It’s a Saturday in 2321. Rachel is on Earth in her wedding dress. She’s twenty-two and freshly graduated from Starfleet Academy. Her mother doesn’t want her to marry Ven. It’s too soon, she says. They’ve only known each other a few months, but Rachel doesn’t care. She’s in love. When the music starts, she smiles so big that the pain in her cheeks makes her eyes water.
Then, without warning, she’s on a starship somewhere in the Gamma quadrant. It takes a moment for her to recognize her surroundings. She looks at her uniform. She touches a chair. The upholstery is red and gold. It’s the USS Argo and she’s a Lieutenant, junior grade. Her life comes into focus: they are patrolling the Romulan border, she had a salad for lunch, she has failed to become pregnant for thirty-nine months in a row.
Ever since her ship went through the temporal rift in 2344, she’s been jumping back and forth in time. One moment, she’s seven years old eating pancakes with her mother, then she’s burying her first officer after a Klingon attack. Sometimes she stays in one place for an hour, sometimes only minutes, sometimes years. Every time she jumps, it’s like waking up from a dream. The new time becomes her reality and the past and present become solid. She forgets the future. Then the record skips again and for a moment, she remembers.
It’s 2341 and Rachel is captain of the Enterprise, the Federation’s prize starship. Ven has left her and taken Jason with him, to raise him off the ship. She speaks to him occasionally, when she isn’t busy negotiating treaties, facilitating scientific research, and wondering why she’s so lonely when she can never get a moment alone. She sneaks into her ready room and calls Jason on the video phone. It rings and rings, displaying a series of flashing lights. The sounds and pattern have begun to remind her of her son. She watches them for a long time. It almost feels like seeing him.
A boy in her fourth grade class is telling her that girls can’t captain starships. The memory of the flashing lights in her ready room is already beginning to fade. Before it’s completely gone she tries to tell him that she will stand on the bridge of the Enterprise someday and tell a hundred men what to do. But when she opens her mouth, the sound of her voice surprises her. It’s so small and weak that she completely forgets what she was going to say.
Ven is Betazoid, so he looks human, like everyone she has ever loved. But he can read her thoughts. It starts with bar tricks on the Argo. He tells her her favorite color. He knows that the noodles she’s eating are too salty. He knows other things too, like the perfect moment to lean in and kiss her, when she feels like being quiet, what kinds of movies she only pretends to like. He shows up at her door with violets, her favorite flowers. He never says the wrong thing. He never makes her cry.
At seventeen years old, Rachel is the youngest person to ever be admitted to Starfleet Academy. She aces all her classes, but especially enjoys her courses on anthropology and ancient cultures. Her class takes a field trip to the Delta star systems. She visits a temple scarred black from a distant supernova. When her feet touch Earth again, everything looks different.
Rachel puts Jason to bed and meets Ven in the kitchen. They’ve been arguing. Ven circles her with his arms. You don’t like that, he says. You wish I would go. Rachel tells him she doesn’t know what she wants. I do, he says. She wishes he didn’t. She wishes he would get out of her head. Sometimes she wants to be alone. I can hear you thinking that, he says. I have wants, too, you know. But she doesn’t know. How can she know if he never tells her? Sometimes he doesn’t speak for days, communicating telepathically with their half-Betazoid son. Rachel has to remind him to talk just so she can hear his voice.
She is nine years old in Indiana. Her mother brings home her new sister from the hospital. Rachel doesn’t like it. She tries to hug her mother and her father pushes her away. The baby, he says. It’s all they say: the baby, the baby, the baby.
She is still in Indiana, but the year is different. Her body feels different—tired, sore. In her lap is a baby. Not her sister, but her son. Ven comes into the room and her confusion subsides. You seem distant, he says. Is your mind still in the stars? His voice makes everything solid for her. She was dreaming a moment ago, she is sure, dreaming of her childhood. Ven takes her hand and she rubs it against her cheek. Oh, he says, you’re so happy. He’s right, of course. Then a fear she can’t explain settles into her guts—that everything she has will be gone in the blink of an eye. She’ll be somewhere else. She’ll be lonely or at war. She’ll be older or younger. Why she feels this way, she can’t be sure. Ven can sense the change. He holds her close. It calms her right away. What could there ever be to fear? What could possibly happen with Ven right here at her side, her lovely Jason in her arms. Her life is here. She isn’t going anywhere.
About Aubrey: Aubrey Hirsch’s work has appeared widely in journals like Third Coast, American Short Fiction, PANK and Hobart. Her first book, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, will be released in the spring from Big Wonderful Press. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com.