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Cmdr Walker & Lt JG MacLaren: Shadow Games

Kali Nicholotti

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((Sickbay early morning))

::Dr. MacLaren had been surprised and relieved when Commander Walker had come to her for help. She had suspected that he was still haunted by the Shadow experience but had not anticipated that it was quite this bad. His recall of emotion was crippled and he'd admitted to having hallucinations of a taunting Shadow. He was experiencing it even as they spoke. She had suggested that there could be actual brain damage or that he might be having a defensive reaction to painful memories themselves. He had accepted those possibilities with an openness that spoke of his desire to be well although she felt that he'd seemed more frightened of the last.::

Walker: How would you prove out either hypothesis doctor?

MacLaren: Eh can do a neural scan for actual tissue damage to eliminate the second possibility. We'll be able to see if there is damage to your brain. If there is none, then we are faced with a fear response to memories themselves which ye may have repressed. Eh can help you with that. If the memories are simply deeply buried, we could likely find them together.

Walker: Seems reasonable, how quickly could we arrange it?

MacLaren: Eh can do the neural scan right now. It would only take a view moments. Eh have a tri-corder here.

Walker: And the results? If it turns out to not be a physical element?

MacLaren: If it is negative, and you agreed, Eh could help you find the memories ye fear.

:: Walker gave a small involuntary shudder as she said that. His nearly hidden reaction was also an indicator to her that his fear of the memories was the more likely answer. She had seen the kind of dreadful memories that had been twisted like a cruel torture by the Shadow attacking Dr. Deron. What had the commander's Shadow dredged up?::

Walker: And how would you do that?

MacLaren: Eh'm a telepath, Commander. Eh dinna enter people's minds without their permission, but with it, Eh can find something you may have suppressed simply because Eh dinna have the same fear of them that a patient might.

Walker: There is, logically, a third potential that we should consider.

Shadow Walker: Beyond the obvious that you are simply a loony?

Walker: Or perhaps four potentials. One is, regrettably that I am actually losing it. However, since that was something brought to me by the shadow... I don't believe it to be true.

MacLaren:nodding:: Aye, Eh tend to agree with you. Yet, you are giving some credence to what this hallucination is telling you.

::She did not want to call it the Shadow since giving it that name would reinforce its reality in his mind.::

Walker: The concern for me Doctor, what if it is a remnant. A piece of the Shadow creatures that we drove off, somehow locked into my mind.

Shadow Walker: Ooo good one Benny. Hey, if you are right.. I might make a new friend! I bet the doc would love to share your problems! Well not literally, I bet she's got a ton of her own. And with a telepath... hey I could spread everywhere! Yeah.. let's DO this thing!

MacLaren: Try not to listen to whatever the hallucination is saying. Think of it as either a manifestation of either tissue damage or as a projected fear. Dinna give it authority in your mind.

:: Not realizing that he'd reacted visibly, he nodded soberly. ::

Walker: Doctor, in fairness, under that hypothesis that it was a remnant, your exploration of my mind could spread the infection. But first, let's see if there is any physical damage.

MacLaren::shaking her head more to shake away the irrational fear his words had produced than to correct him.:: Nae, that willna happen. Let's do the scan and then Eh will tell you our options. :: She found her next words the very same she had said so often during the Shadow crisis.:: They will be our options, ye are nae alone in this now. Together we'll find the answer.

::She set the tricorder for a neural brain scan, then she carefully and slowly used it to circle Walker's head. She suspected that the Shadow hallucination was speaking to him and warning him off. She had gently placed her hand on his shoulder as she completed the scan finding his muscles as taut as a bow string.::

MacLaren: There is some small scar tissue, but it is not in a place that would cause hallucinations. It could cause some memory impairment, but Eh dinna think such significant impairment as ye are experiencing. It can be removed surgically if necessary. Hallucinations result from damage in other parts of the brain, ye see.

Walker: So the mental attack formed physical issues. That's unexpected, but the hallucinations wouldn't be part of that..and so aren't physical. So what is our next step then? Other than the surgery?

