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Log of the Month for May, 2019

Doctor Empath Part 2: Death
Posted on May 26th, 2019 by Emilaina Acacia

USS Atlantis, present day…

Emily was shaken awake, jerking to sit upright, her forehead red where it had been pressed against the surgery table’s screen. She took a moment to blink before mumbling, “Bring in the next one.”

“It’s over, Doctor,” the nurse who had awoken her still had a hand on her shoulder to steady her, “Doctor Straynj just finished the last surgery. Everyone’s stable. You should go sleep.”

“Everyone’s stable?” Emily echoed numbly, rubbing her temples and trying in vain to block out the tide of existential aching coming from every direction.

The nurse grabbed Emily’s arm with a bit more force, pulling her to stand and then trying to help take off the Doctor’s scrubs. Emily swatted her away, mumbling thanks for the effort and untying the cursed red garment herself.

She wanted to hold her head down and hide her shame as she shambled out of sick bay in her blue pajamas polka-dotted with old-timey science fiction references, aching with guilt at the realization she’d just passed out on the surgery table some time after the seventh or eighth operation. Doctor Tailor made it a point, though, to thank her on her way out, bringing her at least that one step out of the darkness.

In the turbolift she leaned her back against the wall and finally let out the deep, guttural groan she’d been holding in.

As she rounded the corner and saw engineers standing in front of the open door to her quarters, she felt her stomach drop. She first slowed her walk as she realized that this was a bad sign, then immediately started power-walking again as she remembered her cat.

“Doctor, it’s alright,” a man put up a hand to stop her from walking into her own quarters. She could see the shimmering of the containment field over his shoulder, and she was struck by its size.

“That bad, huh?” she breathed, then took another step, craning her neck to try and see. She frowned as the engineers shuffled her back, waving a hand as she tried to summon the words through rising panic.

“Doctor,” the stern voice of a Vulcan in Starfleet yellow caught her attention. He had three fresh bright green claw scratches down the side of his face, and the usual dead-serious Vulcan expression, “Your animal was secured and brought to your temporary accommodations if that was your concern.”

“Right,” Emily sighed with relief and a just little tinge of amusement, then followed the jittery Human ensign assigned to take her to usually-empty room she’d be sleeping in. It was much like her quarters but without any character. She found some peace in the fact that she wasn’t worried about her research, her obsessive backup strategy giving her at least that peace of mind–her quarters, sick bay, the medical research lab, and the science backup database all had copies.

She had not seen it but a silver vase was stuck half way out of the containment field between her usual quarters and the vacuum, four silver-cast flowers now listlessly floating through space in tandem with the battle debris. She wouldn’t even think about them for a long time, having lived all her life in a world unconcerned with things. It would sooner cross her mind to wonder how her orchids had fared.

“Apollo?” she called as she turned on the lights. She began searching under and behind furniture, starting with the bed. Finally she found him squished between the standing dresser and the ceiling, a squinted pair of electric blue eyes peering down at her. She wasn’t really in the mood to lose a hand trying to fish him out, as much as she might have liked a hug, so she left him there.

She sat down in front of the mirror and looked at her own face, surprised at once by how bad and how good it looked. Someone must have fixed up the burns and cuts on her face when she’d fallen asleep. She stared in the mirror for a long time, willing herself with all of her might to feel nothing while the world washed with a torrent of emotions around her.

Eventually she gave up and laid down, grabbed one of the pillows from the bed to curl herself around, and cried herself to sleep.

Starfleet Medical Academy, 5 years ago… 2AM

Emily laid on her bed, walking her feet along the ceiling with her head dangling over the bunk mattress’s edge. Her roommate, T’Paea, was sitting at their shared desk working on writing something. Emily had always been confounded by anyone who bothered to write with actual paper and pencil, let alone over-dramatic Vulcans staying up late and writing by candlelight. Fortunately the flickering light at least made for something interesting for Emily to let her bored eyes follow.

Emily’s insomnia was at its worst in med school, and this night was no exception, “You aren’t haunted by… the reality of your own power?”

“Are you?” T’Paea cast neutrally over her shoulder.

“I am, I think,” Emily played with her dangling hair with one hand, holding onto one of the bed’s posts with the other to keep her balance.

“What do you think you will do?” the Vulcan never slowed her writing.

“It’s more.. the sheer potential for harm, you know? Like, if I’m doing surgery, if I’m.. I have tools inside someone’s body, one wrong move and I could just kill them. Or cripple them. For life, you know? Then they’re just.. like that,” Emily rambled, “Or if–with what I want to do, like if you fuck up bad enough with genetic editing and immunology, you can cause–”

“You’re talking about accidents,” T’Paea cut her off, reeling her back to reality, “You’re fortunate enough to live in a society where mistakes are seen as just that–unintended outcomes.”

“My mom says it’s like driving a car,” Emily fluffed her hair again, “You know you could swerve off the road and kill everyone you’re with at any time.. doesn’t mean you would, just that you can. It’s a Human brain thing I guess.”

