There's No Place Like Home (Hopefully)
“It’s ok, Yeoman Ogg, vomit happens,” Doctor Asa Dael said gently, entrusting their patient to the capable hands of Ensigns Carrott and Vimes as they went to replicate a new uniform shirt.
The Yeoman in question was a lovely young human officer, recently married to a civilian stationed aboard the Hera. A shotgun wedding as it turned out.
The outbreak of pregnancy aboard the Hera caused by her namesake goddess residing in the VIP Quarters had largely come to a close, but a few stragglers here and there kept popping up, usually a little further along than the usual person seeking confirmation of pregnancy, leaving Dael to conclude that Hera’s influence had indeed ebbed, but it was just taking time to filter through all those influenced. In the meantime though, well, vomit happens.
Freshly changed, Asa sat at their desk typing a report to the captain and first officers, noting that replacements would need to be found for both personnel and recommending their immediate transfer to a less danger prone vessel. The Hera was not cleared for children for a reason, and considering the horrors often inflicted on the vessel, Asa deemed it prudent to complete transfers quickly whenever possible.
Report filed, the doctor set about putting the finishing touches on the days’ work. It had been a long 12 hour shift, but crew physicals always seemed to come due at the same time, and there were a thousand little things needing tending to when the ship was not in crisis mode. Right as they went to stand and leave Ensign Carrott popped his shocking red head into the office.
“Subspace communication for you on channel five, Doctor.”
“Thank you Ensign. Oh, how is the wife? Married life going well?” Asa inquired. Carrott was recently wed himself, and Asa had some suspicions that the newlyweds wouldn’t be long for the Hera either. Carrott was a good man with moon eyes for his new bride, and every pregnancy they treated together he took on a wistful expression that all but screamed “Someday.”
“It will be if I’m not late for dinner,” he replied with a smile.
“Better get to it then, dismissed Ensign. Have a good night.”
After Carrott had made his exit, Doctor Dael pressed the button to answer the subspace communication at a terminal on their desk. Likely a doctor based on DS9 needing a consult, after all the Hera was due at the station in two days and doctors frequently asked for a second set of eyes on difficult cases. Without fully looking up from the report they were finishing they said, “Chief Medical Officer Dael here, how can I help?”
A gravelly voice answered, stopping Asa cold. “Asa, it’s Daddy. We need to talk.”
“Why?” Asa snarled, taking in their fathers drawn face, sunken eyes, and pale skin.
Keres had always been a vital man, well over 6 foot tall, with a stocky build that seemed to have now withered away. He had the same pointing in every direction brown hair as Asa, and near identical gray blue eyes. There was still no mistaking the two for father and child, but Keres seemed to have aged well beyond his 1700 years in the decade since Asa left.
To anyone else in the galaxy, Asa welcomed them with a smile and open hand. Better to presume the good in someone and have it confirmed than seek the bad and confirm that instead they thought. Of course not everyone could live up to those standards, and Asa was already experienced at hiding their disappointment in the selfishness of others, but there was one life form that was beyond any redemption to the Doctor’s mind- their father.
After exiting the Nexus almost 100 years ago, Asa’s parents had sought refuge on Bajor to live in peace and raise a family. The Bajorans welcomed them and allowed the small El-Aurian community to keep to itself, governing and raising their families as they saw fit. Then as religious fervor overtook much of Bajor, the El-Aurian refugee’s had adopted some extreme beliefs of their own, leading to a rejection of medicine, science, and most of all, common sense. Growing up Asa had come to the conclusion this was folly and had begged their father and mother to reject these unsound notions. Although their mother Kendra had been willing, Keres was not, and he ruled with an iron fist. When Asa’s Kendra gave birth to their baby brother, Brennan, she had died as a result of birthing complications and infection. A young Asa had raged at the injustice, but sought to find ways to care for Brennan by circumventing Father’s prohibition on medications. Being a child, Asa was caught and forbidden to provide any other medicines to the ever-sickly boy. Then, one horrible day, Asa’s world ended when Brennan lost the fight to his undiagnosed illnesses, passing away at the age of 14. Soon after the soon-to-be Doctor ran off to join Starfleet, leading them to their current assignment as Chief Medical Officer on the USS Hera.
