Midnight Revels

The light had long since faded, well before her time. June stared at the transfinite darkness from the window in her modest quarters. A mechanical beep broke her silent reverie. She dutifully left to begin her rounds on the Ithuriel. Deck by deck, structural integrity, transpatial field stability, life support maintenance, course adjustments, stasis pod maintenance—each day was like any other she’d had on this ship. She couldn’t remember when they had left Earth, but the training she was drilled for remained deeply embedded. She was, after all, one of the twenty four genetically engineered children known as the caretakers, created and trained for this exact purpose.

Two vessels, the Ithuriel and the Zephon, left long ago on a historic mission of discovery and urgency. Each took their share of the caretakers to manage the necessities of intergalactic space travel. The primary crew, responsible for contact with the advanced civilizations they were seeking, would remain safely in stasis for the journey, while the caretakers managed the travel itself. After the AI conflict nearly a century prior, no mechanical system was trusted above a human, and no human was trusted with intergalactic travel more than a caretaker.

June spent her free time like some of the caretakers before her, reading and dreaming. The first caretaker painted—her canvas the walls of the docking bays. The fourth caretaker had left a plethora of log entries on the main computer, overflowing with her desire to speak even though the only ones that would be able to hear her would never know her. June would read most often in the port docking bay, populated with people and animals of the first’s imagination, forever cast in the stories June loved most. The stern docking bay, however, June avoided. Its chaotic expression compelled tears every time she entered. She imagined it was the same for her predecessors. She imagined that the first could only sob as she painted.

As time wore on, June had grown numb of the representations of humanity on the walls. It was no longer enough. The Ithuriel had 30 core crew members on board, safely tucked in their stasis pods in the primary stasis room. They became her new cast, beautiful, fully dimensional creatures, slowly breathing under her watchful gaze. The fourth became the voice of her cast, her clear and effervescent tone an indispensable companion as June made her way through thousands of entries and hundreds of stories. She never returned to the secondary stasis room, uncomfortable with the reminder of her own awakening.

Narrative poetry, in particular, drew June’s eye the most. She gave melody to her favorite passages, singing them to the empty rooms and corridors she occupied throughout the day. The fourth spoke her to sleep, giving life to the squeaks and fairies living in this intergalactic void.

The past few nights, however, the fourth’s entries seemed to become more and more agitated. She became preoccupied with her own demise, first recalling her own awakening to find the not-yet cold body of the third huddled in the secondary stasis room, then postulating theories of her own death. June tolerated this, as the fourth apparently shared her love of Milton and had peppered her entries of late with relevant quotes June appreciated.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

Truly, she thought, in our isolation, no truer a statement has been made.

“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;

And in the lowest deep a lower deep,

Still threat'ning to devour me, opens wide,

To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

As she stared out into the void, she believed she could approach this feeling. The first’s forlorn chaos, the vast emptiness of space in which they endured. The silence. June closed her eyes and recalled the only distinct memory she had of Earth. Six years old. It was called Carlsbad. Perhaps because it was ‘bad,’ she recalled thinking at the time. One after the other, the twenty-four children were left alone in the dark within the deepest recesses of the cave. The deafening darkness bled into June, not unlike how the darkness here seems to.

The entries had since grown darker, her sitting and staring through the panoramic bridge view of the void grown longer. Her cast of thirty reduced to just one, the handsome Lieutenant T.J. Lowell. For the primary crew, he was the engineer. For June, however, Lowell was the hero, the anti-hero, the orphan, the prodigy, the womanizer, the gentleman, the rogue, the fireman, the angel, the demon, and so very much more. He was the personification of text, Sleeping Beauty in a crystalline coffin aboard a starship.


“Today,” she announced to the humming stasis chamber, “we shall fly.” She turned to Lowell’s pod and waited with bated breath as it disengaged. “Blue, just as I thought,” she said gleefully as his eyes gingerly opened. June lifted the glass cover and helped him sit up. “Hello, sir.”

“Why... Am I awake?”

“Yes. Did you sleep well, sir?”

He laughed, still groggy. “No dreams, no sense of time. Just the feeling of unending bliss.”

“No time?”

“Yeah, like a never-ending moment. Kinda how I imagine skimming a black hole would seem like. Wasn't it the same for you?”

She disconnected his arm from the drug dispensary tube. “I can't recall,” she lied.

“Regardless,” he tapped his pod, “let's get everyone up and at 'em. We'll be there any minute,


She shook her head, smiling. “They aren't ready just yet.”

“No? Is there something wrong?”

“There’s nothing. Nothing at all. Eat this and follow me.” She handed him a ration packet, helping him out of the pod and into the corridor. “I need some help in engineering before we wake the others. Is that alright?”

“Of course, of course,” he chuckled between bites. “To be honest, I seriously doubted the Commission when they said a bunch of kids could handle these state-of-the-art ships by themselves. Piloting and maintaining a vessel like this at fifteen… ridiculous. I don’t care how long you guys are at it, starting like that is not the best idea if you ask me.”

“Did anyone ask you, Lieutenant?”

“Just Lowell is fine. And Hell no, I’m just the lead engineer. Why would the Commission care about my opinion?”

She stared at him for a long moment. “People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”


“Ralph Waldo Emerson.” She squinted at him, slightly disconcerted by his confusion. She quickly regained her composure, however, and added, “I would have assumed you offered your opinion as freely to them as to me.”

