USS Vesta

A Play-by-Nova roleplay game.

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Taking Time

Posted on Sun Nov 14th, 2021 @ 11:29am by Commander Martin Sorenson

Mission: R&R: To the Edge of the World
Location: Holodeck, Esquimalt Station
3086 words - 6.2 OF Standard Post Measure

The sun shown down on a sparkling white sand beach surrounded by a fringe of palm trees. A hammock was strung between two of them, with a rustic linen-draped cabana a little further back in the shade. Somewhere in the distance the sound of cheerful island music played on steel drums as crystal blue water rose in swelling waves and crashed onto the beach in a wash of bubbling foam. One such wave rolled onto the beach with a roar, disgorging a human form stretched in a long line as he rode it into the shore.

As the wave receded the figure pushed himself up from the shallow water and crawled a meter or so up to drier sand before flopping onto his back. Whew Martin blew out a breath with a happy but exhausted smile. It had been a long time since he'd spent an afternoon body surfing. He put two fingers to his carotid, checking his heart rate.

As he was counting an unexpected shadow fell across his face and Martin looked up to see a woman smirking down at him, arms crossed and black curls lit from above giving the impression of a dark halo around her face. "You just can't stop being a doctor, can you? Even when you only have yourself for a patient."

"I'm not the only one, eh?" Martin smirked back at the figure in medical blue. "Or is the holodeck typically part of your rounds, Dr. Lewe?"

She pursed her lips. "Not typically. But you," she squatted down, tapping a finger on his chest with each word for emphasis, "have a reputation."

"Hey," He put a hand defensively over his sternum with a mock wounded look. "I'm no worse than any other doctor."

That earned an eye roll. "Tell that to Daniels."

Martin puffed a breath. "It's been six years. Isn't he ever going to forgive me?"

"Forgive you? For what? Unilaterally deciding you'd been on bed rest long enough, or changing your own medication and rehab schedule, or maybe..." she widened her eyes at him, "...saying you could follow the PT program on your own and then using your medical over ride to change the program so you could work on a new surgical technique you'd been reading about?"

"Okay, okay, I'm a lousy patient." He rolled onto his side, propping up on a elbow. "But that last one was only twenty minutes and I made up the time. And it's not like I didn't pay for it - 'obsessively focusing on medicine as a reaction to trauma'." He rolled his eyes. "If I'd been a musician and immersed myself in music everyone would think it was a wonderfully healthy way to cope, but a doctor actually interested in medicine? Noooo, that's got to be a trauma-induced obsession. I had to spend weeks being analyzed by a..." he stopped, ducked his head, then glanced up apologetically, "...uh, no offense."

"None taken," the counselor chuckled, swinging a leg out to sit on the sand. "Especially since he's going to owe me a drink. He bet you'd be playing Dr. Livingston, or subbing for M'Benga in McCoy's medbay, or - best case scenario - nose in a terminal in the Vulcan Science Academy Medical Library."

"Well, you can tell him that no one," he looked sidelong up at her, "has to worry about me 'obsessing' or having no interests outside medicine. And I may have a 'reputation' but I am following doctor's order here: taking time for rest and relaxation."

"Yes. I suppose you are," she acknowledged, looking around the holographic scene with a practiced eye. She had to admit it looked properly relaxing and carefree, if a bit isolated. "This isn't the stock tropical beach program; I've used that one a few times. Is it someplace special?"

He narrowed his eyes. "My idea of taking leave doesn't include a counseling session, Sarah."

"Sometimes a casual question is just a casual question, Martin."

Right. And he'd prefer not having to discuss being defensive in an actual session. "Okay. It's a beach on earth that I remember. The waves aren't big enough for regular surfing, but they're great for body surfing, which I honestly like more anyway - great rush, less chance of major injury if you wipe out."

"Spoken like a surgeon," Sarah chuckled, and settled back, hands flat on the sand behind her as took in the scenery. "It's lovely. Was this near your home?"

"Minnesota?" Martin laughed before recalling that Lewe was from a colony on this end of the quadrant and entered Starfleet like he had - Officer Candidate School following a civilian career. Whatever time she'd spent at the Academy on earth, he doubted the America Midwest had been high on her list of places to see. "No. Plenty of lakes, but zero tropical beaches. This is in Puerto Rico. One of my mom's college friends had a place down there and we visited a few times. I had to be practically encased in sunscreen, but her kids taught me to body surf..." he smiled a little at the memory. Being an only child, it had been something to be included in a pack of siblings, even briefly. "Good memories."

Progress. Sarah nodded. "It sounds like it. But none of those friends are here. Was the beach always so empty?"

"No. I just don't particularly care for interacting with artificial personalities. I know for some people the characters are the main attraction in holoprograms, but..." he shrugged. "That part doesn't work for me."