The Hera was an intel vessel, and Her crew saw a great many dangers and injuries. Asa found the work exhilarating, and had come to view the crew as an adopted family. They were young for the position, but Asa was young for just about everything. Most El-Aurians did not leave home until they were at least 80 or 90 years of age. At only 27, Asa was considered the equivalent of a 12-year old running away to join the circus to most El-Aurians.
“Because I said so, and I’m your father young man,” Keres replied, voice full of self-importance and indignation.
“Young person, Keres,” Asa growled, “Remember? The one thing you would let me see a doctor about growing up? Hardly my fault I was born in a gendered body I never asked for. Or did you think the gender nullification was just a phase? I assure you, it wasn’t. If you wish to speak to me ever again beyond this sentence, you will get that right.”
“Fine, Asa, fine,” Keres said in a conciliatory tone. “I only thought that you would change your mind to carry on the family name since your brother was so cruelly taken from us.”
The simmering rage in Asa’s head exploded.
“Computer, privacy lock, filter, and sound proofing please. Authorization Dael, LJG, 314159”
The office windows went opaque, and a slight click spoke of a locked door and soundproofing field coming to life.
“He was rather cruelly taken from us, wasn’t he?” they said at long last. There was no warmth in their voice, no curiosity, no sadness- just rage. Pure, white hot rage. Without raising their voice, Asa continued, “But you would know all about that, wouldn’t you? Seeing as you were the one that took him. If you wanted a son to carry on the family name, maybe you shouldn’t have killed the one you had, you utter bastard.”
Hands shaking from the adrenalin spike, Asa concluded, “It’s they, Keres. Not he. Child, not son. Actually, scratch that, Doctor, not child. If you need an honorific, may I suggest you try Myx? I’ve only been suggesting it for the last 17 years. Now what do you want. I’m busy.”
Keres face was a mask of anger until Asa named themself Doctor. At that, the man wilted.
“Oh, Asa. A doctor? I pray the prophets will bless the path that brings you to repentance. But it will help you to understand what I’m about to tell you. I was diagnosed with Gamma Variant Vahar’ai. I would like to see you again, before the end. Surely you would grant your father such a request?”
The word dropped like a ten pound stone on Asa’s chest.
The Kelpians, from whom the disease originated, were still pre-warp and largely unknown among the stars. However when Saru left the Kelpian homeworld the century prior, he had brought with him a dormant version of Vahar’ai. It took 25 years before Starfleet medical concluded that a new disease causing increased heartrate and death precognition was a mutated version of Vahar’ai. Over the next 113 years the disease had continued to mutate as it spread among different species. While it was not curable, Starfleet Medicial had devised several treatment options that would all but stop the diseases progression. It did not have to be a fatal diagnosis, but Asa knew immediately that their medically averse father would not chose treatment, instead choosing to believe the disease a sign from the Gods that it was his time to die.
“I am on my way. Expect my arrival within the week,” was all the doctor said.
“Thank you, little one. I will see you soon. Bajor Quarantine Station Zed out,” Keres signed off.
Leaning back in their seat, Asa pinched the bridge of their nose and took a deep breath.
=^=Doctor Dael to Captain Telvan and Commander Paris. Can you please come to my office? There is something I need to discuss with you =^=.
Perhaps discussing time off the Hera to tend to a family matter could have waited until the next day, but Asa needed to take charge of this now. They needed to feel like they had some part of it, any part of it, under control. A million different contingencies ran through Asa’s mind for how to convince Keres to seek treatment, but none of it could be done over subspace. Honestly Asa wasn’t entirely sure how Keres knew where to contact them, and that had the potential for a security leak that needed to be addressed. On top of that sh*t sundae there was the revelation that they were born male and had chosen to become agendered. It had never seemed important before today, but knowing how Keres was, he would find a way to make sure everyone knew of what he perceived to be Asa’s failings, and the doctor would rather people find out from them instead of him.
