A Doctor, an Empath, her Struggle; Part 1: First Battle
Posted on November 22nd, 2018 by Emilaina Acacia
Emilaina walked down the hallway, much slower than her usual brusque pace. With her long legs, she was usually walking pretty fast even if she was–or wanted to seem–perfectly relaxed. Now, she was simply exhausted in every way, her legs numb as she trudged beat by beat toward her door. She entered her room, slowly slumping into the chair at her desk.
The desk in her quarters was completely void of anything medical or academic, instead she leaned over, peering through a microscope-like device at her current project. She held in her hand a small clay replica of an alien flower, the real flower sat beside it for reference. Various tools were scattered about that she grabbed one-by-one, using the magnifying device to carve incredibly intricate detail into the clay. Scratch-by-scratch, she worked on the piece that would be used to make the next mold for her metal casting, trying not to think too hard about anything else and let her stress melt away.
“I want to talk to you,” Doctor Galahar stood at the front of the class. He rested the end his pointer stick in his left palm, leaning back on the desk. Emily felt herself sitting up straighter, as did many others in the room. When Doctor Galahar dropped his professorial formality, it usually meant that he was about to say something very important, “about what a ‘hard shift’ looks like when you’re a doctor.”
A beat passed, but no one said anything. As medical students at Starfleet Academy, of course they all knew to expect “hard shifts”… but as smart people, people who had made it past the first year, they all had a vague idea that there was no way for them to really ever be prepared. Doctor Galahar opened his presentation for the day, and the pictures were unusually graphic. He told their story, about how he had once gathered mangled limbs from a battlefield, dragging them back to the medical tent to see if he could reunite anyone who was still alive with their missing arm.
The pictures didn’t really bother Emily, she never had a problem with blood or gore visually. The reason she would never forget that lecture was the indescribable feeling that rolled off of the doctor like a dark cloud. Emily was still bright-eyed and full of hope, she was yet unprepared for the depth of emotion that would come with age.
Emily stood on the bridge of the Atlantis, watching the first blows of the battle. She was tense. Her memory flashed to reading about the Tzenkethi War, and how the Atlantis had basically won the battle at her own expense. She had been trying to mentally prepare herself for battle for years, since she decided to join Starfleet, and now it seemed she was out of time. Attempts at diplomacy had failed, the attacking fleet had returned with reinforcements, and the Atlantis was being fired upon.
She grabbed the edge of her console as explosions rocked the ship, her eyes widening at the flashing warnings appearing on the screen. Directs hits on four decks.. One–two–… six emergencies, and climbing. She looked back to the viewscreen as the fighting continued. She felt a hand find her stomach, and for a moment, she was nauseous, dizzy.. She shook her head hard to clear it, heading for the turbolift with a nod to her Chief Medical Officer, Velina Tailor.
She stopped at the closest deck where an emergency was reported. Each step toward the point felt more and more and more like a step through water. When she turned the corner, she felt her blood run cold.
A medical crewman and three nurses had already arrived. Two crew members were unconscious, and five more had burns on more than one part of their body. Each step laborious, as her limbs swam through a thick cloud of pain, Emily knelt next to one of the patients. Looking at her from the outside, it would have been hard to tell she felt anything at all, her expression hardened and her movements pointed. The nurses looked to her, and she pointed to each person, giving them a category of red, yellow, or green.
Emily recognized each one of the people she saw, whether she actively knew their name or not. She briefly made eye contact with a woman from the science department, the left side of her face badly burned. Emily clenched her teeth, managed to stand back up, and followed the nurses with their stretchers towards sick bay as a second team of nurses passed them going the other way to help the patients who were still able to walk.
Emily sat in Doctor Galahar’s office between two other students, another half-Betazoid girl and a full-blooded Betazoid boy. Before these meetings, Emily hadn’t known either of them, but they were the only other medical students from her year with Betazoid blood. Doctor Galahar had made them all tea and sandwiches, something they would come to learn he actually does for every meeting with a student.
It was in her very first semester that Doctor Galahar began to meet with them. He felt it was important for them to understand the unique challenges that come with being a doctor with empathic power. It wasn’t exactly news, of course, to a part-Betazoid medical student that they would be able to feel their patient’s emotions, they’d had that their whole lives and they were old enough to make an informed decision, but Doctor Galahar regularly insisted on giving them his undivided attention anyway.
