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Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent [Attn: Lieutenant Hayden O'Connor]

The surprise attack was over, with the Calamity withdrawing for some unknown reason. Yet in her wake, she had made sure to destabilize the entire area's tectonic make-up; setting off all the volcanoes around the valley.

Just before the eruptions, magma would have to force its way upward through solid bedrock beneath the restless mountains. The process caused the ground above to heave and shake as rock was shoved aside or broken. At the same time, gases were released from the magma as it rose to shallower levels where the pressure was lower. It made the mountainsides around the valley spew sulphuric gases and send rocks rolling down into the trees.

Yet after the eruptions, spewing water deposits and tremors were causing something called debris flows - or lahars - which were horrific slurries of muddy debris and boiling water. They were like avalanches of dirt; landslides of underground water and hot rocks. These were starting to build momentum as they descended the mountains, and once in full force, they could travel many miles across flat terrain, destroying everything in their paths. The bowl-shaped valley was destined to be filled with dirt far before the lava would ever reach the two starships, or what was left of them unless they took off.

A chirp from the combadge. [Lieutenant O'Connor. This is Thea, do you read me? Please, come in. Since you are Senior Staff, I should beam you aboard, but there is still personnel trapped on one of the mountain plateaus.] The only plateaus in the vicinity was a good five minutes of running uphill until you reached them, and they were popular for exercise and walks on off-duty hours. [I cannot extract them with my Transport systems since they did not bring their combadges. Either that, or they lost them somehow. It's hard to make out with all this gamma radiation, but its at least four life-signs up there. One, however, is injured. They need someone to extract them to the ship immediately. You have a combadge hold medical experience, correct? Can you do it?]

When looking up the mountains, sight was near zero because of the ashen rains and the tremors, and yet it was still obvious how the top of the mountain sides were moving with rolling rocks and landslides of molten dirt. Regardless which plateau Thea may be indicating, it was a matter of a minute or two until nothing could survive up there.

[If I transport you there, you must bring everyone close to you, and by giving me a head-count, I can lock on to you all and transport you aboard. Should I energise the a site-to-site Transport, Lieutenant? There is not much time.]

OOC: The_Counselor, please leave your post open-ended as to what Hayden witnesses up there, if you chose to have her command the transport to be energised.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #1
Hayden swallowed hard against the foul taste in her mouth and forced herself to focus on Thea's words.  At this point, she was unsure whether she was tasting her own adrenaline or the toxins that surrounded her, but she knew if she was still breathing and not in agony, the cause was irrelevant.  The purpose of the fight or flight response was survival after all, and understanding the whys of one's existence often interfered with the actuality of one's existence.  Still, she was exhausted emotionally and physically, and as the events since joining the Harbinger and now the Theurgy flashed through her mind (with such a reflective response as involuntary for Hayden the therapist as breathing was for anyone else), she was reminded there were two other possible reactions besides fight or flight. She could freeze altogether (was that why her brain seemed so slow right now?) or she could just collapse from physical or emotional overload.

Most people forgot about these potential responses in association with the human fear response.  Hayden surmised this was because most humans liked to think if they were faced with a life-threatening situation, they would react by actively doing something...which was exactly how she needed to react if there was any hope of saving her trapped crew members.  Though not a member of the Theurgy for long, once Hayden had agreed to join the crew, every single person became hers to nurture and protect. 

Feeling the weight of a medkit hanging by her hip, she tapped her combadge.  [Acknowledged.  Energize.]  Her reply was simple and to the point, but feeling the pressure of time, she knew every syllable mattered. 

A second later, O'Connor felt the tingle of a transporter beam and felt her adrenaline surge another notch.  The sensation brought to mind all those times in med school when she lamented the fact raktajino couldn't be main lined directly into her veins.  Exhausted from nights spent studying and days spent seeing patients in shifts without end, Hayden realized now she had imagined what the energy boost would feel like, but she had failed to consider how that would mix with the already present fatigue. 

What did it actually feel like?  Like every cell in her being was buzzing from the inside out, desperate to find a release for the sudden surge of energy, whether that release was focused and voluntary or reckless and automatic.  Fatigue made every part of her body feel like it weighed a ton, but that combined with the nervy amped up feeling of her adrenaline which screamed at her to move her body instantly, meant the end result could very well be further mistakes or a muscle bound man trying to stubbornly prove he is strong and agile by lifting an unfathomable amount of weight in one quck aimless jerk.

