Training the Mind
It was on the recommendation of Lieutenant Sonak that Mnhei'sahe Dox found herself waiting on one of the Holodecks of the U.S.S. Hera. Sonak himself said he would meet Dox at nineteen hundred hours, which was in about five minutes. But Dox was nervous and got there a few minutes early, knowing full well that the Vulcan master of Kolinahr would be there exactly on time, as he always was.
As she paced nervously around the empty black room covered in yellow grid lines, she thought about what brought her to where she was now. She though back to the events now almost five months ago where in order to pilot the ship through a raging cosmic storm she had utilized an experimental flight helmet. A flight helmet that she had recently learned from the Goddess Hera might have inadvertently left her mind permanently open to psychic attack.
Hera referred to the mind as having seven gates that one could learn to open to gain control of their minds. And she also spoke of an eight gate to what she called the psychic dream plain. This was a gate that was supposed to be inaccessible to mortals. And this gate had been blown wide open in Dox's otherwise very mortal mind.
The Starships namesake called it an 'unclosable door', but suggested that Dox could learn, through mental training, to defend her mind if she could successfully reawaken the mental abilities that the Romulan people had abandoned generations ago. Hera offered to do this for Dox, but on the advice of Commander Rita Paris, the anxious aviatrix decided that the hard way was for the best.
And since in a biological level, Romulans and Vulcan's are essentially the same, it made the most sense to seek the guidance of the masterful Sonak. After Dox expressed everything she had learned and sent a written request for tutoring, Sonak recommended the Holodeck as it could be secured and made into whatever environment would be best.
Turning towards the door, Dox wondered what time it was when she realized that it must be exactly nineteen hundred hours as the doors wooshed open at Sonak's arrival. "Hello Lieutenant. Thank you for making the time to see me this evening." Dox said.
''We come to serve,'' he answered as he always did. It was a traditional greetings of his poeple and it srved things even better as the very first step of what they intended to do; reawaken the full mental capabilities of Dox' Vulcanian physiology. But beyond that, he meant every single word of this sentence.
He stepped before her, hands at his back, showing all the proper dicipline and decorum of a junior officer answering the call of a senior one. But the glow in his eye was that of a concerned and respectful friend. The professional phrasing of his words was softened by the deepness of his low voice.
''I am honored, Lieutenant, to be of help in this most significant part of your existence. And I am honored to have this opportunity to share with you the ancient wisdom that was shared with me. May this be a new opportunity Romulans and Vulcans to show how our people are united despite time and space.''
"The honor is mine. And I hope to prove worthy of your efforts, if even a little." Dox fidgeted slightly as she spoke, nervous before the master of logic. "I tried to be as through in my request as possible, but do you have any questions regarding my situation and my need?"
The Vulcan didn't hesitate in his answer.
'' When the student fails, it is always the failure of the teacher. What we are about to start is a time-honored method that has proven to be efficient even with full-blooded humans and uncooperative young Vulcans. For the teacher to learn about the student is as much part of the process as for the student to learn what the teacher has to impart. That being said, any information you deem relevant will help me better help you.''
"Well... um... I have been continuing to practice the basic meditation techniques you've shown me. Not always daily, but more other than not. They have proven helpful in both accessing lost memories, clarifying thought and in the case of the incident at the Section 31 base, helping me not lose my head during the crisis." Dox felt like she was rambling, but wanted to let Sonak know anything that might even be a little relevant.
"Also, Ensign Gonadie and I have recently become a... a couple. And she informed me that her species possesses a capability to bond telepathically with their chosen mate over time. She has begun sharing her meditative techniques and I combined them with some of the focusing elements you've shown me, and I was able to make a rudimentary contact with her. I felt her... energy... for lack of a clearer term. It appeared in my mind's eye as a blue light that pulsed with a..." Dox was slightly embarrassed to go into specific details of something that had been quite personal, but she trusted both Sonak's discretion and understanding.
"She generates a... thrumming vibration. And the light resonated with that vibration in my mind's eye. Through that, I could feel a warmth that wasn't physical. It's as far as we've gotten, but I thought you should know that as well." Dox had an awkward half smile that she knew was an unnecessary affectation of her anxiety, particularly with Sonak.
The Vulcan simply nodded.
''There are a great number of ways to discipline the mind for every single purpose we might use it for. What she shared with you can be used to build concentration by focusing solely on the light, the feel of it, purposefully excluding everything else, even one's bodily sensations. The more often you do this, the more easily you can later recall that state of mind and then apply it for different purposes, like concentrating on a task, blocking out pain or reigning in emotions.''
