they were facing then drew him close.”Do you like me, Human?” she asked, a hair’s breath from his lips, her eyes locked with his. She knew it was an odd way to ask. She might have said his name—it was as alien a sound as hers was to him—but she wanted to draw him to the physical differences between them.

“Yes.” The word was barely audible.

“It will be different for you,” Zaliel continued, a hand combing through his short, curly hair. “I’m different,” she added. “Do you understand?” And here her anxiety flared. She searched his expression for any hint of rejection or hesitation because, though there was no way for him to know it, she had placed her heart in his hands.

“I don’t care,” he said so quietly, she smiled at the timidness of his conviction.

“Prove it to me.”

And he did.


Amanda Webber returned to her and Zaliel’s apartment after three excruciatingly long days. “Come meet the baby,” they said. “It’ll be so much fun,” they said.” But all the little brat did was puke on her twice in the same sitting and pour orange juice into her suitcase. By the time all was said and done, she had to wear an oversized, “I Had a Crater Time at Moonland Park Alpha!” t-shirt while all her clothes were in the cleaner.

And that was the highlight of her trip.

All the happy couple wanted to do was sleep or take the kid out to early dinners when the crowds were thin and they only had to apologize to a few fellow patrons.

It was the best argument she had ever seen for contraception. Besides, she was a career Starfleet Officer who was slowly (slowly) crawling out of Ensign—one day, maybe. Zaliel did it after all and she wasn’t even the best in their class.

“That was a crappy thing to think, Amanda,” she said aloud. “Zaliel’s your friend.” A pause. “Maybe your only real friend.” The thought hit her at peak exhaustion, in that last desperate burst of energy as she pushed through the apartment door.

Amanda dropped her bag in the foyer and made her way across the room. She knocked on Zaliel’s door. “Hey! I’m back! I brought you a souvenir!”

There was no answer.

She knocked again. “Hey! I’m not falling for another ‘Dead Zaliel’ game. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me seven times well,” she paused. “Still shame on you for making me worry.” I never should have shown her Herald and Maude, she figured, but the damage was done.

Anyways, no response.

A glance at her watch revealed it was almost midnight. “Eh, I’ll tell you on the way to work tomorrow,” she stifled a yawn, crossed the room, punched her door code in, flopped on the bed, and promptly fell sleep in her traveling clothes.

The regular morning yell of horror was Amanda waking up and suddenly remembering she had work. She blew through her morning routine at warp speed and crashed into the apartment’s common space like a meteor screaming towards the Siberian tundra. She was halfway out the door when she realized Zaliel’s things were already gone.

“She left without me?” she was annoyed at an irritating feeling that she had been abandoned.

“Maybe she didn’t notice I was home?” But her luggage, which still smelled of orange juice, lay exactly where she had left it: piled in the foyer. Zaliel couldn’t have missed it. But, her bag was gone. Zaliel never left without it.

“You know,” Amanda realized, “she’s been really busy lately. Maybe she went in early?” Convinced that was the most likely scenario—since Zaliel’s grizzly death was never the answer—Amanda locked the door and rushed down the stairs, across the lawn, and jogged steadily to the transport hub.

The hub was a modern glass-windowed two-story building with flowing curves and a complex array of antenna on the roof. A few taxis waited around, their pilots hanging outside, chatting while they waited for a passenger. To Amanda’s memory, she never actually saw one in use and wondered if they were even pilots or just a living art exhibit; a testament to a different time. She made a promptly-forgotten mental note to ask one for a ride on the way home.

She made her way though the hub, zipping through the other commuters and tourists. California had no shortage of either. It was with a number of polite apologies that she dodged, excused, and gently pushed people out of way until she reached the queue. This, by far, was the worst part of her commute: the transporter queue. She joined the line set aside for Starfleet Officers (which happened to be longer but the regular commuters got pissy if you stood in their line) and pulled out her PADD to idly scroll through the pictures of her friends—oh, great, her friend with the kid posted an unflattering holo of her in that stupid theme park shirt. She reacted with an orange emoji; it was all she could do.

Someone tapped on her shoulder. She turned. It was Miga. As if my day couldn’t get worse. But, she couldn’t pretend to ignore her. Obviously Miga had spotted her with those weirdo eyes. Not that Miga looked unusual for a Caitian, but she had this way of staring that felt like she could see into Amanda’s soul—and that was just too weird. “Amanda,” she said with a low purr, “you were missed this past Friday.”

“Oh! Hello, Miga!” Someone kill me now! “Yes, I went off-world to see some friends; meet their kid.”

“Ah, how lovely. It was a nice trip, yes?”

Amanda did some quick mental math. On the one hand, she wanted to go into painstakingly detail as to why it had been so unpleasant. But, on the other, it was best not to divulge too much to a coworker. It was one thing to be friendly, another to be friends, especially when that person could see into my soul like an open book. “It was…fine,” Amanda settled on. It was a neutral response.

“I see, and you are sans Zaliel?” Another purr, but this one sounded like an accusation. “It is rare to see you apart; an imbalance in the universe.”

“We’re our own people, you know. We aren’t joined at the hip.”

“Yes, but by the heart? There is much talk at the office; suspicion you are a couple.”

Why the hell couldn’t Miga talk about something normal like the weather or work or her favorite brand of scratching post? Why, she asked god, why does this keep happening to me? “Miga, Zaliel and I are not an item. Never have been, never will be,” she said flatly. She hoped Miga would pick up the—oh hell she didn’t.

“No? Much speculation on this, I give it great thoughts.”

“You’re overthinking it. We’re friends. We met in the Academy and managed to stay together with our assignments. Just lucky friends doing friendly things like having lunch and complaining about our families to one another.”

“Then you are not seeing someone,” Miga asked in a way that was becoming increasingly alarming. Amanda, Miga, and a few other officers were called up to a large transporter pad so they could all go together.

“No,” Amanda said as they took their positions.

“Then perhaps,” she purred close to Amanda’s ear. “You would consider dinner with me?”

“Wh—“ she began as she dematerialized, ending with a solid, “—at?” as they now stood side by side in the Starfleet Headquarters concourse.

“I mean no offense,” Miga said with a swoosh of her tail. Amanda was pretty sure that meant Miga would take great offense.

“I mean—and by the way, none taken, I’m flattered, really—but I don’t date people I work with, you know, as a rule, but I am flattered,” she insisted and, damnit, she did appreciate the compliment. If she’s into me, she obviously has good taste. “But, if you’re into blond women I could set you up, you know?” Was she really having this conversation with Miga? Was this the reality she was forced to live?

They made their way through the checkpoint and Amanda thanked all the old gods when she was able to break away from Miga and make a bee-line to Zaliel’s office. Well, office was being gracious because it was more like a tiny alcove with no door and a too-narrow window that made the room seem incomplete.

