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CHAPTER 02: Last Day Confessions [Sixth Day]

CHAPTER 02: "Last Day Confessions" Joint-Post by The Counselor & Auctor Lucan

[ USS Theurgy | Deck 05 | Corridors | 1620 hrs. | 6 Days Post Mortem Arcorn Neotin ]

Approaching her desired destination, Hayden couldn't help but notice the scene was a nightmare come to life. The corridors of the powered-down Theurgy were barely lit, which gave them an eerie glow in some areas and unnerving shadows in others. The powerful hum of the warp engines, which was normally so common-place for veteran Fleeters as to be virtually unnoticeable, was now profoundly absent,    which only heightened O'Connor's sense that she continued to be living a horror vid.

Sanity, however, had been found in talking with others and doing her best to help them cope with their mutual nightmare, which is why she chose to push away her unease and focus on reaching the end of her journey. As much as they'd all been through, some people's traumas had been compounded by recent events, and her latest housecall was no exception. "Hell of an internship year," O'Connor muttered, as she rang the chime outside her intended crew quarters.

The Ash'reem Apartments were powered up for obvious reasons, running on its own power cells in order to provide the Neotin family a healthy environment. The chime rang in the darkness, and slowly, Cadet Amikris Neotin raised her green eyes where she sat by the edge of the water. For beyond the small antechamber, which the visitor would enter first, the largest room only had a couple of feet of deck plating around a large pool, with two other doors leading to rooms that contained the necessary Starfleet-related items, like wardrobes and computer consoles. Amikris pursed her damp lips and spoke. "Enter."

Hayden did as requested, exhaling slowly and focusing on the only sight she could make out in the darkness: the Cadet's green eyes. She was also vaguely aware of the water nearby and its reflection. To take her mind off her slight discomfort of moving within the dark, Hayden said, "Thank you for seeing me. I know this is a very difficult time for you."

"Yes... There are night-vision goggles hanging to your left, Counsellor," said Amikris, her word turning loud enough for the human to hear after the one-word confession, guiding a visitor in the apartment for the first time. It had usually been mother or father that said those common words. Her voice dropped again as she added, "I recommend wearing them, for unless you watch your step, you might be taking a swim."

"Thank you," Hayden replied, the gentle smile evident in her tone, if not entirely visible.

Yet it was visible to Amikris, and she returned it faintly as she waited for the human to get closer to her. "I suppose I should have suspected that you would get in touch with me, Counsellor," said the Cadet, her arms unmoving on the edge of the pool, her body naked underneath the dark reflection of the water. It was not just a normal pool poured for her to rehydrate herself, but a replica of the Ash'reem homeword's waters, which even had plankton that worked as a natural cleaning crew. "I... presume you have questions for me?"

At the moment, the numbness of her loss was less significant, much because of the recent distractions she'd been able to find.

Hayden approached the pool with more confidence now that she could see things more clearly, but made sure to stop at what she hoped was a respectful distance from her, not entirely sure what was appropriate personal space under the circumstances. "I'm not here to interrogate you," Hayden began, thinking of her conversation with Jien. "I just wanted to introduce myself, and if you felt up to it, to talk to you about how you're doing. I'm sure you know I'm somewhat new here and I'm just starting to check in with people to see how they're coping after all that's happened."

Glancing away, Amikris took a deep breath. "Well, you must already know why a Cadet like me lives alone in these large Senior Staff rooms, modified as they are," she said quietly, not sure in which stage of grief she was in anymore. So much had been going on lately she could not keep track on herself and what she felt anymore. "It used to be the first Ash'reem-fitted starship accommodations made for a family, but now... its just me. Plenty has happened lately..."

The grief was palpable, and Hayden's impression was that Amikris was doing all she could do just to keep herself together. "I imagine it feels incredibly lonely here at times," Hayden reflected, attempting to gently draw her out.

