The Present Past
On the Road Again
Location: CMO's Quarters
Timeline: Mission Day 2 at 1842
[MD 02 – 1842hrs]
The incessant chime was like an irresistible lure, hooking Xex firmly and dragging him reluctantly through the black molasses of deep unconsciousness. He struggled in that vague, uncoordinated way you do when you're deeply asleep, rejecting consciousness but not with any concentrated method that would actually assure success.
When he finally broke sleep's surface, it was as slowly as he had been dragged from that deep darkness of dreams; his nose first sniffing the stale fug of the room, born of long sleep, then his ears heard the chime, both senses registering long before his bleary eyes blinked open.
“Computer,” he croaked, voice rusty with disuse, “Silence alarm.”
The computer acknowledged his command, but the chime continued. Now, more confused than ever, Xex struggled into a half-upright position, struggling to break free of sleep's grasp. “Computer, time.”
“Eighteen forty-two,” the computer answered obligingly, her voice as smooth and pleasant as ever.
Xex took another handful of seconds to put the number into any meaningful framework. He was not due on shift for nearly another hour and a half. Why was his alarm going off?
It wasn't an alarm. It was a chime.
“Computer,” Xex said with studied patience, jamming the palm of one hand into an eye in an attempt to rub the sleep out of it, and some sense into his brain, “Who is waiting outside?”
“Lieutenant Junior-Grade Gwenwyn Marwol.”
This was enough to make Xex frown, forcing his reluctant braincells to do work at least an hour before they were scheduled to. They didn't want to cooperate. “Computer, is Lieutenant Marwol on duty?”
The computer paused, and then replied, “Negative. Lieutenant Marwol is currently off-shift.”
Xex relaxed fractionally. At least it wasn't a medical emergency. Probably.
If he'd been more awake, he wouldn't have even considered such an unlikely scenario. Why, after all, would his second approach him in person for an issue, rather than utilizing either the comm or the LMH? But he had not been more awake, and his brain was only just catching up with the situation currently in front of him. “Computer,” he said, his voice losing some of its gravel with every command, “Admit Lieutenant Marwol.”
The computer chimed its acceptance and Xex rolled off the bed. Another plus of eschewing topside bedclothes-- less to get tangled in when you had to get out of bed in a hurry. The Sojourner's CMO also didn't bother with pajamas, preferring to simply exit the bed and throw on a uniform in an emergency. At least this didn't fit that description. This was simply unusual.
Xex took an extra moment, bypassing his discarded uniform draped across the room's chair, and grabbed some loose-fitting exercise pants and an undershirt emblazoned with the Sojo's registry number. He stepped out of his room just in time to see the suite's main doors closing behind Gwenwyn.
“Gwenwyn,” Xex croaked, and then cleared his throat and tried again. “Gwenwyn! I wasn't expecting you-- please.” He waved at the sofa inset next to the main doors. “Please, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything?”
Gwewyn stood before his superior in civies, simple long-sleeved white short along with blue jeans, with his hair ruffled. "Uhm no," Gwenwyn said rubbing his hands on his trousers as he sat himself down. "Sorry, is this a bad time for that chat Xex?" He asked, this was his only friend, the only non-ghost that was aboard Sojo, someone he wanted not to lose.
"No, no," Xex lied, making his own way over to the replicator. He stole a glance at the suite's other door, which stood ajar-- good. It was unlikely the Stellar Cartography Chief was going to be in for at least another couple hours. At least they'd have privacy. The replicator's familiar hum accompanied Xex rearranging the furniture, pulling the comfortable chair into a place at a pleasant angle to the couch on which Gwenwyn had settled. He then retrieved a clear glass of something bubbly and flopped unceremoniously into the chair. "This just means I'll be slightly more conscious when I come to sickbay today," he said, flashing Gwenywn a grin as he cracked a joke at his own expense. His last shift had started approximately three minutes after he'd managed to drag himself out of slumber, and it had shown when he'd arrived in sickbay to relieve Gwenwyn.
Taking a sip of his beverage, he added, "I should be close to caught up anyway. Now. What's on your mind?" Behind the pleasant expression, Xex's own mind raced to catch up-- 'that chat,' implied this was something they'd discussed before. The moment his memories gave up the answer was marked by a slight relaxation of his posture, a crossing of his legs at the knee. Oh yeah. Gwenwyn had mentioned it-- he'd just forgotten in the flurry of activity putting Kestrel and Noah back together.
"I've been thinking of getting out of here," Gwenwyn nervously said with a smile, showing his disconnect. "Leave Starfleet or stay in the reserve, practice medicine in the IME (Interspecies Medical Exchange)." He briefly paused, the speed of his hands rubbing against his jeans increasing.