And to think, Asa thought the worst thing that would happen today was being vomited on.
Enalia was already on her way to sickbay when she got the call with business of her own, but the tone of Asa's voice said that the business she had would have to wait. Instead, she tugged down on her uniform top and quickened her pace for the last leg of her journey to sickbay.
When she got to sickbay, night operations were in full swing so she just headed straight to Asa's office and tapped on the door frame. "Knock knock. Is it bad news? Is there a plague lose on the ship?"
Standing to greet the Captain, Asa appeared to shake themself from reverie before saying" Plague? No ma'am, please have a seat, can I offer you something to drink?"
The headache forming in the back of Asa's eyes led to them looking haggard. They had not eaten in seven hours and should have been resting at home when the message from Bajor had arrived. To top it off unwanted tears were trying to escape, a reaction Asa sometimes had to emotional shock and anger, but not one they wanted to have in front of the Captain. In a time practiced manner, Asa pinched their nose and swallowed, thinking as they always did about teaching that little trick to Brennan to ward off tears
For once the gesture failed and a single tear began to fall that Asa wiped away surreptitiously.
"I think you're the one that needs a drink, from the looks of it. Maybe a cup of camomile with honey?" The spotted woman spoke softly as she entered the office and sat across from Asa. She hadn't missed the tear or the moistness in her Doctor's eyes. "You have bad news?"
"Aye Captain," Asa said, slumping back down to their seat, head resting in their hands. After a few deep breaths Asa looked up, "It's my father, he's...he's dying. He doesn't have to be...the fool could live for centuries yet....but he is choosing to die."
A thumping began in the distance that slowed down as it approached the chief medical officer's office, getting quieter until the hum of the transporter took hold, then Rita Paris rapped on the door and peeked inside cautiously. "I take it this is not the sort of danger one needs EVA armor to face?"
Asa stood to greet Commander Paris, motioning for her to sit. "I wish it was, ma'am. I was just telling the Captain...my father called me from Bajor. He's....he's dying ma'am. He has Vahar'ai."
At this point Asa could not stop a few more rebel tears from leaking out. "I would like to request time to visit him on Bajor when we are at DS9. And...well, I would be foolish to ignore the possibility he may have made arrangements to have me... detained... to complete an El Aurian funereal ritual... they often start years before the death of an elder and last for a decade or two after. We... we don’t die often, and our leaders often hold their positions for a millennia or two... and well, Keres has led our colony since they left the Nexus. And there are expectations for him to be mourned that he will insist on. And want them led by... his son."
The androgynous person lifted their head to better make eye contact with the Captain and First Officer. Better to spill all the proverbial beans now.
"Because when I was born, that's what I was considered. His eldest son. But... but I'm not that, not really, I never was, I had my gendered aspects removed as soon as my physiology allowed... but I... I didn't want you to be surprised if Keres or other members of the community refer to me as his son. Some of them were less than accepting of my transition, which considering what religious nut-bars they are, well, I doubt you are surprised to hear they were less than kind.”
A slightly hysterical note resounded as Dael concluded, "Gods I hate him....I have no idea how he even knew how to reach me. I never wanted to see him again or have any part of his little cult of personality...and now he gets sick, and I have to go don't I? I'm a bloody doctor, I am honor-bound to try to convince him to seek treatment, but he won’t. And I will be stuck there for decades, losing everything I worked for. Gods, he always wins in the end..."
As if realizing they were babbling, Asa turned beet red and placed their head back in their hands, running fingers through close cropped hair.
"Please, forgive me," was all they could say to finish.
"Hey, hey hey hey... all right, let's unpack this a bit," Rita volunteered, knowing this wasn't the captain's arena. "First, that was a painful confession, and we appreciate you sharing it with us so we would hear it from you first. Because if someone starts misgendering our chief medical officer, now we'll know why. Next... I think I can speak for the command when I say that we respect all creeds and faiths."
