Star Trek Hunter
Episode 26: Rain Over Rising Sun
Scene 22: Starlight
Starlight Dolphin sat on a folding wooden bench perched on the orange sands of the Smith Estate on Kauai Island, Hawaii. The canvas on the easel in front of her was blank. The brush in her hand was dry. The paints on her palette were drying – already too dry to use. She sat in the most beautiful spot in the world – a cloudless azure sky, dark orange sand. Ruby red clay on the sides of the nearby mountains that were in other areas covered with emerald green trees, the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean – and she was just staring at the blank canvas.
Starlight's sister, River Dolphin and Vuk Smith were planning a wedding. A Greek style arch had been moved out onto the sands and freshly repainted, blinding white. The white of purity, not the empty white of the blank canvas. White birds played along the edge of the sand – dirty white. A beach tent had been erected for Starlight to sleep under – off-white treated canvas, not blank white. Even the tent was too confining and she only slept in it when it rained or got too cold for her to sleep on a blanket on the sand.
Starlight had eaten very little and River had taken to bringing her food to her and eating with her. She had lost weight she really didn't need to lose. Dr. George Smith, T'Lok's father, came often to sit next to Starlight. Sometimes she missed his arrival. Sometimes she was unaware of his presence entirely. His concern was evident. She was as concerned about him as he was about her – he was a very old man now and had grown very thin. What had once been a healthy belly, was now bags of loose flesh.
Day after day, Starlight sat and stared at the blank canvas. She rubbed her left eye occasionally – and her right arm. They were hers, but after having been removed, placed in storage for decades and then reattached, she knew they would never feel quite right again.
It was Vuk and River's eldest son who was getting married. And he wasn't the first of their children to get married – there were already some grandchildren. Starlight's attention briefly strayed from the blank canvas to her nephews and nieces – and grandnephews and grandnieces. Her much younger half-brothers both had children as well. Starlight found herself wondering how they would all fare in the lottery. Neither Vuk nor River were too old to be called to service. Surrol Smith had been, which was why he was missing.
One in five if the average for the lottery held. But lotteries were inherently unfair. Some families were demolished. Other families were largely left alone. Everyone came back after 20 years of service – still young and expected to pick up their lives. Starlight had been a year younger than her sister. Now she was 21 years younger – at least biologically and in appearance. But while most who had been called to service came back, not all of the returned truly came back.
Starlight returned her attention to the blank canvas and wondered why applying paint would improve it in any way. She vaguely recalled drawing pleasure from this activity and she set herself up for it daily. As meaningless as it was, it was the only thing that seemed to make sense to her to do. Like so many of the returned, she couldn't stand going indoors. After decades of getting her nutrition from a tube, she had forgotten how to enjoy eating and drinking. And she hated trying to talk – it just took so long – like trying to ride a bicycle through deep mud.
Like so many of the returned, she was caught in limbo. She did not want to go back to work. But she had forgotten how to play.
A voice called to her over and over again, "Starlight? Starlight, get up! It's time to get up…"
Starlight sat bolt upright in a strange bed and watched the expressions on her sister's face. Oddly, River was young again. Starlight shook her head and looked around at the pulsating colors in the carpet of mushroom. The glowing tendrils that lighted what passed for a ceiling in this room. The bed she had slept in was mushroom. Her sister was brimming with enthusiasm, her hands clasped in excitement.
"Vuk and I are getting married! And we're going to have so many children…" An expression of concern crossed River's features. "Starlight, is something wrong?"
"This is Pillo," Starlight mused. "We're on Pillo…"
"You don't remember? We got here yesterday," River explained. "It's on our way back to Earth."
"Can we leave now?" Starlight asked. "I hate this place! Why did we ever come here?"
"Starlight," said River, "We came because you wanted to see this place…"
"Can we go? Can we go away now?" Starlight grimaced. She looked around as if she were trapped. "I don't want to be here anymore." She looked around, her eyes focusing on the woody mushroom stems that made the walls of this room. "Why did you show me that? I don't want to see any more of it!"
A few hours later, River Dolphin met up with her sister again. Starlight was at a small café that served… no surprise… mushroom soup, mushroom stew, mushroom cheese, and mushroom bread with a mushroom wine. River was amazed at the variety of flavors the residents of Pillo were able to tease out of the local flora, which consisted entirely of a single, enormous mushroom that covered almost the entire planet.
It was a rare moment when the Smith brothers, Vuk and Surrol, were off on some biological expedition outside of the city limits of Porte Abello without the Dolphin sisters.
"We can catch an early transport back to Earth," said River. "It will get you out of here sooner, but it won't get us to Earth any earlier…"
"Don't worry about it," Starlight replied. "I'm not going back to Earth immediately. I have booked passage with a vulcan science expedition to Cophus II, leaving this afternoon. I want to spend some time with the waterbirds. Then, after about a month, a freighter will take me back to Deep Space 9. I want to join a group of bajorans who regularly go into the wormhole to commune with their prophets. You and Vuk won't be getting married immediately?"
"We had planned to wait about a year to give Dad a chance to take leave – and T'Lon. She's family too now, or next to it. Mom and Charles – and give Dad a chance to get used to the idea of seeing Mom and Charles…"
"Be sure to get word out to me," said Starlight. "I don't want to miss it. And I eventually do want to settle down in Hawaii. I don't think I'll be going back to New York again either. But there are a lot of things I need to see for myself now."
"Because of your dream?" asked River. "You know the Great Mushroom is known for giving people strange dreams that often don't mean what they seem to mean…"
"I read the brochure," Starlight observed dryly. "But I think the GM just asked me a question. And I need to go find the answer for myself. I think Dad is going to need to hear that answer from me."
"What question did the Great Mushroom ask you?" There was a sound of concern in River's voice.
Starlight looked up into her sister's eyes: "Is it worth it?" She shrugged. "That is the question… Is it worth it?"