“Now, I don’t know about you,” he began, adding a cube of sugar to his tea, “but I’ve always found that my empathy is strongest with those I share a bond with. Family, then friends, then people I know. Then, of course, strangers at their own level.”
The three shrugged and nodded.
“I think it is best you start thinking now about how that will affect your life as a doctor on a starship. You may spend years in space with the same people. You start to get attached,” the man pulled a picture from his desk, offering it to the students. He told them the story of the man in the picture, his late Captain who had died defending his crew’s escape pods from some of the most terrifying aliens the doctor had ever seen.
The three students felt every dripping moment of the doctor’s story, their own hearts heavy with loss and fear. The other girl ended up switching track to be a counselor.
“Crash cart!” Emily barked at one of the nurses as the fourth round of patients came through the doors. The woman scurried off without hesitation, hurrying back with the cart loaded with equipment. Emily grabbed the defibrillator, rubbing the charged paddles together rapidly. The room was abuzz, chaotic, though for just a moment as she pressed the paddles to the young science officer’s chest, there was silence…
Emily felt a ringing in her ears, her teeth gritted together as tightly as they could be. She looked at the man’s partly-burned face, a face she knew… he was a recent Academy graduate, a bright young Ensign with his whole career ahead of him. He was also so kind, a good friend to everyone on the crew.. he had expressed an interest in metal casting, and Emily had planned to teach him… She pressed the paddles to his chest again, “Clear!”
…and then a steady beep. A sound of visceral relief escaped Emily somewhere between a groan and a gasp, but there was no time to celebrate. The sounds of sick bay came back into focus as Emily, remembering to turn them off first, haphazardly dropped the paddles back on the cart and moved on to the next patient. She glanced around, most of the patients now sitting up under their own strength, though a few still could not.
The doors slid open again, and Emily stared at the two stretchers coming in, expression unreadable. She spoke to the nearest nurse, “Keep moving people who can walk out of the way.”
Emily was at home on the Acacia family farm in Iowa when Tori had her accident. She was about to start her sixth year at Starfleet Academy, and she had spent most of the summer at home. It happened just over a mile from their house, but Emily knew the instant that it happened. She was standing in the kitchen, the girls’ mother sitting in front of the television.
“Tori’s hurt,” Emily blurted out, her hand finding its way to her stomach. For a moment, she was stunned by the sensation. She could, though only briefly, feel pain, and terror… it was not the sensation that was unfamiliar, but the directed intensity of it being her own sister. The fear lasted many moments longer, before both abruptly ceased. Blinking back to reality, Emily looked at her mother, her eyes wide.
“What?” Janessa Acacia immediately paused the television, looking up at Emily. Without another word, Emily darted for the door and began running full-tilt down to dirt road in front of their house as fast as she could, headed for a familiar patch of trees. Janessa tried to follow, but she couldn’t keep up.
Tori’s brand new car was wrapped around a tree by the side of the road, the girl unconscious under her airbag by the time her sister got there. With shaking hands Emily grabbed two things from her belt, her phone and her pocket knife. She was somewhat surprised by the steady sound of her own voice on the phone as she called for an ambulance, and even more surprised at how steady her hands became when she began cutting away the airbag to make sure Tori could breathe.
Looking down at her sister’s bruised and bloodied face, half of Emily’s body stuck through a car window as she worked on cutting her free, Emily could feel the girl slipping in and out of consciousness as Tori’s pain and fear would occasionally slither up Emily’s spine, making her shiver each time. Time seemed to bend, Emily has no idea how long she was alone with Tori. The ambulance arrived, along with firefighters, and they were able to get Tori the rest of the way out of the car. Emily tried not to look for too long as she thought, seeing her sister like that on a stretcher, it couldn’t get much worse.
Emily sat for the first time in what felt like hours, glancing up at the clock to find that she had been at it for less than one. She had removed her uniform jacket when a spot of blood had gotten on it, though she still wore her lab coat over her uniform shirt. That lab coat felt to her like a suit of armor of sorts, feeling it on her back helped her stay aware of her surroundings. Somehow, her hair had stayed in its tight ponytail. She was somewhat grateful she had felt the need to look good for ‘diplomacy’.