Hayden took a single beat to breathe and then focused on assessing her surroundings.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #2
The shimmer of the Transport died out on the middle of the plateau, and Hayden was facing the mountainside. The noise of the landslide could already be heard over the rain of stone and debris as it built its momentum, yet the greatest give-away that it was coming down was the way the entire plateau trembled in anticipation for its imminent arrival.

Raised voices.

If turning around, facing the valley, Hayden would be able to see the nightmarish vista of the two crews milling about far below. Yet much closer in proximity was a group of crewmen from the Harbinger's Operations wing - five of them in fact - and one of them was just a 1st year Cadet that Hayden may recognise from her time on the Harbinger. They were all dressed in exercise gear and they were debating heatedly about something - shouting - by the far edge of the plateau. It was evident that Hayden could never get to them in time, because the open ground of the large plateau had been split in two, with a great chasm making it impossible to reach them.

Yet there was also a fourth person which was on the Chief Counsellor's side of the chasm. Seemingly the object of the heated debate too. It was a Science Officer from the USS Theurgy that Hayden would recognise as the Vulcan Ensign by the name Cir'Cie. Propped up on her elbows, the Vulcan was shouting across the chasm to the Harbinger personnel to leave her behind because their chances for survival was greater than her own if they began to descend the mountain. She was dressed in the standard-issue exercise unitard, but her right thigh and calf was stained with her green blood, obviously having been hit by a falling boulder and unable to stand. There was a great chance that her leg was broken in several places.

When approached, she turned her head, and despite her pain, she spoke to Hayden in a flatline voice that barely override the noise of the landslide that was heading down towards them. "I cannot outrun it, Counsellor. Either you throw the combadge to the Harbinger personnel so that they can get away, or you extract the two of us. I recommend you chose quickly."

Because in ten seconds, the volcanic avalanche would hit the plateau. The stretch of horizontal ground might stall it enough to attempt a sprint down to the two starships and the leaving shuttles. Yet there was no certainty that Hayden or the Harbinger personnel would make it in time before the shuttles left, or even outrun the lahar since the sloping terrain was perilous and detonating gas pockets were still going off all the way down to the foothills. What was certain, was that the sprint could never be made if carrying Cir'Cie.

"Counsellor," said Cir'Cie over the roar of the dirt avalanche, her green eyes completely still in her ash-covered face. "Chose now or we will all die needlessly."

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #3
Despite having some idea of what she would face even before the transport began, Hayden felt her stomach drop as she turned and faced the valley.  While her brain understood the dilemma immediately on some level already, it was the visual cues that helped her brain add the emotional context to what she was seeing.  It was only pure professional muscle memory that prevented her from staggering in shock, but for a split moment, she felt her eyes travel from the healthy group to the injured one (and the vast space between) like a befuddled cartoon watching the ball in a tennis match.

She didn't need Cir'Cie's words to tell her she was running out of time.  The hairs on the back of Hayden's neck were standing up and her intuition was screaming.  If that weren't enough, she had the rumbling beneath her feet and the awful smells keeping her fight or flight in gear.  Her body was going to be acting soon, and only some semblance of higher cognitive function would ensure that whatever that something was, it had anything to do with any of those trapped people below her.

Hayden understood, and had helped many other people in the past understand, that "some semblance of higher cognitive function" in a crisis situation still did not equal deliberate, well reasoned thought in which all variables were weighed carefully and the best choice was selected of all possible choices.  In the crudest terms, it was more like calming enough to reason at the level of lizard when the shock of the situation had one starting with the reasoning capability of an amoeba.  Of course, she had learned, and she would later have to fight the urge to do this herself, that people, usually those the farthest removed from ever having to make a similar decision before, had a tendency to judge one's level of intelligence based simply on how one reacted to such crisis situations.  In actuality, such judgements never reflected the level of intelligence of the person being judged, but rather whether the outcome was ultimately viewed to be mostly good, or mostly bad.

But what factors made the outcome mostly good, and what factors made it mostly bad?  Would it be better to save the greatest number of people ala Vulcan logic?  Was it better to save the injured Cir'Cie as seemingly required by her Hippocratic oath?  Or was it better to save her Harbinger crewmembers, whom she'd felt guilty for abandoning recently to begin with? 