MacLaren: Eh dinna ken if ye knew this, but Eh trained for many years on Vulcan. Eh learned the mind meld technique. Telepaths of various species can do so. In that, both our minds would be equally open to each other. Since ye fear that the Shadow could spread this affect on your mind, Eh suggest this. First, Eh can enter your mind in a regular Betazoid way which would allow me to see into your thoughts and memories. If Eh find the memories or the cause of their blockage, Eh would break off the contact. Then Eh could tell you what Eh'd found. That would tell ye what was there and what ye may fear. It wouldna be the same as really having them and the blockage would remain. Then if ye wish to face the fear, Eh could then use the mind meld technique. Since the memories would be in my mind, Eh'd be returning them to you.

Walker: So, you'd be scanning my memories, downloading a copy hopefully without the virus, then reloading my mind from a saved file? That seems as reasonable as any other path forward I suppose. Though I'm honeslty more concerned with the Shadow "infecting" you with the same virus.

Shadow Walker: And you should be... as soon as she get's in... she's going to be in for more than she bargained for I'll tell ya.

::MacLaren knew that if Walker's memories were still there and not destroyed by the Shadows, they would be terrifying; she would experience them not as sharply as he did, but it would not be easy for her. She was a doctor and her duty was not to her own comfort but to help her patient. It had taken a good deal for this officer to come to her; she could not let him down.::

MacLaren: Just relax as much as ye can. Ye are nae going to feel anything We'll just be sitting here together. You can close your eyes if it is easier.

:: Even the idea of being relaxed, open, vulnerable, tightened his chest. This wasn't what he did. He fought. He was the person that watched out for others, not that needed to be watched over. Only the concern that doing nothing would make things worse forced him to stay. So instead, he grappled with his own urges, trying to bring down the barriers he'd always put up. To allow the Doctor unharmed through the battlefield of his mind. ::

Walker: Alright, but... be careful. I've been trained to resist... so not sure how that's going to affect things.

::MacLaren gave him a reassuring smile and then lowered opened herself to his mind. The room faded and darkened into a barren plain that looked as if it had sustained a brutal bombing. What appeared to be the smoldering remains of piles of rags were corpses from which she stepped back in horror. A gleeful laugh made her spin around to see a undulating dark from. A vicious smile like a smirking Cheshire Cat split the darkness of its face. She wanted to run, to escape, but she recognized it as a defensive feature of Walker's mind. She turned from the figure and continued to try to find his memories in this minefield of his mental barriers. The terrain suddenly shifted and she found herself climbing a steep precipice until it shook and hurtled her down. An increasing sense of dread dragged at her like heavy shackles. Shadowy figures flew around her squawking like ravening vultures. Oo They are not real; they canna hurt me; they are not real, ignore them Oo::

::The shrieking of the vultures increased until she dropped to her knees and put her hands over her ears. She batted it away and it dove at her until raising her fist, she struck it and it flew away revealing a door. Entering, she was in the sickbay and the shadow assumed the shape of a vulture feeding on the the body of Commander Walker. She walked to it carefully and saw it feeding. The Trauma Ward faded and the walls seemed like the giant screens of old Earth's cinemas showing scenes from the commander's life. Some were scenes of his childhood, his youth and what appeared to be his courtship with his wife, the birth of his child, the terrors of battles fought.::

::They played out like a movie reel in his mind, but instead of full images, the pictures were blurred, lacking color. In some cases, they flickered and jumped as if frames of the film had been cut and spliced back together.::

:: The vulture looked up at her as she gazed at the man's life. Shifting to a more human looking body, still somewhat covered in shadow, he gestured to the images before them. ::

Shadow Walker: Welcome to the mind of Ben Walker. Not much to see, but hey, you get what you pay for... am I right? :: As he spoke the last, he slurped up a bit of entrails that had been in the vulture's mouth. ::

MacLaren: Ye are a defense mechanism, nothing more.

:: The darkened figure wagged his finger at the woman as if she was a naughty child. ::

Shadow Walker: Ah ah ah... no insulting the help. After all, I'm just a poor fragment of this man's consciousness. Similar to the little girl behind you.

