Warning: This poem features some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are major spoilers. It contains unexpected travelers arriving at Sargasso Base, Bottleneck learning that he has a wife and daughter who survived the Massacre of Cascabel and now plan to stay with him, discussion of how everyone else in their families is dead, enormously awkward interpersonal dynamics, Bottleneck not knowing what to do with a crying woman, and other emotional whump. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"New Wine in Old Bottles"
"You have two visitors coming,"
the Minotaur informed Bottleneck.
"I just received the news from
Specialist Miles Cernan
and the OCS-397."
"Uh ... I'm not expecting
any visitors," said Bottleneck.
"Now you are," said the Minotaur,
and then hung up on him.
So Bottleneck cleaned up
his quarters and checked down
the corridor to find an empty room
where his guests could stay.
He had no idea who they could be.
All his family had been on Cascabel
and he hadn't heard from anyone
since the Massacre so he assumed
that everyone had died in it.
This proved not to be the case
when his wife Armelle showed up
with a wriggling toddler who shared
her mop of blonde curls but had
Bottleneck's bright green eyes.
"I waited and waited for you
to come home, but you never came,"
said Armelle. "So I came to you."
"I uh, didn't realize there was
a home to go back to," said Bottleneck.
"Besides, I like it here. It's quiet."
"This is your daughter Embry,"
said Armelle. "I was pregnant
when you left, remember?"
Bottleneck sort of remembered,
or thought he did. She'd said
that she was pregnant, but she
hadn't been showing yet. She also
hadn't written to him since then.
"I guess," he said.
"You guess?" Armelle said.
"You're my husband. Doesn't
that mean anything to you?"
"It made my parents happy,"
said Bottleneck. He'd been
thrilled by how effectively it had
made them quit nagging him
to think about his future.
Best decision he'd ever made,
right up there with joining the military.
"They're dead!" Armelle snapped.
"Your parents, my parents, both of
your brothers, all of my sisters,
even our cousins. They're gone."
"Oh," said Bottleneck. "I kind of
figured. I mean, nobody wrote."
Armelle rolled her eyes at him.
"You got stationed on a secret outpost."
"So uh ... why are you here?" he asked,
confused by this lost-and-found family.
"Because I can't raise this baby
all by myself -- I tried! -- and
you're all I have left," she said.
Then she burst into tears.
"Oh, crap, don't cry," said Bottleneck.
He hated it when people cried.
He never knew what to do.
The toddler started crying too.
Now people were staring
at them, and trying to shoo them
away from the stardock.
"There's a room near mine,"
Bottleneck said desperately.
"Let's go there. It'll be quiet."
Armelle followed him, still crying,
so this seemed like a great idea --
until they reached the actual room.
"This is empty," she said.
"Well yeah, it's a spare room
that nobody's living in yet,
that's why it was available,"
he said, baffled. "You're
supposed to scrounge up
whatever you want in it."
Armelle sat down on the bare floor
and bawled. Embry squirmed loose
to run in clumsy circles, wailing.
The sound bounced off of
the hard metal walls.
This was why he preferred
to avoid people most of the time.
He liked materials management
a lot better. It was quieter.
This marriage thing had been
great deal easier when all that he
had to do was check the box for
"spousal support" on a form and
route part of his paycheck to Armelle.
Except, of course, that both his service
and his paychecks had ended some time ago.
"I knew this was a bad idea," Armelle said.
I knew better than to put new wine in old bottles,
but I didn't know what else to do. I'm desperate."
Bottleneck felt pretty desperate too,
albeit for different reasons.
Of course, living in the Lacuna meant
recycling every possible resource --
bottles, wirefloss, dryer lint, paperwork,
uniforms, even derelict starships.
"All right, um ... I can go ask
the quartermaster if there are
any unused cots available," he said.
"I'll show you the Agora, and you can
look for whatever else you need."
"I don't have much money left,"
Armelle whispered. "I used
most of it just getting here."
"That doesn't matter, we don't use
much money on Sargasso Base,"
said Bottleneck. "It's mostly barter.
You can trade for what you want,
as long as you can do something
that other people need done."
"I'm a stock girl," Armelle said.
"That's ... actually how I survived.
I was restocking a bunker when ...
when it happened." She sniffled.
Bottleneck really did not want
to talk about the Massacre.
"That's great," he said,
clapping his hands. "We can
definitely use another hand
on supply and inventory."
In fact, he could use another hand,
because materials management was
getting complicated again after the lull
that had followed the secession. People
were moving things again, making and
trading, which meant a lot more demand
for raw materials from his storerooms.
Armelle wiped her face with her hands.
"All right," she said. "Find me some work,
and I'll do whatever I can. We're going to need ...
everything." She looked around the barren room.
"Hungry," the toddler whimpered,
pawing at her mother.
"And food," Armelle said.
What did toddlers even eat?
Could they eat dry rations?
Bottleneck wondered. "Uh ..."
"She needs milk, or yogurt, or
some soft fruits and vegetables,"
Armelle explained, looking at him.
"Yogurt!" Bottleneck said.
"We have a culture going here.
I'll ask Afshar for some."
"Make it a regular order,"
Armelle said dryly.
Oh. Right. This was ... permanent.
Well, it couldn't be much more complicated
than checking the "spousal support" box,
and he'd managed that just fine,
for as long as it had lasted.
"Let's go get some yogurt,"
Bottleneck said, holding out a hand.
Embry's grasp was hot and damp,
stronger than he expected.
Armelle's was cooler, but
they both looked to him
for some kind of guidance.
All right, if he was the job boss,
mission accepted. He'd find
some way to get it all done.
* * *
Disasters often cause emotional trauma. Tips for coping with PTSD or helping someone through PTSD may help.
Neurovariant people often want relationships, yet tend to find them extra challenging. There is advice on relationships with a neurovariant person, with a neurotypical person, and NV/NT marriages. pinkrangerv points out the article on dating NT for NV is not very well done, but it's all I could find on this side of the equation. Does anyone have a more NV-positive version?
A crucial component of healthy relationships is equality. This does not mean everyone does the same things in a relationship, but rather, that each person should over time put in approximately the same amount of work and receive proportionate benefits. Among the most important ways to develop an equal relationship is to ask for what you need. For neurodiverse relationships in particular, you need to identify what is most important for each person, where they can afford to give ground, and then work out accommodations so that everyone gets their priority needs met. Without this you are liable to wind up miserable regardless of what kind of brain you have.