Xex's brows rose. So far as he could remember, Gwenwyn was only recently returned to the fleet. His eyes flicked down to the other man's hands, then back up.
Gwenwyn jolted up. "I had everything Xex. EVERYTHING," Volume of his voice increased as he paced on the grey carpet. "I left the Academy 6 years ago. Highest in my Medicine & Surgical Operation classes. I had recommendations from junior admirals, and the Academy Commandant." Anger in every tone he spoke.
Craning his neck to watch him as he paced, Xex started to say, "I'm sure--" but was cut off.
He rushed up towards Xex, showing the back of his hand, a large plasma scar lined his hand, completely covering it. "One scar and I'm officially an inflectional risk, a risk in the operation theatre." Tears began to stroll down his face, caressing his cheek. "I've tried to accept that my life is over. I thought I had come to terms with myself but seeing patients needing surgery brought back the rush, the adrenaline."
Gwenwyn took his seat, his eyes were red and the tears although silent flowed like a river. "I want my life back Xex. But I can never go back."
Xex stared, silent, for several heartbeats, eyes wide, pressed into the back of the chair where he'd squished himself in the face of Gwenwyn's fury. He swallowed once, and before the awful silence could stretch too long, cleared his throat and managed to speak, "You're right. You can never go back. For us simple biological beings, time is linear." The statement of fact was quiet, calm in a way Xex was struggling to actually feel inside. It also gave him an extra second to think. "But let me ask you this. Is happiness a zero sum equation? Does your happiness from before mean you can't have it again?"
Gwenwyn's head was in his lap. "I'm a 2nd generation surgeon," Gweywn replied, "I've followed in my mother's footsteps." Pulling his head up. "I don't know if I was happy before. But the emotions I had when I was arm's length inside someone... It felt like I was playing God... And it felt good."
Slowly, very slowly, Xex unwound himself enough to lean forward, bracing his forearms on his thighs. While he knew he was not as equipped as, say, Dr. Bracco, to deal with the obviously-hurting young man, he also knew Gwenwyn had come to him for a reason and as CMO, it was unquestionably his duty to help if he could. "Perhaps you cannot operate, but your knowledge need not go to waste. Your compassion for patients need not be squandered."
Tears now dripping down Gwenwyn's perfect skin. "All my knowledge revolves around surgical diagnoses. I can diagnose the cause but I cannot operate on the diagnosis." He replied knowing how useless he will in emergency situations within Xex's sickbay.
Knowing the tears were reflections of Gwenwyn's internal pain, Xex tensed, as if to go to his side-- then thought better of it. Give him space. Perhaps a different tack was needed. His lips quirked upward to one side, in an attempt at levity. "Then it sounds like we are in precisely the same situation. As you may have noticed, I am no surgeon myself-- a diagnosis is as close as I will get to being... arms's length inside someone." He lifted a brow, as if to ask if this was the appropriate terminology, but then did not give Gwenwyn time to answer. He continued, "We have precise instruments and colleagues such as the LMH to help us when our own limits are reached. Stars know mine will be tested often, if this last trip to the moon is any indication of our working conditions going forward." He grimaced, shifted his seat, and took a sip of the bubbly liquid still in his hand.
Swallowing, he chanced another glance at Gwenwyn and said, "Now, I will be the last person to tell you Starfleet Medical Command is infallible, but I can't think they have returned you to a duty they do not think you capable of performing. Your previous experience and knowledge of the Delta Quadrant will be invaluable to this ship, and to me, personally. That doesn't mean," he lifted a finger to head off what he imagined to be Gwenwyn's inevitable protest, "You are simply an advisor. There are many areas in our sphere of influence that do not require opening someone up. Look at the success we had treating Shaddam IVa's archaeobacteria, no? Gwenwyn," Xex put down his glass and caught the young man's eyes, holding them. "You are not your hands. You are a well-rounded human with a brain capable of learning and adapting. Perhaps it's time to use it differently."
For someone who wasn't trained in psychology, Xex did a pretty good job but it was everything Gwenwyn heard from the psychologists at Starfleet Medical, but unlike them, Xex treated him like a friend and a human instead of a war-exhausted person. "I'm a qualified General Surgeon," Then he gulped as if he was swallowing up his pain, forcing himself to come to terms. "Was a General Surgeon... I've spent 6 years as a Surgeon, maybe... Maybe it's time to focus on being a Physician for some time."
Xex nodded, his expression still serious. He searched Gwenwyn’s face, taking in the still-damp tracks of tears on cheeks carved by more experience than his tender years would suggest. Whatever he found there caused his lips to quirk up on one side as he said wryly, “Going forward, I’m hopeful a general physician will be a bigger asset than a surgeon.”