:: He pointed to an obviously distraught young girl, who strongly resembled the doctor. ::

::The child startled Johanna, less because it was there, but more because it would be unlike Walker to be cruel to another person. Realizing that, she knew that it was a defense mechanism, but it would not hurt her. It was mostly bravado.:

Shadow Walker: You said it yourself Doc, you open yourself to understand Benny, and it's a two way street. Besides, :: his outfit changed to the blue of a Starfleet medical officer, and his demeanor became that of a mocking doctor:: I'm only here to help.

::MacLaren realized how deeply afraid Walker must be of facing his emotions to have such strongly imbedded defenses. Still, she felt from their first meeting that he was a good man who cared for other people despite a cool facade. She would not be put off by this “shadow.::

MacLaren: Good then. We're both here for the same reason. Eh'm not scared of you.

:: The voice came out far weaker than he wanted, laced with the pain of the wound, but gained strength as he spoke::

Walker: Get... away... from her.

Shadow Walker: Hey Benny, you look pretty bad. Maybe you should lie back down...

MacLaren: Nae, Commander, dinna lie down, fight him. He'll hurt me if ye don't. Eh need you to help me.

::She had not entered through a mind meld. There was little that Walker knew beyond what was in her service record files. She had long come to terms with that. She had been fighting her own willingness to withdraw since reporting to this base. Now, experiencing Walker's memories, seeing images of his troubled childhood, she understood why he was so guarded, why he would flee from the pain of emotions. Having his mind, his most intimate mental privacy violated by the shadows was a brutal assault, he'd not want to face. He was a private man whose most tender emotions had been used as feeding material by creatures who cared nothing for the pain they caused. The humiliation of that would be a searing wound in itself.::

:: The shadow creature laughed harshly. ::

Shadow Walker: Why would I do that doc? You are no more a threat to me, than you are a help to Benny. Ya know why? Because you don't understand!

:: Tired beyond the ability to explain, and in agony over the wounds inflicted to him by the shadow, he still forced himself onto his elbows. His words came out between exhales of pain::

Walker: I won't... let him... Just... just go.

:: Exhausted from even that effort, he slid from his elbows back onto his back. Before his head could hit the hard metal, the Shadow creature tripped, putting his hand between as a cushion, even as it then pulled it free.

:: MacLaren looked at the memories, some torn and ragged, others intact. There was a lot of pain here, a lot of humiliation in his childhood. Oo So like my time on Vulcan. We were both treated like freaks. His records must read a bit like mine: Excellent student, but emotionally guarded, does not socialize well with others, may have difficulty forming camaraderie with a crew. Eh came here determined to be different. Can he break out of this too?oO::

MacLaren: Commander, your memories are here, a few have some damage, but not many. The memory of your promotion is here and untouched. You can have the emotions back, but ye'll have to fight for them. If you think your reply, Eh'll hear you.

:: The creature started laughing at her words, in inverse proportion to the seriousness of her statement. ::

Shadow Walker: Wha.. wait. You... :: laugh:: you want Benny.. to.. :: At this point he doubled over the table, pulling a moan of pain from Ben:: to fight for himself?!?

MacLaren: If ye dinna fight this, you will end up losing more than the emotional memories. Ye could shut down all your emotions. They'll follow like dominoes falling. It could ruin your marriage, your love for your bairn.

:: The shadow looked over at her with shock on his face, his laughter stolen from him ::

Shadow Walker: Wait, you are serious? :: He shook his head:: You really have no clue do you...

:: Weakly Ben pushed the shadow away ::

Walker: Go.. go away. Just leave...

:: The shadow looked at the man, then at the doctor, then back. The humor he'd always shown robbed from his face and replaced with fury::

Shadow Walker: Really? That's your answer Benjamin? :: He turned back to the doctor before continuing:: You want him to recover his memories? Let's do that shall we?

