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Ensign Riel and Lt Cmdr Richards "A healthy mind in a healthy body

LtCmdr Alexander Richards

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((Chief Science Officer’s Office, USS Gemini))

:: Ensign Riel was walking through the corridors of deck 6, feeling better. The meditation had soothed his nerves for a while, and the drugs started wearing off. The latter being, on the flipside, the reason why walking past the CSO's office felt like the empathic equivalent of a punch in the gut. The pain was almost physical, enough to make Lan's eyes water.

Lan sighed. Apparently, his star-crossed lunch break with Lieutenant Rejoh was once more thwarted by the imperious call of duty. Composing himself, he pushed the door chime button. ::

Richards: Enter.

:: Normally Alexander would have found the sight of a counsellor in front of him imposing. For the first time in his life however, he welcomed the intrusion. He had a lot on his mind and could really use the company. Perhaps the Ensign would be able to help clear his mind. ::

:: At the Commander's invitation, Ensign Riel made his way inside the room, and respectfully nodded to Richards. ::

Riel: Commander.

Richards: Ensign Riel. Please take a seat. Would you like me to fetch you anything from the replicator?

Riel: :: Taking the offered seat :: Actually that was part of the purpose of my visit, Sir: I made my rounds to see if someone was up for dinner.

:: He managed a half-smile; that was technically true. ::

Richards: oO Dinner. Now there is a thought. With all that has been going on I haven’t eaten since. Well, I don’t recall eating at all today. Oo

:: Alexander turned his chair and headed for the replicator half expectant that the next words out of the Ensigns mouth would be what he wanted to eat. ::

Riel: After all, it's part of my job to make sure that the crew doesn't go mad-hungry and start devouring each other.

:: Under normal circumstances, Alexander may have found the joke funny. However these were not normal circumstances and he wasn’t much in the mood for fun and games either. ::

Richards: :: In a calm, almost pleasant manner. :: Funnily enough, with how busy I have been on this double shift Ensign, I completely forgot to eat anything today. Your timing is impeccable. I assume you have not eaten either, what with being stuck on the bridge for most of the shift since the away team went to the surface?

Riel: Indeed, Sir, skipping meals seems to be in fashion. Actually, I don't think I've seen the mess since I arrived, which may very well have been yesterday or a lifetime ago.

:: Alexander hadn’t seen the mess either since joining the crew of the USS Gemini all those months ago. In his mind he justified this fact by claiming that he had just been far too busy to socialise during meal times. ::

Richards: Neither have I if I’m honest Ensign. What can I get you?

Riel: Catfish sandwich, if you please.

:: That was a very Terran dish for a non human to order. Alex smiled to himself internally before ordering the Ensigns sandwich and his own cheese and pickle sandwich. He was hungry, but right now he felt that his choice was all he would be able to stomach. With both dishes placed carefully on his chair, he turned and returned to his desk, happy that he would be able to socialise whilst eating rather than go mad with the pain of the suggestion he had made to the captain. ::

Richards: Here you go Ensign. Enjoy your meal. I must say, that a catfish sandwich is a rather odd choice for a non human, any particular reason for the choice?

Riel: Thank you, Sir, enjoy yours. Comes with the job description, I think: a counsellor is also a diplomat, and you have to keep a very open mind when it comes to food when making contact with alien species. That being said Earth food is quite pleasant, especially the spicy kind.

:: Cue a bite into the fried fish and vegetables, and an approving nod. ::

:: Noticing the Ensign bite into his own sandwich, Alexander began on his. Unlike the coffee the replicator tended to produce, the sandwich was quite palatable. It wasn’t quite the same as biting into the real deal but it had managed to capture the essence of a good mature cheddar cheese and the sweet, yet tart flavour of a good sandwich pickle. ::

Riel: Mmm. Anyway, besides the lunch, I had come to talk, if you have some time to spare, Sir. I have barely had time to say hello to everyone since I arrived, and I thought it'd be nice to get acquainted a bit, wouldn't it?

