Twenty Questions Collide
It was midafternoon as Chief Medical Officer Asa Dael was making their rounds checking on the patients recovering from various misadventures. The ships most recent arrival, Az’Prel of Vulcan from the mirror universe to Rita’s, was next on Asa’s docket. The young freedom fighter had undergone one surgery already to remove debris from her skin and heal wounds both new and old. The osteogeneration implants that Asa had placed during that surgery had done their work, and the second of three slated surgeries for Az’Prel was to take place the next day.
Knocking on the door frame, Asa called in a clear voice, “Good afternoon, Az’Prel. How are you feeling today? Mind if I come in?”
As the displaced Vulcan was dozing somewhat peacefully, it took every scrap of willpower she had when she was startled awake not to jump out of bed on the defensive. As it was, her heart rate and blood pressure spiked dangerously and panic showed in her eyes for a moment before she was able to calm herself down when she realized it was the Starfleet physician, Doctor Asa Dael, someone that was very kind with her touch and sincerely had a good heart.
"I feel no pain, Doctor. Please, come in." Az'Prel replied once she finally calmed herself.
Walking lightly, Asa pulled up the guest chair to be near Az’Prel’s bed. They had noticed the vitals spike of course, it was broadcast on the biobed display, but knowing the cause to be mental instead of physical, the doctor elected to not say anything.
It seems fight or flight mode is still on high alert. The sooner we can get her in her own room, the better off she will be Asa thought.
“So, tomorrow is scheduled to be round 2 of surgery for you. We plan on repairing the rest of the damage to your organs, bones, and tissues. After that is over, you will be free from needing to live in this clean room and can have your quarters with the rest of the crew. Do you think you are ready for that? It’s ok if you prefer to stay here, of course, the decision is yours.”
Asa’s tone was gentle and mild, laying out the plan and options in a calm, soothing tone of voice. They sat back and waited for her response, making sure nothing in their body language would indicate a need to rush to a conclusion.
The displaced Vulcan thought it over a moment as she studied Asa. "Please do not misunderstand, but I would prefer to remain secluded from the rest of the crew, if possible. I do not feel ready to bunk with others just yet."
With a slight shrug, Asa replied, “Of course, these rooms are yours for as long as you please. Well, barring a ship wide emergency that would necessitate asking for temporary use of the medical suite. Not that I anticipate one, we haven’t had any such catastrophe on record, I just don’t want to promise you something I’m not 100% certain I can deliver. Whenever you would like them, we will have your private quarters prepared. Is there anything you would like added here? Perhaps a sitting chair? Or tools to aid in meditative practices?”
"Private Quarters?" Az'Prel was confused for a moment. "I was under the impression that I would be quartering with others. If I have private quarters elsewhere, then I would be remiss to free up this room for other occupants."
“Oh, I’m sorry about that, we must have miscommunicated somewhere. Each person has private quarters, unless they desire to share their space with others, such as mates and spouses. You will be on the same deck of the ship as others that have roughly the same designation as you, but each person has their own space. The doors lock, but in the interest of full disclosure, Executive Officers, security teams and medical staff can override a lock in the event of an emergency. Of course we take your privacy very seriously, and would only do so if the situation were dire. Each person is free to furnish their space as they like, and soon enough your room becomes your home. Is that something you would be interested in? There really is no rush if you are comfortable to stay here. It’s entirely your call.”
"That is... I don't think I know how to process what you are saying..." Az'Prel stumbled over her words a bit, never before having had such liberties or freedoms before. This ship must be massive to afford such luxuries to even those as low as her.
Sensing the impending panic, Asa made their voice low and calm, hoping their tone was soothing.
“I imagine we can process this together the way we will process a great many things if you enter therapy with me. Let’s do things one step at a time. Step 1 is looking at your new space. Your skin needs another 24 hours in a sterile environment to heal, and for your system to have processed the immunizations to keep you safe. When that is over, we can go look at your quarters. You don’t have to stay in them yet, just look at them. Does that sound a bit more manageable?”
The displaced Vulcan nodded after a moment. "That does sound manageable, though I may not trust them without some sort of semblance of familiarity to them."
“Ok, so let’s look at that. What does a sense of familiarity mean to you? We have sterilized your armor. I can certainly have that moved to your quarters. What else would help?” Asa looked at Az’Prel with a rapt expression. This was the first sign of the castaway showing signs of moving to join the Hera, and they wanted to do whatever possible to facilitate a smooth transition.
"During my time with the Terran Empire I was relegated to slave and concubine chambers and an agony booth... So let's pass on that. The camps and ships other than that were... Not nearly as nice..." Az'Prel thought on the question for several moments before replying. "Perhaps some scenery of Vulcan. I have not seen Mount Seleya since I was a child." Making that admission was a bit hard for the woman and it showed. It was a weakness and she had learned not to show any hints of weakness.
Asa offered a small smile in return. “Mount Seleya sounds lovely. I’ve never seen it myself, I look forward to seeing it with you when we go to your quarters. I have a scene from Madagascar, this little tiny island on Earth, on my walls. I think having a planet to see, even if it is just projected holographically, helps ground a person. What about blankets and such? What’s your favorite color? We could have blankets and pillows in colors that you like prepared.”
Agony booth? Concubine chambers? Light, what hells has this woman been through? How do we start rebuilding a life for her when she never had one to start? Asa internally remarked. They dare not let their skin touch in Az’Prel in that moment, not out of fear of harm, but because they did not want her to feel she was being pitied. A strong person like Az’Prel would resent pity, and as loath as she seemed to be to show any weakness, Asa would not discourage any tender moments.