He laughed. “What do you need for me to do?” He glanced around at the quiet engine room. No alerts, no warnings, nothing immediately amiss.

“The transpatial drive should be off, but I haven’t been able to confirm the field has dissipated entirely—”

“Right, right, you have to check the appropriate sensors. Like I said, too much to teach to a 15- year-old.” He skipped up to the station on the balcony above and began working. “You’d think the Commission would at least prioritize some skills based on your order, though, you know?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, I met the first caretaker, way back when we left. She gave me a teensy amount of hope as I went into stasis; she loved this engine. Understood how to get it running. I would’ve assumed that the caretaker responsible for ending the journey would have focused on understanding how to turn it off.” He laughed again. “But what can you expect? Emerson, eh? Left us with some kind of literature nut at the end.”

“Perhaps it was what was needed. This ship has a literary name you know. From my favorite poem, actually.” She quietly opened the panel that controlled power flow to the primary stasis room.

“Uh-huh. Sure, kid.”

“I’m not a kid.”

“Right, right.” He focused on the malfunctioning sensors. The sensors June limited prior to waking him. With the console that, as of this morning, no longer allowed access to primary crew members. “Something’s odd with the computer system, but the field looks fully dissipated from here.” Growing frustrated, he sighed and turned to walk back down. Finally noticing her conduct beneath him, Lowell shouted, “Stop! You can't mess with that junction, that can—you could accidentally cause a cascade failure across the pods!”

She looked up as she carefully tore an EMS relay from its socket. “Don’t worry. There's time,” she said. The shrill alarm was quickly subdued by her soft hand on the console. “There was a problem. We fixed it.”

“Fixed? You screwed up the stasis power!” He grabbed at his hair, fitfully pulling against his skull. “You said nothing was wrong!”

“Let's go. They are waiting for us.” She smiled, saccharine bliss, and ran out of engineering.

He followed, muttering angry obscenities to the walls, the floors, the air, the consoles, the bulkheads, the pit in his stomach collapsing further with every stride towards the stasis chamber. “They're dead, they're dead, there's no goddamn way...”

“They aren't dead,” she said sweetly. For a moment, in his mind, the ship's coldness disappeared. She was just a coy girl running through a bed of wildflowers, wind in her hair and sparkle in her youthful eyes. The doors opened, and the illusion shattered with a bang. And another. And another. Against glass, the pounding and scratching grew more and more panicked. Her smile simply widened. “Not yet.” She sat on one of the pods, staring in. “It's okay, Captain. It's okay.” She began to hum a haunting melody, the sound of darkness made visible.

Error messages flashed across the consoles. None of the pods were opening, yet all of them ceased to function as all of the air left them. Lowell ran to the nearest pod and tried to pry it open manually. It wouldn't budge. “Katy, just hang... on...” He kept at it, ignoring his pain as his finger tips began to bleed. He missed as the last scraping rattles ceased. The woman in the pod was frozen in eldritch terror as he let go, collapsing to the floor.

There he sat as June continued to hum. He didn't recognize the melody, nor did he care to. “29 dead crewmen. You killed 29 crewmen. For what? To come all this way... So close... Shit...”

She hummed louder.

He tilted his head to the side, surreptitiously glancing at the still-open door, still flashing its silent reds. I can make it, he thought. Her back was to the door and her focus upon the body of his Captain. He moved. Slow at first, rising into a crouch, before inching silently towards and through the door. He continued in this way straight into the lift. He stood as its doors closed. He smashed the icon for the bridge, expecting the computer to ignore him as it had since he came out of stasis. The lift began to move, and he felt like he could breathe again, his overwhelming panic shakily subsiding with each deck passed.

The lift opened to panoramic darkness. Consoles dimmed, windows shuttered in pitch black. Lowell approached the communications panel, sighing with relief as it lit to life with his commands. “Mayday! This is the Ithuriel. I’m the only one left of the crew.” He paused. “The last caretaker killed them all. She’s disabled most of the ship's systems. I can't even tell where we are right now. We were scheduled to arrive shortly to what we believe to be your primary planetary home. This was supposed to—we came on a diplomatic mission. As our message said, our home is millions of light-years from yours. We've seen your technology from there. You're what we call a Type II civilization. Our home won't—can't—make it without your help. We've traveled so far... farther than we’ve ever gone before. Please don't let this mission fail.”

“Isn't it beautiful?”

He jolted back. He hadn't heard the lift, yet she was there—rapture embodied. “Beautiful Beautiful!?” He rose and approached her. She ignored him, continuing to gaze at the wide windows.

“Turn the systems back on. Get this ship back on course and let me finish this.”

“We are where we are meant to be. We must fly to a better place.”

“Then open the stupid windows, turn on the damn lights, and let me talk to the fucking planet we’re approaching!”

She turned to him. “Why would I close the windows? It is so beautiful out there.”

“December, I don't want to hurt you, but you need to listen to me.”

She chuckled. “Silly Lowell, I'm June.”

Farisha Dannels is a Persian American speculative fiction writer whose background spans from dusty ancient antiquities to dusty stellar nurseries.  Currently based in Los Angeles, California, she finds inspiration in komorebi, dark skies in the desert, and the countless distinct meows her cat articulates throughout the day.