Richards: Well, as of about five minutes ago, I am officially off shift so I do indeed have some time to spare Ensign. What made you choose me over someone else. According to my own wife, I’m not exactly known for being good dinner company.

Riel: Well, honestly, it was between you and Lieutenant Rejoh, since I owe her a lunch. But you have the higher rank, and your door was closest.

:: He smiled, half-apologetically. Again, technically true. ::

:: That response sounded almost forced to Alexander’s untrained ear. Almost as if the Ensign had an ulterior motive for calling on his door, especially when considering both were now off duty. ::

Riel: That, and the fact that the whole situation with Lieutenant Driscoll has hit you hard enough that you're broadcasting pain and grieving through all the deck, Sir.

:: Alexander very nearly choked on the mouthful of the cheese and pickle sandwich he had been chewing at that statement. His mind had to do a double take just comprehend what had just been said. Had it been any other officer he probably would have evicted them from his office immediately. ::

Richards: :: With a raised tone to his voice. :: I beg your pardon Ensign!

Riel: My apologies, Sir. I plead Betazoid cultural bluntness and a firm belief that a hard, clean truth does less long-term damage than a sweet poisonous lie, Sir.

:: Alexander had half a mind to terminate the conversation right there and then. However a little voice in the back of his head told him just how bad an idea that would have been. He took a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking again. ::

Richards: :: Slightly calmer. :: I hadn’t realized that I had taken down my mental blocks so much during this crisis. Normally I am very good at keeping things from telepaths. Anyway, I thought you were supposed to be off duty now?

Riel: Heh. I'm a counsellor, Commander. There's no real 'off' to my duty, you are a person I'd like to know more, as a human being as well as a patient, and this catfish sandwich is delicious, so I don't mind mixing business and pleasure as long as there is pleasure.

:: He reclined a bit in his seat, making himself comfortable. In all honesty, the famed Betazoid bluntness in him had been mostly tamed during his long hours of diplomacy lessons at the Academy. However, as a counsellor, he had discovered it could be a fantastic tool. It put people off-balance, and forced them to think. Or even better, it caused mild irritation, which was a stimulant not to be overused, but an excellent stimulant nonetheless. And right now, Richards needed it. Lan just hoped he'd be able to mend the fences afterwards. ::

Richards: oO Pleasure! There was pleasure until you interrupted proceedings with that statement. Oo

:: It was taking all of Alexander’s strength to remain calm. It seemed that this counsellor, like most others, had the innate ability to get under his skin and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like sharing his thoughts and feelings with others. They were private, intimate, his own. Then again, he was now in for a penny so he may have well gone in for the pound. ::

Riel: I guess Lieutenant Driscoll and you were more than just colleagues for her predicament to hurt you like that. Would you mind telling me about her a bit, Sir?

Richards: :: Being deliberately obtuse. :: You’re a counsellor. You have access to everyone’s records. You don’t need me to tell you about her. Hell, if you really want to get to know her, she is only on the other end of the communications line, slowly dying for a species we’ve only just met!

:: Alexander was furious. It was one thing to have someone to talk to, it was quite another to have one’s mind picked apart by a medical professional one hardly knew. He tried to keep his defences up but he knew that with enough probing they would all fall away. The truth of it was, he was now stuck between the rock and the proverbial hard place. Either he terminated the discussion and faced the almost certain probability of being relieved of duty or, he continued it and bore his soul to the Ensign. ::

:: Yeah, that was understandable, which doesn't mean that it should be allowed to stand in their way. ::

Riel: Well, as I said, I didn't have the time to see everyone, and I don't think I even saw the Lieutenant in person before she went dirt side. I reckon she'll be a major subject in my counselling sessions soon, and I'd hate to talk about her as an abstraction. One in a billion, you know? I think I owe her that.

