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Backpost: Someone to Listen

Posted on Tue Jan 24th, 2023 @ 4:42am by Captain Jocelyn Blake & Commodore Karyn Dallas

Mission: Episode 3: Conflicts of Interest
Location: Starfleet Medical
Timeline: Mission Day 1 at 0000

[Starfleet Medical]
[A few days after the bombing of the Romulan Embassy]

Following her brief check in with Vice Admiral Cowell, Karyn immediately made her way to the heart of the chaos where people were being treated following the explosion. As nightmarishly wretched as the circumstances were, providing crisis support to the shocked and traumatized after a disaster was as familiar to Counselor Karyn Dallas as the Commodore pip was unfamiliar to Karyn Dallas, Director of Starfleet Counseling. Just minutes earlier, she had learned her predecessor had been killed in the blast, a fact that may have been kept from her from those who had assigned her here given the guilt she already felt because of her last mission.

All that mattered to her now, however, was tending to those in need, the current tragedy enough to suppress any self-indulgent and self-pitying thoughts of the still painful circumstances that led to her promotion. Under different circumstances, she might've felt much more intimidated meeting so many people of various ranks and positions, overwhelmed by how they all fit together in this giant machine known as Starfleet Command, but in light of what just happened, all of that couldn't seem any more inconsequential to her. Psychological and physical trauma cared little for rank and position, and in the wake of terror, the color of an Admiral's blood looked remarkably similar to that of the most junior aide.

Dallas understood in the coming days and weeks (or maybe minutes? Hours?) she would have to give up the duties and responsibilities of a frontline mental health professional so that she could attend to the big picture demands befitting her position, but for now, sadly, this was not a particularly unfamiliar path.

Karyn was still getting used to the resources at her disposal, but she was grateful at how quickly she was given access to the ever-changing list of the injured and deceased. She made a point of refreshing this particular PADD every five minutes to keep abreast of the updates, and sometimes she would be halfway to her destination, in a complex of buildings she was still becoming familiar, and she would have to abruptly change course because her intended charge had been moved.

Maneuvering in and out of the various corridors was dizzying, but suffused with purpose, Karyn wasn't daunted, not even when people openly appraised the woman in the grav-chair, checking to see if the unaccompanied woman was injured and in need of assistance.

Finally at her destination, Karyn stopped a passing nurse just leaving the patient's room with a gentle hand placed on the arm. The counselor could feel the adrenaline vibrating through the nurse's body. Dallas was sure if an invisible hand lifted the nurse from the floor, said nurse's feet would still continue to move in a half jog- half run. "Admiral Ul-tan?"

The young woman, clearly annoyed, was about to offer a sharp retort when she spotted Karyn's pip and nodded.

In response, Karyn grimaced, the tiny gold object surrounded by black affixed to her collar had intimidated her, perplexed her, and had now served her like a superpower she didn't quite know how to handle.

Offering a belated thanks as she moved past the nurse, Karyn entered the room, the slight hum of her grav chair barely audible in the buzzing complex.

Frances Ul-tan was, for all intents and purposes, trying to sleep. Trying being the operative word. She'd been lucky during the bombing and, though her injuries were not insignificant, she was not in a coma and she was not dead. There were moments, though, where she wondered if she'd rather be. Mostly sleeping meant the return of screaming. It had only been a few days and yet the events played over and over and over. They always started the same way.

First it was the scream of the explosion. It was an almost visceral sensation still. She hadn't heard it so much as she had felt it, pressure in her ears shifting hard making them pop as her body was propelled from its seat.

Then it was the ringing. Once her ears had given way to the pressure everything sounded like a high whine. She saw the chaos through bleary eyes, a trail of blood from a gash just above her hairline running down her face--her nose like a channel to direct it.

Last it was the slow return of sound. The ping and screech of hot metal. The flames where things had caught fire. The alarms. Those were so loud. But in the end it was always the screaming. Screams knew no language. No race. They were all equal. And every single one tore at her until she woke in a sweat, her own screams joining the fray.

Now, though, she hadn't quite fallen asleep and the hum of a grav chair was almost calming beneath the beep of machines.

"Can I help you?" she asked, voice giving away how little sleep she actually had over the last few days.

Inwardly, Karyn winced. She perhaps should have called ahead after all, the last thing she'd wanted was to interrupt anyone's ability to grasp whatever sleep they could. The only thing that would make her feel worse was if she were to retreat in embarrassment. Speaking gently, Karyn offered, "Please forgive me for disturbing you, Admiral. My name is Karyn Dallas. I'm from Fleet Counseling, and I'm reaching out to as many people as I can to offer support in light of this horrible tragedy." She saw no reason to present herself as a "Director" in this context, as that particular title mattered little. "I can come back later, of course, if you'd prefer."

