Diagnosis: Training II
Heart and Soul
Location: USS Hera, Deck 11, The Armory
"Now that you've got the gloves and boots on, stand up, and the waldoes will bring the clamshell over- the center thoracic armor hinges at the waist and closes over your body..." Paris instructed as she guided the process along. "Right, that's it, and then it seals here, here, here, here and here.... and now you should be good to power it on- the power pack is on your back, with a 40 hour power supply and solar recharging capabilities onboard. Waste reclamation is handled by a small replication unit, so you won't starve and you won't drown in your own fluids."
"Am I correct that all of Hera's Security is equipped with this type of armor?" Tova nodded, taking close note of how the armor worked, studying to see how it was assembled closely. "Do we have all the changes to the standard specifications issued from Starfleet included in the medical database in case of emergencies?" She looked at Rita with a deeper appreciation for the lesson, "Seems I need to study these for more than just wearing but, also for quick evac of patients. It also seems I owe you another lollipop."
"That... would be something I would ask the Chief Medical Officer and expect her to know, Doctor," Paris pointed out, as the information was readily available to the CMO. "Yes, all of the Security personnel are equipped for EVA, but many of the crew are as well- Science, as well as R&D, most of the flight control department. Go ahead and engage the helmet to seal the systems, and bring up the holographic displays. You can use the visor that comes with the suit, as well as the interior of the helmet for your displays, and organize them according to personal preference. Different crew have different needs in these suits, so I encourage customization of the interface. It is, after all, uniquely yours, unlike a work station or a similar shared resource."
Humbled by the knowledge that, though she was well versed in her medical training, she had a long way to go in her military understanding, Tova nodded at her Commander. "Thank you for the reminder Commander, I will be sure to look into that information and review it thoroughly." She smiled at Paris with a growing respect and deeper understanding for the woman before her. Tova was beginning to understand how difficult the burden of being a Security Chief was, in addition to being the First Officer.
Not only did the woman have the crew to care for, but also to train, just as she was doing right now for Tova. It was similar to her duties as a department head in the hospital. Lives depended on you, and you were accountable for the mistakes under you- not just for their tasks, but their mistakes. It was a heavy burden, and one that was even more difficult in a ship with no available resources such as there were planetside.
It seemed her view of Rita Paris was changing to one of a deeper and more appreciative respect. Tova activated her helmet with a newfound desire to learn even more about how to ease the burden for her Commander. As the helmet built itself out of the housing it was stored in on her back, the displays activated, and not only could she see the internal monitors that were monitoring her life functions, but the full capabilities of a medical tricorder were now arrayed as commands she could control as a virtual visual interface.
Turning to Paris with her helmet displays flooding the readings in to her, Tova began managing the settings as she reviewed the Commander's biological readings. "Your life signs look good Commander, blood pressure excellent... CO2 readings within normal ranges... overall you are doing great for a woman of your age." Tova giggled at Rita.
That got her a wide and immediate smile, as well as a merry laugh. "See, no one ever makes jokes about my age. For pete's sake, I'm 164 years old. Or 31, if you only count the years I've been solid. But come on, for a very old human I am really knocking it out of the park!" Paris giggled a bit more at that, then sighed.
"Alright Doctor. What sort of environment would you like to experiment in to get a feel for the armor? Keep in mind, it's all holographic and the safeties are on." Holding up her hands, Paris waved them a bit in mock surrender. "This is not one of those 'Doc wants to learn about rough stuff so bully her' moments. This is a 'Let's get the Doc comfortable in the suit she already explained she is uncomfortable in so she can get the hang of training in it'. Understood?"
Tova stood there, her hands on her hips and head cocked thinking. "Hmm...well since the cat is out of the bag on my knife fighting might as well run a program for it. Most people don't even know I can do it but, here I was found out in my first week." It was obvious that when in a EVA suit, Tova again took on the habit of mimicking a different stance, that of one more comfortable fighting. It seemed a habit she was unaware of but, was somewhat amusing to watch. "Alright you wiley old 23rd century fox, let's go see if I can get a workout."