“You come from not only one hyper-emotional species, but also a second that is telepathically entwined with emotion. I won’t pretend to understand you,” T’Paea glanced up, her serious Vulcan eyebrows accentuating her point, “But I should say–and you should know as well as I do–that intrusive thoughts are likely a symptom of your anxiety or obsessive compulsions.”

A long moment of silence passed. Emily cracked a small smile, “Huh. Yeah.”

More than a decade ago, on Betazed…

Some feelings are harder to shake than others. With some things every time you experience them it’s just as good or as bad as the first time, and with others the pain fades over time. The first time Emily met death, it was actually a surprisingly peaceful experience.

Darokkatan’s great grandmother, Emily’s great great grandmother, was technically the owner of the home Darok’s extended family used as a congregating spot. For most of Emily’s childhood she remembered ‘Mamaw’ as being one of the best chefs she knew. Her property covered a sizable patch of forest where wild Drakberries grew, and on those summers the kids would pick berries for Mamaw to make pie with.

Mamaw spent her second-to-last summer mostly in bed, so when the next year rolled around and she wasn’t doing much better, most of the usual summer festivities were traded for spending time at home. Averianna led the cousin-brigade in making summer pies. Later, the kids all helped decorate a home-made casket for Mamaw, true to old island cultural traditions.

Most of the family was by her side when she passed. The chill of a soul rattling up a Betazoid’s cat-like bones is unforgettable. Emily’s cousins and aunts and uncles embraced and shared in crying. The next day, her surviving friends came over. Some were very old, some surprisingly young. At the end of the week she was buried next to her husband who, in pretty typical Betazoid fashion, she had outlived by almost two decades.

Death is something that aches more than it feels. In moments when life is snuffed out, an empath can feel it, but it’s almost tolerable. It’s like a winter chill pressing on your joints, or breathing in spit you meant to swallow. It stings, but it doesn’t last. What hurts is when people remember, and ache, and mourn. The feeling of remembering someone is compounded the more pain that memory evokes.

The way her family had done a ‘funeral’ wasn’t so bad. When the sitting room was stiflingly full of emotion, Emily wasn’t the only one who stepped outside to cool herself off. Living among people that emotionally in-tune was somewhat helpful, no one looked at her strange or pressured her to talk about it. They all just.. intuitively knew what she needed for her own grieving process.

Emily’s first Starfleet funeral came many years later. She’d almost finished med school when they learned that a pretty recent graduate of Starfleet Medical had killed himself aboard his stationed ship. The story was as publicized as any such tragedy in a post-scarcity utopia, but most memorably, the funeral was an emotional hell.

It wasn’t anything like a calm home wake. His family was there, but they had not seen him die. Everyone there from his friends to his teachers blamed themselves in one way or another. The tears were not of loss, love, and memory, but of regret. The striking difference in feeling between expected and unexpected death marked Emily’s heart forever.

Starfleet Medical Academy, 3 years ago… 8AM

Emily looked at the scattered pile of papers she was still trying to organize despite the physically looming deadline. She was up next, and she may have never worked harder on a project in her life, but she was still incredibly nervous given the nature of the presentation.

Data Visualization was a course with a few different versions. It was pretty standard Starfleet fare, taught soldiers to make charts and graphs that actually made sense. The version of the class specific to medical students had an air of polish to it that Emily found incredibly intimidating, but that had been a problem for most of her time in school.

The most stressful part of this particular presentation was that she didn’t really have the visual she wanted. The algorithm she’d been writing was only half finished. The first presentation was by a future therapist with some really cute ideas for patient-facing graphical gamification of treatment for depression, complete with her own drawings. Something about people who could draw well always made Emily guiltily jealous.

Time seemed to slow as Emily walked up to the front of the classroom, setting her stack of poster-board with clouds of dots drawn in colored pencil leaned up against the blackboard. She took a deep breath, and looked at her notecards.

“In, uh.. in focusing on the presentation of data I’ve developed a somewhat new idea of graphical representation for my own field, immunology. For too long it’s been common to use strict species-centric representation of things–which, I–I do know Human medicine is primary here, but it doesn’t make as much sense for immune factors in the world as we know it now.”

She swallowed nervously and glanced up at the audience. What she saw spurred her on, a few twinkles of interest in the eyes of her peers. She stood up a bit straighter, trying to ride the feeling that people cared about what she had to say. She grabbed one of the poster boards, holding it in front of herself.

“So.. the algorithm I’m working on to do this with a holo-emitter is only half done,” she felt the need to excuse herself, despite the fact that it was something she was working on independently of school for her own research. The actual requirements of the presentation were theoretical anyway, but Emily was still beating herself up over not having her PhD-level work completely done, “But I’ve drawn the idea here. This is uh.. me, actually.”

She pointed to different colored clusters on the diagram, explaining them as she went, “The colors represent factors. Blue are your memory cells, like Human memory b cells or Betazoid antigen markers. Red is your attackers, white blood cells, antibodies.. green is your communication hormones, signals to start or stop actions, nervous responses.”