None of this, thank God, Hayden would ever recall running through her head at the time.  Her brain just didn't have room for it, and like the body ridding itself of extra matter in a life or death situation, if it happened at all, Hayden was not aware of it.  Identifying the reasoning for her choice would come after (hopefully!) she survived, when the mind naturally sought to impose meaning onto a thought process that felt less about reason and experience and more like the flip of a coin.  The highest processing would come later, when, completely unfairly, she would be compelled to find reasons for actions that occurred within circumstances that fell far beyond what was reasonable, let alone fair.

None of this went through Hayden's mind as energy surged through her legs and feet and O'Connor began to run toward Cir'Cie.  If she'd been capable of it in that moment, she might have screamed in anguish as she turned away from the Harbinger group, but in some twisted sense of mercy, her body knew it would be wasted energy at a time when that would be suicide.

The coin had been flipped.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #4
Fear was an emotion Cir'Cie could control. Pain could be conquered as long as you focused; suppressing the dormant and unchanging agony of her ruined leg. What she could not surpass was the surprise that bubbled in her halcyon mind when Counsellor O'Connor chose to run towards her, leaving the five people of her former crew to die upon the precipice.

For even if they ran away immediately, and ran expertly down the hazardous mountainside, the odds of them all surviving the lahar was less than five percent. A percentage quickly amended to zero, since the impact of the avalanche against the plateau made one of them fall into the chasm. His scream was swallowed by the noise. Now, only the young human Cadet and three officers remained, clamouring to find a path downwards by the sheer drop.

"The needs of the few..." said Cir'Cie to Hayden when she came close, her dispassionate voice raised over the deafening roar of the tumbling doom. She needn't complete the doctrine she knew by heart, for there was neither time nor need. Moreover, humanity seemed to know their species' logic, only they chose to reject it because of various reasons outside the cold and comforting spectrum of rationality.

By the edge of the plateau, the doomed struggled in panic to climb down as best as they might. The Cadet looked petrified, straggling, and ended up looking towards Cir'Cie and Hayden across the distance, mouth agape in mortal fear and eyes wide in disbelief. Her hair was dusted with ash as it billowed on the hot fetor winds, and the blistering cloud of dust that preceded the lahar was about to swallow them all. Cir'Cie knew not her name, yet she suspected the Counsellor might. In fact, she might know the names of them all. If Cir'Cie had known them, she knew not how many hours of meditation she might need to prevent those names from haunting her.

"You should run!" called Cir'Cie while the dust was enveloping them both, because the image of the human Cadet did make her fail in controlling her emotions. "Leave me here. Save the others, Counsellor, while you still can. It is only just that I die... because of what I did to the crew during the Niga Incident."

In the final moments of visibility, the Cadet was over the edge of the plateau, hopefully running like someone possessed alongside the surviving three Harbinger officers. At this point, static noise came from the single combadge on the plateau, fastened as it was on Hayden's chest. [Thea to Lieu... O'Co... Do you rea... m...? Pleas... Re...ond! How man...?]

A head-count, and the order to energise... and the decision made would be final.

Besides the numbers of lives lost or gained, there was also the moral quandary of the innocent and young lost ahead of time.

And death was just a heartbeat from reaching them.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #5
She would later understand Cir'Cie was just trying to be helpful.  In fact, were she suddenly inclined to change her mind and attempt to save the remaining Harbinger crew, Hayden would have been profoundly grateful for the gift the Vulcan was choosing to give her in Cir'Cie's last moments of life. Beings of Cir'Cie's genetic heritage were frequently accused of having no emotion, of failing to undestand let alone value the capacity to have compassion for another.  That was certainly not the case now, and later, Hayden would vow to remember this part of the experience for the rest of her life.  For what was more compassionate than having the foresight to prevent survivor's guilt, knowing without a shadow of a doubt you were the only one who could prevent it because the survivor would not be you?

In the moment, however, Cir'Cie's every word felt like a twist of the blade that was in her heart.  Every syllable was a reminder of whom she was not choosing to save.  In her anguish, Hayden fought the urge to slap her hands against her ears in a childish attempt to block out reality.  She struggled to keep from turning away even as her eyes were compelled to lock with the terrified Cadet's.  She tried to resist looking across the chasm to the Cadet's features, but she couldn't, and like heat-seeking missiles, the Cadet's eyes found their target.

Hayden felt the edges of her vision begin to waver.  She knew she was on the verge of passing out, throwing up, or screaming.  It wasn't a proud moment for the Starfleet veteran and she knew it likely reinforced every stereotype ever envisioned regarding women, counselors, or both.  What it also was, however, was real.