He paused a moment before continuing.
''The mind is not immaterial by nature but an emerging property of the physical brain. Thus, just like the body, the mind can be exercised to improve and even gain new faculties.''
There was a comfort in Sonak's logical reasoning. Grounding the metaphysical in reality helped Dox feel like her challenge wasn't as insurmountable as it felt before. Still, she awkwardly tried to contain any overt happiness at knowing she was moving in a good direction. Instead, she tried to keep focused and move forward. "Then, in regards to us. How do we begin? What's the first step?"
''If you are looking for building mental defenses, then we should proceed exactly as when you want to learn how to physically defend yourself; being shown what a defensive move is and then practice it against progressively more powerful attacks.''
With his hand, he invited her to sit on the ground in front of him.
''Computer; meditation program Sonak VF1.''
''Program input'' answered the soft feminine disembodied voice of the ship's computer; begin when ready.''
Suddenly, the black room and it's yellow grid was replaced by a vast scenery or rocky ravines and gorges ringed by lava-spouting volcanoes. The heat was oppressive, the air thin and the stone hard and dry. They were both sitting on a flat, circular stone ringed by some oily thick liquid bubbling and hissing like hot tar.
As the heat hit her, Dox felt her breath momentarily get taken away. It was a sudden shift that took her a moment to acclimate herself too. But after a few seconds,she felt herself regain composure as she looked back at Sonak and nodded her readiness.
Sonak sat before her, his grey eyes unblinking as they plunged into hers.
''Good; you felt how your body reacted to the assault of heat and dryness and found reflexively how to acclimate your physiology to block the discomfort. What you felt physically can be transfered to your mind as an intrusive tought would try to enter your own. This is the instinctual barrier; the first layer of protection you can build in your mind.''
He extended his arms until the tip of his fingers brushed against her temples.
''Now, feel it again in your flesh, consciously; then, use this awareness against my mental contact but within your mind; the same way your body adjusted to keep in check the heat and the dryness.''
Trying to focus on the instructions from Sonak, Dox instead felt a strange rush at the touch of the Vulcan's fingers, as if there were a pulling sensation from her own mind reaching out to the mind that was reaching into hers. In an instant, she felt his familiar presence in her mind.
You feel my thoughts apart from yours, yet touching, came the mental words of the Vulcan directly to her. This is your sense of self. This is what you will use to build upon your first and last mental barrier. It is like your flesh fighting off the heat around you trying to penetrate and change your own internal temperature. Concentrate on who you are, what makes you different, unique from anything else in the universe but let it affirm itself by itself. Do not strain; just be conscious of yourself inward as you are outward.
Talking a breath and fighting back a wave in initial panic at her inability to keep Sonak out, Dox calmed herself down. As she focused on his words that resonated within her own mind, Dox tried to think of herself. To focus on herself as an individual.
But, as was standard for the emotionally chaotic young woman, her self image was a low one and concentrating on it positively on it was a challenge.
Placing her own hands on the warm, but simulated rock she sat on, she instead thought of her experience with Mona the other night. Remembering Mona's energy in her mind's eye, it appeared as a pulsing blue light. But before she could feel that light, she could see a faint red pulsing that steadily grew. Mona told her that the red light was Dox's own energy. That light was Mnhei'sahe Dox.
Concentrating, Dox calmed her mind and went back to how she felt in her quarters with Mona. She calmed her breathing and slowly, the heat of the room she was in seemed to almost fall back as that faint red glow began to appear in the darkness of her mind.
As that light began to come further into focus, pulsing with her breaths, she could see another light surrounding it. A field of coppery light she realized must be Sonak in her mind.
It was easy to see how that color could slowly but insiduously taint her own without her even noticing it. Yet, she was deeply aware of the difference.
Good, came the Vulcan's appreciative tought. You can easily differenciate yourself from another intrusive mind. All that you are, whatever you may think of it, is helping you do that. Be yourself; that is the key.
Although his mental glow was all around her purer reddish one, she could easily distinguish the two. Sonak's mind then began to exert a soft but steady pressure, as if his coppery aura tried to infuse itself into hers. Which it was. he was initiating a mind meld.
You will now start to build your first barrier; focus. You will focus your mind to exclude everything, including my own invasive one. Start counting the multiplication table... in Rihansuu... backwards.
While Dox had memorized star charts and could calculate trajectories and warp curves in her head, she struggled for the briefest of moments to recall the information requested and still try and focus on keeping Sonak's mind separate.
