The Counsellor's Opinion
Location: USS Poseidon; Deck 6, Chief Counsellor's Office
Timeline: Day 002 - 0900 Hours
Tags: Post-Departure, Post-Fighter Incident
It had been almost a day since his departure from the hands of Lieutenant Karn, the ships Chief of Security. The experience had been routine enough, the simplicity and monotony of it creating somewhat of a stable platform for the misplaced Oscar Vladinchi. The questions were surreal enough, simply having to answer those questions and come to the realization that, yes, he was alive was impacting enough. He was glad that afterward things had seemed to stabilize. Now he had been assigned to meet the ships Second Officer, who was assigned as the ships Chief Counsellor, after it was concluded that he was in fact who he said he was. Oscar never once blamed Lieutenant Karn for concluding him an enemy, spy, or pirate. It would have been exactly what he would have done on the Pennsylvania.
The area in which he waited was like an overly large waiting room, with a Yeoman present behind a desk whom he had talked briefly with. The Yeoman had briefly described her job as simply being a clerk to the Senior Officer's, in this case her area had three Senior Officer's Offices constructed similarly to the adjoining other two Senior Officer's Offices. One of the Office's had the label for the Chief Counsellor / Second Officer, name being listed as Lieutenant Commander Kanaka Shakura. Oscar waited patiently by himself, apparently she was in a meeting at that moment, and tried his best to ready himself to come face to face with the weird circumstances of his life, death, then life again.
After a moment, the doors to the Chief Counsellor's office opened, and two figures stepped out. One was a tall Andorian cadet in an Operations uniform; the other was a much shorter but firmly built Betazoid female in a blue Medical uniform, the pips on her collar identifying her as a Lieutenant Commander. As they walked out she was comforting the younger Andorian, whose eyes seemed weary.
"I hope you know from now on that there are better ways to resolve disagreements with your crew mates." The Chief Counsellor said comfortingly, like a mother to a child. "It's okay to get angry and upset, but lashing out - even if only on the equipment - is never the answer. Your superiors are there to help you, as are those of us here. You understand?"
"Yes, Lieutenant Commander Shakura." The young Andorian looked down to the ground, embarrassed and ashamed. Shakura took him gently by the chin and got him to look towards her; she gave him a warm smile, and he after a while managed to produce his own, his antennae perking up slightly as if to indicate his newfound contentment.
"Good, now head off back to your station. I'll let Lieutenant Nealey know that we've had this conversation." She bid him farewell as he made his way, with a spring in his step, back to his duties. Watching him go with a look of satisfaction and accomplishment on her face, the Lieutenant Commander's attention quickly turned to Lieutenant Vladinchi. Giving him a warm and inviting expression, she approached him.
"Lieutenant Oscar Vladinchi? I'm Lieutenant Commander Kanaka Shakura, Chief Counsellor and Second Officer of the U.S.S. Poseidon. Thank you for waiting; I trust you were able to get some rest?" She shook his hand firmly before proceeding to guide him into her office, giving a subtle nod of appreciation to the Yeoman before the doors closed behind them.
Oscar returned the handshake, following behind the Second Officer. He gave the office a good look-around once he entered, being as small and efficient as it was. Following that he stood where she would instruct, waiting to be seated as he replied to her customary question.
"Too much rest apparently," Oscar said, his Russian accent mixing well with his English now, a contrast to earlier after the incident. "I'm not sure how long I was dead. Days? Weeks? Only to end up here. It's been a surreal experience."
The Chief Counsellor guided him to the seating area which she had arranged a few paces away from her desk, two lounge chairs spaced apart by a small and rather unassuming coffee table. The rest of the office was also pretty plain and devoid of any personal touches, despite being nicely laid out and furnished.
"As you may be able to tell, we've only just gotten underway here. I'm hoping to be able to pick up some things along our travels, help give some character to the room. For now it'll have to do." She gave a slight chuckle as she got Oscar seated. She then proceeded over to the replicator at the other end of the room to fetch a tray of refreshments, consisting of four small glasses of water and orange juice - one of each for the both of them - and a pot of green tea with two earthenware cups.
Setting the tray down on the coffee table, Kana then headed briskly over to her desk. Moving her chair slightly out of the way, she reached into a compartment that contained a number of PADDs. Retrieving one, she then made her way back to Oscar.
