Yet Another Crossroad
Location: Deck 8, Crew Quarters
In their now shared crew quarters, Lieutenant Mnhei'sahe Dox and Ensign Mona Gonadie were busy preparing a meal for themselves and two of their fellow crewmembers.
The night before, Dox had been awoken violently by a terrible nightmare. It was bad enough to not only wake Dox and Mona from the bed they shared, but bring their neighbor, Doctor Asa Dael running. It was the latest in a string of recurring nightmares Dox was suffering through since her psychic attack at the hands of the God Anansi months ago.
After the nightmare, Dox went to the Starships magnificent namesake, the Goddess Hera herself to ask if it was only a dream or another attack by the god of stories. Hera confirmed that it was just a dream, but also revealed that Dox's mind had been opened up on a psychic level leaving her unusually vulnerable to psychic intrusion. It was door that couldn't be closed, but there was something Hera could do, and Dox needed help deciding what path to take.
"Mona, I have never cooked Eggplant in my life. How do I know if it's done?" Dox nervously looked in the oven of their small kitchenette as they prepared a meal for themselves, Commander Rita Paris and Asa.
Mona had been looking for some more normal foods to introduce to her repertoire and she knew that most people enjoyed chicken parmesan, and she enjoyed eggplant (even though it only looked like eggs when it was very young and tasted nothing like them) so she found a recipe for eggplant parmesan and together with her Minay (Nightfeathers) she had been in the kitchen doing an impromptu cooking lesson in preparation for a small get together. "Once the edges start to curl a little, I think they should be about done. Just a few minutes past that."
The anxious young Romulan began pacing back and forth. She was off duty, wearing a pair of basic black pants and a loose fitting dark green blouse. "This is crazy. How am I supposed to explain this? What Hera told me? I barely understand it."
Mona was dressed in her normal yellow and pink chicks apron and cooking outfit. Pulling Dox into a hug, she rubbed one hand on her back and cooed softly for a moment. "It's ok. I think I understand well enough. We can get through it together, ok? One step at a time. Besides, you said that Doctor Dael got that giant book, right? They might be more helpful than you think and they're your friends. They'll be understanding and supportive, no matter what."
Sighing, Dox closed her eyes and listened to Mona's gentle cooing. The sound always helped the nervous pilot relax. "I know. Hera did this for Asa too. Awakened their people's dormant abilities. For Asa it's like some kind of... cosmic awareness. For me it would be the mental abilities Romulan's abandoned when we all decided to leave the planet. Because why would you want disciplined minds, psychic abilities and super strength when you could have pointier bangs and be the galaxies best assholes."
It was a self-effacing joke she hoped would calm her down, but Dox was still nervous. "But it would be the first step to me being able to keep things like Anansi out of my mind." But what Dox wasn't saying was what she was really afraid of. That those abilities would let Mona in as well. Every time they touched, like Sonak and Rita, they would be connected. And Dox was scared that when Mona saw into the mess that was her mind, she would lose her.
But she was trying to put those fears out of her mind. Mona was there and Dox had to at least try and believe her when she said she wasn't going anywhere. "Okay. You're right. I know they will support me. I'm just... I'm just being me and..."
Dox began sniffing the air. "Hnave! It's not burning, is it?"
Mona sniffed the air as well. "No, but that smell means it's done." She handed a pair of pot holders to Dox and stepped back so she could pull the pan out herself. "Be careful. It's hot and heavy."
"Got it." Dox took the tray over to the slight larger new dining room table Mona had gotten as a part of her extensive redecorating of their shared quarters. The room looked like a completely different space now, filled with color and life whereas Dox had it set up almost exactly as it was when it was assigned to her.
Mona set out the salads, then wrapped one arm around her love and gave her a quick kiss. "Minay, there's something I want you to know. My people, when we bond, it includes a bit of a touch telepathic link with our mate so we can share emotions and things like that. If you decide to go through with this, we may have this. I would love to have that with you, but whatever you decide, please know that I will fully support you. Ok? Now let's get the table finished. They should be here any minute."