The second diagram was of a Human student who’d allowed Emily to use her for the presentation. She’d also drawn four lines dividing the dot-cloud into sections, “So you can see a bit more clearly on a Human.. tight clusters around organs that have a lot of immune functions, a clear line of communication between organ clusters.”

After a while she forgot to be nervous, explaining how the dots got tagged with numbers based on protein production and gene activation. At least half of the class glazed over, but the other half learned a lot about the future of an extremely small, specific, and surprisingly important field.

Especially as someone who always struggled with intrusive thoughts, Emily found a sort of perverse satisfaction in the eyes of fifth-and-sixth-year med students glazing over when she spoke about what she knew best. She tried to cling to moments like that, summoning them for strength in times like the breath between the fifth and sixth battle-related surgery.

USS Atlantis, present day, late at night…

Crewmen lay in the morgue being prepared for individual funerals based on different cultural practices. The Trondheim colony and their clinic had an even bigger number to count.

Emily was still in surgery, surely by now it was number twenty… or thirty…

Her hand slipped, and her knife severed the crewman’s ankle tendon. Blood poured everywhere, streaking up the walls. She reached out for him to try and help, but the room stretched forward and he was far out of reach.

A Xovul was there, in the room… he shot one of the nurses, and threw the other against the wall. Everything went from dark to darker, Emily began to stir…

She sat up with a gasp, backing up against the headboard of her borrowed bed. The only light in the room came from a flashing yellow icon on the standing console on the desk–a medium priority message.

With a few hours of sleep in her it occurred to her with a sense of sinking dread that she needed to make a few calls.

Disheveled, she managed to haul herself to the desk chair. She didn’t give much thought to her appearance when she opened the message, though fortunately neither did the caller.

She’d been expecting her sister but she also wasn’t too surprised by what she saw–her father, mouth agape with unabashed snores as his head was lulled completely back. He must have fallen asleep in his desk chair waiting for her to pick up.. probably hours ago.

Suddenly realizing she was a complete mess she quietly got up and went to quickly brush her hair and dab her face with a rag. When she no longer looked like she’d just been through hell, she tapped a finger on the console screen, “Dad? Daaad~”

“Emi?” the man snorted, stirring. It took him only a moment to see her and become visibly overwhelmed with relief, “Oh, thank the four.”

“You fell asleep in your office,” Emily cooed with mock-sadness.

“Word’s out about the Xovul,” the man wasted no time, “Are you alright, Laina?”

“I may never sleep again,” Emily half-joked, still trying to make herself feel better.

“They must’ve failed in your education, then.. I learned that first day of med school,” Darok offered a faint smile, then waved a hand, “Well–you can, you know, get to sleep, I just needed.. to call you.”

“No, it’s okay–thank you, actually. It’s been.. a whirlwind,” Emily sighed.

“I told you to become an engineer,” her father jokingly chided.

“You did,” Emily couldn’t help but smile, “Goodnight dad.”

Screens went dark on both sides, and Darok made his way back to his quarters. Emily dialed up the console to call her sister. Averi was asleep, however, so Emily left a short video message instead.

“Hey.. I’m alive,” Emily smiled awkwardly, “I’m gonna.. try to get some sleep. But… I love you.”

She watched her video back twice with a straight face before sending it, trying to decide if she was satisfied with something so short. It was enough for the middle of the night, though, so she forwarded it to her mother and her other sister as well. She then laid back down, hugging her hug-pillow and staring up at the ceiling.

After a while she got tired of her mind racing and gave herself a sleeping aid, making nice with the nightmares long enough to recharge her body. She expended all of her conscious effort trying to block out the thick, unpleasant emotion that hung through nearby space like a nebula of interwoven pain.

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  • Kathryn Harper Kathryn Harper says:

    What a fantastic log, from the little details like the print on her pajamas, to her emotional arc, to the vignettes from the past that help frame the present. Wonderfully done!

  • Kuari Kuari says:

    Details that make this story relatable abound. Acacia’s musing on death is heartfelt and thoughtful. I found even her presentation topic fascinating, the technical wording satisfying and the “specific” topic good at keeping one of many Trek characters from being too grandiose but “important” enough to make the character invaluable, a great mix (I suppose this describes your logs for a while related to Acacia’s work, but I’m just now putting it into words). I also like how the story is framed with the present, and dating the flashbacks is appreciated, helping me to build on her backstory piece by piece. This is very well written, thanks for writing!

  •  Alexis Wright says:

    Several parts of this log struck me on a very personal level, one in particular – as a survivor of suicide, your portrayal of how the aftermath of unexpected death is different was spot-on. The way you described intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and the nightmares and insomnia that can come from them all rang true for me as well. Even the detail at the end of listening to her message a few times before sending it along felt very real to me. As always, the details and prose are very well done, but for me, it’s the emotional realism that makes this one knock it out of the park.

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