Instead, she felt a massive pull as the multiplication tables flooded into her mind,almost overwhelming her. In her minds eye, Sonak's coppery light had completely penetrated her own almost instantaneously.
She could hear a voice repeating the math backwards in her mind. But it wasn't her own or Sonak's. It was a blending if the two, as if the open gate if her mind simply drew Sonak inside like a beacon. A beacon just as Hera had described to the anxious young officer.
Unconsciously, she had pulled the information from Sonak's mind. And with him applying mental pressure, it made it that much easier to draw his mind into hers. Like someone pushing against a barrier, if the barrier were to simply vanish, the pusher would lurch forward.
Sonak's left eyebrow shot up as he felt his consciousness literally swallowed by the mind of the Romulan woman. It was like forcing open an unlocked door opening to a deep chasm. But just as swiftly, all his mental barriers went up and he willfully shoved himself backwards, both mentally and physically, breaking contact.
''Fascinating,'' he uttered after a moment. ''I understand now the true nature of your problem. On a psionic standpoint, you are like a sponge; any mind ... like water, to continue on the image, is absorbed by yours.''
He took a moment to reflect on this unexpected revelation before speaking again.
''A more accurate metaphor would be that of someone with neurasthenia; someone overwhelmed by too much information on one's hypersensitive senses. I would propose then that what you need are not as much mental barriers as mental discipline; to be able to block out unwanted thoughts and only keep those you want, mainly your own. That's what I actually did to... escape from our link.''
"Hnave..." Dox cursed in Rihan. "Escape? Are you okay?" Knowing Sonak well enough, Dox knew the logical Vulcan chose his every word carefully. Though she was partly caught on his words about her mental discipline and her concerns over how chaotic her mind was without her current dilemma.
''Do not worry; my mental discipline has been developped and perfected over decades,'' he reassured her.
He did not tell her however that he had even once successfully confronted a Talosian mind, a mind capable of projecting perfect multisensored illusions throughout the entire galaxy. Revealing this to her would simply had condemned her to death, as the very mere existence of the telepathic inhabitants of Talos IV would have put her under the shadow of Starfleet's General Order 7; the onlt death penalty in the book.
"So... so how do I do that?" She asked sheepishly.
''The same way you can isolate someone's voice in a noisy room; by concentrating on what you want to hear and discard everything else as background noise.''
He slowly and gently brought again his fingers to her head.
After what had just happened, Dox had to consciously stop herself from flinching out of a knee jerk fear.
''A Betazoid would usually be a better teacher than a Vulcan, for this particular training. Betazoids learn this technique as a matter of growing up when their broad telepathic perceptions suddenly awaken at puberty. However, I myself was such a wide area telepath until very recently. I have learned and mastered the same disciplines. If you allow it, I will impart those disciplines to you through a mind meld. Once I share with you the... feel of those techniques, you ahould be able to exercise and improve them with dilligent practice.''
The anxiety that lived in the pit of Dox's stomach tightened at the thought. Though Sonak had only just touched her she could already feel his presence. In her minds eye she could see his copper glow hovering around her own crimson flame, waiting.
Pressing the palms of her hands flat against the warm stone surface again, she took a deep breath to compose herself again. She concentrated on her own light as a separate think, focusing on it until she felt herself come back to an equilibrium. Once she felt stable again, she softly spoke. "Okay. I'm ready."
Sonak initiated the mind meld as slowly as he could, letting the Romulan woman feel every step of the mental contact, pausing each time he himself perceived her stability was about to fail, giving her time to adjust before continuing. This way she would be able to learn the process of focus he had briefly explained to her on a practical level; just like he had been tutored himself when, as a child, his mind was overwhelmed by the thoughts of everyone around him.
In his original universe, he had been born as telepathically powerful as a Betazoid, able to make contact without the need to touch. And like the rare betazoid child afflicted with such early extrasensory perception, his mind could have become unhinged with confusion and fear, had he not been Vulcan in the first place. The Early training in logic and emotion suppression prevented him from going mad; or hurting people around him with mental blasts and the limited telkinesis he was also endowed with, like legendary Vulcans of antiquity. Years of kolinarh discipline completed the process of control.
Thus, he was now quite ready to teach a nascent and powerful mind like that of Mnhei'sahe Dox to also deal with her condition.
With each step as Sonak moved closer into her mind, Dox felt her own sense of self slip slightly. It was like trying to walk on the slickest ice with each footstep wanting desperately to slip out from underneath. As his own mind reached into hers, she could feel his own effort to not slip in being carefully controlled.
