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[JP] Commander Valen Carys & Mikali sh'Shar - Discovering New Oceans (Parts I-V)


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This is a really nicely written sim JP from @Quinn Reynolds(Commander Valen Carys) and @Alleran Tan (Mikali sh'Shar) concerning his Andorian character coming to terms with her issues. Counselling sessions are never the easiest to write, but when it's done like this, and you can tell the writer has looked into the subject to portray it accurately, it's lovely to see. Well done, guys!

 

Discovering New Oceans, Parts I-V

----

((Recovery Room, Sickbay, Iana Station, Stardate 239711.25, Day 38 of 365))


After twenty-five days in the recovery room, longer than she had actually spent in her dorm, Mikali sh'Shar packed up the last of her gear into a thick duffel bag, tidied up the room, made the bed, adjusted her eyepatch, told the computer she was checking out and left.


The nurses and doctors outside seemed reluctant to see her go, each taking their turn to shake hands, wave, or say goodbye. Maybe it was true what O-J had said—this place rarely had any really sick people, so that room had almost never been used before, and most of those perfectly qualified Starfleet doctors with all their years in medical school doing extremely basic things. Fixing the occasional bump or scrape, removing inserted objects, and maybe a broken bone on the holodeck. Nothing like her exotic Andorian brain-rot.


Whatever the truth of the matter, they seemed genuinely glad she was okay and sad to see her go. Mikali resolved to check in with them occasionally since they all seemed like decent folk, and people who didn't dislike her immediately were rare. And they didn't even stare at her eyepatch.


With her bag slung over her shoulder, sh'Shar had her head high as she walked out of sickbay, turned left, and went to the counselling suite.

((Counselling Suite))


Mikali was, as had become her custom, early to her appointment. She waited in a chair in the lobby until the appointed time, her bag of stuff from the recovery ward parked by her feet, PADD in hand.


She made some last-minute adjustments to her dot-points, and then when it was time, she tucked her PADD under her arm, walked over to the door and pressed the chime.


Valen: It's open.


Mikali opened the door, smiling broadly as she did so. Little had changed from her last visit, light streaming in through a [...] sunlight and brightening the room, the same Bajoran art and calligraphy hanging on the walls, the diverse sculptures still in the same home as before. The flowers had changed, lending the suggestion they were real rather than artificial. 


Yet the place looked different with one eye. Flatter. Like some kind of painting.


sh'Shar: Hi, Carys. Sorry I missed you during all the recent um... stuff. I got discharged today, so I'm here.


Mug already in hand, Carys sipped her raktajino while Mikali said hello. She looked even more casual than she did the last time the Andorian saw her; jacket tossed over the back of an easy chair, teal collar unfastened to the hollow of her throat, sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Formality wasn't something that came easily to the Bajoran, but it was a trait that a counsellor could get away with more easily than many.


Valen: And you came straight here? ::Eyebrows twitching upward, the glint in her eyes did not quite match the slight smile she wore.:: That is dedication.


Maybe dedication, maybe not, but Mikali understood that it was important to address this problem as soon as possible. She took her seat, laying her duffel bag down by her feet, and took a deep breath.


sh'Shar: So. Firstly, I'm feeling a lot better, better than I have in years actually, and also, I'm... sorry.


The Bajoran's footfalls were quiet on the soft carpet as she crossed over to the relaxed seating. If she was at all nonplussed with the lack of preamble, it didn't show.


Valen: For what?


One-Joke had asked her the same thing. Her answer was that she had caused a scene. This time, though, she had a better one.


sh'Shar: I got sick. It was preventable, and I made people worry. People including yourself. And... I let fear and insecurity cause this problem. ::She winced, taking a breath.:: If you're okay with it, I think maybe discussing these insecurities could be a good way forward. So this doesn't happen again. What do you think?


Carys regarded her for a moment, a shrewd look in her eyes despite the smile curling at the edges of her mouth. She set her raktajino down next to the PADD on the small side table beside her chair and paused before she took a seat.


Valen: I think that's a positive step forward. Would you like anything to drink before we start?


Something to drink. It was tempting to suggest something a little more interesting—she had started having hasperat again after all—but a voice nagged at the back of her head. One step at a time.


sh'Shar: Just water, thanks.


With a nod, Carys moved to the coffee table where a crystal jug and matching glasses sat. She poured out a glass and Mikali took it when offered, cupping it in both hands, just holding it for now. The Bajoran stepped back and settled herself into her seat, legs crossed, PADD balanced on her lap as before. She inhaled to speak, but Mikali slid in first.


sh'Shar: I... ::Mikali really didn't know where to go with this. She just spoke off the cuff, saying whatever came to her head first.:: When I lost my eye and got my hand mangled on the Indy, the whole thing that started this recent series of mistakes... I was proud of it. I know it's weird to say, but I was proud. My actions on that day made the difference... everyone on-board was saved because of me. ::She said it again.:: I made the difference.