Amanda rounded the desk, expecting Zaliel hard at work to find an empty chair and desk, the monitors off and her coffee mug left upside down; the way she always left it each night.

Worried, she tapped her combadge. “Zaliel, this is Amanda. Are you there?” She waited at least five seconds before trying again. And again. And again.

“Okay, computer: where is Lieutenant Zaliel Sel?” The computer would have the answer, wouldn’t it? She waited as the computer chirped and burbled until it finally responded that she couldn’t be located; an error common when not present on the Headquarter’s grounds. There really ought to be a, “best friend override,” because this was starting to tick her off.

“I know, I need to…find Donovan!” and she cringed, wiped her tongue with her palm, and raced off.


Donovan concentrated carefully as he straightened a crayon drawing on a magnetic board. He used an old-fashioned bubble level as he arranged each magnet over the paper. The edges needed to be straight so that the optimal surface area could be leveraged while also ensuring the best parts of each image remained visible in the ever-growing tapestry of his child’s scrawling artwork.

It was the perfect way to start his Monday. The extreme effort he placed into the act elevated his mind to another plane of existence where thought and magnets and crayons met, an intersection of the mundane. So well-walked, so incredibly domestic, it had a Zen universalism to it.

Donovan was certain this was bliss. It was the enlightenment he had heard so much about. The love he felt for his family was the greatest thing he had ever known, even if it was also the hardest thing he had experienced to date. Now and then the crying or the screaming or the hitting drove him nuts; no one warned him having a kid was a full-contact sport. Nevertheless, it was always the sweet things that stuck with him: the first time his son wrapped his little arms around his neck and said “hug,” Donovan thought his heart would burst. He might have died happy in that moment, because he was sure no greater joy could come after. Still, he eagerly awaited the first, “I love you,” with growing anticipation.

He knew he could resign and spend all of his time with his kid. But, James Donovan believed that man needed work to be fulfilled—and what better work than to support the advancement of science in the greatest institution the galaxy had known? Donovan knew the sacrifices he made today would help build a greater future for his child. That was the gift he most wanted to endow his son with: peace, prosperity, and plenty.

He would miss some moments, like he did his son’s first step and word, for a greater good. This was James Donovan’s singular motivation in life and he was doggedly determined to succeed. Without it, what was left? A middle aged, out of shape man who took almost twenty years to make full Lieutenant? A middle manager who wasn’t even important enough to be invited to conferences, whose superiors undermined his authority by promoting the most capable out of his department, just when he managed to get a stride?

He dropped a magnet and it rolled defiantly away under his desk somewhere. He bent low, careful not to tear his trousers again, and looked for the small, black metallic bead. It was while in this awkward position he heard a quick knock followed by the door opening. Only one person on the staff was so impatient and disrespectful. He sighed, counted backwards from five, and peaked over his desk.

“What is it, Miss Webber?” he asked, not bothering to hide the irritation from his voice. It was too early to deal with Amanda. It was always too early.

“Um, good morning LT,” Amanda said. She looked flush and kept looking back through the open door. “Is Zaliel in?”

“Don’t you two live together?” he couldn’t understand why she was asking. Wouldn’t she know better than him? It was, in his opinion, the only topic she might know more than him on.

Amanda answered or at least that’s what Donovan thought she was trying to do. She talked so quickly he couldn’t keep up.

“Wait! What’s this about a bag and a Danish?”

“So, the other day she was asking all these existential questions and then she slept through a whole weekend, and I thought she was better but—“

“Amanda, you have been standing there, speaking to me for,” he made a show of checking the clock, though he wasn’t sure how long it actually had been, “eight minutes and I still have no idea why you’re in my office or what this is about. Take a deep breath and tell me what’s going on but slowly.” Just saying it made him feel old. He saw his reflection in his terminal’s blank monitor. While maintaining eye contact, he folded the monitor into his desk.

Amanda took a deep breath, arranged her thoughts. “I think Zaliel is missing,” she said mercifully plainly.

Missing people he understood but he also knew Amanda had a habit of not thinking things through. It was probably nothing, but he should humor her—just in case. “When did you see her last?”

“Uh? Thursday? I left that night and was out Friday—you remember?”

He did remember. It was a gloriously quiet day. Donovan nodded once and gestured for her to continue. She took it to mean she should sit and he sighed inwardly as he settled in to what was already feeling like a long, long Monday.

“Anyways, I got back late last night and didn’t see her before bed.”

“So you saw her in bed?”

“What? No! Why does everyone think we’re a couple!” she cried rather loudly.

He was surprised, both at her volume and the revelation that Zaliel and Amanda were not, in fact, sleeping together. Whenever he hosted a barbecue, they would appear, hang around together, then leave early. Then again, it could be a lie—but why? Eh, not important right now, James, stay focused. “Apologies, so you saw her—?”

“Last Thursday.”

“And you were gone all weekend?”

“Yeah, was she, you know, normal—for Zaliel, that is?”

“She was out Friday. Said she needed a mental health day because of burnout.”

“So,” Amanda said slowly, thoughtfully, “you haven’t seen her since Thursday, either?”

Donovan sighed. It was a deep sigh that came from somewhere in his soul and snaked its way through the maze of organs that supported his existence. “Amanda,” he began slowly. “It’s not even,” he glanced again at the clock, this time actually reading it. “It’s not even nine. Maybe she stopped for coffee? Or breakfast?”

“Zaliel doesn’t eat breakfast and she drinks the same coffee from the replicator every morning—how don’t you know this?” she asked rhetorically. “But the fact is she isn’t responding to her communicator.”

“Oh,” Donovan replied plainly. Not answering comms was unusual and, while he didn’t know about Zaliel’s eating habits, he did know Zaliel as a reliable colleague who typically answered quickly.

Amanda made a face and said, “Yeah!” in a way Donovan might have read as sassy if not for the growing knot in his stomach. “So, come on, let’s raid the armory and go find her—or something, I don’t know.”

She really is distraught, Donovan thought. “Okay, okay, but before we declare martial law and raid every building from here to Seattle, maybe let me try her first?”

“Yeah, but she’s not answering!” Amanda said again.

Donovan tapped on his monitor and used the desk’s conference system to place the call. He gave his name and recipient to the computer and waited.

And waited.

And waited. Each passing second, he became more worried and sweat started to form on his brow and neck. Amanda’s constant shifting and sighing only making it worse. He was just about to close the channel when a frantic voice cut in:

“Lieutenant, sir! It’s Zaliel! Is everything okay?” he heard Zaliel say breathlessly.

Donovan immediately decompressed, like the inflatable river raft that he’d much rather be floating on. “It’s getting on nine here in the office; are you coming in?”

“Wait—is it Monday already?”

Donovan chuckled. “All day, Lieutenant.”