"Uh, I apologize..." Paris said as a frustrated expression settled on her face. "I thought I was teaching you how to prepare for potential exotic combat scenarios. I am not a knife fighter nor a trainer for that particular skill, Tova. You're likely better with a small blade than I am. I was under the impression you were more interested in getting a feel for the EVA armor and getting comfortable with it. Blades is more Dox's bailiwick, or the Klingons or the Captain. Sorry... I just have no expertise in that field, and clearly I misunderstood the request."
Tova looked at Paris and retracted her helmet for a moment, "I have complete trust in you to set up a training simulation for me Rita, don't doubt yourself. I'm not asking you to be the one to do the training one on one. But, I have little doubt you have faced a knife fighter in all your years in security. I'm asking you take a 30 year medical professional and enable her to serve her crew better. The one thing I have no doubt about is your commitment to your crew and its well being. That means you know what I need better than most. At this moment it's not the mechanics of fighting, I've proven I can survive a battle. I need guidance to overcome prior knowledge which is a much more difficult thing to learn, and something I must face over and over again in my life and is something you must have the patience to teach no matter the student. You, Rita Paris, will be the first teacher I have for this lesson, its a lesson you are uniquely qualified to teach, given your personal history, and one I need given the future I face. So Security Chief, I need you for this, I need to learn how to think about life on a ship, not with the ease of a replicator and full crew at hand. That's what I am asking of you, as a Listener, that's what I must hear." For the first time, it was easy to see the wisdom of Tovanna's race that was frequently spoken of, the talent for saying what was needed as advisors and how she was easily a 60 year old woman. She nodded at her Commander as she once again activated her helmet as she laughed.
"Now show me the way, oh wise one." She knew she was egging on her Commander as she playfully kept up the age jokes.
"Alright, first? I've been head of Security for a year. I only took on the job in addition to First Officer duties because I was appalled at the Security team I took on an away mission," Paris explained, her brow furrowing slightly at the memory of the mission in question. "So that's your first lesson- don't assume competency. Yes, I have faced off against knife fighters before. But I have faced off against professional chefs, too- that doesn't make me a professional chef."
"So, with that said, rather than teach you knife fighting, as that's very much not my bailiwick, how about I teach you what I think will save your life and keep you safe, hm? Because THAT I am more than qualified to do, and we can still spend time together, you can still get to know me, and you aren't putting me into a position that makes me uncomfortable and instead playing into my actual expertise. Think we can get on that page together, old lady?" With a smirk, Paris shot one back at the El-Aurian physician who, by human standards, was also quite elderly, although like Rita, deceptively youthful on the outside.
Tova laughed "Touche' old gal, though I doubt you would be put in charge if you were less than capable and it's exactly that capability I have trust in." She shrugged, "As for knife fighting versus some other sort of exercise, I'm more focused on a making sure I live to save lives, changing my mind set on how I handle patient care on a ship. I know how to work with the equipment I am handed, and well, between me and you and me, making sure I don't get the worst wedgie of all time while I do so. It's really hard to focus with a wedgie." It was obvious that Tova was playful despite her moments of depth. It almost seemed she wanted to hide the deeper levels she was capable of unless she was in the medical bay or perhaps she desired someone she could consider a friend.
"Go commando," Rita Paris stated flatly. Squinting slightly, when the full-figured first officer spoke again, her tone was light, low and her eyes offered earnest honesty. "Please...Doctor Mah. Tova. If I had a better idea of what you want from me, not in general but in specific, I could help you. So I'm going to go out on a limb here. The combat readiness isn't really the issue here. Nor the EVA armor, nor the wedgies. This is the first starship posting you've ever had, and because you're an amazing doctor, they assigned you to the starship of wonders. Which makes you feel very, very in over your head. Looking around, a lot of these people are intimidating, and while you are still trying to find your footing and the flow of the people around you, you could kind of use a friend."
"How'm I doing so far?" The ancient astronaut peered at the young immortal, the smile still friendly and a bit knowing and mischievous.
The helmet snapped back revealing a deeply blushing Dr. Mah, who was obviously thrown off her game, "I, uh uh, I uh no that's not my uh um .... style." She looked at her suit as if trying to get back on track. "Um for the training, I really do need to have a new mindset on how to address my new role as well as the physicality that goes with it. That was not untrue and is indeed an issue based on my own bias. As for a friendship, well you are not completely off base."