::MacLaren was torn. The hostility and defensiveness of the Shadow was daunting, but it was Walker's defense mechanism. He was trying to protect himself, but somewhere deeper, Walker must know that he could not continue to exist as he was. He'd reached out for help, something that must have been terribly difficult. She understood that he'd done it to stay on duty, which was clearly his primary motivator. She was not a counselor, but she did know that emotions could not be shut down selectively like defective systems in a computer. Suppression of one lead to suppression of them all in a cascading affect. The lost emotions of his memory, would soon be a total loss of Walker's emotions. An automaton could not be a first officer, and she wondered if he could live at all if he became incapable of doing his duty. She weighed the danger of talking to this Shadow or simply retreating and talking to a conscious Walker. This was dangerous, but she was certain that Walker would not seek further help if they stopped now.::

MacLaren:: to the Shadow:: Eh ken how agonizing this will be, but he is experiencing a gradual pain now that will eventually destroy him. Ye are angry and see me as an enemy, but he understands that he canna go on as he is.

::Reaching into itself, the shadow pulled a glittering jewel, covered in filth::Without waiting for a response, it shoved the jewel into the man's open chest. As soon as it touched him, Ben screamed. A scream that turned quickly to uncontrolled sobbing::

MacLaren: rushed over to the prostrate Walker and knelt by him, taking his hand:: What was that?

Shadow Walker: That? That was the memory he had AFTER the shadow attacked. When he realized that it wasn't the sound of his family that brought him back, but his duty to Starfleet. HE CAME BACK BECAUSE HE WAS ORDERED TO! Not love, not friends. Duty. So what does that make him when he's not on duty? :: Snarling, the creature continued, pulling another tarnished gem from it's body:: Oh this is fun, let's do more. How about this one Benjamin. Here's where you realized that you failed your crew when you left her. Where's the Ronin now Benjamin? Where's Cara? Where's the family you SWORE to protect?

MacLaren: Stop it! He canna face them all at once! He is feeling guilt, but he's wrong to do so. He's seeing all these decisions in a prism of self-condemnation. He did the right things, made the right choices, the only choices he could.

:: Black tears were streaming down the creatures face as it rounded on her::

Shadow Walker: Then why is he here?!? If he did right to leave then, for his wife and child. Then what right did he have to leave?!?

:: On the table, Ben was curled into a fetal ball. The Shadow looked from him back to the doctor with disgust.::

Shadow Walker: Ben Walker is a fraud and a coward. He hides behind words like duty and responsibility. But at the end, he fails everyone. Just like he knew he would. But the kllhe (Romulan: worm), doesn't fail until it hurts someone else to do so. End of the day "Doc" I'm not the problem here. He is. And that's why he won't fight back. That's why he will let each domino fall. Because that's what he deserves, and at the end of the day.. he knows it.

::MacLaren stared into the eyes of the Shadow, of Ben's real image of himself seeing the contempt and self-loathing along with a bitter anger. She did something she would do with a hysterical patient; she slapped him hard, stunning him.::

MacLaren: He...You...will NOT let the dominoes fall. Ye an officer but one who is also a fine man. You have not let everyone down. Ye are feeling guilty that ye answered your captain, but not your wife. What d'ye think gave ye the strength to answer Captain Nicholotti? D'ye think it was the first time ye were told not to die. Ye were deid! Clinically deid! Ye were not almost deid; ye were gone...until your wife's voice spoke to you over and over. She didna order you, or call your name because ye were hearing letters that she hadna known would ever be used as they were. Ye were likely too weak to respond but you did respond after hours of hearing your wife. Ye answered your duty, but because ye'd drawn on something that ye find hard to believe ye are truly capable of: loving someone and being loved by them. Aye, ye did your duty; that is no crime. D'ye think your wife didna ken she was marrying a Starfleet officer? D'ye think that ye'd have been able to reply without her voice? You came back because of her no matter that ye replied to the captain. You literally came back from the deid because of your wife's voice, not the captain's. That is a club ye are using to beat yourself for no reason.

MacLaren: Ye think ye were wrong to leave her behind? Would she be safer here? Now? Ye denied yourself for their safety. It is an agonizing decision, but one that men have had to make since time immemorial when they were willing to do their duty so that millions could live in peace. No man deserves so much pain for that.