"Eathtones. Nothing metallic, nothing bright red. They are the opposite of what the Terran Empire used." Az'Prel didn't even need to hesitate on that question. She knew what colors made her feel safe and secure and they were dirt.
"Browns, blues, and greens. Got it." Asa was taking careful notes to program items later.
"Would you like a desk? Or do you prefer more room open?"
The doctor hoped asking simple questions would both help them design a space to mock up in holograoh and help Az'Prel see she could safely explore her preferences and choices.
"I've never needed a desk before, but it would make a nice barricade and it would be a good place to hide, should the need arise." Az'Prel nodded, considering the advantages.
Schooling their face to smiling neutrality, Asa suppressed the shudder that ran through their soul that someone would immediately think of the defensive capacities of furniture instead of the purpose it was intended to have.
“Nice, heavy desk, got it. I sincerely hope you never have to use it for those purposes, but if it makes you comfortable to have, you should have it. What about clothes? Outside of a uniform, what types of clothes would you like to wear? Soft fabrics? Stiff? We could actually begin to have the computer send you some styles to choose from if you like. It might help the day go by faster.”
Her first instinct was to say 'armor' but immediately, Az'Prel thought better of that and gave it a bit more thought. "Something that would enhance my duties, whatever they may be. Barring that, something stiff yet easy to move in." And her mind immediately described armor...
"The good news there is our uniforms have a good deal of built-in aids. For instance, they are fire resistant, chemical resistant, all the good stuff to help stop a minor accident turning into a major injury. Gotta tell ya, it makes our lives here in Sickbay easier. Once you are resting, if you like, you can ask the Computer to show you options for clothing. Generally if you give it a rough description of what you want, the computer can fashion almost anything. Pun fully and enthusiastically intended," Asa said with a goofy wink.
"What about recreation time? I know you probably didn't get a chance to have leisure time before, but we try to balance work and recreation here. Some people participate in sports, some have hobbies in the arts, some cook, some garden. Personally I swim when I can, or read. I love reading. What is one activity you always meant to try but never got around to?"
Az'Prell reached up and tapped her left ear a few times. "I am sorry, but I believe I have reached the limits of my universal translator. I do not know many of the words you have used. Could you explain what these are?" She furrowed her brow trying to recall all the words her UT gave up on, her mirror Vulcan accent coming through in her attempts to repeat the words. "Recor...Eeay-sheon... Leash-urr... Sporsh... Ummm... Shwim? Hob-eashe..."
Feeling a bit saddened at the need, Asa explained, “Recreation is something people do for fun, or because they find is gratifying. Leisure time is time when not working, eating, sleeping, bathing, or other necessary activities. Hobbies are activities people do during that time for no other reason than they enjoy them. Because it makes them happy, or in the case of Lieutenant Sonak, because he finds the experience agreeable. Swimming is to go into a body of water and either partially or fully submerge oneself and then propel oneself through the water. I would be happy to teach you, if you like? It may help as physical therapy too as your bones and tissues heal.”
Realization slowly dawned on the displaced Vulcan. "I think I begin to understand. These activities are meant to while away your inactive periods. I prefer to spend my inactive periods studying, meditating, and running through logic tables in my mind."
“All noble endeavors to be sure,” Asa said, “Can you think of anything that would help those activities go better? A brazier to use with meditation perhaps?”
"A brazier... Meditating on an actual light rather than the light within me would be an interesting change. I will try it." A wave of exhaustion came over the displaced Vulcan as she returned her head to her pillow. "Are there many more questions, Doctor? Your methods greatly differ from those of the Terran Empire, yet I feel just as mentally exhausted as with any interrogation, just without the pain. I suspect this is due to our severe differences."
"You wish to provide me something that I have little concept of. Your crew and vessel has provided me with something I only dreamed of and now you introduce me to foreign concepts of rec... Recre-ashun. Safety and security is in abundance here. No one is going to stab you in the back. No one carries weapons or wears armor as a matter of course. I see the look of sadness in your eyes when I reply to your questions in an unexpected manner. I am Vulcan, but my emotions are not purged from me. I thank you for your kindness, but I fear this transition will be a long and difficult one for the both of us."
“I’m sorry, Az’Prel, I shouldn’t have pushed, “ Asa replied. “I hope to empower you to continue to explore your new freedoms, but you are correct, we should do so at your pace. I warned others to let you rest, and here I am, part of the problem. I hope you can forgive my ardor. Are you hungry? I’d be happy to get you lunch if you like.”
"That would be acceptable, thank you," Az'prel replied. "I will eat whatever you deem appropriate for my health."
After retrieving “Pot Pie al la Rita” from the replicator, Asa brought over one for each person. Placing Az’Prel’s dish in front of her, they took a quick bite of their own lunch.
“Good grief, that’s quite nice. Now, last question before I go, I promise. What, if any, questions do you have about tomorrow’s surgery? It’s ok if you don’t have any, I just want you to be as informed as you care to be.”
Az'Prel forked a bite of the pot pie into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a moment before replying. "It sounds to me that tomorrow's surgery will make me stronger overall in many ways and easier to fight off opponents both humanoid and microbial. Is that a correct assessment?"
“Yes, it is. Your recovery time will be faster all well,” Asa said simply, resisting the urge to flood the recovering woman with too much data again.
"Then I welcome the surgery," replied the displaced Vulcan before nibbling on her pot pie. "Thank you again Doctor. I... am greatly appreciative."
“It's what I'm here for. Enjoy the meal, and the day. Rest up, I’ll see you first thing,” with that Doctor Dael rose to prepare to leave.
"Thank you Doctor. I will endeavor to... Relax..." As Asa left, Az'Prel tried to ignore the strangeness of the feel of this universe and just enjoy the fact that there was no threat of being stabbed or murdered as she ate.