Perching on a container, the El-Aurian physician looked at the time-tossed tempest with her deep look once again, "I face what you have already seen- my friends have started to age, some have already succumbed to old age. I am trying to learn how to deal with this reality." She looked down at her hands and took a breath and then back at Rita, "I grew up on Earth, thinking like them despite my parent's best attempts/ But the actuality is I will live thousands of years. Being a doctor is just the first step on a long list of many careers I will have. Given my race's limited numbers, my options for spouses and children are boundless. So as I said, I chose you to be my first real teacher, for things that are more than academic. You will likely be the toughest teacher I'll have, because these are the hardest lessons I have to learn." She sighed heavily quite aware of the weight of the the lifetime she would lead.
"alright Tova- then that's the very first lesson," Paris replied softly. "Old age won't kill you. Deep space will, poisoin will a fatal wound will be just as fatal to you. You are highly resistant to the aging process- that renders you not immune, but resistant. You will still age, and you will know infirmity- just not at the same speed we mortals do." As she said the words, there was no rancor, bitterness nor jealousy in her tone. Instead, they were the soft tones of a counselor, or an older sister trying to explain a delicate subject to a younger sibling.
"You are still mortal and you can die, Tova. So that's the very first thing I will teach you- you will not live for thousands of years. If you are very careful and a bit lucky, you MAY live that long. You will play a great many games of dice with the universe, the longer you are here. And I am here to tell you, the universe will test your resolve to be here. There will be times when you don't believe there is any way to survive or escape. In those moments, you must WANT to live. It is not guaranteed, not even for your people. You will have to fight and scramble and run and go past the limits you believed for yourself in this lifetime. They key in those moments," Paris laid her hand on the younger woman's shoulder, with a half-smile and patient eyes that clearly knew of which they spoke, "is to remember all of the amazing things that are in this universe. All the things you haven't donbe, places you haven't seen, people you haven't met... or people you refuse to lose."
"So that's the first thing I will teach you, Tova Mah," the ultimate survivor, remnant of a universe that no longer existed, who had survived and thrived a dozen decades past reports of her death explained to the young immortal. This was, after all, an area in which she had indisputable credentials and skills, as an all too human explorer, who was all too mortal. "A long life is not guaranteed. You will have to want it, and the universe will test your resolve to be here. You must want it more than the universe wants you gone. It may not make a world of sense to you now, but when that first test comes, hopefully you will remember my words. It isn't about fighting, or diplomacy, or pleading or safety. The first rule is always remember just how amazing and sweet is is to be alive, and hold fast to that in your darkest hours... and never surrender that gift willingly. Stall, bluff, plead, seek peace, or fight if you have to. But hold onto life with both hands, Tova Mah, or it might just get away from you. Understood?"
Tova nodded looking a bit sad. "I have a many greats grandmother who is in fact over two thousand years old. I feel blessed that I have longevity in my line as well as the will to survive.You sound like her, that the will to live is the first step. It's why I started teaching myself knife fighting, I consider it a duty to live for myself and others who didn't get the chance. It's why I became a doctor, because every breath we take is a gift so many take for granted and so often is denied due to circumstances like disease, injury or lack of medical care."
"There is one thing I haven't really mastered though, beyond that of doctor and my duties. It's the main reason I chose you- it's the qualification you have above all others in Security. You aren't the strongest physically, the fastest, maybe even the most patient of the ones with the intellect. You have the perfect combination of all of those traits however, with the admirable quality of heart that is often overlooked....It's that experience as a human that I seek so I might learn to become the Earth born El-Alurian I am. The hardest part...." She stopped.
She looked down, so vulnerable and then to Rita, "How do you say goodbye?...To those you loose to time, to age, not injury but just life that can't keep up with your own?" She sighed deeply. " Its why I want to do the best I can for my team and crew. Because one day the only familiar face may be that of Dr. Power. How do you deal with it AND wear underwear? She looked at Rita a smirked weakly.
The rambling worried her, honestly- could she be going prematurely senile? Rita wondered, but kept it to herself. Meeting the eyes of the woman who was physically twice her age but looked half it, Rita's eyes narrowed a bit. "What have you told your patients in thirty years of practice, Doctor? You have to advised plenty. Surely in a career that lengthy you have lost patients and had to comfort the bereaved."