Leaning forward, he patted Gwenwyn’s hand and pushed to his feet, moving for the replicator. When it materialized a bog standard glass of water, he brought it back over and handed it to Gwenwyn. “Here. I’ve heard hydration is the cornerstone to any health regimen. Tell me Gwenwyn,” he said, taking his seat again, his voice alive with genuine curiosity, “What happened down there on that moon that brought you here tonight?”
"Crewmen Booth," Gweywn stated before taking a drink. "I watched an animal pull out his oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestine... It was something similar I had assisted when I was an Ensign." Balancing the glass on his knee he looked Xex in his eyes. "If I had my operating license still then he still would be here." Then Gwenwyn's eye began to wander like his soul has been. "Our XO is an MD, so with her help and my experience we'd brought him back to the shuttle, probably find someone with his blood type and transfuse... Then I'll finish my handiwork in the operating room."
While interest lit his face to hear it was Crewman Booth who brought this on, as Gwenwyn continued, that interest dimmed and then solidified into what Xex hoped was an expression of neutrality. He struggled to maintain that neutral mien as his second described his hypothetical actions, concern growing in Xex not for the graphic, dispassionate descriptions of putting Booth back together again, but for the man who had obviously been thinking an awful lot about what could have been. He looked just on the verge of speaking up when Gwenwyn took the words out of his mouth.
"I've been living in the past since I left Starfleet Medical," Gwenwyn remarked, lounge backing into his seat and staring at the ceiling. "Playing operations on the holodeck, ones they make Cadets do... If I had a basic understanding, I'd recreate what happened down there but instead, I save Booth."
A brief silence fell, while Xex desperately searched for the words. He didn't find them. He didn't find anything that could soothe that deep well inside every physician, the well that gaped just a little wider with every lost patient. Very gently, he tried at least to touch it, to bridge the space between them, doctor to doctor. "Do you really think that would help?" he asked; his tone was simple query, without any of the judgement that could have been inherent in such a question.
"Everyone dreams Xex," Gweywn said with a smile. "I dream of bygone eras... Probably not you're right, unknown planet, ruined building. The infection rate would be extremely high... Maybe being eaten was for the best, if I saved him he would likely be the first victim to that bacterial agent we found."
With as much sincerity as the first question, Xex took a brief sip of liquid and then asked, "Do you want to find out? I understand we got pretty comprehensive scans of that ruined building. We could ask Commander t'Nai to accompany us." Xex tried to keep his tone casual, but the way he leaned back in his seat to gauge Gwenwyn's reaction was just a little too tense to fully convince.
"No," Gwenwyn said then repeating the word again. "If I keep looking to the past I'll get stuck there. Time to focus on my work now." Xex was right about most things, he was his on-hand encyclopedia regarding the Delta Quadrant.
The smile that blossomed on Xex's silvery features was equal parts happiness and satisfaction at the other's decision. He clapped his hands with finality, pushing himself to his feet. "I couldn't have said it better myself," he agreed, despite having said it himself not ten minutes before. He held out a hand to help Gwenwyn to his feet, more as a hand clasp of shared experience than out of any need to actually assist the young man.
"I have to disagree though," he remarked with a halfsmile twitching his lips to the side, one finger on his free hand raised, "Now is the time to relax. You have what, nine hours 'til you're on shift?" His gray eyes twinkled at his deliberate misinterpretation of Gwenwyn's words.
"You're correct there," Gweywn stated, a smile creeping across his face now the tears have sustained. "I'll head back to my bunk, let you get some sleep, Kestrel's leg will need fresh eyes." Gwenwyn stood up, standing beside his seat he said "Goodnight Xex. Thank you," Before departing, heading down the corridor feeling a slight bit better about his posting on Sojo.
“Gwenwyn,” Xex called after him, stopping him in the doorway, “Do me a favor though?”
Gwenwyn had his hands in his pocket and a spring in his step, his encounter with Xex was deftly needed, when Xex called out to him, he simply turned his body 80° angle while his head looked at him with a big happy smile.
“Go see Doctor Bracco.” Xex’s face remained friendly, with just a touch of pleading. “I’m certain it will help, and if nothing else, you would give me some precious peace of mind by going.”
Maybe he was right, maybe Dr Bracco was different to those robots at Starfleet Medical. "I'll... think about it," Gweywn replied with an imaginary glow to him.
“Thank you,” Xex said as Gwenwyn turned away again— he sounded entirely genuine, despite the equivocation of the answer. He followed Gwenwyn to the door, then leaned in the doorway, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched his second head away down the curving corridor. When he spoke again, his voice didn’t carry past the doorway, and held the formal tone of a recitation.
“For to think is but the first step to action.”
A post by:
Lieutenant (JG) Gwenwyn Marwol
Assistant Chief Medical Officer
Dr Xex Wang
Chief Medical Officer