Lewe's ears perked at 'artificial personality' - it would explain a lot. The incident report had noted that he'd avoided using the EMH even as he and his medical staff had rapidly de-aged. She'd assumed it was due to the personality type one might expect of someone who'd become a flagship CMO at his age; Martin presented as modest and polite, but he had a top rating as surgeon and she'd never met one of those yet who wasn't arrogant, even if they compartmentalized it exclusively to a medical context. Of course, that might still be a factor, but now she saw a potentially more significant one. His mother had died suddenly, an event impactful enough to have lead to a major life change, and there was a school of grief therapy that believed holographic recreation of the deceased could provide closure after an unexpected death. The approach wasn't without merit - it worked in a number of cases - but for a small but significant subset it not only didn't help but amplified the trauma of loss. If there was a lingering subconscious association with a painful event...

Sarah practically bit her tongue to keep from asking; he was right that time taken for R&R shouldn't be turned into a therapy session. At least not one that delved into personal loss. "There's a steel drum band back there somewhere though. Or is that just a sound track?"

"It was always a sound track," he chuckled. "The resort area back there was never high end enough for a live band. There was a bar and some good food stands though - if you check the cabana, you'll see I'm also following doctor's orders to regain some weight." He patted his midriff, which was still far enough on the lean side to give more of an impression of skinny youth than 30-something man.

"Gold star," she replied approvingly. "I might have to make Daniels pony up for two drinks. But I'm almost afraid to look at the cabana. Calories plus childhood memories... Is it all cake and ice cream?"

Martin looked upward, pursing his lips. "Not all of it..." then he flashed a grin. "Actually only one serving was cake - ponqué, heavy on the rum, so not so much a childhood memory. But most of it is fried plantains - mofongo, maduros, piononos - I'd almost forgotten how good those are."

Sarah slid her eyes along his torso. "And your stomach is still practically flat... I think I may hate you," she teased.

"All it took was living through puberty twice in a few weeks - once in hard reverse, then on fast forward." He grimaced. "I wouldn't recommend it."

"I guess not." Her lips curled in. "As much as I love fudge, that doesn't sound worth it. But surely it wasn't quite so terrible on the other end. I mean, you did get to be child again for a little bit, right?"

"Physically? Sure," Martin chuffed. "I'd hit somewhere around 9 years old by the time we found a cure. Some of the crew went with that second childhood thing, but I was in a race against time before we had to start cramming toddlers into stasis units..." he grew silent a moment, there had still been losses; seven pregnancies, most due to de-aging, but two because stasis carried its own risks for a half-developed fetus... The memory of Nyxa curled in agony, her lower half soaking with blood rose in the doctor's mind and he shook his head. He'd gone over all of that with the counselor in quarantine and had no intention of repeating any of it now. And preferably not ever. "Anyway, by the time we'd distributed doses to all of those critical cases and monitored them to be sure there weren't any unexpected side effects, I'd aged up to almost 12."

"Just in time to hit the beginnings of puberty," Sarah noted with a sympathetic look, one not entirely prompted by the thought of reliving puberty.

"Yeah..." he blew out a breath. "Fortunately my nurses are bullies. I had a Delta-wave inducer waved in my face and was told to go to sleep or they'd put me to sleep," he explained, though the threat was recounted with a fond smile. "I was out a good long while - missed nearly the whole replay of age 13. For which I will be forever grateful."

The last remark was ambiguous enough that Lewe looked at him sidelong, wondering whether or not they'd had to follow through on the threat. Of course it might have been both. She was sure that if he did lay down willingly it had only been on the cot in his office and she could easily imagine that after he was out someone had popped in and stuck the inducer on his forehead to make sure he stayed down. Lousy patient/ignore-my-own-physical-limits was so typical of a Starfleet doctor that at some point other medical staff just gave up, accepted it as breed standard, and plotted ways around it.

Or used it as an excuse to check in on him. "Okay, but let me guess: you went right back to work and they had to use the same ultimatum somewhere around the point you hit 20."

"No." He widened his eyes at her. "First I ate about a dozen cheeseburgers and three milk shakes - I'd grown 9 centimeters and woke up famished. It's just a good thing I'd eliminated caloric limits for everyone when people started de-aging into adolescence. Though in hindsight, the fact that it took so much energy to grow in reverse is probably what saved us. When I was first infected, I lost 3 years over night and my 20s fell away in a matter of days, but once I hit my growth years the de-aging slowed, because major bodily changes can only go so fast without killing you and thankfully this virus never mutated to the 'burn through hosts' type. If it had..."
His eyes shifted to the middle distance, a shadow falling across his expression despite the sunny beauty of the holographic horizon.

Sarah didn't have a single drop of Betazoid blood, but she didn't need telepathy to know he was counting the imagined losses, and himself helpless to prevent that tide of death. Most people dreamed of getting a chance at a second youth, a second childhood, but for him it had been a nightmare. It was important insight for later, but not at all where she'd wanted this conversation to go. "Hey, it didn't. You found a cure, and you got everyone dosed before that could happen," she assured, giving him a supportive smile. "I feel like I should write up a recommendation to give you a month of leave for working through that."

