Book in hand, Jonathan Archer rang Donna Eleese’s front doorbell as Al waited in the candy apple red sports car and called Beth on his cell phone, cooing sweet nothings in her ear as she laughed at work and pretended to be annoyed.
“Coming!” Donna called. When she opened the door, she froze. “I, I thought I told you.”
“I know you did,” Jonathan said, “but I came to bring you a present, and to tell you something. Can I come in?”
She stood there, thinking it over. “I don’t know what’s better.”
“I don’t, either,” he admitted, “but let’s talk a little bit. Just a little. See, I think I have a mission, too. And I think my mission just might be here, talking to you.”
Donna ushered him in. “There’s the back patio, by the swimming pool.” He followed her in and they sat down on deck chairs. “Well?”
“Well, first, here.” He gave her the book, which was an old paperback with a cracked spine. “Sorry I didn’t get a chance to wrap it.”
“That’s all right.” She turned it over and read the title, “The Odyssey
“Yes. Let me tell you the story.”
“I’ve read this; I know it.”
“All right, well; then let me tell it in my own way, all right?” Jonathan looked to her and she did not object, so he continued, “A man traveled. He saw all sorts of wonders, around the known world. He was a hero of the war, and all he wanted, was to come home. But the gods wouldn’t let him. And so he traveled. And he was tempted, and he was busy, but he didn’t succumb to temptation, and he didn’t let all the things he had to do, he didn’t let them interfere with his desire to get home.”
“Virgil wrote this.”
“Yes, he did. And the story, well, on the home front, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, she was wealthy and beautiful. And everybody but her thought that her husband was dead.”
“She was the only one who believed in him.”
“Right. And so these men would come to court her, because they wanted her money. And maybe a few of them were almost decent and wanted to take care of her. But she knew better. And so she told them she would make up her mind about them when she finished her weaving.”
“Yes,” Donna agreed. “She would unravel her weaving every night, and would never make any progress. After twenty years, he came back to her, and the only people who recognized Odysseus were his old dog, one servant, and her.”
“Exactly,” Jonathan confirmed, “now let me change that story a little bit, all right? A little bit of Virgil fan fiction, if you will.”
“I suppose,” the tiniest hint of a smile arrived on her lips, for the first time since he’d been introduced to her a few days previously.
“All right, so, Odysseus leaves. And this time, he’s delayed, and it’s partly because of the gods, but it’s also because he’s got good works that he has to do. He does them. And Penelope, she isn’t being courted by anyone, because she shuts everyone out of her life.” Whatever hint of a smile that Donna had been displaying was replaced by a deepening frown. Jonathan continued, “And she waited, and waited. No one knew if he was alive or dead. He was a little like Schrödinger’s Cat. By not knowing, for sure, either way, Penelope fell into inertia. At first, she told herself that she was being loyal. Then she told herself that she couldn’t be sure. Then she told herself that things were safer this way. Then she told herself that she didn’t deserve to be happy.”
“What? I’m not done with my story yet.”
“I said, ‘get out
’!” Donna leapt to her feet and threw the book at Jonathan, who caught it.
“I don’t mean to offend you. And I don’t mean to hurt you. But this, your behavior, Dr. Eleese! It’s safe. It’s comfortable. And you get to play noble. You get to be the noble, loyal Penelope. But you aren’t!”
“You are not.” Jonathan got up. “It’s been a long time, getting from there, to here. And all you’re doing is; you’re stuck in this rut. You’re not moving, not going anywhere. You aren’t even widowed. You’re just … waiting
. Your life is on hold, as you age and you wait, and you fret, and you check Ziggy over and over and over again! You check Ziggy instead of sleeping. And when someone finally came through, and ended up in the waiting room, you saw it as a sign of what
“It was confirmation that he’s still alive!”
“Maybe, but we can’t be sure, now, can we? I wrote that email, but there’s no guarantee that he’s in 2153 and can receive it. Tell me, Doctor, what was Sam Beckett like?”
She calmed down a bit. “He was wonderful. He was always looking to help people. He could sing, and play piano and guitar. He was a healer. He was kind and gentle and loving.”
“Did he snore?” Jonathan asked.
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything.”
“Just answer the question, Doctor. Did he snore?”
“I don’t, I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”
“Did he hog the covers? Did he pick his teeth in public? Did he leave dirty socks on the floor?”
“Did he complain about doing chores? Did he forget to call or text you? Did Sam,” Jonathan thought of what to really ask, “Finish too quickly?”
She cracked him, hard, across the face. “Get out
!” she yelled again.
“I’ll tell you,” Jonathan matched her volume. “I don’t care whether he did or didn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that you’ve been idealizing him. He’s the paragon of virtuous perfection and no one in the last fifteen or so years has ever even come close.”
“That’s what it’s supposed to be, when it’s the love of your life!”
“Fair enough,” Jonathan replied, “but answer me this one, if you can. If you dare
. He loved you that much, so why the hell
did he go leaping in the first place? He had an untested system. He had no way of knowing how to get back, or even if he could. If he loved you that
much, why did he leap? Why did he leave in the first place?”
Donna started sobbing, and Captain Archer could barely understand her. “He, he, we, we had a, a fight. An argument; it was about his work, and about how, how nobody believed that it was going to work. He walked out, dammit, Sam, why did you walk out on me? Why did you leave me?”
Jonathan put his arms around her. “Shh, shh, I, oh, God, I’m so sorry, Doc – uh, Donna. You didn’t deserve this. You didn’t sign on for this. Listen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea if we’ll switch again, or if just one of us will get back, or neither of us will. Maybe now I’m going to be stuck with the curse of leaping, too. But whatever happens, whatever it is, I want you to know something.”
“Y-yes?” she looked up at him, and her eyes were red.
“I want you to know that you can take this as a sign that he’s alive, my being here. But you can also – I hope you will, I really do – you can take it as a sign to let him go. Live your life, Donna. You have a long time ahead, I bet. I don’t know what your personal future is. But someone as wonderful as you are? That person, that woman, that Penelope, she doesn’t have to stay at home and weave, and then unravel her weaving, forever. And that’s true whether Odysseus is alive or not.”
Lower jaw trembling, she stared at him as Captain Jonathan Archer disappeared into bluish space.
Nearly one hundred and forty years later, Ensign Jennifer Crossman of the USS Enterprise
watched as Dr. Sam Beckett did the same.