"But you are not his son, the USS Hera cannot stick around for a decade or two, we will not accept your resignation and we're afraid that you know too much classified information to be reassigned to a shore billet on Bajor to oversee a funeral. So while we can bring you in for a visit, it's pretty darn clear that our ship's surgeon is needed here. Your manipulative old man, on the other hand, can make his own choices." A manipulative and disapproving father figure was something Rita Paris understood all too well, and just because the familial leash had been yanked, she wasn't about to let Asa Dael throw away their career away over it.
"I have to agree. I also have to insist that you not go alone and that you wear an emergency transport tag on you at all times." The concept of refusing medical treatment to Enalia was about as far removed from reality as you could get so this whole thing smelled of a trap to her. As for manipulative parentage, This was exactly the sort of thing she would expect of her mother to try to expose her so she wasn't about to let Asa walk into a similar trap. On the flip side, if Asa's father really was dying... Of a curable disease... She knew that she couldn't stop her Chief Medical Officer from at least going to see if they could change the old fool's mind. Besides, this was still their father, after all.
A bit of the tension seemed to go out of Asa’s shoulders hearing their responses. The doctor had expected no less from their friends, but after a childhood spent being told they were wrong about who they knew themself to be it was always reassuring to have others easy acceptance of their identity. The fierce protectiveness that Asa knew the Captain and First Officer had towards the crew also reassured them that they were cared for because of whothey are, not any genetic or outward variables beyond the doctors control.
“Thank you, both of you, truly,” Asa replied, “I…I would greatly appreciate someone with me. While El Aurians aren’t as nefarious like the Collector and his ilk, well, we are just an old species. You know how for most people their grandmother is a little behind the times? She means well, but she just hasn’t kept up with the latest technology or cultural norms, so she’s always just a little bit wrong? That’s all of El Aurian culture- except they aren’t a mere 100 years behind, more like 1000 at times. Some of my friends growing up had parents that still viewed Vulcans as a newly warp capable society and felt the Federation was just another passing fancy that will fall away in a century or two, so no need to get involved now. I joke a lot about the old codgers….but there really is an otherness in a society that lives dramatically longer than most sentient life in the galaxy...And trust me, I have no desire to spend the next 20 years reading the colonies histories and reflecting on the ‘wisdom of one who has entered eternity’”,” Asa held the first two fingers of each hand aloft for the last sentence, scrunching them down twice in succession to indicate they were quoting from an outside source.
"But even knowing it's going to be horrible...I still have to go. I may hate him, but it doesn't change the fact he's my father. I wish it did," Asa concluded in a small voice.
“I know a little bit about old-fashioned fathers,” Rita spoke up, making eye contact with the Captain for approval before proceeding. “I’ve never been to Bajor, and I would be happy to go with you, Asa, to watch your back and insure no one runs roughshod over you. I can do it officially as a Starfleet officer, or as a private citizen of the Federation, whichever would serve the mission better. You’re Starfleet, so you are never alone, and you certainly don’t have to face this alone.”
“But I’m afraid that your old dad can’t just whistle and have you back under his thumb for another couple of decades. You have a commitment to Starfleet, and you swore an oath. That oath precludes parental manipulative guilt- a fact I had to rather forcibly remind my own father of over the years,” Rita snickered.
At the unexpected humor, Asa barked a brief laugh, “I may need one of those speeches of yours, ma’am. Heaven knows for a race of listener, Keres, my father that is, can talk to beat the band. But considering the source, maybe I do have a few things in common with him after all...”
“Should I be concerned how he was able to reach me, Captain? I had requested my subspace frequency not be given out by Starfleet Command to anyone I had not preauthorized, even before being assigned to this ship. I…I always knew he would pull something like this, and I tried to stop if before it happened. Truth be told, I’m not even sure how he knew for sure I was in Starfleet. When last we spoke I believe my parting words were “Screw you old man, I’m going to the Gamma Quadrant.”
"That was likely my fault, " replied Enalia. "I had to send DS9 preregistration for the refugees we picked up at Starbase 336 and you're the registered attending physician."