Tova thought it over, "I told the families we did the best we could and apologized or maybe it was their time. In some cases that it was good that they felt deeply enough to cry because a life mourned is one with meaning for the saddest life is one no one cares about." She looked down, "The reality was however I had sympathy, not empathy for what I was saying to my patients. Before I left I lost my first friend to age. Now here I am facing such a possibility again not even knowing how to work my own armor. And to think I used to be the top in multiple fields of medicine. I feel like I am just figuring out I am not human and completely in over my head." She looked at Rita, "What do you say when facing loss?"
"As for me..." The pale blue eyes of the earth girl glazed over a bit in reverie. "When I was a warp ghost, I WAS the dead, moving unseen and unknown amongst the living. I... don't recommend it. Then when I lost everyone, I lost them all at once- my world, my place in the universe, my ship, my crew, my captain and my t'hy'la. When you jump in time, you don't just lose everyone," Paris turned back, eyes sharp again. "You lose everything. All of my knowledge was outdated. I missed 130 years of cultural developments and discoveries. What's a 'fill in the blank common knowledge' is still not an uncommon question for me."
"So while I had to grieve a few individuals, and for the first few months I would hear the name of a starship and think of an academy mate on that ship... but no, not the one I attended. Because wrong time, wrong universe. Well.... and by the time we were done, our entire timeline was undone... made never-was. Sonak and I are paradoxes. We exist, despite having no origin reality which spawned us." Realizing she was sounding a bit morose, Paris chuckled darkly. "So I'm afraid I don't know how to face losing people and watching them grow old and die, Doctor. If you want me to teach you that lesson, it'll take time... the rest of my life, I suppose, however long that may last."
Tova nodded, "So it looks like this is one lesson where we both just learn together, huh? You realize I will not be okay with letting you go, nor will this crew, as beloved as you are so you are not allowed to die." Tova stopped and reviewed what she said, her feeling she needed more training, all of it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to examine the issue from the outside.
There was a reason doctors didn't treat themselves or loved ones, be they physicians or psychologists, and were known to make the worst patients of all, as they tended to lose perspective. Tova was flying without balance for the first time in her life. No real friends, no peers she felt comfortable enough to go to, no one she felt she could trust with her deepest secrets. It was something few people realized about the medical field. It took more bravado than most understood to deal with life and death on a daily basis, to be trusted with the problems of others with the exception of having none yourself. Tovanna knew how precious life was, how delicate life could be- hell ,she understood how to kill more effectively than most people could fathom. In turn, she also knew how to save someone in multiple scenarios with a simple tube and knife. Its why she hid behind smiles, lollipops, books, jokes and hid in general. She opened her eyes and looked to Rita, her face changed to a new state of focus and formality.
"My apologies Commander, I've been far too informal and taken up too much of your time. I appreciate the opportunity to get to know you better. I have come to realize this is more an issue of physician heal thyself upon reflection. I will make sure to stow the suit should it be needed for away missions." Tova swiftly began removing the armor as she was speaking, "I will focus on the training I received at the Academy to ensure I am prepared for a point where your instruction will not merely waste your valuable time."
"Are you sure this wasn't all just a ploy to make friends with the odd First Officer, because this is your first starship assignment, you feel like you might be in over your head, and you really could use someone to talk to out here?" The question was asked quietly. While there was no one within earshot, Paris was being private and gentle, choosing her words and her tone carefully. "And I'd stop removing that suit if I were you, because we aren't finished yet, Miss Mah. Where we're going, you'll need it."
To that, there was silence, and Paris pursed her lips, and sighed.
"Tova, I'm sorry. I've handled this poorly, and I'm alienating you when you are reaching out to me professionally. Please, come with me. There's something I think you need to see." With that, Paris stepped over to one of the hatches, which hissed open at her approach. gesturing inside, she eyed the physician. "I'd like to maybe put it into perspective, and maybe fulfill a bit of what you're asking for. Would you be willing to accompany me for a walk on the hull?"
Tovanna looked confused, "The hull....as in the outside of the ship? You mean walk around on it?" She looked quite nervous but decided to trust the Commander. Afterall her original fear was that she would be spaced by the woman, at least she'd gotten a few laughs in before going and wasn't a pancake. Besides she already knew the face of Death that would come for her if this was her time, at least she would get to hug Rei personally. Somehow knowing Rei would be the one to come for her if things went awry made her feel better. She shrugged, "Ummm, okay."