The counsellor nodded. Mikali had made a determined effort to be here, straight out of sickbay, and clearly been turning a lot of thoughts over during her recovery time. And she didn't comment or interject, letting the stream-of-consciousness spill out of the Andorian's mind without anything to break the flow. 


sh'Shar: I feel like when I tell people that I want to make a difference in what I do, they don't believe me. I feel like they don't believe me for entirely reasonable reasons; the more someone knows me, the more that... comes out, I guess. They think, no, this is just some kind of scam, this is her latest little game she's playing, she just has some other motive, you know? They don't... they don't think I actually want to—I don't know. Do that.


Finally, sh'Shar sipped some of her water.


sh'Shar: I just feel like it's hard for me, because—uhh, because... ::She hesitated.:: I've been in long-term care twice now. Once in rehab, after my... relapse, and once after the eye and the hand. In that time, both times, nobody came to visit me. Luna saw me on the DS-17 promenade before the surgery, which was nice, but nobody actually went out of their way to visit me when I was there. It was lonely. It felt like a punishment. Like I deserved it.


Another sip.


sh'Shar: They all had their reasons of course. To get the implant I had to go aaaaall the way back to Earth, and by the time it was all done, the Indy was a wreck. They were all moved to the Tiger and they had a new helmsman and there was no Air Group for me to come back to. Understandable. And after the Avandar the crew got split up, sent to different places, and I was all the way on Andor... understandable. They had their reasons, but still, you know, nobody came.


Reaching for her mug, Carys took a draught of the raktajino, the rich flavours of the bitter Klingon drink washing over her palate. She was an attentive listener, her focus on the woman in front of her. Note-taking was second nature to the counsellor at this point in her career, and her slim fingers moved over the PADD with almost no conscious thought given to it.


sh'Shar: So it means a lot to me that you did. And Catscratch, that lousy Caitian, did. And One-Joke did. And Serren did. And Tasha did. And that... has never happened to me before.


Valen: Why do you think that is?

 

Mikali was quiet for a moment, antenna drooping, her gaze sinking down to the floor.


sh'Shar: I have two answers, and I think the truth lies somewhere in between. One... I push people away with my negative behaviours, and it doesn't seem like I'm the kind of person that would go out of my way to be kind to others, so I get no kindness in return. If it's more that, that's good, because it might be fixable in the long term. With... with your help.


Valen: And the other?


Mikali's antenna sank a little lower.


sh'Shar: The other is that they simply knew me better. That they could see the real me. That back in the day I was as glass, my true self revealed to the world, and they knew. They knew I was poison. To my friends, to my crewmates, to—m-maybe even to Benna. Certainly to her other parents. ::Mumbling,:: Maybe they just knew me better.


Valen: But you believe the truth is somewhere between that.


sh'Shar: Truth be told I don't know what to believe. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. Before all this... ::She tapped her eyepatch.:: recent nonsense, I was sure it was the latter. But after spending weeks in bed with nothing to do but think, and with a lot of old memories fresh in my mind, I... I don't know anymore. What do you think?


Many things. Some of which were helpful, others were not. Carys considered her response; what her formal education said, what her clinical experience told her, and distilled it down into the plain language of a response. And as with so many things, particularly when it came to the discrete universe that was an individual, there wasn't a simple answer. 


Valen: I think the truth is complicated. ::She offered the woman a slight smile.:: A combination of who you are, how you've treated people, and the realities of life in Starfleet.


Mikali nodded awkwardly. It was probably true, and there was absolutely the case that Starfleet life interfered with the wants and goals and desires of its fellows.


sh'Shar: I understand. And I agree. ::Straightening her back, Mikali's antenna slowly returned to their normal hover.:: Can you offer any advice regarding how I can feel better about it, or even better, work toward fixing it? After getting sick, I'm feeling quite proactive regarding heading off any other similar incidents before they become an issue. ::She smirked slightly.:: I guess all that rest paid off.


Valen: Well, that depends. What's the specific "it" that you want to fix?


It was hard to explain and she took a moment to gather her thoughts to prevent rambling.


sh'Shar: Sometimes, such as recently with the prosthetic malfunction, I avoid fixing problems even though I know they're problems and I know how to fix them, but the actions required are... ::She wanted to say "unpalatable" or "difficult", but neither of them accurately conveyed how she felt.:: The actions required might make someone think less of me, or hurt a cause I'm working toward. So I just accept all the suffering for myself, try to push through it and I can't, because I have, um, limits and things. And then it's bad. ::She scrunched up her face, trying to convey how she felt.:: For example, I didn't want to go see anyone about the eye because if I took so much time off, so early, it might look bad. Even though I should have gone.