Rather matter-of-factly, she confirmed to him. "According to the report of your death which was lodged by the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, you've officially been dead for about three weeks." Sitting across from him, she crossed her legs before passing him the PADD so he could look for himself: on it he'd find the full record of his death. As he looked she proceeded to pour them both tea, subtly paying attention to his reaction.
Oscar observed the woman go about her almost instinctive mannerisms, movements, and posture. It was one thing to observe a crowd of people, it was completely another to concentrate entirely on one individual to ascertain their motivations; instinctive, necessary, trained into Oscar for a long time. He found that she seemed to exude a sort confidence and authority he hadn't noticed in many on the Pennsylvania. Perhaps, he had concluded, had they the nerve maybe he would still be alive.
This sudden thought caught him off guard. For a brief few moments, his body went still, his brain replaying that thought in his mind. Still alive? he thought to himself. But I am alive, am I not? This same line of questioning repeated itself, his world suddenly becoming much smaller as his mind concentrated entirely on the question on whether or not he existed. In the end, just as his brain began to go deep in philosophical questioning on the meaning of life, he decided it best to allow the world to show him appropriately.
And show him it did.
As Kanaka sat and spoke to him the lapse between his death and apparent resurrection, his expression grew cold, the blood in his face leaving as whiteness took over. There was a moments pause for him that seemed to extend to minutes. He finally blinked, his words virtually unheard as he tried to speak the first time. The second time he managed after clearing his throat.
"I-I'm sorry, three weeks?" he asked. His minds questioning of existence resurfacing then, causing a visible strain on his expression. "I....but....am I even alive? Is this....is this death?"
He leaned forward, head in palm as he breathed a bit deeper. He shook his head, Oscar seemingly regaining some composure. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant Commander, I'm just...entirely floored at this. It makes sense, I suppose, but then there's too many questions now. If I died there, then apparently resurfaced here, am I even really the original Oscar Vladinchi? Am I some kind of clone? How did I manage to get halfway across the galaxy in three weeks? I....I don't..."
His words trailed off, Oscar gazing down at the floor then.
Kana had observed him quietly in all that time. She'd noticed his face go pale, his eyes stare off into an endless void and become consumed by an ever-growing sense of the unknown and the fear that it could strike even into the hardiest of men. She had of course gone through the effort of reading into his past psychological profiles as well; he was a tough officer, a man dedicated to his life in Starfleet. A man stricken by tragedy - something which the Chief Counsellor noticed was starting to become a running theme amongst the ship's more senior crew - yet had been able to rebuild himself through his work. Yet even he, and very understandably so, was struggling to comprehend the scale of the conundrum that somehow led to his apparent 'resurrection'.
It had baffled Kana too, as with everyone else who was aware on the Poseidon. Here was a man who by all accounts should be dead, and she had a hard time imagining the Chief Medical Officer of the Pennsylvania could be wrong about someone's death. Yet here was Oscar Vladinchi, in the flesh, and very much alive. The range of emotions he was experiencing was further evidence of that; he was almost definitely not a "zombie", as Lieutenant Karn Karn had referred to him in his report to Kana.
Despite all this mystery however, the Chief Counsellor's immediate concern was the emotional well-being of this new passenger, whatever the circumstances that caused his sudden appearance here were. Reaching over and taking him by the hand, Kana spoke confidently.
"Lieutenant Vladinchi. I know that all of this must be incredibly overwhelming to take in all at once, but if there's one certainty in all of this right now it's that you are very much alive. While we'll have to eventually solve this mystery of your being here and your supposed 'death' three weeks ago, right now I think it's important we go over some things about you, to see how you're doing right now. Shall we?"
Handing him one of the earthenware cups that was now full of warm chamomile tea, she continued. "Drink this, it'll help you to relax."
With her touch, Oscar came back. He seemed to take in a breath, eyeing her hand first, then looking at her expression. He seemed to nod to her, straightening in his chair as he released a sigh and took the offered tea. He sipped, almost immediately feeling a sense of relaxation flow over him. It was a small feeling, but as he sipped more of the tea down, the feeling swelled. He nodded again, emphasizing how good the tea was.
"Alright," he said after swallowing his last sip. "Alright....questions. Thanks, yeah, I needed this."