MacLaren: D'ye ken how many Starfleet children learn of their parent's death from some teacher, or officer who barely knows them because they're out in a combat area instead of someplace safe, surrounded by family members to ease their pain? Some officers have no choice about it; some are too selfish or too weak to do without their wives and children to duty their duty without the comfort of them, but you did make that choice, and you made the right one. <Revised>

MacLaren: There is one more lie that ye are telling yourself, Commander. Ye said that ye didna come back for friends either. There is one thing the military has known for centuries: people dinna die for their country, their ideals or their just cause; they are willing to die for their buddies, their friends, and there is no greater love than that. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. When you came back to duty, to face the Shadows again, ye were doing it to save your friends, because that is what duty really is!

::The slap had caught the Shadow Walker by complete surprise. The words more so. Why was she fighting for him? Benny hadn't done anything for this woman and she was putting herself at risk. Though he had to admit to himself he didn't know how much of a risk it was for a telepath.::

Shadow Walker: Why? Why are you doing this? What makes him worth the effort, the risk?

::The question was meant to come out dripping with contempt. Instead, in this place, literally in his own mind, it came out with the momentary innocence of a child. What made him worth fighting for? ::

MacLaren: Because in all of eternity there never was and never will be another Ben Walker. Ye are a unique creation of God and your soul is priceless....because ye are a good and honorable man who has done your duty no matter how painful it was to you...because Eh want ye to be able to grow old with your wife and see your bairns grow up, and because Eh am a doctor and life is sacred to me.

:: The words shook his world, knocking the doctor off her feet momentarily. The Shadow, unaffected, looking at her suspiciously. ::

Shadow Walker: I don't believe you. :: He laughed harshly:: I CAN'T believe you.

MacLaren:: gently:: And that is your problem; ye canna accept that ye are worth caring for, worth being loved, but ye are a marrit man and a father, a respected officer, so more people than I disagree with you.

:: The shadow made a sweeping bow, his outfit having shifted to a medieval courtier's, the mockery in his voice matching the look in his eyes. ::

Shadow Walker: Ah, but that's the point M'lady Doctor. :: He pointed to Ben on the table:: He does. Not fully, or even without suspicion that you are simply doing your job as a doctor in saying so. :: His smile showed razor teeth:: And we know what a .. ahem.. Female Dog.. duty can be. But, for now, I'll cede the battlefield to you.

MacLaren: Duty is not an obscenity; it is a opportunity to be our best selves. Don't forget, we choose our duties. Eh have chosen to preserve life, you have chosen to defend peace and freedom, which is never free. It comes at a cost, but it is not something to be ashamed of. You have a right to enjoy the life you and officers like you safeguard for the rest of us.

Shadow Walker: Ah ah ah... you and I both know that I can kill him. And I'm not sure that wouldn't be kinder. Besides Herr Doktor. While you are obviously certain you know who and what I am... :: He pointed to the child behind her:: Ben hasn't read your file to know what you looked like as a child.

:: With that last statement, the Shadow slipped away, leaving the doctor alone with her patient::

::MacLaren narrowed her eyes and started to shout at the Shadow wherever it was, but then realizing her error, she looked down at Walker.::

MacLaren: Nice try, Commander, but my records wouldna have pictures of me as a bairn anyway. It's not hard to figure what Eh looked like at that age. That child is a skinnier, flatter chested version of what Eh look like now. I'm not going to be scared away. We've learned a lot, but it's not going to be a quick fix. We've seen the enemy...and it is you. Still, that's an important thing to learn because being a stubborn, duty oriented son of a gun can work both ways. Giving up isna really in your nature, and it is not in mine. Oo outcasts who've made it this far, dinna give up. Oo Are ye feeling any better?

Walker: It hurts. But not like I'm bleeding out as much. :: He gave a small smile:: Hopefully we are done for now? Because I would kill for a big breakfast...

MacLaren: smiling despite sudden fatigue:: That's always a good sign. Eh can get you one.


Commander Ben Walker



Lt. jg Johanna MacLaren


SB118/USS Victory

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