"there's that enthusiasm. C'mon, it's safe, I promise you. The EVA armor is literally designed for this, and it has gravity magnets built into the boots," Paris explained as she opened the door to an airlock that apparently bordered onto the armory, for what now seemed like perfectly logical reasons. "Honestly, we're going for the view. But maybe so you can get a bit of a feel for the scale that you live on these days."
As Tova entered the airlock, Paris closed the hatch behind them, then turned, stiff wearing her anachronistic minidress of gold velour, which Tova somehow had trouble believing was going to protect the woman from a chill, forget about the vacuum of space. As Paris met Tova's eyes, she held her arms up before her, exposing bronze bracers of ancient design she wore beneath.
Then the curvaceous commander was clad in her EVA armor, all black and gold and still bearing the crest of old Starfleet on her left breast. As she watched, the power systems kicked on, and the lights of Paris' suit kicked in as she ran a quick diagnostic. "Stored in an extradimensional weapons cache. Non-regulation, but like my uniform, special dispensation and long story. Meanwhile," tapping at the control panel, Paris depressurized the compartment, then once that was accomplished, retracted the hatch onto the saucer section, at the starboard armory hatch, on the flattened surface of the saucer section. Steps organized themselves as the hatch disgorged.
Outside that hatch, the stars were streaking by at warp.
Taking the first few halting steps, her gravity magnet boots keeping her adhered to the deck, Rita Paris turned back to the young immortal, holding out her hand.
"Come on, Tova. The universe is waiting to meet you."
Tova took Rita's hand in a deathgrip with greater force than she intended. She looked like a cat that had been dumped in the middle of a lake with only the Commander as her lifeline as she stepped out, "I know you are being poetic, and I swear I don't want to ruin the moment, but... you know how you said go commando? Let's just say I'm really glad I didn't, because right now my ass is trying to eat this suit, and my underwear is the appetizer." Tova looked at Rita with eyes as wide as saucers ,placing every bit of trust the doctor had in her Commander. She was using every bit of bravery and self control she had to face the stars that seemed quite frightening at the moment.
"Easy does it... there you go, one foot in front of the other. Now..." As Tove reached the top of the stairs, the experienced explorer had not let go of her hand- if anything, her own grip was rather tight and secure, matching that of the anxious anatomist. Helping her up the last step, Paris gestured to the stars streaking by at warp, the light smearing fore to stern.
"There's a bubble of real space this close to the ship, so you actually can walk on the hull at warp. The deflectors are keeping anything away from us, of course, which is part of what makes warp speed possible. But so long as we stay close to the hull and don't do anything silly," Paris gestured to the universe streaking by at greater than light speed.
"We get a view like no other," Paris declared, staring up, taking it all in like she belonged there. "Come take a good look at the scale that you live on now, Tovah Mah. Come say hello to the universe."
Tova looked Rita and took a deep breath. She was trained to walk in space just not while traveling at warp speed. She knew however that just as others placed their faith in her on the operating table she could place her faith in Rita when it came to flying. She'd studied the woman enough to know she was a capable and devoted pilot. Tova took another deep breath getting her lizard brain to quiet down, giving her rational brain a chance to kick on as she looked around.
"It's beyond words" whispered the doctor. For the first time in her life she felt like someone finally showed the breadth and depth of what she was gifted as an El-Alurian. She was gifted what so many others considered lifetimes to explore all of this and more, it was endless, breathtaking. She felt unworthy puff such a gift as years fell and she let go of Rita's hand looking at the universe before her. She understood in that moment what her great grandmother removed had meant when she told her Wisdom is understanding how tiny you are in the universe, yet how important that makes you.
"Can we just sit for a moment please?" the young immortal asked Rita Paris, who sat down beside her without a word, to take in the stars.
Taking Tovah Mah's hand in her own, together they watched the universe slide by, in all it's glory.
Tovanna kept looking out at the stars and spoke quietly, "I knew you were the right teacher, Rita," she sighed "I am a child of two worlds, and I'm still learning what that means. As I look at the stars before me, I am beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the gift the universe has given me... as well as all it entails."