Carys held her tongue, giving Mikali space and time to find a way to communicate what she was feeling and thinking. Often the language people chose was as telling as the meaning, revealing small details about their beliefs and views, digressions a useful insight into their thought processes. 


sh'Shar: Sorry, I'm struggling a bit to... ::Her antenna perked up, remembering.:: Actually, I wrote this down! I knew I was going to mess everything up so I wrote it down. Hang on.


She fumbled around in her duffle bag, producing a PADD which was triumphantly turned on. Mikali scrolled through the stored data until she came to a bullet list. She offered it over.


sh'Shar: This is what I was working on during all that time in sickbay. It was kinda my... notes to myself, but I figured you'd be reading them at some point too, so it's kinda to you as well.


Carys shook her head, the silver chains of her earring swinging back and forth. When she'd asked Mikali to keep a journal, she hadn't specifically said it was for her eyes only—but that was the intention. Beyond a respect for privacy, and the intention to help Mikali learn ways to organise and review her inner thoughts, the Bajoran simply didn't have the time to read and review everything her patients wrote between sessions. 


Valen: They're yours and they're private; I only read them if you want to show them to me. If you find it's useful, it's a tool you can keep using to organise your thoughts, once you're no longer seeing me.


That... was actually a good idea. Mikali had found that writing things down made them clearer; when she used her words, they tended to come out as a messy jumble. But when dictated to the computer, and then cleaned up manually, they came out much more ordered.


sh'Shar: I definitely will consider that, and it seems like a good idea. Maybe that's just how my brain works. ::Mikali fiddled with the PADD.:: I'm not doing a good job of explaining it, though, and this does much better.


She offered the PADD again, not demandingly, but cautiously. With a small smile, Carys took it, and her brown eyes dropped to the glowing text, reading over the fruits of Mikali's stay in sickbay.


WHAT HAPPENED:


(AKA, "I guess that's why they call it Eye-ana Station, huh?")


• I got sick.

• It was my own fault.

• It won't happen again.

• To elaborate, back in the day, I lost my eye on the Independence-A, piloting the ship through an unstable wormhole full of debris. It was extraordinarily difficult, and it took every ounce of my piloting skill to get us through.

• I'm proud of that moment. Probably my most proud moment. Despite being severely injured, I stayed at my post, I saved the ship and the lives of all the crew. Nobody else onboard could have done what I did.

• I'm proud of my actions that day, and if I had my time over again, I would do it all over again the same way.

• Since then, I've had a prosthetic finger and eye. The finger is normal, I hardly notice it, but the eye's colour range was kinda weird. I got used to it.

• Over the last few years, the eye has been malfunctioning. Since I took the trip to the Tyrellian system, it got a lot worse.

• Finger is fine, by the way.

• I didn't want to go see anyone about the eye because I wanted to have perfect attendance and excellent work performance, and I didn't want to take time off since I was worried about how that might look.

• This was... if you'll forgive me a pun... short sighted. Hah!

• My health is important.

• My career is important.

• There is, to a certain extent, a point where the former has to be sacrificed for the latter; in our work lives, our home lives, our personal lives... we have to sometimes step outside of our comfort zone and endure discomfort, pain, injury, even death.

• Ideally, these circumstances should be minimised if possible. Nobody should die to do the dishes. But given my line of work, they might happen again.

• Good judgement is when the circumstances are evaluated and weighed, where our priorities fit the circumstances, and where if possible one's health is taken care of first, and if not possible, at our earliest convenience. Good judgement is when people are sensible and reasonable, where the cost-benefit ratio of our actions is correctly weighed, and we act accordingly.

• Obviously that didn't happen this time. I didn't use good judgement.

• I promise to use good judgement on my health from now on.


When the Bajoran finished reading the PADD, she leaned back in her chair and took a slow breath. Thoughts tumbled behind her dark gaze, processing what she just read and learned, theorising and planning based on this new information. After a few button presses on both devices, she handed the PADD back to its owner. 


Valen: You thought about a lot during your stay. ::She sat back in her chair, hands resting lightly in her lap.:: If you look over that, can you tell me what you feel it is you need to work on?


sh'Shar: So I guess my question is, how can I use "good judgement" on things beyond my health, and in other things in my life? I know it might be a difficult question to answer, and it might be a long-term project, but... I think this would make me a lot happier. Eventually.


She wasn't wrong. The Andorian's history was replete with incidents where she'd exercised poor judgement; rash and impulsive decisions, choices considered with a narrow focus and no regard to the bigger picture, allowing one mistake to deteriorate into a downward spiral. But there was a part of her life Carys didn't know about, a period not in her file and one they hadn't discussed. Knowing what Mikali had done since her discharge—what choices she'd made, how she'd lived her life—was vital to understand how to help her. 