"Are you sure you're not doing this now because you're bringing up what I'm stressing about right now. Dox laughed a little awkwardly at the coincidence. "But all kidding aside... if I go through with this, it could be more than that. I'm just... afraid you won't like what you see once you're in here." Dox pointed at her own head as she laid out the table settings.
"First off, I don't think the bond goes that far. Second off, you're not getting rid of me that easily." Mona gave her a wink as she handed Dox a couple serving spoons and set out a pitcher of sweet tea.
"There we go. I've got the plates and stuff set up. Now we just have to wait, I guess." But no sooner did Dox say so as the door chime rang. "Come in", Dox called out and the door wooshed open.
Strolling into the quarters, Rita Paris took her time, taking in the changes to the previously spartan quarters. "Well well well, a woman's touch indeed. Permission to come aboard? I brought some orange sherbert and vodka mixed together and frozen to make orange creamsickles. Or a sonic screwdriver, depending on who you ask." The fulsome first officer was clad in a snug cowlneck sweater of emerald green that covered her down to her knees, which she had complemented with some snappy grey flat ankle boots and a wide belt around her slender waist that matched the boots.
"Love what you've done with the place, you two..." Rita nodded in appreciation as she handed over the dessert shake container.
Taking the container, Dox set them in the small refrigerator Mona had set up in the kitchenette. "Oh, this is so all Mona's handiwork, Commander."
Stepped back over, she continued with a slight laugh. "My primary contribution was in voting on specific colors, which is all for the best really. Left to my own devices this room would still look like empty guest quarters."
"I'm trying to give you SOME credit, Dox. Just take it gracefully," Rita laughed musically. "Mona, loving the apron, nice touch, tailfeathers. I am glad to see that this looks more like quarters and less like TAD* barracks now." (*Temporary Assigned Duty)
Mona bounced happily, already enjoying the company. "Well, I learned from therapy early that you're supposed to make your living space look like you live there rather than you don't, so I do what I can. It gives a sense of permanence and belonging as well as safety and security."
"Hah! They told me the same things, along with lots of speeches about 'object permanence' and 'tactile memory'," Rita agreed.
Smiling, Dox was fussing with the table settings. "Hey, in my defense, I followed that advice. It just brings me more safety and security to have it look like you live here.
The rotund Romulan gestured with her head to her Miradonian partner. "Plus, I'd like a little credit for my sad shelves." She said with a laugh, referring to the two fairly small.shelves with a few framed photos and childhood mementos on them near the door.
"What can I get you to drink?" Dox stepped over to the replicator, clearly trying to keep busy.
"Coffee would be nice, if you have it. Black as the devil and sweet as a stolen kiss, if you please," Rita ordered cheerfully.
"Excellent." Dox turned towards the replicator and spoke. "Computer, one Coffee, Rita Paris blend 1, please." After a second, the beverage shimmered into existence and Dox handed it to Rita standing near the table.
Around this time Doctor Asa Dael came into Mnhei'sahe's quarters, carrying a heavenly smelling loaf of garlic bread and wearing an inquisitive look. Taking in the gathering, Asa remained in good cheer, calling to the assembly, "Yoo hoo! Bread fairy is here! Am I in the right place, because it almost looks like there is color in here!"
Of course Asa had seen the redecoration the night Mnhei'sahe's nightmare had summoned them over, but there had been larger concerns at that time, and Asa had not noticed enough to inquire about the decor.
Smiling and putting on mock sarcastic laugh, Dox walked over to take the delicious smelling bread from the playful Doctor. "Ha ha. Yes, the room has color now. Somewhere, the basic starfleet catalog is crying that we got rid of all the stock furniture."
Setting the bread down, Dox took a look whiff with a smile. "Wow, this smells amazing Asa, thanks."
“Hey, I replicate with the best of them,” Asa said with a wink.
“So, anything I can do to help?” they asked the room at large.
Responding with her typical anxious tone, Dox fidgeted slightly. "I think everything is set. I guess... I guess we can just sit down and get started."
"So what exactly are we starting, Mnhei'sahe?" Rita chimed in as she chose a seat. "Dinner, or something else, hm,?"