Kana smiled. "I'm glad, Lieutenant. Now, let's start with the most pressing question in my mind: does any of this--" She gestured to the space around them, implying not just the room but the wider ship as a whole. "--feel familiar for you? Any recollections of anything as you made your way here this morning, for example?"
Oscar looked around, noticing the bland walls, the odd structure of them - much different from modern shipbuilding architecture. It gave off a vibe from well over a century ago, perhaps. Something that seemed familiar to him, but at the moment didn't cause his brain to bite at the familiarity. Everything that had happened had been hammering at his mind, causing walls to construct themselves like dams to hold back torrents of water - in this case, emotions. Slowly, however, cracks were forming, especially considering his much recent existential crisis. Something about the ship seemed familiar.
Cocking his head, and after taking another sip of tea, he looked to Kanaka. "What did you say was the name of this ship, again?" he inquired.
The Chief Counsellor thought carefully for a brief moment, before answering. "This is the U.S.S. Poseidon, a Miranda-Class Escort Destroyer. You've served on her before; she was your first posting as a Security Officer back in twenty-three-sixty-eight, and then you returned to her in twenty-three-seventy-four to serve as Chief of Security just prior to the breakout of the Dominion War. Do you remember?"
Something happened to the Lieutenant. His grip on the teacup became firmer, his body tensed, and it almost seemed like his breath caught. His eyes trained forward, gazing into an abyss that only the most attuned individuals could see. Oscar's mind was somewhere else, memories that had been held back - even before his death - resurfaced. The Dominion War. The battle with the Klingon borders. Staying at his post as he slowly died from his injuries. Commander T'Miak, who would eventually become Captain. Captain Henry T. Paladin; friend, loyal to his crew, died on the bridge with horrific injuries. Death, promotion, recognition, war.
"Yes," he replied meekly, eyes slowly looking to Kanaka's. His grip didn't lessen on his teacup. "I remember now."
The Chief Counsellor's eyes stared deeply into Oscar's as he revisited his past, the visions of conflict and hardship clear to be seen. Kana knew that feeling all too well, and looked on with a heavy sense of compassion. "I saw from your service record that you were on board when the ship was in the Battle of Betazed. I was ten years old when the Jem'Hadar attacked my homeworld; I struggled to comprehend everything I was hearing and seeing, how such evil could exist in the universe. Yet there I was, forced to confront it in the innocence of my youth. Those were some of the hardest days of my life, and while peace eventually returned, nothing was ever the same after that."
She allowed her words to hang for a moment, before she continued. "You met the Commander yesterday, Franklin Johnson - do you recognise him?"
The expression Oscar gave was reminiscent to a man who had just seen a door that was forever locked open right before his eyes. His eyes widened as he took in a breath, then searching as his memories replayed. It was almost as if someone had finally found the computer of his mind and connected the memory storage to it, his brain finally connecting the dots as he brought a hand to his mouth to gently cover it; an expression of shock, dismay, then understanding flowed over his face. As he lowered his hand, he gazed at Kanaka, his open-mouthed expression changing as he closed his mouth and maintained a sense of shock. Even he, a man that was left for dead and knew not the fabrications and complexities of the universe, suddenly understood something was amiss.
Either that or all this was coincidence. Considering the unusual circumstances, Oscar refused to believe it was a coincidence.
"That's....," he tried to start saying, mouth moving, no words coming. He searched the room, almost as if verifying it was real. His eyes landed back on Kanaka. "These are some very unusual coincidences, Lieutenant Commander," he managed with a soft voice. "My mind is unable to wrap itself around it, but yet, I remember him. He was my XO on the Tennessee."
His eyes searched hers, desperate. "You must see what I see now, right? This is unusual! Either I am dead and you are a fabrication or....or what?"
"Or what, indeed. The mystery thickens even further still: your old Commanding Officer on the Poseidon, Captain Henry T. Paladin? One of his descendants, Commodore Gregory Paladin, now serves as our Mission Advisor and was at one point himself Commanding Officer of this ship. While I can in no way be sure, the fact that your fate seems to intertwine not only with this ship, but with the lives of both the Commander and Commodore in one form or another, begs the question of how much a coincidence this really is."