Valen: No doubt. Before we tackle that, there's something I'd like to ask you. I know a fair amount about your past before Starfleet and during Starfleet, but I don't really know what you've been doing in the six years since you left the service. Can you talk me through it?

 

That was a hard question, and one which would take a considerable amount of time to answer without abridging. Mikali did her best.


sh'Shar: I... tried a lot of things, actually.


She stopped, letting her brain catch up with her mouth. There were so many things, so many attempts, so many half-attempts, so many thoughts that never amounted to any action. She tried to start from the beginning.


sh'Shar: I spent a sizable amount of it in court, trying to get Benna back. But I couldn't. I, uh, tried to join a racing circuit... grav-racing. Basically unpowered ships that use gravity assists to fling themselves around solar systems. But the kind of circuits that would let in an unranked pilot without their own ship were... ::She couldn't find the right word.:: They took place outside of Federation space, mostly, and there was a lot of drug use in those places, so I knew it wasn't good for me. And certainly there was no hope for Benna to join me if that was my life. After that, I went to the Vaadwaur planet in the Ithassa region, hoping that they would welcome me like they did Alleran, but while he was there to help them rebuild, I was there for a holiday and to gawk, and they didn't appreciate that. I visited DS-17 and revisited my old haunts, which turned out to be not nostalgic and mostly terrible. I tried to become a civilian pilot but they had no positions open near Andor. I applied for a civilian shuttle mechanic position and while I was shortlisted, they said "my history would make me a poor fit". I... considered a lot of stuff, most of which was dumb. Nothing illegal, just stupid. And I'm glad I didn't do any of that.


The counsellor nodded, while Mikali took a deep, embarrassed breath.


sh'Shar: Most notably, adopting. Basically for the most transparent reason, a replacement Benna. Of course, it was pointless, if I couldn't get custody of her, I would never pass the absurdly high standards for adoption. It was stupid. Just a fantasy. Even at my worst, I knew this was a bad idea. Just... just a fantasy.


Another thing nagged at Mikali, although this time she let it out.


sh'Shar: And... I thought a lot about reaching out to Lieutenant S'Acul Aveunalliv. He was a Caitian I was dating on the Avandar. We were... close, and he was so good to me. ::Her tone became distant, wistful, fond.:: He did more than tolerate me, he treated me like I was worth something. All the stuff in my history, all the stuff I did while we were together... it would have been so easy for him to just turn around and walk away, or hell, run, but he didn't. He never, not once, for years, was anything other than perfectly kind and good to me. An absolutely good man I did not deserve.


She thought about mentioning the other thing—her dismal attempt to find the planet whose battle site she had looted as part of Xhard's crew, for which she almost considered asking S'Acul for help to locate—but she thought it best not bought up.


sh'Shar: If there was anyone who was probably responsible for planting the seeds of "Mikali Grows Into A Semi-Functional Person And Realises That There Are Positive Changes She Can Make To Her Life", it's Aveunalliv.  ::She stopped for a moment, and her voice returned to normal.:: I never did call him though. Maybe... that was for the best. I think I was holding him back a lot, from a lot of things.


Still quiet, as she tended to be when Mikali was in the throes of a soliloquy, Carys took the occasional note on her PADD. 


sh'Shar: I mostly just blew around the Alpha Quadrant like an empty trashbag, being a nuisance everywhere I went, half ruminating on the mistakes I'd made, half hatching stupid schemes that would never go anywhere. I drifted from this to that to the other thing. I lost... purpose. And then finally, I found this program totally by accident, and I realised there was a lot of potential in it for me. To see Benna again, and hopefully get my commission back. I'm asking much. I know being a helmsman is probably out of my reach, but I... I can fix things. I can work. I just want something that will make Benna proud of me, and give my life a little meaning. ::She paused.:: I want to make a difference. Professionally, to her, and... and to myself.


There was some irony in the evident disappointment and embarrassment Mikali had for that period of her life. Despite struggling for purpose and meaning, despite having some significant and heartbreaking setbacks—most notably barred from a custody arrangement with her daughter, and unable to find a way to pursue her love of flight near her—she had been able to identify the risks to her sobriety and avoid them, keep herself out of (serious) trouble, and eventually find her way onto a rehabilitation program. As lost as she'd been, she'd exercised better judgement in those six years than she often had in the ones preceding them.


In other words, civilian life had been far easier for Mikali to manage than a Starfleet career. It was more common than people realised; even with the support that Starfleet put into place for its service members, there were many who loved being a part of it, but couldn't manage its demands. And it was demanding. High stakes, high pressure, high fluidity. Which was why, in the whole of the Federation, there was almost no other organisation as selective in who it allowed to serve in its ranks. 


