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October 18, 2022


Gabriela Denise Frank

Sascha turned thirteen the year Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was released. She watched the kitschy star-operas to be closer to her father, an OG Trekkie who styled himself, down to the sideburns, after playboy Captain James T. Kirk. Back then, Sascha didn’t question the ethics of Starfleet’s prime directive—to go where “no man” had been, to catalog indigenous extraterrestrial cultures—an extension of colonial empire fueled by a Judeo-Christian remit to claim things found by naming them.

In school, she was assigned a book report on an autobiography. She picked I Am Not Spock by Leonard Nimoy. Like Sascha’s father, Nimoy was Jewish, left-brained, and conflicted; the book explored his inner struggles between self and character: where did Spock end and Nimoy begin? Star Trek fans mislabeled it a betrayal, a rejection of the beloved persona who’d made Nimoy famous, though in it he wrote, “I am not Spock. But given the choice—if I had to be someone else—I would be Spock.” Sascha’s father wasn’t interested—in the book or her presentation.

For the visual element, she made a life-size poster of Nimoy dressed in a Starfleet uniform. She lay on butcher paper while her mother traced her body in pencil, her fingers split into Spock’s live-long-and-prosper V-sign. She, too, was playing a role: a sci-fi fangirl her father might love. She didn’t understand why her very presence made him irritable. She snorted I still don’t and tossed an amber-hued photo into a box, then sealed it with tape.

Nimoy’s book didn’t reveal the source of her father’s simmering frustration, or why helping with her homework always ended in him yelling and Sascha sobbing. Six nights a week he came home exhausted and red-faced from the blistering Phoenix heat, his sweaty, sunburnt skin dusted with automotive grit and desert sand. If the front door rattled in the frame when he slammed it—if pictures bounced on her bedroom walls—Sascha remained in her quarters til dinner.

On hands and knees, she colored in Spock’s blue uniform top, drew in his sharp nose, extended his pointy ears. She lay her palm on his the way Kirk did before Spock died in Wrath of Khan. Her mother took a photo—one of few mementos she’d kept.

The year Star Trev IV premiered, Sascha’s mother died. Without her, there was no one to hold a peaceful buffer against her father’s temper. Resistance was futile. Sascha was ashamed of the truth: her own father didn’t love her, but it her word against his. Through most of the harm was invisible it followed her for years. Her mom hid truths, too. Her illness wasn’t a whiny complaint (women and their goddamned headaches) but a disease left untreated until it was too late. Sascha swore she wouldn’t repeat her mother’s mistakes. She moved out while her father was at work. Her grandmother agreed to take her in until graduation. On finding her note, her dad was furious. She betrayed him, he shouted into the phone. In his voice, she heard Kirk’s abandoned yowl, Kahhhhhhhhn!

He disowned her, there and then.

At sixteen, Sascha blasted off without a flight plan, without clearance, and boldly went where her mother couldn’t. It wasn’t until she sealed the last moving box thirty years later that Sascha saw where undiscovered country lay. Her mom taught her to survive inhospitable conditions; she taught herself how to leave; now, her spacecraft hovered over a strange world shrouded in nebulae: she was moving in with someone who knew her—and loved her anyway.

Three decades of living like a soldier had tempered Sascha’s reticence. Having nursed friends through brutal breakups and divorces, she evaded long-term partnerships and took lovers instead. Turns out, isolation worked its own spells. The only way to determine whether she possessed the development necessary for interspecies contact was to drive to a tan ranch-style house on Foxfire Drive, let braking thrusters fire, and land on the front porch.

She had met Morgan at a Halloween party.

Two red Solo cups in hand, Sascha tripped and spilled ice-cold beer on a woman dressed in a skin-tight Captain Marvel suit. Sascha blushed hard. “Jeez—I’m sorry. I can’t believe I did that. I’m such a dumbass.”

The woman’s choppy fauxhawk quivered when she laughed it off.

“Well, a double dumbass on you.”

Sascha faltered, then dashed for a towel. The woman’s costume was soaked.

“I think it’s time for a more colorful metaphor,” Captain Marvel said, patting herself dry. It took a minute to sink in: she was quoting lines from The Journey Home.

“Do you—actually get my costume?” Sascha sputtered.

Admiral, if we were to assume those whales were ours to do with as we pleased, we would be as guilty as those who caused—past tense—their extinction. I have a photographic memory. I see words,” Captain Marvel quipped. “You’re Dr. Gillian Taylor, right?!”

Sascha’s radar switched on.

She detected a new life form.

Six months later, a prime directive-as-metaphor—a moving van—hummed at the curb. Her original programming was so deeply embedded she’d forgotten it: in quiet moments, her mother taught her to love, to be open, not to hide the bright, blinking beacon of her heart. Her death blew Sascha off-course, and once on that trajectory, the only viable path was forward—until Morgan changed everything.

It was illogical that, at forty-six, Sascha would find a new home. Morgan’s shady porch, situated to catch the northeast breeze, opened onto a lush oasis—birds of paradise, pampas grasses, citrus trees—would be half hers. As with any expedition, there were no guarantees. That was the thing about close encounters: you only discovered what you lacked in the moment of needing it, but like Kirk, you improvised, like Spock, you sought gradations within absolute truths. The yellow-gray aura of Hope, a planet she’d written off to myth, lay ahead, ringed with possibility. Sascha floored the thrusters.

She had finally made contact.