"Yes, then again, I cannot afford to grieve in here all the time. We have a mission, and I have my duties," she said quietly, pushing away from the far edge of the pool. She crossed the surface to where Hayden stood; gliding nimbly through the water. With her webbed feet and hands, the movement through the dark water seemed effortless - evidently being in her natural environment. She leaned against the edge before the Counselor, laying her crossed arms on it. Rather than crane her neck to meet Hayden's eye, she spoke to the floor before her. "When mom was shot, I requested to go about my duties as if nothing had happened. Just like dad did. Ash'reem crave company, it's in our culture to be with others, and when she was lost, we had to try and reach out. To cover that loss."

Laying her chin against her crossed arms, her voice dropped a bit more. "I think I fared better than my father. He could not cover his loss with the company of others. They were mates for over eighty years. Sometimes... I wonder if it really was the wind that made him fall, or if he..."

She trailed off, green eyes unblinking as they stared off into the darkness.

Hayden didn't need her to finish her statement, and she got the sense that suicide may have been a taboo, so more discussion along those lines may have seemed overly intrusive. "Is going about your life as if a trauma hasn't happened part of your culture as well?"

Blinking, Amikris didn't answer at first. "No, but we lead long lives, and we have to come to terms with much loss and regret. How we do so it not set in our culture, but in our own individual needs to handle situations in different ways. Much like humans, I presume. As for me, I find balm in the company of others, to help me feel a part of this world... For moments at the time, not a lonely survivor on an outlaw ship."

She turned her green eyes to look into the night-vision goggles the Counsellor wore. "Is that wrong? To find distraction?"

Hayden shook her head. "Distraction is necessary, especially when one is under a great deal of stress. It can be a very healthy way to cope temporarily when one is overwhelmed, but, and perhaps you've already discovered this, turning away from pain and toward something or someone else, doesn't make the pain disappear."

Frowning, Amikris pushed away from the edge, swimming out into the pool. "You are not making sense to me, Counselor. Why would not a temporary solution work indefinitely if it serves its purpose? Also, I am Ash'reem, and it is in our nature to be intimate as much as possible in order to safe-guard procreation. Extending this to other species should not go against my inborn nature, and neither would it be harmful to not have to think about my parents as much as I would do if I was alone. Like you said, I feel this distraction is necessary."

It was then Hayden realized, and was incredibly chagrined by the fact she hadn't earlier, that Amikris was referring to sexual intimacy when she spoke of being "with" others. Hayden had thought the Ash'reem meant social interaction of the more platonic variety. It was a simple and perhaps obvious reminder of cultural bias, and how easy it was to fall prey to it, even when she and other members of Starfleet made a conscious effort to be culturally sensitive and open minded.

For now, she pressed on, but more carefully she considered her words. "I suppose finding a distraction from emotional pain is to me similar to giving a person with a physical injury pain medication instead of treating the underlying injury. The pain medication takes care of the immediate problem, the pain, and maybe it even does so for a long time, but over time, the untreated injury can often cause additional problems that a person may not realize because the pain is masked. Sexual intimacy for members of many other species and cultures isn't just about procreation or providing a distraction from other feelings but about connecting with other people in a shared experience of joy and happiness. Your partners may not welcome the idea that you're seeking them out because you feel badly and see intimacy as an escape, even if that's only a small part of why you choose it. Besides," she offered with a gentle shrug, "if you're fighting so hard not to feel the painful feelings, how can you possibly feel all the pleasurable ones?"

The Ash'reem girl, however, was not entirely convinced. "The partners I have been with have all known about my loss," she said, frowning in the consternated way youths so easily did regardless of species. She continued to swim on the spot with her webbed fingers and toes - bobbing in the murky water. "It is not a secret even if I would pretend not to seek comfort. Father's death was public, and the fact that the Calamity hologram shot so many on the Theurgy's Bridge has spread as hersay as well. I have had five partners here on Theta Eridani IV, and all of them quite willing to... provide me comfort when I asked for it. It has been pleasurable too, even if the shadow of my loss remains with me..."