“Shi—I have to go! No! It’s not yo—it’s Monday! I have work! I’ll call you tonight when I—shit! Lieutenant, sir?” Zaliel was talking to someone else. His guess was that person also lost track of the time. This was becoming way too personal. Barbecues were one thing, intruding on personal business was another. “Do you mind if I come in around lunchtime, sir? I need to, uh,” but he cut her off.

“Just…take the day and be on time tomorrow, thanks.” He closed the channel quickly. “Okay, she’s alive and you’ll see her tonight, can we please get to work?” he begged Amanda.

But she had already left, the chair she had been sitting in twirled slowly around and around. Donovan had a bad feeling—the kind he got when he knew something bad was going to happen, or he ate too much beef. He touched his stomach.

It was the beef.


Dead. I am so dead. I am so miserably-fucking-dead. Zaliel raced through the unfamiliar territory of Ben’s cottage, looking for her things. Ben was being unhelpful, since he was also tripping over clothes, towels, and random domestic items strewn about the place. Three days. She lost three days here.

She remembered every minute, of course, and Zaliel wasn’t upset why, just that she lost total track of time. And that call! That was the worst part of it! Donovan had to have heard Ben’s voice and the bottles, oh my god, the bottles were everywhere. Some alcohol, but mostly juices. Zaliel needed the sugar; needed energy just to keep up.

It wasn’t all sex. Ben introduced her to surfing and cycling and swimming in the ocean! The last one was terrifying; all those slimy creatures in the water she couldn’t see until she stepped on one. Zaliel shuddered at the memory. Oh, but the food! Ben took her to restaurants—“holes in the wall” he called them—places only the locals knew about where everything was fresh and no meal the same twice. One place changed its menu every day, just to keep things interesting for its patrons.

And they talked, talked, talked when they were tired. They started with stories about Amanda, but also talked about their homes and everything that brought them to today.

“Do you miss Trill?” he had asked her as they walked along the pier. Zaliel happily hung on his arm as the couple strolled; it was exactly how she had always pictured it: she dreamed of slow-walking somewhere, her arms entwined with someone who made her feel special.

“Sometimes, but I think I miss my parents the most. We were always together until I came here,” she had answered.

“You haven’t gone back?”

“No,” Zaliel remembered saying sadly. She could have gone, but she always convinced herself it wasn’t a good time. “I cried every night for the first month. I wanted to go home so badly.”

“Why did you stay?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “It was like, I applied for Starfleet but the competition is so fierce I didn’t think I’d get in…and each exam took me closer until I was here. I,” she hesitated. “The dream was so big, I couldn’t really believe it until well after it happened. I’ve only felt that way one other time before.” She squeezed his arm. “Every now and then l sometimes stop and think I have so much farther to go, you know?”

“What was the other time?”

Zaliel hesitated, even coming to a stop on the pier. “Well, you know, Ben.” She turned and looked over the water. Hands rested on the pier’s wooden railing.

He came along beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “You know none of that changes how I feel about you, right?” he said gently. He held her until the sun went down, then through the night in his cottage.

Zaliel couldn’t believe how well it was going or how happy she was. Even frantically looking for all of her clothes and personal items, frustrated at herself for such a lapse in responsibility, she was really amazingly happy. Anxious, but happy.

It was a weird feeling.

Zaliel and Ben collided at the front door, each haphazardly dressed, their respective bags a half-open jumble.

“I have to—,” she started.

“It’s okay; I really need to—,” he reassured.

They held each other, first to say goodbye, then to say soon, and finally to say right now. Neither made their obligations that day. Monday became Tuesday, then Wednesday, and so on as commitments were avoided, dodged, or outright ignored. For Zaliel, it was as if time had stood still and she reveled in the beauty of each moment. This was it, she was in love, and it was everything she’d hoped it would be.


Time didn’t stand still. It’s nice to wax poetic about romance, but at the end of the of the day, night comes whether it’s welcomed or not.

For Ben, twilight began to set on Friday, a week after Zaliel first showed up at his house. She had stayed the whole week, insisting it was fine and she had plenty of leave time. Ben, however, still had class.

Still had classes he was missing because he didn’t want to go and was finding in Zaliel the perfect excuse. “I’m heading to class,” became, “You’re right, this crafts fair sounds like lots of fun and it’s just one class and who really cares about sociology anyways?” He only knew one sociologist and he taught sociology. And drank. A lot. Ben wasn’t sure if there was an intersection between understanding group dynamics and alcoholism; something he undoubtedly would have learned in sociology.

But even when he make it to class, his thoughts turned towards Zaliel. The hard, sharp lines in his notebook began to curve into the increasing familiar shape of her face, her body, all the way down to her feet, as he drew her from memory. It was an intense feeling—one he wasn’t sure how to handle—and he wanted it to keep going, but was this really okay?

As Ben looked longer at the notebook, his pencil poised, he tried to understand the problem with this picture—the problem with all of his pictures of Zaliel. And no matter how he looked at it, whether flipping between pages or glancing away and back again quickly, it just didn’t jump out at him.

It wasn’t anatomy. Ben could close his eyes and feel the shape of her body in his hands. She was right, in a way, the moving and shaping of clay, like flesh, had places of soft and firmness, of heat and cold. It was intimate, bordering or wholly enveloped by sensuality. Similarly had he given these drawings the depth and attention he felt they deserved.

He showed a few of his pictures to some friends, but he found no explanations. Zaliel on the beach, Zaliel asleep on the couch, Zaliel looking at the sky while she told him about her home, lightyears away. They had all been candid works drawn from memory.

He decided, quite arbitrarily, that it was his own internal criticism at work. Artists are notoriously bad judges of their craft, constantly chasing their taste with inadequate skill. Maybe, one day, he would feel his ability matched his desire. Maybe he would even make something amazing one day. He felt the potential inside him; the power to change the world.

Motivation, though? That was the problem he faced. Maybe another change of majors, he considered as he left the campus, returned to his beach house, and fell into Zaliel’s arms.


Amanda Webber sat cross-legged on her balcony’s wicker coffee table, just outside the common room of her apartment. In one hand, she held a spotless wineglass. In the other, she held a half-empty bottle of wine. Atop her head was a yellow paper party hat with red polkadots.

For an entire week, Zaliel had blown off work and dodged her calls.

Oh, her other friends were just so patient when she met with them to talk about her trip, but they were too self-absorbed to provide any comfort for someone who’d blown a holiday weekend just to get puked on. So, what if Julia was too engrossed with her esports team? Or Tabitha too wrapped up in conspiracy theories that Changlings weren’t real. And Barbara was too damn pregnant to do anything but talk about how excited she was and how much Amanda should totally meet the baby. The only three more terrifying words were “I love you” and “he won’t bite.”