Pointing to the stars ahead of them, stretching to infinity behind then, Tova waxed rhapsodic. "The reality is, it terrifies me to face such a long life. Until recently it was a concept- I never thought of the realities that came with being El-Alurain beyond my heritage and namesake. Now I meet people like you, Adam, and others on this crew, and for the first time I find that I want to, well, stay." She looked at Rita with a small smile. "In the moment. With the people around me."
"It also doesn't hurt that now, I can't run all over a planet to get away from anyone anymore, especially myself." She looked back to the stars, not yet ready make eye contact as she shared her feelings. "I have feared close bonds beyond family, because of the pain of losing people. I saw it when I first became a doctor- the pain of loss, and realized I would face that pain over and over, living such a long life."
"Yet here I sit facing a crew of mortals, trapped with them as it were, and I really gave myself no choice did I? The worst part is, I really stink at allowing others care for me, at opening up to people like I am to you. I'm a master at playing the fool, saying nothing while it seems I say much, or just listening."
"So now, Rita Paris, you know the reality. I am a wizard at deception when I choose. It takes a great deal of intelligence to play stupid, a great deal of integrity to admit when you are ignorant, and the humility to be honest." She looked at Paris, now revealing her deepest secret of all.
"I'm not stupid, there is much of which I am ignorant. I do not have too much pride to admit it, and will say if I am; above all, however, I have integrity. Because before I answer to you, I must answer to myself. I do, however, try to avoid that which is emotionally uncomfortable like the plague." She shrugged and stood up, putting her hand down Rita. "Come on, that's all the deep thoughts you're prying out of me for one day, Teach."
"Then sit down, because teach still has a lesson for you," Paris replied, patting the spot next to her. As Tova sat back down, Paris snickered before she took a shot at encompassing it all. "Pry it out of you. Please."
"Save the universe, and it will reward you every day for it. An old friend told me that, years ago," Paris mused. "But in the here and now, just live your life, Tova. Not everything needs to be grandiose and dramatic. Sometimes it can just be about that time you asked Rita Paris for combat training, and she suited you up and took you out to look at the stars, so you could feel insignificant yet connected to the universe in a way you never had on Earth. The deep and grandiose lesson of it all will be relevant to the person you are explaining this to long after I'm just a footnote in the history books."
"In there here and now... just simple lessons, Tova," Paris explained, gesturing to the broad horizon of streaking stars that formed their vista. "Be here, now. Plan for it, yes, but tomorrow will take care of itself. Centuries from now you won't be who you are now, you will be so much wiser, older, who knows what else. But that's yet to be. Focus on here, now, us- the people who are trying to be your friends, on this starship of wonders, as we explore in the greatest adventure of them all."
"That's just it though..., Tova looked at Rita, "you are more than just a footnote, all of you are. You will live in my heart in my memories, my memoirs and notes for as long as I do and beyond. A life is so precious, it has meaning, impact. I can feel when time is not in synch, when a life is out of place."
"YOU are just such a life, Rita. You are blank to me, you are not in place here, yet you clearly make a difference. There are others here that are like you, even the ship itself. I feel it all the time. It's overwhelming at times, maybe that's why I sound like life encompasses more than just one moment. I feel time and it's continuum even moreso than some of my race." Tova shook her head, "It has its joyous moments... like finding sweet Minnie when she is hiding, I can feel her displacement. At other times though..." Tova never revealed her ability to those outside her race. Most knew very little about El-Alurian abilities in the matter, but she felt it was important the Commander know what was at hand if needed. "That's the other part I will need help with."
"Ahhhh. You see, for that you need a specialist, Doctor, not a generalist like me," Paris replied, whioch seemed cryptic until she explained in the next breath. "I'll set you down for a chat with Hera. She has a great understanding of such things, your best interests at heart, and you won't be the first El-Aurian she's counseled. Between your questions about immortality and your El-Auruian abilities, I had planned to send you to see her anyway. But you asking directly... well, she's the specialist, and I trust her with my life. So I'll make you an appointment."
"Meanwhile we could just relax and watch the stars slide by, Paris said, leaning back and taking her own advice. 'Or you could make another impassioned declaration..."
Laughing with relief, having gotten everything off her chest for the first time ever, Tova laughed. She was glad her Commander now knew everything, "I'm good."
With that, Tova Mah followed the lead of the anachronistic adventurer, and just sat back to appreciate the stars.