Valen: Having meaning and purpose in life is definitely important. From a clinical perspective, it's associated with better outcomes both mentally and physically. ::She paused, considering her next words, speaking them as kindly as she could manage.:: But I think you need to find a different purpose than Starfleet. I understand it's the root of some of your proudest moments—and nothing I'm saying takes away from those achievements—but from everything you've told me, what you really need to achieve your goals is stability. A life where you can put down roots, where you or your support network won't transfer away, and where you can build connections that will last.


It was a pretty crushing thing to say, and the effect on her—slumped shoulders, drooped antenna, lone eye flicking to the side—was commensurate to that. To Mikali, "Outside Starfleet" was a kind way of saying, "There is no path for you to achieve your goals." Which, after merely two sessions of counselling, was a devastating thing to hear.


For a moment Mikali said nothing.


sh'Shar: But it's all I have. I've tried doing something else... anything else. I've tried civilian work, I've tried travelling, I've tried "finding my own inner peace", I've tried... everything. Anything to get stability. And if I can't get that stability, then I can never see Benna again.


Hyperbole, but understandable. Right from the start it had been clear the Andorian had fixated on a return to Starfleet, no matter how useful, achievable or wise it was. Somewhere along the way, it looked as though Mikali had come to believe that a return to the fleet would heal all wounds and plaster over all the problems in her life; give her purpose and meaning, the solution to the situation with her daughter, and likely assuage the guilt she carried for her past actions.


Of course, life didn't work like that. If she really wanted to fly, but was restricted to low-level maintenance duties, a Starfleet career wouldn't have the purpose and meaning she so desperately sought—more likely it would chafe and frustrate. To completely bar her from custody for six years, the courts must have had a swathe of concerns that resuming a Starfleet career wouldn't dismiss. And if she was looking to assuage guilt, it was hard to see how another round in Starfleet would manage it, if the previous years had not.


Valen: Let's open this up, look at it from a wider view. What are you good at, and what do you enjoy doing? 


sh'Shar: I'm a decent mechanic, competent, but flying is the only thing I'm actually good at. Apart from ruining people's lives, mostly my own, and I don't think there's much of a market for that skill. ::She paused.:: The only other place I can go is crime. And apart from the fact I've tasted that life and want nothing of it, that's no life for a child. Believe me, I know. So... I have to try this. It's my last, best, only, shot.


Valen: No, it isn't. ::She shook her head, the correction firm, but gentle.:: You've tried a lot of things, but always alone, without support or guidance. But your situation has changed. Right now you have help that you've never had before. Part of accepting that help is challenging things you've held true; about yourself, about your potential, about what you can achieve. The Federation is full of possibilities, Mikali. More opportunities than any one person could pursue in a lifetime, no matter what's come before.


Maybe that was true, and maybe it wasn't. But she had tried a lot of different things outside of the service, and none of them had panned out. For lots of different reasons.


Mikali's voice cracked. Difficult emotions started to spill out, ones that she had little idea how to handle.


sh'Shar: I have done everything you've asked. I've attended sessions, I've gone to work, I made the logs you requested, I've told Benna I can't keep my promise to her just like you asked, I've listened and followed your advice no matter what it was. I told you things I never told anyone else. I've worked as hard as I can since the moment I got here. I've made some recent mistakes, yes, and I didn't handle it properly but I'm trying, I'm learning, that's what I'm here for; to learn how to not make these kinds of mistakes again. I've been compliant with all my treatments and I'm doing my best, and I just —


She clasped her hands together in her lap, taking a short, shallow breath, and closing her eye. There was no need to rush the request. No need to push it, or get overwhelmed.


sh'Shar: I need you to support me in this, because I don't have any other options. I was... am... relying on you a great deal to help me achieve this goal, and I know that I can't do it without you. If you say that there is no way forward for me, and that I can't either recover my career or see my kid again... I don't know what kind of life that will be for me. I've done all you ask. I've tried my hardest, and I've made errors, but I am actively trying to correct them. I'm... ::There was nothing more she could say.:: Just give me more time. I can prove to you that... that my life has meaning. That it's worth something. That I'm worth something. A little more time, that's all I need. Will you reconsider?

 

Valen: I know this isn't easy. Have a few moments, take a few deep breaths.


A few moments seemed like an impossible ask. Last session she was told to give up her promise to Benna, and this session, she was being told to give up her career, as well.


Madness. It was madness. There was no way this was going to work out in her favour; giving up the promise had been almost impossible for her, but this?


She almost left. Almost got up and just walked right out of the room—already dark thoughts churned in her head about what a mistake all of this was—but summoning her inner reserve of stubbornness, and knowing that if she left it would be much worse than anything she could do or say, Mikali stayed put.


Took a few slow, deep breaths.


Calm.


Ish.


Valen: All right. That's a lot to unpack, but I think we need to make some definitive statements. 