“Amanda, I’d love to talk,” Ben told her. “I’m just, uh, deep in this project and things are really coming to a head, so while I appreciate the distraction,” he went on, out of breath

—probably hiking or whatever, “I just need to keep my head down with a firm grasp on the situation, okay?”

Amanda looked at the blank screen—audio only—damnit. So, she ended the call, grabbed a bottle of wine, replicated a birthday cupcake, and devoured it angrily as she looked out over the San Francisco skyline. She tried counting all the little lights, but the numbers started getting hard to remember.

“When did I get so lonely? Or dependent on Zaliel?” she drank large, unwieldy swigs from the bottle. “All this time I thought she needed me around to show her the ropes; help her make it on Earth but—did I just need to be needed?” It was an ugly thought that turned bitter quickly.

“Oh Amanda! I’m so helpless I can’t tell the difference between a penguin or a parakeet!” she grumbled. “Oh Amanda! Let me pretend to be fucking murdered just to play a dumb prank on you—thanks for risking your life to save me let me repay you by fucking off to wherever-the-hell and not even bothering to replicate a sticky-note!” God! It made her so angry!

So she drank and grumbled and floundered for an anchor. She picked at the wicker idly while she looked at the city. There were a thousand places she could be right now: clubs, bars, parties. But really all she wanted was a friend—a real friend—to be present for her. To give her a hug, show her some goddamned empathy, and hold her hair when the wine inevitably came up.

Amanda woke up on the couch in the common area covered by a blanket, drenched in sweat, and smothered with a splitting headache. She had broken several cardinal rules about alcohol:

  • Never drink alone
  • Never drink when angry
  • Never drink on an empty stomach

Her eyes were so dry and crusted she didn’t notice the waiting hypospray on the table. Didn’t see the boots or bags or other signs that Zaliel had returned. She hit the replicator and yelled something close enough to “black coffee” that she got what she wanted, then drank as she shambled into her en suite. There, she stripped naked and drank coffee as the sonic shower slowly stripped away the grime and sweat. The headache stayed, but it only fueled how she wanted to feel: miserable.

By the time she drained the last delicious drop from the thermos, Amanda was more or less dressed. With a little vigor, she stepped into the common room, only to find it decorated with streamers and balloons. On the couch, sitting rather close, were Zaliel and Ben.

“Surprise,” they whispered in unison, making jazz hands as if it were some fucking joke.

Amanda stood there in disbelief. It had been the week of hell and they just—“and you just show the hell up like this was the plan all along? Since when the hell did you meet? How are there streamers? Where have you been? Why didn’t you return my calls?”

“Can I?” Zaliel asked Ben who only laughed and nodded, the ass. “So,” she began as she stood, approaching Amanda as if she were a dangerous animal. “We met over a week ago, we put the decorations up while you were in the shower, and mostly we’ve been at Ben’s place—did I miss one?”

Amanda grabbed Zaliel by the shoulders. “The most important one! Why have you been hiding?”

This time her brother stood. “That one’s on me: when we weren’t busy on your birthday present, I was showing Zaliel around Cali and,” here it comes, Amanda braced herself, “l didn’t think you should know we were together, I mean, at first, like until we finished your present, you know, not to spoil the surprise?” he said with increasing uncertainty as Amanda’s eyes metaphorically burned holes through his brain. “Also,” he added quickly, “how have you lived here for years and never taken her surfing?”

“Together? Like?” Amanda made a gesture that made it clear where her mind immediately went. “Is it serious?” she asked. Amanda hoped to disguise her concern, but in that moment she was overwhelmed. It took everything she had not to scream at them. Yes, she was thinking about matching them but that was before Zaliel got wonky and Ben, well in hindsight he was still the same person she’d always known.

Ben and Zaliel laughed, though Amanda could see Zaliel was laughing in that insecure way she did when she wasn’t sure if she should be laughing. There were so many Human nuances she didn’t understand, but the reasonable part of Amanda’s brain wasn’t driving at that moment. “You two have been fucking all week while I’ve sat here and sobbed my eyes out over a shitty trip, a shitty work week, and an even shittier birthday and then fucking laugh at me for it? Fuck you,” she pointed to Ben, “and fuck you,” she pointed at Zaliel, “and double-fuck the both of you,” she finished, both middle fingers raised high at her roommate and brother. God this catharsis feels good, she thought as she slammed the apartment door dramatically on her way out.

Amanda was so angry, so bitter, so hateful in that moment she surprised herself with what she did next.


The Caitian woman was feeding ducks in the park. Specifically, she was feeding them rice from a dispenser the park provided, which she reasoned was why the animals ignored her efforts to befriend them. “You are so bored with rice, m’yes?” she purred. “Or maybe I look too much like your earthbound feline friends? But I will not eat you,” she tried to assure them.

Unfortunately, ducks are ducks and no amount of Starfleet Diplomacy training will convince them that a cat is a friend or the same stale rice is worth getting excited about. They quacked and wagged their tails and dove underwater as they played little duck games. As to why Miga was feeding ducks as opposed to anything else that the technological wonderland of San Francisco might provide was simple: it was Saturday and this is what she liked to do.

Miga would rise early, go to the park, feed ducks, and people-watch. As her old anthropology professor once said, “to be the alien in their land is to understand a people like no other.” She took that lesson to heart and tried to watch, listen, and learn. She found quickly that those quiet, domestic moments so rarely visited in great dramas were particularly interesting; sometimes the same from iteration to iteration, but always just a little different each time to remain exciting. Humans, though, were of particular interest to her: ever adaptable, never totally predictable, and delightfully whimsical.

A little ways away, the same elderly men played chess as they did every weekend. Inevitably, the darker-skinned of the two would win while his companion made a big show of accepting defeat as he made oblique references to how the game, “used to be played!” She enjoyed them most of all because she was quite certain they were in love, though she never observed a typically romantic action between them. But that was part of the fun: she created little stories in her mind about the people she observed. The more she watched them, the more intricate the stories became.

Jogging up the lane towards her was Felicia, a fiercely strong woman who Miga always saw in motion. “Make any new feathered friends?” she called out as she approached.

“Just as last week,” Miga replied, a toothy smile on her face. “I think this is a lost cause. Perhaps I will have better luck with squirrels?”

“Cats eat them, too,” Felicia said. She was now next to Miga, jogging in place. “Fred win, yet?” she asked, tossing a glance at the chess players.

“No, not yet, but they arrived late—apparently, their normal restaurant was closed for a wedding; isn’t that lovely?”

Felicia shrugged as she began doing lunges. “Miga, I’ve been married five times and divorced six. I would rather skin a ca—skunk than do that again.”

The Caitian laughed, her sharp teeth only cemented the ducks’ collective belief that Miga was there to eat them. They protested loudly as they swam to the other side of the pond where a pair of geese held domain. The resulting commotion drew onlookers until a brave park ranger interceded.