Trailing off, thinking about whether or not there truly was a a way to treat her emotional injury instead of medicating it with her partners. "How am I to deal with the injury then, if medication won't help?"

"By acknowledging you're injured, and reaching out to others who have experienced similar losses for support," Hayden answered. "No one can know exactly how it has felt for you to lose your parents specifically, but everyone has lost someone they loved at some point. Those feelings are universal and there are people that care to help you face that pain without expecting you to ignore it."

This made a little bit more sense to Amikris, yet it was not a crystal clear solution either. Swimming backwards, she may have exposed a bit too much of her alien anatomy above the murky water, yet it carried her back to the far side of the pool. She lay her arms over the edge leisurely, yet she still frowned in thought.

"I have acknowledged that I am feeling loss. That I am injured, per say. Is that not the same as facing the pain? I have also reached out to others, yet I never cared to ask if they had lost people as well during all this fighting. I figured they might have, since they felt compassion towards me in my hurt and wished to help me think about... other things."

Then came a sinking feeling in her chest, as the prospect of finding people as hurt as she might be though, despite the great number of people who had suffered during the Theurgy's and the Harbinger's plights. Sarresh came to mind, and she shied away from thinking of him. There was too much hurt. Too much self-reproach for being unjust towards him. She was not ready to face him, but the thought did serve to give voice to other things that burdened her.

"I do not think I can find someone as hurt as I am, all things considered," she added, a bit thoughtful. "I am addicted to a medicine. I killed an infected Lieutenant in Sickbay when the outbreak started. I assisted in making the antidote, but it was too late. I used my body to get access to the main computer core. Let everyone there take turns with me. Sometimes three people at once. Just to let them lower their guard so that I could take away their control over the ship's systems. I was... impregnated," she said, trailing off, not mentioning by what or by whom, "yet Dr. Nicander helped me get rid of the foetus. Off the record even, since mother and I asked him to. Then she was shot, and now father is gone too, and all I have is my carnal drives... and my need for comfort."

The lingering silence was deafening.

Hayden took several moments to absorb all that she'd heard. So much had been shared by Amikris in her last reply that for several moments, Hayden was genuinely stunned. It wasn't that O'Connor was disgusted or overwhelmed, but the Cadet's statement had revealed so much about what she had been through as well as how it informed her present behavior, as if Hayden had punctured the dam and now water was rushing at her. The counselor knew what she said next would set the tone for how Amikris would relate to her moving forward. Simply put, Hayden's words could either help or re-traumatize her.

"Sex was used as a weapon against you," Hayden replied gently. "When something that vital to your life, to your experience of joy and pleasure, becomes associated with fear, violence, and shame, is it any wonder you're trying to erase those experiences by attempting to immerse yourself in the very weapon once used against you?" O'Connor surmised it was the equivalent of overeating after days with no food. Food was essential to survival, but after starvation, it would be difficult to figure out a balance to eating with such a memory so palpable.

"It would be no wonder, I suppose," said Amikris, yet she realised that this was another difference between their species that caused confusion. On the most part, it was her own confusion about the notion about feeling more than she did, when she felt so numb. That confusion was not made any easier because of her native culture when it came to copulation. "I have suffered, as much I have said, yet I never came to associate the sex with fear, violence or shame. If I had not been Ash'reem, I might suffer in the exact way you describe."

Remaining where she rested against the edge of the pool, she spoke of her experiences form her own point of view, and not in the way it might be perceived by the crew. "Sexual intercourse is commonplace among my people. We embrace the acts as a central part of our culture, or rather our need for survival. I did not feel fear when I was assaulted at the beginning of the outbreak. He was violent, yes, but I more so since I killed him, and while I feel shame for killing him, I did not feel it because he tried to rape me. When I meant to divert the attention of the crew in the Main Computer Core, it was by my own choice. I instigated the group activities on the floor with an ulterior motive. There was neither fear, violence nor shame involved in that choice. It was the best way to accomplish the task. As for aborting the creature growing in my womb... "

She looked away. "I wanted to keep it at first, ignorant of what it was. It was not a hybrid child from whoever inseminated me, but rather the Niga plant's seed that all males carried to spread across the galaxy, only warped by my species' physiology. My womb made it... other. An abomination. Yet I can't seem to... shake the idea that what my body did to the Niga seed made the result... somewhat Ash'reem. Somewhat... me. Was I truly a mother to that thing that had begun to grow inside me? It is too late now... but the thought returns to me."