:: Admittedly, his catfish had suddenly gained a faint aftertaste of emotional blackmail, but that was for the greater good. ::

:: The conversation just took a nasty turn. If there was one thing Alexander hated more than his mind being probed, it was being blackmailed, emotionally or otherwise. Taking another bite of his sandwich he chewed it slowly, methodically as he formulated his next response to the ‘good’ Ensign. ::

Richards: Lieutenant Driscoll was. :: He paused, realizing that his own acceptance of her fate had caused him to think of her in the past tense. :: Sorry, is an incredible woman able to apply her scientific mind to any problem thrown at her in almost any situation. She came to my department from tactical/security and immediately began applying herself to the task at hand. I lucked out when she found her way to my department and she very quickly became one of the ships greatest assets.

Riel: Yellow to blue, that's a huge shift. How did she adjust?

Richards: Like any member of Starfleet. She applied herself to her new role with both feet forward, asking questions when she did not understand things and following orders. What made her stand out was that she did all this whilst suffering from a great loss.

Riel: Wow, that's harsh. How did she get over it?

:: Not 'did she', but 'how did she'. Lieutenant Driscoll seemed to be the kind to adapt and overcome. ::

:: The truth of the matter was, Alexander did not believe that she was over it. That did not mean that she had not dealt with her sorrow and pain, just that it still followed her like a heavy suitcase over loaded with clothes and souvenirs. ::

Richards: She didn’t. Lieutenant Driscoll just learned to live with it and carry on moving forward. I don’t think anyone ever gets over the loss of a loved one, which in its own way is a good thing. I mean after all if we continue to mourn for those we have lost, are we not continuing to carry a part of them around with us? But I digress. Vanessa Driscoll had the strength of character to get past her sorrow and perform her tasks to the best of her abilities. I really couldn’t have asked for more from a subordinate, and a friend.

:: This was hard going. The more the Ensign questioned him about Vanessa, the harder it was for him to avoid having a breakdown there and then. His mind was racing, trying to keep up with the probing. Each second that passed chipped away another of the last vestiges of armour he was able to keep around his own mind. ::

:: Richard's admiration and friendship was almost palpable. And incidentally, hearing the Commander talk about someone else's qualities was a pretty good way for Lan to learn about him. ::

Riel: ... Amazing, I really hope I'll have the opportunity to know her more. Well, so does everyone, I guess.

:: Blind hope. The last desperate attempt of a person to cling to the chance that everything might turn out all right. He had passed that point several hours ago. He was more than aware that his CO had as well. Why else would Liam be considering his assisted suicide option unless he too had accepted that Vanessa wasn’t coming back. ::

Richards: Sometimes all we have in life is hope. It lights the darkest nights and the foggiest of days, guiding us on towards a safe tomorrow.

:: Richards was cold but not cold enough to dash the hopes of either the Ensign or the rest of the crew. Holding on to hope was certainly good for morale although it did mean that when the inevitable happened, the fall back to reality would be hard and fast. ::

:: That had been heart-warming, and recollection seemed to have eased Richard's pain by the slightest margin. At times like this, Lan really hated his job, but it was time for the next banderilla. ::

Riel: I beg your pardon, Commander, but there's still something that doesn't click, if you don't mind enlightening me some more...

Richards: In for a penny, in for a pound Ensign.

Riel: Well, I wouldn't sound cold about it, but Lieutenant Driscoll volunteered for this mission, and losing friends and crewmates to acts of selfless heroism in the line of duty is more or less in the job description. I understand it hurts, I really do, but I can't see what you could do about it. So where does that guilt of yours come from?

Richards: oO Guilt? Where the hell has he pulled that from. There was no way my guilt has been plastered on my sleeve with my heart. That feeling of guilt is something I keep locked in the very back of my mind along with the self doubt and fear. Oo

:: Alexander was furious and you did not need to be a mind reader to see it. This! This was the reason he had a deep routed fear and hatred of telepaths. Their innate ability to look into your mind, probe your darkest thoughts, fears and feelings. To probe the deepest recesses of your mind and use what they found as evidence against you or a way to obtain information. Worse still was that the fresh faced ensign had dared to mention the loss of friends and crewmates was almost a part of the job description, none more than Alexander and now Vanessa knew the risks of wearing the uniform. If he could have stood, he would have done. Instead he launched the plate bearing the other round of his cheese and pickle sandwich off of his desk, hearing it smash on the floor. ::

Richards: :: With gusto. :: Don’t you dare presume to lecture me on life in Starfleet Ensign. Look at me! I know more than anybody else on this ship just what is meant by risk whilst wearing the uniform. I was clinically dead for at least five minutes owing to an accident in the line of duty, an accident that has left me confined to this chair when not sleeping, showering or going to the toilet. I can never give my wife the joy of having a second child. I will more than likely never be able to rock again. For the longest time following my accident, I held on to the hope that it was only temporary. Just prior to joining this vessel, that hope was completely destroyed.