The red lights around the room flickering on made Emily’s head swim for a moment, her blood leaping to life. She heard the warning that the enemy frigates had re-engaged as if it were yelled from across a field. She jumped to her feet, charging forward a single step before stopping dead, looking slowly around the room at a handful of the worst from the last round who couldn’t be released yet. She felt her bones sticking together as she said to a nurse with deadly calm, “Move everyone who’s stabilized to the triage center and flip the beds.”
For a moment, there were no words, only the footsteps of nurses. Emily slowly sat back down. The room shook as the Atlantis took a hit. Emily took a deep breath… and waited, the moments ticking by like bee stings.
“The hardest part is that I cannot turn off my empathy,” A black-haired Betazoid man told his ten-year-old half-breed daughter as she sat on his knee, “I can often feel my patients’ pain.”
“But you can read their mind to tell what’s wrong with them, right?” Emily looked up at her father, the very picture of youthful innocence.
“That would only work if they knew what was wrong. It’s more like what you have than you seem to think, Laina,” he touched a finger to her nose, “Just don’t go into medicine. Be an engineer, like your sister. Ships don’t feel pain the way people do,” he half-joked.
“Averi’s so boring, though,” Emily protested, then shrugged, “and I want to be a doctor. I want to save people,” When her father gave her a dramatic pout, she rolled her eyes and amended, “Or who knows, dad, maybe I’ll be a really good pilot.”
“Oh, Mercy, that’s even worse!” the man laughed, squeezing his daughter to his chest in a tight hug. Young and disinterested, she groaned at the affection and wriggled herself free of him, running off to join her younger sister in the yard for hopscotch.
Emily once again stood by her usual console on the bridge, this time ragged. Doctor Tailor had taken over sick bay, the action had died down, most of the patients were recovering well, and nobody had died, but every muscle in Emily’s body was still tense. She felt numb as she watched Captain Harper stand up, shouting threateningly at the viewscreen. The sound of sirens flashed through her mind again, but she was amazed when the alien laughed, and then declared Captain Harper the ‘victor’. When the screen went black, Emily finally felt herself start to relax.
Officers on the bridge began planning for the upcoming ‘feast’, a cultural celebration for the aliens having.. lost the battle. To be honest, Emily didn’t really care, she received the instructions for traditional garb and behavior and forwarded them to sick bay. She was more just overwhelmed with relief that the battle was over.
The Captain sat back down, and told Commander Kuari to gather status reports from every department. Then Emily saw something she had already seen once before–it was subtle, but just after asking that, any time there had been serious damage to the ship, the Captain’s eyes always flitted first for the Chief Medical Officer’s chair, then she’d look for anyone else on the medical team, this time her gaze settling on Acacia. Other departments sent their reports in digitally, and thus silently, but Emily had a feeling that certain words needed to be said out loud. She looked to Kuari, but spoke so anyone could hear, “We’re holding seven patients overnight for serious injuries.. no casualties.”
Captain Harper sighed with relief, an emotion echoed by everyone who overheard. The words felt like peanut-butter in Emily’s mouth as her mind wanted to linger of the face of the young science officer who almost didn’t make it, but then, it occurred to her. He’d lived, and would be able to carry on as good friends with so many of the crew, not to mention his career, because she was there. She knew it was unwise to place value on her actions or worth as a doctor based on how patients fared, she knew there would be things beyond her control, but still.. it felt good, for just a moment, to bask in that success, and allow it to calm her.
Emily awoke unexpectedly, staring at the ceiling for a long moment. She felt light, her hands slowly tingling to life to paw at her silk sheets, an open window to space beside her glinting with the prismatic colors of a cloud of translucent dust. Each particle reflected its own rainbow, casting colors in small, focused beams across the room and in a dozen directions into space, the flashes of light cycling slowly as the Atlantis passed through the cloud. Next to the window a poorly-made vase contained almost a dozen beautiful silver-cast flowers, the polished metal refracting a halo of the rainbow beams around itself.
The doctor slowly sat up, looking around. Apollo remained fast asleep at the foot of her bed. She then slowly leaned back, resting her back against the headboard of her bed and simply enjoying the view, allowing a small smile to creep onto her face. She thought for a moment, then said, “Computer? Replicate a bowl of rocky-road ice cream.”