Much of what she had suspected had been confirmed by Mikali's tirade, that the Andorian was hanging her entire happiness and future on a fanciful, ephemeral dream. She took a breath, and then spoke evenly and slowly, giving each statement space to breathe and sink in. 


Valen: A Starfleet career doesn't define your worth as a person. It doesn't guarantee you'll find meaning in your day to day life. It won't grant you custody of your daughter. ::She paused, leaning forward a little.:: My concern here is you've created a belief that returning to Starfleet means everything else in your life will fall into place, and you're worthless if it doesn't happen. That's not just wrong, it's a recipe for disaster, so we need to pause and find a different plan for your future.


Every part of her screamed that this was wrong. That this was a bad, harmful, potentially ruinous course of action that would bring further destruction and misery her way.


Carys, however, had been right about everything so far. Everything that had a definitive answer. The effect of her un-promising Benna was still not yet known in its entirety, but most everything else had been at least okay.


But this. This hurt more than the loss of her eye. More than pain. It burned in her chest, seizing her muscles, pressing her throat closed, filling her brain with a flood of fear and anxiety and raw panic.


Mikali fought very hard to keep her tone even and flat.


sh'Shar: I know that none of this guarantees anything. It's... it's only a chance, Carys. I'm not asking for certainty. I'm just asking for a chance to roll the dice. I know that the odds are low, I just... I just literally have no other options.


Valen: You keep saying that, Mikali, but it's not true.


She used her liar's brain, the part of her personality that could say things she did not feel and did not want, to exercise a hypothetical.


sh'Shar: So walk me through it. I leave the course and whatever support and stability I have here, upending my whole life again, and I go back to being exactly what I was before. The courts won't listen to my appeals, because they didn't before, so Benna is just as far away as she ever was. I can't get a fulfilling job that lets me make the difference, because I couldn't get one before, and anything I try now has an additional black mark: "Enrolled in a one-year Starfleet program to fix her career, spent half of it in hospital, bombed out after two months." It seems like I'm right back where I started. Worse, even, as I'm just confirming that I'm as unreliable as I ever was. It doesn't seem like this makes me happier, or more stable, and it certainly doesn't make my life more fulfilling or impress the Andorian courts. Who will bring up me leaving and the breaking of the promise to Benna as proof I'm unreliable. Last but not least... there's now not even a remotely possible path to achieving either of my primary goals, so I have to deal with that hopeless crushing feeling too. So... why? What am I missing?


The counsellor let that sit for a moment, nodding to herself as she processed everything Mikali had said. The visceral reaction—even stronger than the request to undo her promise to her daughter—doubled-down on every concern Carys had that the Andorian had made a return to Starfleet the linchpin of her self-worth. That for all she said she was only asking for a chance, her world was on the verge of collapse at the mere hint it wasn't a possibility. It wasn't a healthy focus, and another example of how the woman looked for shortcuts to her problems and struggled to make realistic, long-term goals. 


When the Bajoran spoke again, it was in soft, even tones. 


Valen: When did I tell you to leave the program? ::She raised her eyebrows, a faint, kind smile clinging to the corners of her mouth.:: ReachOut is a rehabilitation program for a person, not a career. Our goal is to help you to find a way to move past your difficulties and live a fulfilling life.


sh'Shar held up a finger.


sh'Shar: But you said— ::Her voice trailed off.:: Actually, I don't remember the... exact phrase... but I thought you said, I thought you meant... ::She squinted her eye closed.:: I thought you meant leaving the program.


Carys shook her head. It was something they could work on, unpicking the associations she had forged with Starfleet—that the only career of worth was the fleet, that to regain access to her daughter she had to be in the uniform. Few things could be further from the truth, but the counsellor could see how she'd got there. Starfleet was full of the kind of people she wanted to be. Emotionally, Mikali had barely developed from that runaway child of twenty-five years ago, and it was easy for her to conclude that being successful in Starfleet would mean success in the rest of her life.


sh'Shar: I'm just... on the verge of a major freak-out here, and I'm s-sorry. I thought you were kicking me out. ::She forced a shakey, weak smile.:: In my defense, I did just get out of long-term recovery with a brain problem.


Valen: ::She smiled.:: I can give you that.


sh'Shar: So... okay. If I can stick with the program, then... ::A lightbulb went on in her head. Slowly, carefully, as though scared of the implications, Mikali decided to risk it.:: This isn't like the Benna thing, is it? It's not that you want me to withdraw immediately, tonight. You just want me to have a backup option, one that I would find meaning in, if... if the Starfleet hearing goes bad. Just... another option. Right?