As Miga watched the escalating avian encounter, her combadge chirped.

“Sounds like you gotta call and I gotta finish my laps,” Felicia said as she checked her watch. “I want to make the Boston Marathon this year, but they won’t take me if my gums are the only thing that can go a mile a minute! Good luck!” she called as she jogged away.

“Hey Miga,” a familiar voice came over the line. “It’s Amanda.”

“Oh!” she leapt up, spilling her rice. Miga’s failed attempt to court Amanda lingered with her; an embarrassment she tried to shrug off. She accepted Amanda’s rebuke—Miga was adult enough to respect her wishes, even if she didn’t like them. But rejection always hurts, no matter how good-natured it’s delivered. “What can I do for you, Amanda?” Miga asked, trying to keep her voice cool. She was an adult, yes, but crushes come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. The Caitian was no exception.

“You want to get drinks—as friends?” Amanda added tersely like the entire question was delivered through gritted teeth.

Miga paused. The park promised blue skies, idle pastimes, and familiar humors. Amanda’s tone loomed like a storm cloud. “Is something wrong?” she dared ask. No sense walking blind into the lion’s den, she thought to herself.

“Yes, Miga! Lots of things!” A beat. “All the things! Now, I’m going to Salutations! in Boston to drink myself into a coma. Are you in?”

In the distance, a familiar cantankerous banter told Miga that Fred had won his chess match. Felicia was probably half way to Sacramento by now. The ducks had not returned. What the hell. “I’m in!”

Miga raced from the transport hub neatest to the bar. Boston was new to her and the buildings were so much older than the ones in San Francisco. Where the Bay Area had leaned hard into modern design, Boston—at least the part she found herself in—was carefully preserved and renovated. She saw horse drawn carriages alongside an ancient automobile aficionados club, their steel and chrome vehicles sat in an open exhibit in the park.

With the help of a PADD and a few locals, Miga hurried down the stairs into the basement bar where Amanda was already busy imbibing her third drink at an alarming rate. Some of the patrons looked on with concern. They had come for the aesthetic—the novelty—of the place. They were not expecting to witness an actual aspiring alcoholic at work.

“Amanda?” Miga asked, poorly hidden worry mixed with confusion in her voice.

“Sit, order a drink. Maybe the handsome bartender well tell you about his baseball career.” Amanda looked at the Caitian who couldn’t tell if her eyes were bloodshot or if she’d been crying. “Why do things have to be so weird?”

Miga sat next to Amanda at the bar. Her tail wafted back and forth uncertainly. When the bartender, a handsome middle aged man with tall, meticulously groomed hair and bronze skin approached. He was pleasant and friendly and smiled warmly as he quickly took Miga’s order. “This seems like a nice place,” she said, trying to strike a conversation. Amanda didn’t reply and the two sat in tense silence.

“Why are we here?” Miga asked after the bartender set her drink in front of her.

Amanda looked into her glass. “Because I’m pissed off and don’t want to be on the same coast as my roommate or my brother,” she spat. “And the cardinal rule of getting shitfaced is to never do it alone.”

Miga was surprised by this: she had never known Amanda to fight with Zaliel. She had overheard conversations about her brother, who was a student of some kind. Part of the reason the office thought Zaliel and Amanda were together was that they always seemed to have some kind of coded language unique to them—in jokes and references and laughter. Miga was jealous of this relationship; not that it was with Amanda per se, just to be so close and share such a deep connection with someone.

The Caitian also knew that Amanda wanted to talk about why she was upset. There was no other reason to invite Miga out to Boston while Amanda was in such a miserable state. She decided to ask what was wrong. What followed was a deluge of information. Amanda told her all about her original plan to set Zaliel and Ben up, detailed Zaliel’s unusual behavior—and the pranks! How bazaar!—Amanda’s miserable trip, her feelings of isolation, and finally the surprise of discovering Zaliel and Ben had found each other after all.

When Amanda’s story was over, Miga sat a long moment as she processed the information. She had interjected little as the story unfolded and now relied on her drink to stall for a response. “You are upset because the people closest to you were not there in your time of need?”

“Yes! Thank you!” she said a little too loudly. The couple at the nearby table shifted to a booth farther away. “They ditched me,” Amanda added to Miga’s thought. “When I’ve always been there for them.”

“But you wanted them to meet before? Their coming together after all—isn’t that something to celebrate?”

“I was wrong before,” Amanda insisted.

Miga tapped on her drink absently as she thought aloud, “but did you know that before? Maybe you believed, without consciously knowing, that they would consume each other’s time like you came to experience.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Amanda asked angrily. The alcohol was moving through her. If she had any sound judgement, she would realize that her caloric intake of the last twenty hours had been almost exclusively real booze. But, she was increasing intoxicated and her brain not up for a challenge—especially if her righteousness was the thing being thrown into question.

“At a high level you saw them as getting along, but subconsciously you’re your brother and your best friend’s protector. You know they need you, but you did not know how badly you needed them before it was too late—the rug was ripped out from beneath you, but this isn’t your fault or theirs. Love always finds a way.” She laughed suddenly.

“What’s so funny?” Amanda slurred.

“You and I are a perfect example: I pursued you and you declined—which you are entirely within your right to do,” she added quickly. “But, I can no more control that than you have the ability to tell them what to do.”

“What if they hurt each other?” she demanded.

“Maybe, but you cannot know that. Every relationship is an exercise in trust and vulnerability. Every ‘hello’ is rejoined with ‘goodbye.’ Sometimes it is, ‘goodbye forever,’—sometimes we do not know it is forever.” Miga finished her drink quickly and became distant. She eyed a plump man in an old suit as he energetically debated with a mustached man in a blue jacket.

Amanda watched Miga quietly, her inebriated brain slowly churning the conversation over. “You lost somebody?” she finally asked.

“Yes,” she initially answered stiffly; devoid of her usual warmth. “The last time I saw my father alive, he had given me his—it is like one of your guitars. He was a talented musician, though never very popular, and he filled my childhood with his compositions.” She turned to face Amanda and smiled—was she embarrassed? She couldn’t gauge the expression. Amanda realized suddenly that, as a consequence of avoiding Miga, she had no idea how to read the Caitian’s face. “I tried to learn off and on for years, never really advancing past the few techniques he taught me. When I moved away, I planned to study music more to surprise him the next time we met but,” she stopped there. “It isn’t fair to talk of this; I came to help you.”

Amanda placed a hand on the Caitian’s arm. “No, tell me,” she said. She was feeling unusually sentimental—thank you alcohol!—but aside from that, it was the most personal conversation she had had with Miga since they started working together nearly three years ago. She realized that Miga wasn’t just some piece of background to her story, but a person with emotion and feelings in her own right.