“Oh, of course Captain. Naturally I still want to aid in the treatment of the refugee’s, I’m sure Keres can wait a day or two for that to be taken care of. Well, word travels quickly I guess. I imagine Keres had ears open for my name since I left. El-Aurians are patient above all else after all….Wonder how many people he paid off…..”
Slumping slightly to consider the mystery, Asa shook their head to dispel irrelevant thoughts. The how of the call had been less important than the why, and Asa knew they were only forestalling dealing with the emotional blowback that was surely on its way.
“Insofar as I can guess anything ahead of time, I am going to need to go to Bajoran Quarantine outpost Zed to visit Keres. We may need approval from the Bajoran government ahead of time, I will need to look into that. I was immunized against the gamma variant he is carrying, naturally, as per regulation, but Bajor is so deeply religious they don’t require vaccinations from anyone with religious objection, so they keep quite a few outposts around to isolate disease carriers. I’ll probably need to stop there first, but I imagine I will need to go to our Colony also to wrap up whatever business Keres left undone before his seclusion. Beyond that… it’s hard to say. I would like to visit Brennan’s grave if possible. I- I never really got to say goodbye before. I was too busy leaving…”
Tears began to threaten to fall again, so Asa once more pinched their nose and swallowed before continuing, “I think just one or two other people with me would be plenty, though. No need to tie up the rest of the crew dealing with El-Aurian family drama. There may be a bit of a social disturbance, but nothing requiring the new security team to flex their muscles, just yelling and guilt trips. Well, and the elders trying to ground me for the next 20 years.. Of course, I would certainly welcome Commander Paris presence. She…I mean, well….it would be nice to have a friend guarding my back,” Asa concluded in a small voice.
“Unless the Captain wants to do it, I’ll accompany you,” Rita volunteered, speaking gently but with steel in her voice. All of this brought her defensive nature to bear, and when it came to the frail physician, Rita was perhaps more defensive than most. “Hell, I’ll bring a security team if you like, or show up armed and armored. You’ve followed me into war zones more than once- the least I can do is be your bodyguard here. I guess we should make sure my immunizations are up to date, since I haven’t had one in a century or so. As for detaining you, ‘While the United Federation of Planets respects the religious practices of all of its members, those strictures do not apply to Starfleet officers in regard to the performance of their duties should said customs come at cross-purpose with the fulfilment of said duties’. In other words, service first, religion second.”
“Rightly so,” Asa said, reflexively nodding.
“I don’t think we need full armor for this, though I admit the idea of storming the colony fully kitted out is mentally pleasing if for no other reason than the elders chagrined faces, but a phaser or two is probably not a bad idea. Keres might need the Commander Pierce treatment if he gets too lippy,” the doctor said in an attempt at humor. Commander Pierce was the now deposed human leader of a research base that earned himself a stun shot from Rita when he lacked the good sense to shut up and go peacefully into custody.
“ The only possible resistance we would meet in the traditional sense would come from the El-Aurian Civil Defense League. It’s really just a trumped up name for a group of about 10-12 veterans from various conflicts that ‘keep the peace’ by patrolling the streets. In truth, all they really do is make sure Elder Harmon doesn’t break his neck staggering home from a bar. Only two or three of them even own phasers, and I would be surprised if the power cells in them were charged.”
Shrugging, Paris acknowledged. “Okay, if it’s not that dangerous, I'll skip the full security team. We’ll give you a transport implant tag so it won’t be noticed and can’t be easily removed, and we’ll maintain a transporter lock on you at all times. And given what you are telling me, I will in fact be armored, as I’ll be in no mood to put up with any lip.” Given the amount of caution that the doctor was displaying, Paris had no qualms whatsoever about using far more force than was necessary to insure their safety. If one errant adventurer was insufficient to keep them safe, Paris would treat the situation as an incursion into hostile territory and come bearing advanced armor and weaponry.
The smile that Asa flashed did not fully touch their eyes, but the gratitude was heartfelt and obvious as they said, “If nothing else, it will make it clear that bad behavior won’t be tolerated. Thank you, ma’am. I’m sure there are other places you would rather be. This won’t cause any issues with the Bajoran government will it?”