With an awkward half-smile, Dox pulled out Mona's seat for her first. The chairs were not standard issue and we're of a unique design with open backs that Mona and Dox had designed and had replicated to be comfortable for all involved to account for Mona's Miradonian proportions and tail feathers.
As the assemblage sat, Dox replied to Rita's question. "Dinner and a conversation that I need to have with the people whose opinions I trust the most. But definitely dinner."
As she spoke, Dox began portioning the Eggplant Parmesan to her friends. "I've been here on the Hera for almost six months now. And in that time, it seems like almost everything I thought I knew about myself has changed or been caused to be question. And it seems I'm not done with that. But I'll start at the beginning."
As they began to eat, Dox relayed to Rita Paris what had happened the night before. Of the violent nightmare that had woken her and Mona and had send Asa running. She talked about the nightmares of the god of stories, Anansi, that had plagued her for months since he attacked her on the Hera trying to get to Mona's experimental flight helmet because it had opened Dox's mind to the astral plain. Which was when the story shifted to the events of that morning, when Dox met with the Goddess Hera.
"So..." Dox continued, "I made an appointment on Asa's recommendation to talk to Hera. I had to know if these were just nightmares or if they were signs of a further attack. After all, nightmares are kind of Anansi's thing. The good news, was that Hera looked right into my mind and saw no new Devine footprints. My nightmares are just good, old fashioned PTSD."
Then Dox's tone turned more somber. "The bad news is that she did look right into my mind. She described it as effortless. As if my mind called her in." She began to fidgeting with her fork as she spoke.
"Apparently... the flight control helmet did more to me than help me fly the ship. It was designed to open my perceptions and somehow... It did that and then some. Hera... She described these seven... gates? Things everyone has that can be opened up enabling people to achieve greater mental control and stuff. I barely understand it." Dox around as she spoke.
"And apparently there's an EIGHTH gate in our minds. A gate to some astral dream plain that's never supposed to be open in mortals. That helmet blew blew mine open. And according to Hera, it can't be closed again." She looked over at Rita and Asa as she spoke, pausing to let them speak. "Only... maybe... controlled. Defended. But... currently... I have zero mental defenses."
"Hm. Weird, you'd think he'd be called the 'god of nightmares' if that was his thing. So you are going to learn some techniques to learn to shutter your mind against intrusion?" Rita directed to the point, although internally she felt a serious pang of guilt. She'd approved the project, after all, and allowed the pilot to engage the use of experimental technologies in a situation unlike one they had ever encountered. Finding out that Dox had been suffering regular nightmares was news, as well as discovering that they had taken a consult with Hera. Not that she was that upset about the consultation with the starship's namesake nearly as much as what she suspected was coming next. When facing the supernatural, checking with an expert seemed logical, but this speech was going somewhere, she was certain.
"There's probably a god of nightmares, too." Dox chuckled, mirthlessly. "But he sure seemed to like nightmares as a vehicle for forcing stories into your head."
From under the table, Dox moved her leg to touch Mona's to help her feel more calm in the moment. "Hera offered to help, yeah. She had a few options. She said that she might be able to close this... gate thing... but that anything could swing it right back open. She said she could beging helping me learn how to open my other seven gates which would enable me to guard against intrusion to the eighth one."
Taking a sip, Dox paused before giving the last bit of information. "And her other suggestion, was similar to what she did for Asa. She called it Awakening. She says she can open up those doors... unlock all the stuff that Romulans stopped using in our brains thousands of years ago. She said that because I'm not El Aurian, Awakening wouldn't be dangerous like it was for Asa... but that it would be... maybe hardest for me."
"With my mind open like this, we've already seen how it could be dangerous. The entity in the Holodeck could communicate with me directly. Death's energy affected me the hardest. Even when Hera used her power on Thor and The Baroness, It hit me hard too. Hera said that my mind is like an open door. She said it basically invited her in."
"What if the Captain's mother has a Betazoid with her during the Tribunal? I would be... projecting to her like I did with Hera." Dox slowed herself down as she was rambling. "Sorry. I just... I'm scared. I'm scared and I don't know what to do."
Mona squeezed her love's hand tightly. "It's ok, my Minay. Whatever you decide to do, we're all here with you. As for that helmet, I'm going to take another look at the tech I used in it and figure out why this happened."