"Would that also come with orders to take it?" Martin inquired wryly. "Seriously though, it wasn't just me - the whole medical department worked through it nonstop. Even some who weren't part of it anymore; Dr. Darrow came in to help cover for medical staff who had regressed to early childhood. In fact she was instrumental to helping us find a cure."

"Okay, so I should put in to give her and the entire medical staff a month's leave then?"

"I think the Commodore might some issues with that..."

Sarah lifted her chin. "As if he'd have anything to say about it if I deemed it necessary."

The doctor puffed a breath that was part laugh, part low whistle. "Gotten pretty comfortable wielding that medical over ride, eh?"

"I have." Sarah smiled smugly. "But don't worry, I won't force you to take an extended vacation. But seriously," she put a hand on his shoulder, "If you want to talk about it, or ever feel you need to..."

"Thank you." Martin put a hand over hers, looking up at her sincerely. "But No. Starfleet holoprojected in a small horde of counselors during quarantine and I talked it all out then," he insisted. "I was even a good patient. You can check."

"Yeah, I don't have to check. Moded was practically crowing that he'd found a unicorn. It's like pulling teeth to get either surgeons or senior officers to stop playing stoic, so a CMO willingly opening up about fears and feelings of helplessness during a medical crisis, and one who's 2XO as well..." She looked upward, lifting both hands to the sky as though in thanksgiving for a miracle. Then looked straight back at him. "But I've met you. So I had to come by and make sure you hadn't been replaced by a changeling or something."

Martin snorted a laugh. "I am not that bad."

"But you are," she retorted. "And we both know you're smart enough to know that throwing a big juicy bone like that at a counselor would keep him from asking any other questions."

Huh? He frowned at her. "What exactly do you think I was avoiding?"

Sarah shrugged. "Most people talked about their childhood - the memories it brought up, their dreams then compared to where they are now - or the experience of re-aging so quickly and being struck by a sense of their mortality. Others talked about the effect of seeing that in friends, or how experiencing the process at different rates, or being at different levels of maturity, made things awkward or uncomfortable with people they'd been close to before." She paused, looking along the length of the beach. "I notice you're alone here."

"Well, I was," he snarked, giving her a Look.

That only got a Look in return.

"Fine." He flopped over onto his back again, giving in. "You're right about how I can't stop being a doctor. When we entered quarantine I dutifully turned everything over to Medical Command. I had a role since I was essentially subject matter expert, but as far as the crew went I should have been just another patient under observation ...Except their my crew. I couldn't stop checking on people." His mouth went a bit sideways. "So sticking to myself for the 'take time off and relax' thing seemed best for everyone involved. Happy?"

"With the answer, yes. To see you self-isolating? Not so much. But I understand." She smiled sympathetically. "There's a reason I don't take leave with anyone even nominally under my care."

"Because you ambush them with loaded questions in the middle of a tropical vacation?" he suggested.

Sarah looked down, and shook her head. "All right, I deserved that. I had to check in though. You may have been something of a prodigy, Martin, but you're young for CMO of a flagship, and there was that trouble recently. Moded may be convinced you're remarkably forthcoming, but I know how good you are at deflecting."

"Sarah, I was in a bad place then, angry..."

"I don't blame you," she cut in earnestly. "Honestly I feel a bit like I should apologize for my department. You'd been through genuine trauma - losing comrades, burned so badly you nearly lost a leg. It was the first time you really needed us, but your main experience of counseling wasn't so much therapy as punitive measure."

"It wasn't that bad, and what I received initially was helpful." He looked at her; he didn't doubt she meant it, but he couldn't help but feel there was a subtext. "Look, I know Vesta has gone through a string of Counselors, but it's not because I've got some chip on my shoulder. I've been as welcoming and supportive as I know how to be, even going first in line for psych evals to set an example. And, okay, our last Counselor may have left in part because I left her in command in a difficult situation, but she knew my only other choice was to turn my back on a child with a desperately ill mother. She understood, and before all of that we'd been... friends."

Well now, that was more than she'd heard about events surrounding that incident. Lewe made mental note to comm Ildri sometime to catch up on things. "No one blames you there, Martin. It's flagships - either counselors dig in and you can't transfer them without practically sending security in to drag them off, or it's like a revolving door because the pressure is so high." She gave him a reassuring smile. "Besides, if anyone thought you'd created a hostile work environment, I wouldn't be the one sent to ask you about it."

"Sorry." He tipped his head, returning a half-smile - relieved, but not entirely. "Counseling falls under medical and the revolving door thing has been a frustration," he admitted honestly.

"We'll find you someone." She made a cross-my-heart gesture. "Promise."

"Even with my reputation?" he asked, half-teasing.

"I'll just have to make sure they don't talk to Daniels."

 

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