Asa was unclear on all the political ramifications possible in having armed personnel from Starfleet on the planet, but they knew they couldn’t live with themself if their family drama caused an incident to command.
“They are members of the Federation, are they not?” Rita asked, then with a nod from the Captain proceeded. “Thus Starfleet personnel on Starfleet business will create no diplomatic incident, so long as I insure everyone lives. You may have noticed I prefer non-lethal solutions, so it won’t be a problem. Captain, anything you’d care to weigh in on here?”
"They may be Federation members, but they don't like a lot of interference because of the wormhole and the whole religious thing so I'd prefer if you left the armor at home. That being said, since I'll be here coordinating repairs and refugee relief efforts and worrying about Tribunal meetings..." Enalia furrowed her brow in consternation. "I would feel better if you took not only the Thor as your main ride, but invited Death along. As I understand it, only a few people are able to even see this being and frankly, I wouldn't even sure we're guarding anything or anyone if I hadn't been able to confirm there was something causing a disturbance in those quarters with the holoprojection scanners."
"As for your original gender..." Enalia folded her hands in front of her thoughtfully. "It's probably my own upbringing showing through, but I had a bit of a time converting your pronouns from female to gender neutral, which, let's face it, symbionts are asexual so it wasn't that hard once I figured it in that context. Ahem... That's not something I should have admitted to, is it..." Enalia looked down sheepishly for a moment before recovering her confidence. "Either way, you know who you are and you're Myx Asa Dael, Chief Medical Officer of the USS Hera. On top of that, your family here is not about to let you go."
"It's a poorly held secret that symbionts are asexual, ma'am. At least among medical corps. I...am relieved to have a true family now, Captain. I welcome Cara Anam's company, although if her existence is to remain a secret, I would be remiss to not point out anyone close to their appointed time would likely see her, and although rare, deaths do occur in a quarantine station, " Asa replied.
"And it may be that El Aurians can see her as well since you can still see her after she bonded with Schwein..." The spotted Captain mused on this point for a moment before finalizing the call. "Either way, she may need to go there for her job, right? Then I see no harm in asking her."
"Oh sure, leave the power armor at home because it might be too aggressive. But here, bring the incarnation of Death, because that's a friendly handshake," Rita muttered, rolling her eyes.
Enalia stared blankly at her first officer "As Death is a natural part of life... Yes. Power armor is not and thus far less diplomatic in regards to anything religious. Especially if we remind them of the Cardassian Occupation. Basic weapons only, double the medkits, don't inflame the religious zealots, constant transporter locks."
"Aye Captain, as you say. Not arguing, just eyerolling. I promise to be polite and not unduly frighten the locals in the leper colony who want their wayward lamb to come home," Rita held up one hand and placed the other over her heart. "Phaser and a miniskirt, commbadge and my wits is what I'm used to anyway."
"On top of that..." Enalia knew this probably wasn't the best time, but it couldn't hurt so she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small black box that she knew everyone aboard was likely familiar with by now. She slid it across the desk to Asa and nodded. "How about you go down there as a full Lieutenant? It might help."
The smile that graced Asa’s face this time reached their eyes. “I…I don’t know what to say, ma’am, but thank you. I am honored for the trust you place in me, and I will endeavor to continue to be worthy of it. And hey, losing the Junior Grade just takes some ammo out of their you-are-just-a-child argument, so win win?” The doctor sat up straight while speaking, unconsciously brushing a hand along their collar as they spoke.
"You say that and I'm tempted to send someone that would consider them a child..." Enalia muttered, looking between Asa and Rita. "I'm sure everything will turn out well enough in the end. I mean... It'll definitely be emotionally stressful... But we'll be here for you and remember, we're you're family too and we love you."
“Thank you, Captain, I love each of you fiercely also. Now let’s go show the old man what family really means, aye?”
"Oh, aye," Paris replied with a grin. "I always was the black sheep of the family..."