Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 2

Infirmary, Starbase Bravo
February 2400
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For the umpteenth time Kharth checked her PADD, and for the umpteenth time there were no messages waiting for her. With a hiss of frustration, she turned away from the door to the private medical room in Starbase Bravo’s main hospital, and began to pace.

The corridors of the medical section left that antiseptic tang on her tongue, in her nostrils, that she had always hated. A starship’s sickbay was smaller, but this had been a long hike through the belly of the biggest medical facility in the sector. Now she was here, the last thing she wanted to do was go through the door. But nobody had contacted her with any salvation.

She didn’t know how long she’d been procrastinating when the doors slid open for Greg Carraway to pad out, wearing that kindly expression that sometimes made her want to punch him. He waited until the door shut behind him before he spoke. ‘We’re ready whenever you are, Saeihr.’

‘Ready,’ Kharth echoed in a low rumble of frustration. ‘Ready for what? I don’t know why I’m here.’

‘Guardian Pharan will explain -’

‘Commander Airex has been attacked by someone still on the loose. I’m a security officer; I should be trying to find T’Sann.’

‘Starbase Bravo Security -’

‘And if it’s not my job to hunt him, it’s my job to be on Endeavour as they go help that refugee convoy. Not be left behind like some widow weeping at a bedside.’

Endeavour doesn’t need you right now. Starbase Bravo Security don’t need you. Davir Airex needs you.’

‘Davir Airex has never needed me.’ The words threatened to choke. She’d come so close to finally walking away from him when he’d left Whixby. Then had come the discovery of his connection to the Myriad, the long-missing crime boss of the former Neutral Zone who’d ordered her father’s death. For months – years – her mind had turned over every fact, suspicion, guess, that might explain why Davir had been joined to the Airex symbiont and left her, and the uncertainty had almost driven her mad, ripping at her self-worth and her capacity to do her job.

Reopening that door came fraught with danger. And now she couldn’t do that at all, because there was a tremendously high chance that Davir, and maybe Airex, too, would die first.

‘I’m not a doctor,’ she pressed on, but Carraway stepped to the side and gestured to the door.

‘Guardian Pharan asked me for those closest to him. His family’s on Trill – days, if not weeks, away. You and Commander Valance are right here.’ As she didn’t move, he sighed. ‘Can you at least listen?’

She set her jaw. ‘Fine. Knowing what happened to him might shed some light on what T’Sann’s doing, after all.’

Carraway looked like he knew that was the best he might get. He led her into the small medical room split by a screen that blocked the biobed from view. Kharth could see one of the medical staff of Bravo moving about beyond it, but her eyes were torn back to the figures before her. Valance stood tall, tense, turned to ice, and a flicker of anger showed as she looked at her.

‘You’re late.’

Kharth ignored this and turned to Guardian Pharan. She was not sure how optimistic she should be about the talents of a Trill Guardian whose only recommendation for this crisis was not being on Trill, but a colony a sector away; proximity did not speak of skill. He was a short man with grey, receding hair and pointed features, his spots standing out dark and stark on his temples against his pale skin. ‘Explain why I need to be here instead of working.’

Pharan looked taken aback, and clasped his hand together in a gesture she could tell spoke of nerves. This did not give confidence. ‘Oh, you must be Lieutenant Kharth. Thank you for being here.’ He drew a slow breath. ‘I consulted with Counsellor Carraway upon your ship’s arrival, as the psychiatric practitioner most familiar with Airex. We determined that you and Commander Valance, as the two people closest to him, would be the most likely to help.’

‘I’ve been told this,’ Kharth snapped. ‘But nobody’s explained why. What’s happened to him?’

‘Just wait,’ Valance chided, and again Kharth didn’t look at her.

Pharan grimaced. ‘Davir Airex has suffered a telepathic attack, which has sent him into a coma. It seems the intention of the attack was to, effectively, destroy his mind; detach memory from thought, which would have rendered him incapable of functioning at all. I suspect the attacker was less familiar with the biology and psychology of a Joined Trill, however.’

Valance frowned. ‘Because his memories aren’t exclusively kept in Davir’s mind. They’re also kept in Airex’s.’

‘Precisely. But the attack has successfully severed the mental connection between Davir and Airex.’

Something surged in Kharth’s chest. ‘You mean, if he woke up, he wouldn’t have the memories of the Airex symbiont?’ It was a twisted sort of hope, a guilty sort of hope; one which knew that, beyond morality and selfishness, it couldn’t be that simple anyway.

Pharan shook his head. ‘Davir’s memories and thoughts are too heavily intertwined, after four years, with Airex’s. If Davir died today, Airex would still possess full recollection of the life of his fifth host, before and after Joining. Airex has likely taken some measures to protect itself from the telepathic attack, but that means that all memory Davir possessed is now solely within the symbiont.’

Valance nodded, expression not changing. ‘So how do you reconnect Davir to Airex?’

‘And what,’ rumbled Kharth, ‘does this have to do with people he’s not spoken to in months, or not been close to in years?’

Pharan gave an awkward look at Carraway at this. ‘Injuries like this have happened before to hosts and symbionts,’ the Guardian said awkwardly. ‘Normally when the host can function but not access the memories of their past lives. Were we on Trill, I would bring Davir Airex to the Caves of Mak’ala, submerge him in the pools, and guide them through a process to reconnect. This would be easier with the involvement of loved ones. Replicating the process without the pools is possible, but less effective, and really… necessitates your involvement.’

‘That’s not an explanation,’ Kharth said. ‘What do we do? Sit nearby and give out positive thoughts? Hold hands and sing?’

