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Part of USS Columbia: Sol Sub Umbra

All the Way Down

USS Columbia, Sickbay
January 2400
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From where Chrishell Reiko was sitting, she thought Lieutenant Andreus Kohl moved through Sickbay like a classically-trained actor performing a stage play. Kohl strode around the nurse’s station without looking where he was going, too busy pointing at a chart on a holo-display. Despite his broad frame and thick legs, there was a grace to his movement. His body language didn’t betray just how new he was to Columbia‘s Sickbay.  He had been assigned to the ship just as recently as Chrishell herself, and the rest of the crew. If Kohl was nervous about the red alert and whatever had brought the ship to a sudden halt, he certainly wasn’t sweating it.

Even though she was sitting upon a biobed on the other side of sickbay from him, Chrishell could hear how Kohl was reassuring one of the nurses that they had things under control and she was free to return to her quarters. Kohl instructed another nurse to attend to the patient at biobed three.  As they all scattered, Kohl marched away from the nurse’s station in Chrishell’s direction. Whereas Kohl’s black uniform was shouldered with the teal divisional colour of medical, Chrishell’s uniform was shouldered in gold. Kohl was her nurse; she was his patient, and she wasn’t the only one.

Once Kohl had closed the distance to Chrishell’s biobed, he raised his right palm to perform a snatching gesture in the air. A holographic biofunction monitor snapped into existence where he’d summoned it. Before Chrishell could ask a question, Kohl blurted out, “Baby is healthy.” In relief, Chrishell loosened her grip on her expanded stomach, but she didn’t lift her hand. “I’ve reviewed all of the test results,” Kohl explained in a measured tone; “There’s no signs of problems with your pregnancy after the fall.”

Chrishell had narrowed her eyes at Kohl almost as soon as he started speaking. With each sentence fragment he let out, she almost interjected. As soon as he stopped talked, she said, “No offense, Lieutenant, but you’re a nurse practitioner…”

Kohl looked her in the eyes and he nodded once; she received the look as an acknowledgement and reassurance. He then glanced at the biofunction monitor, where visual representations of her vital signs were flashing, softly beeping in time. “I will of course review the results with the Chief Medical Officer as soon as he returns to Sickbay,” Kohl replied. Again, he looked like an actor, this time reciting a familiar speech from memory.  Gesturing to her, Kohl asked, “Can I see that wrist you were telling me about, Chrishell?”

Replying with a nod, Chrishell proffered the hand she’d landed on, when she’d taken a tumble in engineering. Kohl gestured to focus the biobed’s sensors and waved his hand over the visible bruising on Chrishell’s wrist. A holographic representation of the damage to her blood vessels materialized over her wrist, moving in concert with her hand.

“Now I’ve only known you ten minutes, so I want you to tell me to shut up if I’m over-stepping,” Kohl said, as good-humoured preamble to something else. Shuffling towards an antigrav tray by his side, Kohl picked through the medical tools available to him.  He wrapped his fingers around a small cylinder on the tray, collecting the vascular regenerator. “I don’t know any pregnant people well enough to get a drink with them –figuratively speaking– which means I hate to waste this opportunity,” he said in complete transparency. Meeting her eyes again, Kohl took a deep breath and he asked, “When did you decide you were ready to become a mother?”

Chrishell retorted, “Why wait? My last CMO called this a geriatric pregnancy as it is.”  She answered his question with a tight smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. This had been her turn to offer a well-worn reply to avoid an awkward silence or dreaded small talk.

Kohl tittered half a laugh at that, but he swallowed it quickly. As she watched him, Kohl’s lips moved like he was about to ask another question, but the words must have evaporated from his mind as quickly as the expression evaporated from his face.  Kohl began to wave the vascular regenerator over her wrist, and then he spat out, “What made you decide, or how did you know you were ready, or had you really planned, or did you really know?”

With some amusement, Chrishell shook her head at the absurdity of Kohl’s apparent discomfort with her pregnancy or, more likely, his own reactions to it. She studied every micro-expression on his face, when she  tartly asked, “Are you going to ask me how many lights there are too?”

That time, Kohl laughed for real. Through his snicker, Kohl remarked, “They’re still giving that lecture at the academy about surviving interrogation, huh?”

“For real, Andreus,” she said, “what are you trying to ask me?”

Diffidently, Kohl avoided her eyes.  He stared intently at light emitting from the vascular regenerator as it repaired the bruising on Chrishell’s arm.  After a pregnant pause, Kohl shrugged.  “I never asked my father why he adopted me,” he admitted. Only then did he look up.

“Isn’t that,” Chrishell asked delicately, “a conversation you should be having with him?”

Kohl shook his head. “He died,” he answered simply.

“Your mother?” Chrishell prompted. Without meaning to, she winced sheepishly at the question she asked. Maybe that was as insensitive as Kohl’s questions to her.

“As good as,” was Kohl’s only answer.

Instinctively, Chrishell yanked her hand away from Kohl. She needed both hands to protect her unborn child from such uncomfortable words, uncomfortable thoughts. Aside from the initial sting of surprise, Chrishell let the moment pass. Kohl wasn’t talking about her own mother, and Kohl was not her son. Thoughts about the conversations she had left unsaid with her own father came to mind, unbidden, and she ignored them by asking, “Are you much like your father?”

“As an adolescent, I thought he was secretly psychic,” Kohl replied. Clearly, it was a topic he had reflected on a lot. Clearly. He reached out to finish his treatment on Chrishell’s wrist. “Every now and then he would surprise me. He would know what I was going to do, or he could understand exactly why I was feeling a type of way. It was only as I got older that I realized, for all our differences, he operated on similar LCARS as me.” Kohl tapped on the side of his head with his free hand to emphasize the point.

Nodding softly, Chrishell said, “Then can’t you imagine how–”

At the next biobed over, the Emergency Medical Hologram interjected, “Lieutenant Kohl, I’ve stabilized Head Nurse Dorem’s vitals through an anesthetically-induced coma. If we can move her to the surgical suite, I can commence knitting the skull fractures. I’ve done what I can for the cerebral edema, but” –the holographic being’s breath caught in his throat, brimming with programmed nerves– “Only time will tell.”

“Dorem? What happened to Dorem?” Chrishell asked intently.  Kohl was a stranger to her, but Dorem had introduced herself in the lounge. Dorem had tracked down that recipe Chrishell could only half-remember. Now, Dorem was laid out on the biobed beside her, unconscious.

Kohl’s lips thinned, at that question, and the light behind his grey eyes dimmed. His expression went slack and he folded his hands behind his back, clasping his wrist tightly. “She hit her head on a biobed when the ship crashed out of warp. She, uh, she looked fine. Her pupils were normal; she reported no sensory symptoms,” Kohl said, clearly pained. He breathed out a “tt” between his teeth, and he said, “She should have known better. But patients started coming in; she put the patients first. She was tending to one of them when Dorem dropped. Fell to the deck. No warning.”

“She didn’t know…” Kohl started to say. His mouth sounded dry as he trailed off. Staring into the middle distance, Kohl shook his head. “I should have known…”

In the flash of an annular confinement beam, Dorem was dematerialized; beamed into the surgical suite. The Emergency Medical Hologram winked out of Sickbay to join his patient. Without looking back, Kohl went bounding across the compartment to assist with the surgery. This time, there was no dance-like sway about his movements. This time, he was a wounded gazelle running for his life.