In her mind's eye, she saw Sonak's copper glow grow steadily stronger as it slowly encircled her own red energy. As it got stronger, it wrapped around her own almost like a blanket in her mind until she could feel the warmth of his energy permeate her own. But instead of feeling overwhelmed, she instead felt less and the glow of his energy permeated hers. His logically structured mild was buttressing her own fragility inch by inch. Her mental calamity calmed to control under his mind's power. And instead of fighting or trying to maintain her emotions, she slowly and calmly allowed it to overtake her.
She was still herself. She was still Mnhei'sahe Dox. But she was also Sonak of Vulcan in that moment as his mind-melded with hers. His own thoughts floated within her own. His recently recalled memories of Talos. His own struggles with controlling his own abilities. His connection with Rita Paris. While they would all fade when the connection was broken, in the moment, they all simply were. In the space of the holodeck where their bodies were separate, she let out a slow sighing breath as their minds became one. Her anxiety and fears floated to Sonak along with the peace she drew from Mona Gonadie. The thoughts of each became intermingled in that moment as Sonak was now firmly in control of the meld and Dox's own mind no longer actively trying to absorb it.
We are one, then came the thought, both from Her and from the Vulcan. Now, find yourself; then, be yourself.
He was instructing her how to focus on her own psyche and through it weaken and break the meld herself. Like someone helping a swimmer to conquer one's fear of water, he prodded gently, showing her how to find herself and push against what was not by first weakening the bond himself, then reestablish it and make it a little bit less easy to do so each time she tried again.
It would be slow and mentally exhausting; but she could do it. because she had the will. And will was the key.
But from within, Dox could not separate in her mind where she ended and Sonak began. The voice telling her what to do seemed to float beneath Sonak's and her own. And she felt that same pulling sensation from before. It felt like a powerful tide beneath the waves of her consciousness tugging her down under the surface of everything that was Sonak. That unending pulling wanted Sonak's mind and was weakening Dox's resolve and sense of self for what felt like an eternity.
Looking into the light in her mind's eye, she couldn't see her own light anymore, only Sonak's. And she felt even that beginning to fade under the pressure of the pulling in her mind. In the simulated reality of the holodeck, Dox's muscles began to twitch and spasm slightly.
Within her mind, she heard Sonak's firm call to focus. As she listened, rather than seeking her own light, she simply imagined it. Remembered its color and its warmth. And she remembered the deep blue of Mona's energy and she wanted to go back to that. To feel that again. So she pressed harder against the sea of copper light in her mind. She pictured her own light, focusing on what she remembered it to be until it began to reform in the center of her mind's eye, flickering like the faintest flame.
But it was there. It was her. It was only her. She focused on that light as she took a deep breath and held it unconsciously. "I am... I am Mnhei'sahe Dox. I am only that." She thought, the words in her mind fanning the flame of her own inner glow until it began to press against Sonak's.
She repeated this over and over for what felt like an eternity, with Sonak relenting slightly then reinforcing his presence over and over. Her light dimmed then re-strengthened.
The effort was beyond exhausting as she struggled against his mind. In the holodeck, her hands against the simulated rock curled into fists against the warm stone they sat upon. In her mind's eye, her own crimson light grew stronger, pulsing. And with each pulse, it pushed hard against the copper light of Sonak's mind. Her exhaustion being pushed aside as her resolve grew to be whole onto herself again.
In reality, her body was sweating profusely as if undergoing a massive physical effort and her heart was pounding fasted with each passing second. In her mind, she continued to focus on her light and nothing else. She ignored the copper light of Sonak to only concentrate on her own energy. Her own self. Suddenly, with what felt like a great pulse that shook her form in the real world, that crimson light seemed to explode, filling her own mind and pushing everything else as she let out a scream.
The moment lasted but for a second that flet like an eternity. The scream of Mnhei'sahe came out of the mouth of Sonak as his emotionless mind, fused with that of the Romulan woman, caged the red glow with his copperish aura, compressed it until it bled blue light, brighter and deeper by the second. Then, there was nothing left but that pure blue glow... and slowly, it softly returned to a reddish color that fused into it to become a brilliant shade of purple, a thin copper aura around it.
We have found ourselves, said their jointed inner voice through both their mouths. We have found the way; the way to ourselves when we are open to others. We know the way. The walk is long and arduous. But we know the steps, long and hard like the steps to mount Seleya. We will climb them. And at the summit, among the winds and the heat, we will be ourselves.