:: Alexander angrily snatched the glass of water from the table and gulped it down in a matter of seconds. Slamming it back on his desk, he once again focused his attention and anger on the Ensign. ::

Richards: So why the guilt you asked Ensign? The guilt is because I knew this would happen. I even stated as much during a heated discussion in the initial briefing. Worse still, I later added my support to putting the mobile lab on the surface of this God forsaken backwater rock knowing [...]ed well that the likelihood of something like this happening was nigh on 100%! You are right about one insinuation. Risk is a part of being in this uniform. That risk however is supposed to be an acceptable risk. Here we have a situation where that does not apply. I’m guilty Ensign because when Vanessa volunteered to go to the surface, I failed to stress to her just how much of an unacceptable risk this actually was. Speaking of guilt, how is yours feeling. Last I checked, reading someone’s thoughts without their permission was a crime!?

:: Finally Alexander had an outlet. Somewhere and someone he could vent is own ager and personal frustration towards. This had been building for a very long time and poor Lan was right in Alexander’s sights! ::

:: Aah, yes, Lan had forgotten to quote the bit in the Book o'Words about ethical uses of mind-reading, and had pushed his interlocutor to the brink to boot. Way to go, Ensign, you got what you deserve. He snapped as close to attention as you could while sitting with the last bit of a catfish sandwich in hand, and replied in the most professional voice he could muster, trying not to let his feelings show. ::

Riel: With all due respect, I didn't, Sir. And that kind of thing is written down as 'mind rape' in my book, just to give you an idea of where it sits on my moral values scale. But I believe I'm a quite decent counsellor and a [...] good interrogator, Sir, if I'm allowed to say so, and it doesn't take mind reading to see that all over you. But if you don't want to talk about it, Sir, please accept my apologies. I won't trouble you any further.

Richards: My world fell apart the moment I had my accident Ensign. Every [...]ed time that I get close to having any semblance of a normal life fate throws a great big obstacle in the way throwing me all the way back to the start. Sometimes, even further! You want the honest core of my guilt over this? If I still had full use of my legs and did not have this [...]ed fatal virus locked in them, it would be me on the surface of that rock now and not her!

:: And there it was, laid out as bare as a stone in a fast flowing river slowly, over the aeons, turning to sand. After his rant, Alexander was exhausted. He was caught completely off guard by the Ensigns next statement. ::

:: Lan instantly softened. That was... all too familiar. Ironically, he had been struggling for years with similar feelings, and still was for a large part. How he could help someone when he couldn't help himself was beyond him, but Deities willing he'd do his best. ::

Riel: I know how you feel, Commander.

Richards: :: Quizzically. :: How on Earth can you know how I feel Ensign?

Riel: :: With a sad smile :: Sir, empathy means that my 'I know how you feel's are usually literal. And I've grown up with a reading disability in a family where telepathic prowess was considered the true measure of a person's worth. So I can somehow relate.

Richards: :: Unusually calm given the situation. :: C’est la Vie Ensign, and ‘la vie’ hasn’t exactly been kind to either of us.

:: Alexander’s mind was a complete mess. In the space of one conversation he had gone from pensive, to sorrow, to anger and back again. The Ensign had completely broken down Alexander and it was beginning to show. Despite everything the Ensign had throw at him, Alexander hadn’t quite come to his wits end though he was rather close. The slightest misstep by the counsellor would be likely to tip him over the edge. ::

:: Yes, it was all too easy to feel that way, and Lan knew it firsthand. He could have pointed out that some among the crew were stuck on that ship without any knowledge that could help the aliens and crewmates in danger or dying just below them, but self-pity contests were usually not the most productive activities. Maybe it was time for another little push. He just prayed to all the Protectors that the result didn't blow in his face. ::

Riel: Permission to speak frankly, Commander?