Amikris paused then, only adding the obvious. "Abortion is something to feel shame for among my people, for obvious reasons. A child is, to us, a rare blessing."

Hayden appreciated Amikris' patience with her when it came to clarifying Ash'reem culture. No matter how much she tried to keep an open mind, it was only natural Hayden would view situations through her own cultural lens. It was through that lens that she couldn't help but hear what sounded like self-blame. No matter how logical or unemotionally it was offered, I asked for it and it's okay would never be a sentiment that Hayden would want to let sit in someone's consciousness. The point Amikris was making, however, was that her "choice" wasn't causing her distress. It would be unethical, not to mention out of Hayden's character, to challenge her point of view and risk creating it.

O'Connor wasn't entirely convinced the cadet was as unfazed as she seemed by all that transpired. An attempted rape could be just as traumatizing as a completed rape, and it would take careful consideration to determine whether Amikris' remarks reflected her true emotional state regarding what occurred or if there was a certain amount of denial of trauma involved. Though she wanted to avoid further imposing her perceptions onto cultures she didn't entirely understand, she also knew it was equally detrimental to take the statements of those culturally different than herself at face value because it was less intellectually and emotionally taxing for her as a human. If she wouldn't do that in the best interests of protecting the mental health of a member of her own species, she wouldn't short change a member of another.

That said, she focused on what weighed on Amikris in this moment. "Was it a child?" O'Connor asked gently.

"I... never actually saw it with my own eyes." She frowned again, thinking about another conversation. "I asked mother to describe it. She refused. She told me I did not want to know. Whatever it was, it must have been hideous. Even if it was part me, it was probably nothing like us Ash'reem. Then again, I do not know. It could have been that my physiology, with all its unique abilities, made it more Ash'reem than... Niga offspring. In short... I do not know. I was never let to know. Oh, I should not have said anything to begin with. Now I have implicated Lucan - I mean Dr. Nicander - in telling you he helped me in my greatest need. He is under doctor-patient confidentiality, of course... You should not think bad of him for helping me off the record. The circumstances were..."

She paused. "I... could ask him what the dead foetus looked like... But it was too soon. Even if my physiology would expedite the development, there would be nothing to see. Nothing to prove anything. Oh, I am talking in circles. What do you think I should do?"

"First off, I'm not here to get anyone in trouble," O'Connor began. "As far as I'm concerned, what you and your doctor decided for your health is between the two of you." O'Connor paused to emphasize her sincerity on the point before continuing. "I also think it's clear the abortion isn't the only thing you're trying to come to terms with right now, though I can see how much it pains you. In my experience, any difficult or traumatic events a person pushes down, whether by choice or by requirement, often come back to hurt the person in the present. Perhaps that hasn't happened yet and perhaps the sexual encounters you're having really aren't an indication of unhealthy coping. Even if all of that's true, I'd still be willing to meet with you regularly, if only so you have someone to talk to."

Nodding with a smile, Amikris blinked with her large eyes in the darkness. "I would like that very much, perhaps I have repressed issues that I might have, and in that case, I am by definition unaware of them. I feel better already for being able to talk about what I had to do after the Niga Incident. I should get ready for my next shift in a bit, so perhaps we can speak again on the morrow?"
 
Hayden nodded and returned her own smile.  "On the morrow," she repeated.

"Thank you for coming here to see me, Counsellor O'Connor."
 
"You're welcome.  I'm always here for you."

- Fin
 

 
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