Valen: I'm saying you should be prepared to accept that Starfleet isn't a good fit for you, and that's not a failing on your part. You're trying to recapture the past, but the problem is that while it had its good moments, ultimately it was a past that wasn't kind to you. ::She paused.:: So I think it's time to look forward and build something new, and that's what ReachOut is about. We know that most of the people who pass through our doors aren't going to return to Starfleet, so we've established partnerships with organisations and employers willing to offer a chance, who can give you the same thing you have here— 


Carys glanced down at her PADD. A few taps and she summoned some notes from their last session, reading from the screen.


Valen: —work that's challenging but not overwhelming, where you feel like you're making a difference, your co-workers and kind and supportive and don't pity you, and where you're treated as though you have value and your opinion matters. ::She looked back up with a faint smile.:: That's how you described what you're doing now, and this isn't Starfleet. If the most important thing to you is Benna, then you should consider shifting your goal toward a civilian position on or near Andoria. It's more achievable, more likely to give you the opportunities to build the bridges you need to build, to forge the connections you need to make, and give you an environment in which you feel supported and valued.


It was still difficult to process and digest. Mikali had tried so many different things in the six years spent blowing around the Alpha quadrant that she had almost given up on everything else. She'd tried so many things, all to rejection or failure, it didn't seem right. It didn't seem smart.


Still, what Carys was telling her felt right. The position she was describing, this hypothetical idea, was definitely closer to what she wanted. And if someone made Mikali choose between service in Starfleet and Benna, that choice was so easy it wasn't even a choice. Starfleet was an enriching and useful thing, yes; it allowed her to fly and was the source of many good memories which she would like to make more of, but ultimately for her, at this point, her primary motivation was Benna.


But still. What kind of position would cater for her like that? She'd tried a whole bunch of civilian work and it never worked out for her.


sh'Shar: I actually hate Andoria. When you've spent prison time in a place, you tend to not want to go back voluntarily. Plus, that was where I relapsed, and... and I don't want to go back there unless I have to. There's nothing for me there that can't be somewhere else.

 

For a moment, Carys considered arguing that point. The prison was but one facility on an entire planet, but more than that, her daughter was there. It was better for Benna if she didn't have to traipse around the galaxy, separated from the rest of her family and all her friends, to spend time with one parent. But perhaps she'd put Mikali through enough for one session, and that was a conversation for another day.


Valen: Is there anywhere else you think you could be happy?


Nothing immediately leapt out at Mikali, except that one thing, playing in the back of her mind like a mocking ghost. She began to fidget, playing her fingers against each other and squirming in her seat.


sh'Shar: I... I actually, you know... I know I said I didn't, but I have a backup option. Thought. More of a vague idea really. A long shot—pretty much the queen of long shots at this point—so it's... well, actually, it's embarrassing. You'll laugh.


Valen: Try me?


Mikali squirmed around in her chair, a fool bringing it up. Her face scrunched up, antenna drooping, and she lowered her head, as though she'd done something wrong. As though confessing to some great sin. Her voice wobbled, becoming an awkward stammer.


sh'Shar: I have, um... I mentioned that I often have these daydreams. Kinda weird f-fantasies, you know? I think... oh, what if I did this, what if I did that. Basically just, uhh, half-baked ideas that would never work. This is one of these. An... idea for something I could do that would tick all the boxes. B-b-but one. And that one is a big one, but... look it's way, way out there. More of a crazy, stupid, pointless daydream than anything else. But... this job would tick almost all the boxes.


Mikali felt vaguely like a child telling Andorian Santa about their Christmas wishes, wishing for a pony and their own shuttle and to be five years old forever, when it was clear none of that could possibly be true. Embarrassment flooded her, her cheeks turning bright cyan, and her voice lost all its strength.


sh'Shar: ::Softly,:: Yours. ::She let that sink in, fighting to gather her nerves..:: I... was thinking that when I graduate, I-I-I-I-I would apply to join ReachOut as a supervisor right here on Iana Station. So uhh, not you s-specifically, but you collectively. More like what Petty Officer Darweshi does. In fact exactly what he does. Basic-basically his job. Just... with a new group of people. Um. Obviously. 


The counsellor's expression didn't shift into amusement or ridicule. All she did was offer a smile and a nod, well-hidden relief washing beneath the surface. It was a future Carys believed was realistic and achievable for the Andorian, and more likely to offer the meaning and purpose she sought. Steering people through the rehabilitation program and using her own life experiences to help others was likely to be much more rewarding than fixing shuttles for other people to fly. A little time doing that, and hopefully she'd be able to prove to the Andorian courts she had carved out a stable, successful life for herself, one which would allow her to be the parent her daughter needed.


Valen: I think that's achievable. You have the skills to offer technical coaching, you'd be able to offer peer support and mentoring, and you'd remain connected to many of the people you've formed relationships with during your time with us. ::She paused for thought.:: We could probably offer you some training in that area, toward the end of the year. What we call mental health first aid, so you could identify the signs and step in if you saw someone struggling.