With a sigh and a wince Frances pressed the button to raise the end of her bed so she was closer to a sitting a position. "No, no," she said tiredly. "Please, come in. I'm not having much luck at getting rest so I might just as well speak with you." She watched as the woman came around to better be in her line of sight. The grav chair's occupant was slight, a halo of brilliant red hair pulled back into a ponytail over eyes that were a bright intelligent blue. Her demeanor was kind, though, and Frances couldn't help relaxing slightly in her presence. "Commodore Dallas," she said as she spied the pip. "Which means we've lost our head of counseling in the blast and you are perhaps his replacement?" It was a guess, but she'd known the former head of counseling and knew he had been present at the event. Perhaps she would be wrong and he would simply be injured rather than deceased.

Her tone was somber but clear. "I'm afraid so. I was informed not too long ago. Did you know him?" It was not her preference to discuss work, but she surmised such powerful people might be uncomfortable talking about their emotions in the midst of a crisis, no matter how personal. After all, they were the ones who juggled 1,000,000 issues every day and who solved complex problems. Under the circumstances, she figured it was best to ease into things and let the Admiral take the lead on anything more personal.

A nod was the only confirmation Karyn had for a long moment. Ul-tan's eyes pinched, slightly at the corners, the only evidence of the grief she felt. After another long moment of silence she answered the question more fully. "I did," she said simply. "We were in the same year at the Academy. Good man. Kind and always had an open door. He was counseling his friends long before he was ever given a position to do so." She sighed. "I hadn't spoken to him in recent years. Just didn't have the time I guess. Suppose, now, that I should have made the time."

"Hindsight is always 20/20," Dallas replied. "People will say they should have known better about a lot of things, but that's only because they are beyond those things now. If I were to put you exactly where you were before all of this happened, and gave you the same thoughts, feelings, and decisions you had then, with no clairvoyance, would you have made the same choices?"

Frances frowned, feeling a bit of a headache come on behind her eyes. She raised one hand to rub at the bridge of her nose. "Probably," she said, though there was hesitation in her voice. "Like hindsight, it's impossible to trace those things perfectly without the context of what I know now." She set her hand back on her lap, laying it on top of the light blanket pulled up to her waist. "What do most people say when you ask them that?"

"The same as you," Karyn offered with a small smile. "It's a start that none of you think you would be clairvoyant or omniscient." She paused for a moment, then added, "You've been hurt enough. Don't let your brain pile on."

The injured admiral was quiet for several long moments and, had her eyes not been open, one might have been excused thinking that she had perhaps fallen asleep. Finally, with a long exhale, she added. "My brain's doing plenty without adding guilt of what ifs to the mix."

"Need to talk about it?" It might've been a cliché response, but even still Karyn's question was sincere. The last thing she wanted to do was push a counseling session on someone if her physical pain or fatigue was unbearable.

A quick dart of the Admiral's eyes was the only indication that the question made her at all uncomfortable. She was sure the nurses on her floor had to be aware of the nightmares. She wasn't waking up quietly. But no one had asked her to speak about them and she hadn't asked to do so. Now, though, she wondered if it wouldn't hurt to at least admit their presence.

"I'm not sleeping well," she admitted. "Nightmares mostly. The events at the embassy play over and over and I wake up at the end drenched in sweat, heart racing." Her brain resurrected an echo of the screams for the occasion and she shuddered slightly at the memory. "Not sleeping can't be great for healing, but then, I'm still alive, so bad dreams hardly seems a small price to pay."

"There's that unforgiving brain again," Karyn replied softly. "To whom or to what do you think you owe payment?"

Frances shrugged and winced as she did so. "I could be dead. So I suppose whomever it is I owe my life to. The attackers for failing to kill me too? Whomever found me? Those who didn't make it? I don't know. All I know is I am here and many others are not."

"Yes, it's good to focus on what you know for sure, and only that for now," Karyn encouraged. "You are here and others are not. Give yourself time and space to feel whatever emotions that thought brings up for you, including relief you survived. Survivor's guilt is a normal reaction to what happened to you, but so is relief. If you are going to recover from this, if you're going to find meaning from it eventually once you've given yourself time to express all your feelings, that includes expressing those you may not feel are appropriate, but are true nonetheless."

A nod of the woman's head was the only acknowledgement she'd heard before a huge yawn overtook her. "I'm sorry counselor," she said once the reflex had subsided, "I'm really quite tired. Could we perhaps continue our conversation another time?"

If the counselor answered her, Frances couldn't have said. Her eyes were already drooping and before the Commodore could leave the room, Frances Ul-tan was asleep.


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