Mercifully, the disembodied voice coming through the comm was just enough to orient her somewhat.  Later, she would not recognize her voice on the recordings.  "T...t-t-wo to beam up."  It was the voice of someone already dead.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #6
The two women on the plateau were immediately enveloped by the Transport dematerialisation beam, just before the lahar tore across the precipice upon which they had been. The boiling water and debris sprayed out from the drop - bombarding the mountainside below with deafening noise - crushing everything with its weight.

If the Harbinger personnel managed to put enough distance between themselves and the plateau, or managed to take cover just below the ledge, was impossible to tell.

[ Transporter Room 02 ]

Cir'Cie materialised next to the Chief Counsellor upon the platform, unable to stand yet the pain non-evident in her face. Her green blood had stained through her light blue unitard, and by the looks of her calf, she had an open fracture there. She managed to push aside both pain and fear for her own well-being in order to seek the human's eyes. Cir'Cie realised that Hayden O'Connor, despite being a Counsellor, was not equipped with her own method of selecting which course of action and which words were the ones that were of import. So whereas she had words to point out that the human had made a mistake in choosing her over a larger number of crewmen, Cir'Cie stilled her tongue in favour of an observation what was less hurtful.

"My thanks for extracting me, Lieutenant," she said, green eyes just as emotionless as if Hayden had passed her a chair in the lounge. She wrapped her arms around her healthy leg, having pulled it up against her chest in wait for being moved to Sickbay. "One might reason that your own import as Chief Counsellor upon this ship holds greater importance than that of regular crew. Therefore, it is fortunate for the crew as a whole that you chose to extract us instead of throwing them your combadge. The mental well-being of the collective personnel here is reasonably more important than that of the Harbinger Operations personnel."

It was not a lie. Nor a lie by omission. It was simply an observation of one facet of the situation they had just faced. An account of a singular circumstance, angled to show the merits for the surviving party. Cir'Cie hoped her faulty analysis would give some kind of confidence to the Chief Counsellor. Heartening words, she supposed, in the worst of times.

As for her own survival, no time of meditation had ever made her come to terms with the... creature she had become during the Niga incident. It had not been Pon Farr, for there had been no rage. No berserker tendencies. Only that lewd woman she had become when her inhibitions were gone; all manner of control of her emotions simply chosen to be ignored for the sake of... base lust and the obtaining of pleasure by any means necessary. Since she had been saved, despite her wish for Hayden to leave her behind, Cir'Cie supposed she would have to continue facing the scarce memories during her meditations.

As a Science Officer, she could do little to assist the crew even if she could, and hoped Lieutenant Simon Tovarek would be able to lend assistance upon the Bridge. Her new superior officer was quite resourceful, perhaps a worthy successor to Amatras Neotin, yet all that Cir'Cie could do was await medical assistance. A fleeting feeling of frustration touched her thoughts.

The room was crowded with survivors and other crew, milling about to sort out the needs of the newly arrived.

Re: Crisis #05 | Choice of Decent

Reply #7
As the transporter beam washed over her, a not so small part of her brain wished she could stay in its embrace forever.  She could remain in a kind of limbo for eternity and never have to face the consequences of what came before, when she existed.  By the time Hayden had formed the complete thought, however, reality was already re-forming all too solidly.  She visibly winced as she was greeted by the noise all around her, convinced for a moment the shouts and moans she was hearing were not those of the crew aboard ship, but rather the death throes of those she had killed.  For a brief moment, she thought the transport had failed, and she would be forced to see even more than she ever wanted to see concerning the consequences of her actions.

Before she could react like the doctor she was, Cir'Cie's words reached her ears all too clearly.  It took several seconds for her to process the actual words, let alone their meaning when put together.  Even then, none of it made sense.  The science officer was speaking of Hayden's greater importance to the regular crew.  Regular crew?  Greater importance?  Then it hit her.  Cir'Cie not only believed Hayden had made a calculated decision to save herself above all, but that she had justified such a decision out of arrogance masked as logic.

It was, in a word, horrifying, and as her eyes met the Vulcan's, she truly understood there were worse pains in the universe than those which came from physical injury.  None of them knew Hayden well at all, but the way the Vulcan looked at her, it was as if Cir'Cie had passed final judgement on who Hayden was, and what motivated her.  Seeing herself through such a lens was pure agony.  Her voice hoarse and small, she didn't trust herself to comment on what had been said, so she offered simply, "Let's put pressure on that leg to stop the bleeding."

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