Richards: Granted, but watch your step Ensign. With the freedom to speak frankly comes great responsibility. Push the wrong button and I am highly likely to end this session.

:: Riel took the time to finish his sandwich, clean his fingers, and switch his combadge pin from the left to the right side of his uniform, before tenting his fingers, leaning towards the Commander and taking a big breath. ::

:: Tented fingers. No matter where you were in the universe, no matter what the situation, that was never a sign of anything good. Alexander braced himself for the next torrent of probing and quite frankly, what he considered to be abuse of position by the counsellor. ::

Riel: Commander, next time you want to employ the lexical field of powerlessness, uselessness, or you mean to use the word 'cripple' in a self-demeaning way, can I respectfully suggest you don an EVA suit first?

Richards: :: Through gritted teeth. :: I beg your pardon Ensign?

Riel: Because that would be deserving of the kind of therapeutic kick in the aft-deck that would require you hitch a ride on a comet to come back, Sir, with all due respect.

Richards: oO The nerve of the man. He doesn’t know me. The struggles I’ve faced, the looks, the probing eyes. Oo :: The gloves were off. :: Two things ensign. First of all, never, ever insult a person’s intelligence, state of mind or mental faculties and close with ‘with all due respect. :: With gusto and in a fevered tone. :: And never, ever stab a man in the back with words or otherwise. :: Now through gritted teeth and seething with rage. :: How dare you!

:: This had now moved in Richard’s mind from an impromptu counselling session to an inquisition. He was seething with anger and quite frankly, despite the current damage to his hands wanted to do nothing more than reach across the table and smack the Ensign with his fists. ::

:: Yes, he supposed it was a bit of overkill. Lan Rennan Riel's; ‘Famous Last Charge’. Do or die. But it was worth the brig if he could help Richards, because he could do much more for the mission than Lan could ever hope to. Calmly, he put the pin back into place, and carried on seemingly unfazed. ::

Riel: Hear me out, Commander. I'm sorry for the way I treat you, I really am. And I'd wish I wouldn't have to.

Richards: :: Without a single thought. :: Out! Get out now!

:: He was done. The line had been crossed and for now he would play no more of the counsellor’s games. Even though the Ensign may have had Alexander’s best interests at heart, he was not prepared to continue. Suggesting assisted suicide to Liam had been one thing but facing the Spanish inquisition was quite another. Yes, he had made up his mind. This meeting was over. ::

:: He winced internally. Maybe he had been too tainted by his Intel training. He would have to work hard on that. ::

Riel: Sorry, Sir, I didn't intend to sound that way. But I need you, and Driscoll needs you, to realize that your disability isn't relevant here. This disease is not something you can outrun, or kick or shoulder away. We need science to beat it, and when I entered, I distinctly remember a CSO label next to your door. I don't know if someone can save that day, Sir, but you're on the shortlist. What I can do is keep you angry, focused and reasonably sane. By any means necessary.

Richards: The sooner you wake up and realize that despite all our technology we have no chance of finding a cure, thus no way to save Vanessa, the sooner you will be able to prepare yourself for the £$%^&*( !%”£ that will be this ship’s crew when she dies, starting with the captain.

:: He took a very long pause and started grinding his teeth before finally continuing. The anger in his tone clear as day. ::

Richards: :: Sarcastically. :: Thank you Ensign. :: Now with gusto. :: Now get the hell out of my office!

:: Alexander watched as the Ensign gathered his thoughts and proceeded to leave. Once again in his mind, Alexander mused on just how much he loathed counsellors, especially telepaths. As the adrenaline drained from his body, he once again found himself weeping, staring at the mess he had created when he forcibly removed his plate from his desk. ::


Lieutenant Commander Alexander Richards

Chief Science Officer

USS Gemini


Ensign Lan Riel


USS Gemini

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