Sonak now left it to her to finsih the exercise and break the meld. The first step. And every journey began with one.
But her strength was all but gone. What was left of Mnhei'sahe Dox struggled to open her eyes. Instead of the Vista generated by the Holodeck, she saw an arid, yellow sky. Sonak no longer sat across from her, but within her. He was her and she was him. The mind meld felt like a vice upon her, holding her in place.
Realizing she was now within the setting of Sonak's mind, she looked up to a towering rock face before her. Even her head felt heavy as if every possible movement was a struggle against Sonak's stillness in the real world.
"Climb the steps of Mount Seleya," the joined voice said as she strained to rise to her feet. Her knees shuddered, begging to release, but she rose. It felt as is Sonak wasn't within her, but clinging to her back like a lead weight trying to pull her back to the dry sand at her feet.
Before her she saw the first step appear through a thick, coppery mist that seemed to obscure her ability to focus. One step, she could see and no more. Taking as deep of a breath as the thin, dry air would allow, what was once Dox lifted her foot shuffling forward. Lifting it, her foot dragged up the side of the step and landed with a this that seemed to resonate with far more force against the stone than seemed possible.
Her knees crumbled under her impossible weight and she fell hard to them, scraping against the stone steps. On her hands and knees, she wanted to sob in agony but no tears came. Instead, she felt that same glorious purple light warm her from within, and shaking, she rose again.
Feet steady below her again, she began to climb. One step at a time, as they seemed to appear steadily in front stretching upward into infinity. But as she stepped, the view became more clear. The steps slightly less pained even though the climb felt as if it was taking an eternity.
In the expanse of the mindscape of Sonak's homeworld, the minutes stretched into hours into days into lifetimes. Many more times, she weakened and fell to her knees until the image of them in her mind ran green with her own blood.and every time, she focused on that purple light within and rose again. She no longer remembered quite how long she had been walking, when the unnatural, copper mists parted as the deep golden light of the Vulcan sunrise seemed to punch through as she stepped, stumbling forward finally through them, not to another step but to a landing.
Wobbling for a moment, her bloodied knees screamed at her to give up but she stayed on her feet as she looked around. She was at the summit.
Taking a deep breath of the thin, dry air of a world she had only ever orbited, she straightened herself up. Looking down, her knees were dry as if she has never fallen on them. Looking around, she felt only that purple warmth from within. She no longer felt the weight of Sonak pressing her down. She felt only her own mind. Turning around, she saw his figure standing beside her now, stoically. Not as as joined being but as an individual.
Back in the reality of the Holodeck, her eyes slowly opened.
They were still sitting one in front of the other, almost touching. But now, they were on top of the mountain.
''Well done,'' Sonak praised, his voice as deadpan as ever, yet filled with a definite appreciation if not genuine admiration. ''You will now be able to repeat this exercise as often as you wish without my help. The holodeck recorded our session and if you need it, you will be able to recreate it on your own. But this mental exercise can be recalled even in the confines of your own quarters. You have learned much today; a praise to the wisdom of my masters, the soul of your people... and the qualities of your being.''
Exhausted and somehow relaxed at the same time, Dox leaned back slightly on her hands. "T... Thank you. Thank you for everything."
''We come to serve,'' he simply stated, as always.
Looking around at the simulated Vista which, though perfect, seemed so much less real than the summit that has been projected into her mind. "This is Mount Seleya, on Vulcan? It's beautiful. Moving refugees, we orbited Vulcan more times than I can remember. But I've never been to the planet. Never been on Romulus either, for that matter. I always wanted to go to both."
''In the false reality whence i came, it has all been destroyed,'' he confided without any hint of emotion; and yet something stirring within him glazing his grey eyes for a moment. ''But now reality has been restored. This is an accurate recreation... but an illusion still. As long as you can tell, the real thing is always preferable. We might go there together someday. I could introduce you to the Masters of Gol; they would appreciate meeting you. And maybe one day we could also experience Romulus for the first time together.''
The drained young woman looked wistful as she spoke, no longer feeling any need to put on airs around the logical Vulcan. "I think I would like that very much. But for now... Through what you showed me... I feel like I've been here for real now. Thank you for that. It meant a lot."
''We have both grown from this shared experience. The student always becomes the master at one point. And so it has been today.''
"Well, like you said, it's a first step. But one I'm grateful to have not had to walk alone." Dox replied.
Sonak looked straight into her eyes.
''In Starfleet, Lieutenant, you are never alone.''