Smiling awkwardly, Dox gripped Mona's hand back as she waited to hear what her friends thought.
Asa thoughtfully chewed a piece of garlic bread, unaware they had finished it and started another before coming to a conclusion.
“Min…it seems like you already know what you want to do, am I correct? Forgive me for being Doctor Dael here for a moment, but I can’t fully turn it off,” Asa said, referring to the nomenclature used among the friends to delineate between Asa the idiot on be-bopping around officers country in flip flops, and Doctor Dael- the chief medical officer and ships counselor.
“If I can reflect what I’m hearing….you are loathe to allow yourself to keep your defenses down, understandably mind, and have decided that you need to take down the Welcome sign from your brain. What you are unsure of is the methodology. You don’t mistrust Hera anymore, or else you wouldn’t have asked for her consult, but you are still unsure about having someone muck about your head in some undefinable way. Also, quite understandable. What the question really remains is do you allow Hera to do this, or do you seek out other alternatives. So, what other alternatives have you considered? Let’s pro-con this….that way we can help you come to the conclusion of what’s best for you, and I hope you know that we will support you in that decision as much as possible. Does that sound reasonable?”
Asa concluded, sitting back in their chair slightly, but still with the rapt, concentrated attention reserved for serious questions.
Smiling slightly, Dox was glad. In her heart she wanted to hear from both her friends AND her crewmates. Both perspectives were important to her in this moment for sure. "Doing nothing isn't an option. I don't know what going forward... open like this will do to me..what it will let in. I'll be second guessing every dream, every thought and feeling before too long."
"If you can find out how that helmet accessed this... astral plain... I don't know... Maybe you can find a way to block that too. At least a stop gap." Dox looked at her love sitting next to her.
"And it seems like my only other options are... Hera's suggestion. Or trying to train my mind, which I don't even know is possible." Dox felt slightly defeated as she spoke.
“Well, those are the immediate solutions, yes,” Asa replied, “But have we done any research to see if others of your heritage have had similar awakenings? It might help you know what to expect if nothing else… Don't fret too much though, Min, we'll figure it out together. If we have learned anything since coming aboard, it's that our cooperative efforts can accomplish much, right?”
“There’s my cue,” Rita spoke up, having been listening and observing, waiting for the right moment to chime in. “First, is it possible to train your mind? Well, you learned astrogation, didn’t you? Nautical terms for starships? Long division? You can train your mind and you know it, Miss Dox. As your commander, I won’t hear such defeatist talk before you have even tried- after all, if you defeat yourself before you even try, then you are the worst kind of loser, and that is NOT what I have been training you for all these months.”
“Now, as for your friend Rita, she thinks that a stopgap measure by Hera might work. But did you earn it? Do you control it? What about when Hera isn’t there to consult, what will you do?” This was a risky conversational gambit, but Rita decided to go for it. “That plan I oppose, because self-reliance is the first key. We are all stronger together, but in this case, learning how to guard your own mind will give you peace of mind, which clearly you require since you are haunted by the nightmares of one singular encounter that frankly wasn’t that traumatic, yet it terrifies you so badly that you have turned it into a recurring nightmare. Your mind is tormenting you, not the intruder you encountered once. So you need to be the one to master your own mind.”
“Of course, I say this as someone who clearly doesn’t understand stress, violation, trauma, nightmares or the building of mental defenses,” Taking a sip of water, Rita left that one on the table. Her shipmates knew a tiny fraction about her life and career, which was not a matter of record in Starfleet. But she knew, and it never failed to amaze her when her cheerful demeanor left people with the impression that her life had been lollipops and rainbows.
In spite of herself, Dox laughed just a little as her nervous energy burst out at Rita's last comment. Dox knew quite well about Rita Paris' traumas and how she continued to struggle to live with them. It was an extreme comfort to hear almost exactly what she expected from the statuesque officer.
"I think that's what scares me more than what actually happened. Just that he was up here and I couldn't stop him. That loss of control was worse than what actually happened. If I let Hera... awaken me. I'm just giving up more control. And worse, opening my mind up to things I won't know how to control myself.