Emboldened by her touch or assurance, Miga nodded once and continued: “where was I? Oh, yes, so I practiced when I could, but frustration plus studies—later work—took priority. Mostly, his instrument was simply a beautiful decoration that I dusted on those odd days I wanted to practice.”

“And then?”

“My mother sent me a message and casually mentioned he was unwell. I thought little of it—he was older and had had a difficult life and often complained of ailments with little apparent cause.” Miga picked at a claw idly as she spoke. “In the last few years he couldn’t play at all and I resolved to make it a priority but—I never did; not like I should have. Then he died and the opportunity was gone.”

Feeling a little more aware, Amanda was ready with a few napkins. She handed them just as Miga started to tear. “And now when I play—still poorly,” she continued, “too poorly to reproduce the songs he sang me when I was little. They are gone save for my memory and dull, sluggish fingers that want nothing more than to play exactly has he played, to feel the vibrations in my ears, or his reassuring whiskers on my cheeks as he held me before bed.”

Tears fell from Amanda’s cheeks. Big, heavy affairs flowed from her eyes as mucus threatened to overwhelm her sinuses. A young bartender from the midwest dropped a new set of napkins on the bar before fleeing as he said, “I gotta call my dad.”

“Miga, I’m sorry, that’s—.”

“It is ‘goodbye,’ Amanda,” she said, the warmth of her voice returning, her tears seemed to withdraw almost immediately. “I could not feel his loss if it meant nothing. While I learned too late to share in his passion for making music, he nevertheless instilled in me a love of music. My deepest regret is that we never played together.” Miga ran a hand through her short, brown hair. “My fondest memory is sitting beside him, very still, as he sang me lullabies.” After a deep sigh she said, “Zaliel and Ben may destroy each other, but in destruction may find themselves. You cannot know, so all you should do is support them—or risk a day when, in anger, you say your last goodbye.”

“I’m still mad,” she insisted. “They ditched me—ignored me when I needed them!”

Miga nodded sympathetically, though in truth she was becoming weary. This was all more than she was expecting and had hoped her story would sooth Amanda’s ire—and it seemed to extinguish most of it—the Caitian wanted to move onto something fun: like what were all these people doing in this strange bar and what was playing on the archaic display screen that captivated them? She was, in effect, becoming bored. “Yes,” Miga said patiently. “They were wrong and hurt you. But only you can control your reaction to it, hrm? Traveling to Boston and drowning yourself in,” she sniffed aristocratically, “uninspired alcohol is beneath you, Amanda. You’re better than this.”

Amanda’s face drew tight. She stood, determined. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have run away. I should have kicked their asses!” The woman downed the rest of her drink and slammed the glass on the countertop. She gave Miga a quick “thanks!” and was out the door and half way up the steps before Miga realized Amandas was gone.

The handsome bartender leaned over and said, “you’d better catch your friend before you have to bail her out.”

Miga ran.

And was too late. In her haste, Miga had gotten turned around in Boston and ran almost a kilometer before stumbling upon another transport hub. The entire way she was cursing in her head: what did I say? What did I do?

When Miga stepped off the elevator at Amanda’s apartment building, the fight was already in full swing. Amanda’s muffled voice was unmistakable as it strung an inventive collection of swears which could only be cultivated by a person who learns languages only to expand their profane lexicon.

A few neighbors were congregating in the hall looking uncertain about what to do. Some used PADDs; idly scrolling or typing away, the drama a background to an otherwise dull night of browsing. Miga tore past them and slipped through the open door. It was just Zaliel and Amanda—Ben was nowhere in sight—and neither looked how she recognized them.

Zaliel had always been this aloof, quiet coworker; the kind that made Miga feel awkward when they would be stuck in a room or elevator alone. But now she was red-faced and furious. “I said I was sorry! But it isn’t fair! You didn’t say what was going on!”

“How could I? You didn’t take my calls!” Amanda screamed, equally red. Alcohol seemed to embolden her and she stood only a few feet from Zaliel, pointing as she raged.

“I was busy!”

“Fucking isn’t busy, Zaliel! You couldn’t pull your head up long enough to take a call?”

“And you could have sent a text, you know? ‘Hey, my trip fucking sucks and I need a friend,’” Zaliel said in a dopey, mocking voice. “And what I do on my time is my business!”

“Not when you’re fucking my brother!”

“He’s his own person! He doesn’t answer to you and neither do I!”

Neither saw Miga right away. She waved off the crowd who rubbernecked in the hall. Not waiting for protests, she closed the door behind her as she entered. A part of her wanted to leave, but she couldn’t deny the spectacle of it; this intimate look into people she barely knew. In a way it felt voyeuristic. They didn’t ask for her help, after all. Or was that what Amanda needed and Miga totally fail her?

Amanda threw her hands in the air. “But your actions have consequences, like hurting me and—he had classes all this week, finals in two—did he blow off sch—don’t walk away from me!” Amanda shouted as she threw a PADD so hard it shattered into a hundred pieces when it hit the wall.

Zaliel had been heading for her bedroom but now looked at Amanda with disbelief. “What the flying fuck, Amanda?”

“All you’ve done is walk away from me all week and you can’t even pretend to care how it hurt me!” she cried, her tears fell hot and angry from her face. Her whole body shook with rage. “Some friend you are, Z. Have I ever been more to you than a roommate? A tour guide? A coworker? How many times did I stand up for you? Propped you up when you were down? I’m the reason you made it through organic chemistry and graduated on time!” Amanda took a deep breath, her her voice quavered. “I was always there for you and the one time I really needed you, you were too busy having fun to even answer the call. I thought you were my friend, Zaliel, but you’re just selfish, playing your dumb holo pranks—what was the point? To see if I would cry over your body? Because of course I would—would have—I’m done crying over you. I was your best friend and you toyed with me, took me for granted, and you can’t even admit you were wrong enough to really apologize.” Amanda ended softly, her voice defeated.

Zaliel looked stricken. “It was never like that,” the Trill replied earnestly. “Amanda, you are my best friend. I lov—.”

Amanda sneered at Zaliel. “Bullshit!” she snapped, her temper flaring again. “You don’t love me—or if you do it’s a selfish, fucked up kind of love. Just—, just pack your shit and get out.”

“Amanda, please let’s—,” but the Human was already crossing the threshold into her room. Zaliel slumped against her own door. To Miga, she looked as if her whole world had fallen apart. Maybe she should go—but Zaliel was so upset. How could she leave someone like that?

“Are you—,” Miga began, realizing how foolish the question would be. It was obvious Zaliel was grieving. How could she help? Should she help? Although she had no way of proving it, the Caitian was convinced she somehow played a hand in this outcome. So, while some of the angriest, guitar-destroying industrial Klingon metal thudded from Amanda’s side of the apartment, Miga sat next to Zaliel so that they both faced Amanda’s door with similarly grim expressions.