‘We have the technology, derived from our methods on Trill, to use neural stabilisers and for all three of us to commune with Airex – to effectively enter its subconscious. There, with my training, I can begin to work to heal the damage left by the attack, to make sure Airex is capable of reconnecting to Davir.’

Kharth made a face. ‘We hop into a coma and jump into his thoughts. What the hell is that supposed to achieve?’

‘Airex is protecting itself,’ Pharan explained falteringly. ‘Even if I can heal the damage, Airex needs convincing that danger has passed, and to reconnect to Davir. It is likely that Airex doesn’t recognise what that danger is, and in this state, its memories and subconscious will likely be offering it… suggestions. You will need to engage with the facets of Airex – talk to them – and make it plain that what they perceive as danger is not, that the threat has passed, and that they have to return to where they once were.’

Kharth looked at Valance, who remained in a silent, thoughtful frown, then shook her head and glared at Pharan. ‘You say “facets.” Do you mean the past hosts?’

‘And likely Davir.’

Carraway drew a careful breath. ‘As I understand it, Airex will be comprehending this attack through past trauma. You two are people he trusts. You will talk – possibly, yes, with Obrent, Tabain, Isady, and Lerin, as well as Davir – and help them recognise the truth of the situation.’

Can we just throw one host out? Kharth shook her head. ‘Why do you think can help, Greg? I knew Dav, I was close to Dav –

‘They’re the same person,’ Valance said quietly.

‘They are not.’ Since she’d been told of the attack, Kharth’s had felt like her emotions had been snuffed out entirely. Now she felt the warmth of gleaming embers, and Valance’s words were enough to spark back the flames. She rounded on the taller woman, heart thudding in her chest. ‘You never knew Dav, you never knew what he was like; he was kind, he was thoughtful, and he cared about things, he cared about people. All you’ve known is how that parasite has snuffed out every damn feeling he ever had which made him halfway a person instead of a receptacle of – of knowledge, of experiences, for no reason, no damn reason at all -’

‘I know he trusts you,’ Carraway interjected gently, ‘because he told me so. On Lockstowe. He told me there was nobody he’d trust more in the whole galaxy to save us. And that’s not just about physical danger,’ he pressed on, speaking louder as she opened her mouth to object. ‘He knew in his bones that you wouldn’t let him down. I’m a psychologist, Saeihr. Give me a little credit. When his back was against a wall, you were the one he knew he could rely on. This is exactly where he is now.’

‘You have Valance,’ Kharth snapped, gesturing at her. ‘She’s known Davir Airex. I don’t know Airex, I don’t care to know Airex. I’ve wanted Airex gone these past four years, so in what world you think I’ll be any use trying to convince the damned parasite to reconnect to the man it destroyed, I’ve no idea.’

Valance turned, stiff and quiet. ‘If we don’t do this, he’ll die. There’s only so long a symbiont can survive within a comatose host before going into distress.’

‘So Davir Airex dies, and Airex gets a fresh host to prey on.’ Even to her own ears, Kharth’s words felt petty, a weapon to drive this situation away. She didn’t care. ‘The last thing I need is to dive into the memories of something that killed someone I cared about, and try to convince it that this lovely tapestry of lives and recollections has value. That’s the last thing he needs, too.’ She backed away, raising her hands. ‘Let Valance do it. You have one best friend; that’ll do. I’m going to get back to doing something useful and find T’Sann.’

‘You can’t leave this station,’ Valance pointed out flatly. ‘Endeavour isn’t here. You’re not about to take a shuttle after him.’

‘We don’t have a lead yet; I’ll get one, and then somebody has to go after him.’ She took a step closer to the door. ‘It’s really sweet of you to think of me, Greg, and really sweet to think that Airex believing I’m a professional means I should be responsible for his thoughts, memories, and life. But you’re wrong.’

Carraway advanced cautiously. ‘Saeihr, this is -’

‘Let her go.’ Everyone fell silent as Pharan spoke, quiet but firm. ‘She is correct. This level of acrimony and confusion on her part won’t reassure Airex, won’t help him return. It’ll validate whatever fear and tension has pushed the symbiont into hiding.’

The notion that her feelings weren’t just an excuse, but a literal liability, didn’t soothe the thudding in Kharth’s veins. But she shoved that away, expression setting as she looked at Carraway. ‘I’ll return to Endeavour once they’re back. And otherwise, I’m going to find T’Sann.’

Only once she was at the door did she glance back, catch Valance’s eye, and gave an awkward shrug of a nod. ‘Good luck.’

Valance shook her head. ‘Just get out, Kharth. I’ll handle this.’

It was what she wanted, Kharth told herself as she left, her footsteps thudding out her escape loud and clear through the medical facilities of Bravo. But the smouldering embers had contained not just rage, loss, and fear; they had sparked with guilt, too. Guilt for her frustration at Airex, guilt for how she’d let them part ways again and again, guilt for trusting T’Sann. Now the flames of that guilt raged high enough to burn.

It was better than facing the other fires.

Comments

  • Hot damn! That was explosive. Every exchange of the conflict was edge-of-my-seat compelling. The way Kharth described joining was absolutely luscious in a horror movie way. "Fresh host to prey on" and the like. It really evokes the origins of the Trill, if a different perspective than what is usually portrayed since. Now this was my very favourite line: "really sweet to think that Airex believing I’m a professional means I should be responsible for his thoughts, memories, and life. But you’re wrong." Heartbreaking, that was absolutely heartbreaking.

    April 21, 2022
  • Kharth's anger at Airex and who Davir became post-Joining really comes across. And not just a fit of simmering anger, but it boiled over. She was not going to be helpful in an emotional context to help either Davir or Airex! There is seriously going to be some interesting counselling sessions in Kharth's future! The display of anger and frustration and even helplessness really came through and actually made this quite impactful!

    April 27, 2022