Taking a sip of her sweet tea, Dox thought for a moment. "I've heard... rumors... about Romulans that learned to develop their mental abilities, but I've never seen any proof. But... if it can be done... I need to try. I need to try the right way. One step at a time."
It was Asa’s turn to laugh, “You have met Yeoman Dedjoy and Lieutenant Clemens, correct? If anyone can help you suss out the truth of rumors, it’s that pair. Why not ask them to help you dig, and when you have some tips to go off, let me look at them from a medical perspective, maybe ask Lieutenant Sonak from a psionic mastery perspective?”
There was a brief pause as Dox considered Asa's suggestion. It.was all good advice although she was concerned regarding Sonak as he was dismissive the last time she had mentioned the concept of an 'astral plain' during the Worldship mission debriefing. But nobody knew more about mastery of the exact thing she was trying to do.
"I will. I'll also, with permission, follow up with Hera. She told me she could also help me train as she seems to know the most about these... gates." At which Dox clarified. "Training... not 'awakening'. I don't even pretend to know what it all means. Chakras and stuff. But I'll take any help I can get in understanding it. Getting a handle on it."
“Uh, am I the only one who knows Vulcans and Romulans are the same species with very minor evolutionary and breeding differences?” Rita asked quizzically. “Genetics completely aside, mental exercises can be learned by anyone. I know them, and I have the psionic potential of a kumquat. A little training, a bit of determination and some discipline and you can learn them, Mnhei’sahe. Just believe in yourself and find yourself someone who understands discipline and mental exercises. Shouldn’t have to look far…” she added, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Hell, you can probably get him to teach you and Az’Prel at the same time. You’d both benefit, neither of you would be struggling alone, and everyone would benefit. Sonak did spend a good decade teaching at the Academy, after all- he has quite the drive to educate. ‘We come to serve’, as the man says.” Rita watched for how her recommendation would be received. "Seeking training from Hera isn't something I'd recommend. But it's your mind, your body, your call."
The young Romulan's face lit up at the idea. Having another pupil with her with Sonak would be a good way to alleviate some of her tension. Make it less about her so she would be less self conscious. And the less said about 'Eighth Gates' the better, she thought. "That's a great idea, Commander. Thank you."
Smiling a little awkwardly still, she looked at everyone at the table. "Thanks... I mean it."
“And please get periodic brain scans, won’t you?” Asa inquired, “I have absolutely no doubts about Lieutenant Sonak’s abilities, or your own, but there are some….foreign…..elements in play here, and unlocking your biology has been a multi-stage endeavor. Better safe than sorry, right? I would say you can refuse me, but if you do, I’ll just sneak over at night and scan you anyway.”
The tone in Asa’s voice indicated they were not entirely sure if that was a promise, a joke, or a threat. Perhaps all three.
Almost surprised, Dox quickly nodded. "Of course, absolutely. The more scanning the better, please." She had absolute faith in Asa as both a friend an Doctor. "Actually... I'd like to keep you involved every step of this if possible. Physical, emotional and metaphysical."
“Well then, you got me,” Asa said simply.
“Now remember that when I’m asking you for the ten zillionth time how you are feeling.”
"Many of my people tend to be very spiritual as well, though I have no real training or ever looked into it before. All I know is what my mother taught my siblings and I before..." Mona didn't finish that thought. Instead, she softly cooed for a moment and squeezed Dox's hand a bit tighter. "Anyway, it amounted to some meditation and figuring out who I am and how I feel about that."
Keeping her grip tight on Mona's hand, Dox knew exactly what caused the Miradonian to pause. It was a memory she had shared far more horrible than any Dox could compare it to and one she wished she could take from her.
Instead she tilted her head and talked a little softer, but not so much as to draw unwanted attention to Mona's memory. "Well, meditation is apparently going to be a part of this, so maybe you could show me sometime. We could practice together?"
"I would love that very much, Minay," the brightly plumed aviatrix replied with that special smile she reserved for her love.
Smiling a bit less awkwardly, Dox looked at Mona longingly then back her friends. "Well, I have a plan and I have all the help in the galaxy. I think the only thing that's left is those Creamscicles Rita brought. Who's ready for dessert?"