“Amanda, please let’s—.” Zaliel could only fall to her knees, her heart like a vice. Any anger she had felt at the argument evaporated, leaving her with confusion and shame. Was I really that selfish? Was I hurting Amanda this whole time? Where do I go now? What do I do about Ben? How could she keep seeing this man who she felt so strongly for if Amanda didn’t approve? What will he say when he finds out about this? And, worryingly, would he reject her next? It had been so long since she met anyone who had accepted her so completely.

She sat on the floor and clutched her head, fingers grabbed tightly to her auburn hair. Miga was a fuzzy, amorphous shape in her blurred vision; a steady, stabilizing presence that she slowly started to focus on. Zaliel was still sobbing when she asked, “why are you here, Miga?”

“I, uh, Amanda invited me for drinks.”

Oh no. “What bar?”

“Um, this place in Boston?”

Salutations! Oh fuck me she must be so mad—that’s like, her favorite hate-bar.” All her fears redoubled.

Miga had to ask, “what is a ‘hate-bar?’”

“It’s a bar you go to when you’re furious and want to get angrier.” Somehow explaining helped. “Amanda hates that bar and all the holos in it. Before you ask: I literally don’t know why.”


“Yeah.” More tears. When was the last time I cried this hard? she wondered. When Roliunou dumped me? But that was almost ten years ago.

“What will you do, now?”

Zaliel had forgotten about Miga, though she was grateful for the Caitian. Her presence kept pulling Zaliel out of her own head. Am I just using her now? “I guess…pack my stuff and move out,” she said, resigned. “If I don’t at least make a show of it, she’ll get even angrier.”

“Has she thrown you out before?” Miga asked.

“No,” Zaliel said as she stood. “But I’ve seen her act that way with her exes. She won’t let this go after a good night’s sleep.” Will probably never let it go—I’ll always be the one who hurt her.

Miga stood as well, still that steady presence. “Let me help,” she offered, her voice soothing.

Zaliel’s first instinct was to decline. She barely knew Miga; hardly knew what gossip would burn through work Monday. But something in Zaliel’s mind turned, reasoning that if she was doomed anyways, she may as well accept the help. In her mind, she had nothing else to lose.

“Okay,” was all she managed as she led Miga into her bedroom.

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“What was it all for?” Zaliel asked as she strode through the streets of Seattle. It had been months since the night Amanda kicked her out. Months since she was forced to move onto Miga’s couch until she landed an apartment in Portland, just a quick bullet train ride to Seattle and her favorite park. She could have taken a transporter, but the smooth ride along the coast was usually too beautiful to be skipped.

Miga shrugged. “You are the one who called me,” she replied simply. “Why you like living somewhere so damp though, I couldn’t guess.” Zaliel smiled at the aristocratic way Miga scowled at the thin mist of rain—not even a drizzle.

“I like the rain and the museums and the tourists. There’s this relaxed vibe—if that’s the word—and I think I’ve had enough drama for a lifetime.” She smiled and drank hot chocolate. “The drinks here are always hot and no one cares if your skin is cold or if you are a bit weird. In San Francisco, I always felt pressure to be a certain way.”

Miga nodded. “It can be a challenge: the language and customs. Humans have come a long way, though, give them that much credit.” The rain picked up and Miga’s expression became downright hostile. Zaliel tugged on her arm and the duo took refuge under the awning of a shop offering various brightly colored flags.

Zaliel admired the window display as she spoke. “No, I mean,” she took a breath. “Amanda would always—“

“I will remind you,” Miga interjected, “that you told me to stop you if you ever started,” she cleared her throat, “quote, ‘bitching about Amanda again,’ end-quote.”

“Ha! I did, thank you. I’m, um, going to miss these talks.”

“Are you going somewhere?” Miga asked, an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, so, I wanted to be the first to tell you but, I’m, well I’m leaving our department for Command School.” She couldn’t help it—she blushed, terrified of reproach or ridicule. Miga was the first person—she hadn’t even told her parents.

“You? Command School?” Miga paused as though she were attempting to reconcile an oxymoron; a misshapen piece in the model of her universe. “Why?”

“Officially? Because I want to actually see the worlds I’m reading about. I want to write those reports, not check them for errors or write code. I want to explore.”

“I recall when I invited you camping you said, and I quote again, ‘hell no! Are you insane? There are wild bears in the forest, Miga, are you crazy?’ end quote.”

“Do you just have this eidetic memory of things I’ve said to throw back at me?”

“Yes,” she said smugly, a smile in her eyes.

Zaliel laughed and shook her head.

“So, what is your unofficial reason? Why are you doing this? I thought you loved your coding and quiet desk job.”

“That was, well, when things were still good between me and Amanda—I’m not bitching,” she said as Miga raised a warning hand, “I’m answering: I hoped she would calm down, but she’s still furious. She’s all smiles and professional when there are other people, but it all goes away the second we’re alone. I need a change.”

“Better the devil you don’t know?” Miga asked, clearly admiring a reflection of herself in the shop’s window. Zaliel didn’t mind—Miga was gorgeous. She is so far out of my league I can’t believe we’re even friends, was an ugly thought Zaliel might have believed before getting to know her, but now she understood that so much of what defied Miga’s beauty was refined confidence. Her regality didn’t exist to challenge others or be wielded as a weapon; rather, it stood on its own merit, like a statue of Athena or Kyra Nerys. When Zaliel saw her friend admiring herself, it wasn’t vanity, but the natural reaction one might have if they stumbled upon fine art in the park.

Oh, right she asked me a question. “I mean, space travel and unexplored worlds can’t be as dangerous as staying in that office.”

Miga snorted and smiled approvingly. “You are a surprising one.” She faced Zaliel again. “Will you keep seeing Ben?”

“I don’t know, you know? Amanda brought us together.”

“But now she is driving you apart?”

“More like,” she bit her lip. “It’s like there’s this huge Borg cube in the room no one is talking about—this tension that’s kinda there all the time, now.”

The rain really started coming down. As people fled from the park for shelter, the shopkeeper whose awning they took shelter under stepped out and invited them in from the cold and wet.

Miga immediately agreed. “Praise the Great Bird,” she said sincerely and found herself a cozy seat on a couch by an old, lit fireplace before Zaliel even managed to clear the threshold.

When she entered, she found the shop offered a lot more than flags—but they were everywhere, on tables and shelves—and the eye-catching rainbow pattern featured prominently on a wall-sized mural of life-like drawings of different Human men and women. “Who are these people?” Zaliel asked.

“Some of the biggest names in Human Civil Rights movements across time,” the young man said. “You don’t recognize them?”

“Sorry, I don’t mean any offense,” Zaliel said. “I’m, you know, not from Earth.” She pulled her hair back enough to show him her spots.