That would be very useful, and applicable to the program, and Carys' immediate affirmation that the position was achievable was heartening. 


sh'Shar: Training would be good, um, kinda expected actually. But I, um... I... I actually thought, you know, um. Why not go one step further? I can do two things. Even if I do get my wings back, through some miracle, I'd... I'd like to do at least one run-through with the program first, before I even go back. Or possibly even an ongoing year-on, year-off with a potential eventual posting, so that I could run programs here. It would be t-too good to be true. I could fly, make new good, positive memories, and I could also show the viability of the program and encourage others to seek help. Stability, growth, making a difference. A win-win-win. That would be the dream. And... and I have dreams. ::She laughed haltingly.:: Mikali sh'Shar, poster child for positive change. I told you it was stupid, right?


Valen: It's not stupid. ::She offered the Andorian a smile.:: Dreams are what plans and accomplishments are born from, we just have to refine them into something workable.


That was a good motto. Dreams become plans become actions become accomplishments. A nice, linear progression. But it would need to be workable.


Workable...


Mikali let that word play over in her head. Workable. What would be workable... how could she make this more than a silly dream, and take that next step? Plan.


sh'Shar: Okay. What would you say my next step should be?


Valen: I'd say to let it percolate and think about the practicalities as well as the ideals. With that kind of set-up, you'd be in a constant flux when it comes to colleagues and your responsibilities. The temptation to let real connections slide and return to old habits of treating people poorly would be very strong—after all, they might not be there when you next return, so why does it matter? I suspect you'd find it very difficult to establish any stability in your life, and the family courts might view it as you being unable to commit.


It was going to be a problem. Definitely. But it was the least-bad idea she had, and it didn't make Carys immediately burst into raucous laughter.


sh'Shar: I'll think on it then. ::She took a shallow, nervous breath.:: Thank you for supporting me in this, Carys. I really appreciate it. I'll... use "good judgement" when I think it through.


Valen: Just think it through, don't put pressure on yourself. You could even talk to One-Joke, get his point of view as someone whose role you'd like to take on.


That would be a good idea. The idea of talking to One-Joke made her nervous, especially about something she was still convinced was a silly dream, but it was a wise idea.


sh'Shar: I... I might hold off on that for a bit, but I will. Eventually.


Valen: There's no rush, it's early days.


It was early days. There was so much of the program to go, so much work to do...


For the second time in two sessions, Mikali wiped away gathering moisture under her eye. The place where the other one was felt weird too, but with no actual eye left, it merely... itched. But unlike the first time, there was a smile, too.


sh'Shar: Thank you. Um. This didn't go how I expected it to go, but... I feel good.


Valen: I'm glad. I said last session it's not unusual to leave feeling battered and that's okay.  ::A wry smile caught on her lips.:: But it is nice when someone leaves feeling hopeful.


Sad hopeful. Kind of like finally getting a diagnosis for a disease that had slowly been rotting away at you for years. It felt bad, but it felt good, too. It was better to know.


sh'Shar: Okay. Um. Well... I think I should probably get going. I'll keep making my logs, and One-Joke has me on light duties until I'm ready to work again, and in that time I have to make a new friend or find a new hobby. Which is going to be... interesting. And I gotta schedule some surgery for a new eye, so I have a lot to keep me busy.


Including one other thing Mikali didn't mention. Talking to Luna. It would have to wait until her new eye was installed, but that was a task Mikali had been storing away in her mind for a long time. Too long.


Valen: Well, you're in a good place to have the surgery. Palanon has some excellent hospitals and doctors.


She smiled slightly. The Tyrellians had been Federation members for almost as long as the Federation had existed, and they had reaped the rewards. Palanon was as advanced as any core Federation world, not to mention the fact the Tyrellian system was the Starfleet headquarters for the sector. It was here any severely injured personnel would rehabilitate, with all the interventions, treatments and support they could need, including neural prostheses like Mikali's eye.


Valen: As for the rest, you might want to look into some of the clubs and societies on the station? Perhaps something there will catch your eye.


Eye, singular. Mikali smirked to herself at the subtle dig—unintentional though it was—but then her expression relaxed as she digested that idea, nodding thoughtfully.


sh’Shar: I think I’ll look into them.


Mikali pushed herself up off the couch, folding her hands behind her back. Carys followed suit, uncrossing her legs and rising to her feet.


sh'Shar: Thanks again for seeing me, and um. Same time next fortnight?


Valen: I'll see you then. And as always, we're here if you need us in the meantime.


Mikali left, thoughts churning in her head. Clubs and societies, huh?

 

fin

--

Mikali sh'Shar

Civilian

ReachOut Project

O238704AT0


&


Commander Valen Carys 

Anthropologist and Clinical Psychologist

USS Gorkon

T238401QR0

Edited by Jo Marshall
typo
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