Similarly, the shopkeeper took his beanie off to reveal pointed ears. “Who is, really?” he laughed. “But you don’t have to be from a place to learn its history or admire its figures.”

“You’re a refugee? From Romulus?”

“I like to think of it as an ‘unplanned upcasting,’” he smiled easily. “And you’re in the Seattle Civil Rights History Museum—well, one of them, anyways. You want the tour?”

“Oh, Miga, do you—?”

“Go, go on and enjoy!” She already had managed to find fresh tea and was preparing it eagerly. “I am going to sit right here and remember what being warm feels like.”

Zaliel walked through the building. It was tightly packed and consisted of three levels of displays. Artwork and recorded interviews dominated the rooms. She listened with intent as the curator—Jo’miri—walked her through the last two thousand years of rights movements, mostly focusing on Earth, but then how those beliefs reached out to touch other worlds.

It was a difficult, winding path of peeks and valleys; a topography of triumph and suffering. Slavery, segregation, oppression, bigotry—all checked by emancipation, integration, liberation, acceptance. But the horrors of the past compelled Humanity to do better; to grow and learn to work towards the betterment of all life. What once were hands dirtied by blood now tilled the garden of peace and prosperity.

Humanity was not perfect. In places where the light of the Federation shown dimly arose seemingly timeless problems: authoritarianism, demagoguery, and even bigotry flared to life. “In truth, Miss Zaliel, those who seek to make peace are like Sisyphus: doomed for eternity to push the bolder of progress high up the hill.”

“But doesn’t the boulder always roll back down?” She didn’t like where this analogy was going. Zaliel clutched her handbag close against her chest.

“That’s where each new generation comes in: they take up the challenge and keep pushing; if we ever take a break, the bolder rolls down hill.” He placed a kind hand on her arm and she didn’t shy away; the comfort was welcomed among the heavy tone. “It’s a promise as much as it is a warning.”

They had walked idly as they talked, then entered a large room covered with the same flags and symbols she saw in the windows by the entrance. Zaliel asked what they meant, having seen a few before in parks or windows.

Jo’miri was happy to explain many of them and Zaliel found herself fixated on one in particular. With a smile, the curator continued: “For most people living on Earth, these symbols are like the flags of old countries: a historic curiosity. If you’re born here, the acceptance of diversity is near-universal. Kids don’t fear telling their parent’s they’re gay, trans people are no longer persecution over bathrooms or deal with medical gatekeeping. Regardless of your race or ethnicity, you have access to the same services and opportunities as anyone else. It’s understood that sexuality is what you do—or don’t—make of it. And disability is really more ‘alternative ability.’” He looked away for a moment. Zaliel caught his expression as he turned, suddenly distant. “I hope everyone can be so lucky.”

“So, most people forgot about the flags and stuff?” Zaliel asked, hoping to draw the curator back.

“Not forgotten, just didn’t need. Symbols like these are like a rallying point. But, once you have everything you need,” he trailed off.

“You don’t need to rally.”

“Or another symbol comes along to take its place,” and here he produced a tiny badge from his pocket. “I know plenty of people would sooner sport this Vulcan IDIC—Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations—before anything you’d find here. There are still lots of people who remember and love these flags and signs, but by and large, they don’t really need them in their daily lives like they used to.”

Zaliel finally let go of her handbag and it rest against her hip. The tour was so much to take in—all of this history and suffering, successes and setbacks time and again: of unrecognized marriages performed in secret, homeless children rejected by parents, stonings and acid attacks—all for the things they couldn’t control. All because they demanded equality.

“You know,” Jo’miri said, his warm smile returning, “sometimes the past belongs in the past,” he said, guiding her back to the ground floor. “Other times, past symbols can be a present anchor.” He pulled a small, knitted patch of alternating blue and pink lines with a white one down the center from a shelf. “For your bag,” he said.

Zaliel recognized it immediately from the tour. It was the one that she had stared at so intently before. “How did you know?” she asked wide-eyed. It was a part of her she never advertised—for her, that always seemed like an unnecessary conversation; one she had had enough of with her parents. When she put her heart in Ben’s hands, he couldn’t have known what it took for that moment to happen—years of confusion and acceptance and forgiveness. It was only that she desperately wanted him to know her—really know her as only someone who loved her could. And here Jo’miri had seen more than most people guessed.

“When you’ve done this job as long as I have,” he said, “the tour has a way of revealing the truth. Sorry, I know what it’s like when someone figures it out.”


He smiled widely. “And now you’re paying me a compliment. You’re too kind. Come on, let’s find your friend and make sure she stayed out of the catnip tea!”

They reunited with Miga who had, over the course of only an hour, managed to fall asleep lounging resplendent on a throne of plush cushions Jo’miri didn’t even know he had.

As the curator sewed the patch to Zaliel’s bag, she gently woke, then excitedly regaled Miga with all she had recently learned. The Caitian was patient, if not invested, too assured in herself to let ancient history affect her. Let the past be forgotten; her philosophy focused on the future—preferably one that was warm and dry.

“Maybe, one day, I’ll be as confident as you, Miga,” Zaliel admitted on their way back to the transport hub. “You seem to have this love for yourself—this assurance I’ve never known.” When sky had finally cleared, they left Jo’miri with friendly goodbyes, Zaliel making a point to hug him dearly, like an old friend. Maybe it was the flag: the rallying point where they met.

Miga chuckled. “I’ll tell you my secret: I respect myself. I respect that I am capable, but fallible. That my youth is privilege and fleeting. My life is meaningful but finite. I look for the opportunity to do the most good and seize it. If I was wrong,” her tail flicked decisively, “I was wrong. But a life without failure is no life at all, Zaliel.”

“Do you think it’s possible to love someone and that be a bad thing?”

“Of course, but I don’t have an answer for you, Zaliel. I cannot tell you what to do. And love is something you cannot rationalize,” she stopped, her ears flicked, and she turned toward a sound. It was nothing, but it offered Miga a moment to collect her thoughts. “If it were me? I’d ask if we are stronger together or apart. If our love can survive all the trials ahead and forgive all the pain behind. I would ask if our love is a celebration or an obligation. And then, my friend, I would act.”

Zaliel thought long and hard about Miga’s words as she walked, then rode the train home. By the time she reached her apartment, she knew it had to end. Knew the wedge she drove between Ben and his sister hurt their whole family daily. Zaliel knew their romance would never survive, built on this foundation of conflict.

“But I love him,” she said to the aloe plant in her kitchen. It offered no answer.

Amanda will never budge, she told herself. But their relationship must come first, or I’ll always be the one who split the family.

When she had cried all the tears she could, she dried her face, sat at her desk, and placed a call. “Ben,” she began gravely, his gentle smile almost enough to break her resolve.

“Ben, we need to talk.”