Drinking some of her own tea, the Chief Counsellor leaned forward. "If you would allow it, I would like to use my telepathy to access your mind, to see if I can glimmer anything as to what you might have experienced when you 'died'. Just like the memories that you've now recovered, there may be something locked away."
Oscar blinked. "You mean like a Vulcan mind-meld?" he asked. He remembered his tea, somehow realising his one hand on it had not spilled it. Giving a brief expression of "oops" he put both hands gently around it, took a sip, then set the nearly empty cup on the nearest stand. He swallowed, gazing back at Kanaka.
"I'm not against it," he said. "I think if you can figure this out, I can at least live with what has happened. But, I must say, when you mentioned the Poseidon it almost felt like someone turned a key inside my head. I don't know how to describe it. Frankly, I'm very afraid right now, Lieutenant Commander. More so than ever before in any memory I remember. I'm afraid that I'm not the real me, and that everything I'm experiencing right now is a fake. So please, whatever you can do, let us do it. You have my full permission."
"Something like it, yes." The Chief Counsellor smiled gently as she also put her tea down, referring to the Lieutenant's reference to a Vulcan mind-meld. Her Academy instructor and personal mentor was a Vulcan, and so Kana had learnt some techniques. "It's okay to be afraid, Lieutenant. That's natural, and if anything confirms to me that you're human."
Reassuring him, she then beckoned him to recline and relax as much as possible. "I need you to try as hard as you can to relax and to open your mind. Remember that you're still in control and that if at any point you wish it to end it will. This is a journey we're taking together. Let me know when you're ready to begin."
"Alright," Oscar breathed in, then exhaled. "I'm ready."
As his mind relaxed, so too did the barriers that kept Kanaka from entering his mind. Trust was there, a plethora of it, so much so that a planet's oceans could be filled with it. That trust opened the doorway for Kanaka to explore and venture at will in the clouded abyss that had become the Lieutenant's mind. In that, there was something else. Something very old. Something beyond comprehen-
In an instant, the surroundings of the familiar Chief Counsellor's office were gone. Kanaka Shakura, alone, appeared in what seemed to be a very peaceful grass meadow. The stalks of fresh grass, untended and left to grow, swayed heavily in the Fall winds that had a crisp chill to them; not enough to cause a shiver, but just enough to carry the comforting scents and familiarity of Earth's Fall season.
As she would glimpse around, she would note the mountains in the distance; white capped, very tall, clouds circling their peaks actively. The sun was high in the sky and further to the other direction appeared to be the glimpses and reflections of a massive ocean. It wouldn't be anywhere familiar, for sure, but it would feel familiar. In the centre was a figure, standing, darkened a bit by shadow but otherwise there - gazing outward towards the glimpses of ocean on the horizon.
The wind blew again, gently, whispers of memories within Oscar's mind telling Kanaka all he had experienced - up to his death. The grass swayed, beckoning her. There was no hint of malice. Only the sense that where she was, wasn't on the Poseidon, and that the mind she sensed was impossibly vast beyond comprehension.
The Chief Counsellor took in everything that she could see, smell, hear. Her senses were awash with all the things that this place showed her; she could smell and feel what any Earth-born human being might be able to recognise as the chill of the Russian winter, and what she saw out beyond her she could only imagine was perhaps a sight from Oscar's youth. Yet she could not feel Oscar's presence there: everything that was him was there - his memories, his feelings, his senses - but the individual himself was seemingly nowhere. Perhaps he was lost somewhere else in his own mind, hence his hazy memory, or perhaps this other vast entity was all that truly was there.
Before she attempted to communicate with whatever was there, she patiently listened to the wind as it told her about Oscar's past. Almost at her will, it told her about the last things he sensed and heard up to the point of his death: the adrenaline pumping through his body during the attempted rescue, the immediate sense of pain from his injuries but then immediately followed by a sense of release. It was there that she obtained a revelation: in his last dying moments, the mind of Oscar Vladinchi had revisited his past. He had returned to the bridge of the U.S.S. Poseidon, where he stood half-dead at his post during the bitter fighting of Operation Return. "Why there?" she wondered, trying to search deeper, but it was then that Oscar's memory seemed to stop entirely.
With that, Kana turned her attention to the shadowy figure who looked out at the spectacle which surrounded them. She sensed no ill intent from the presence, whatever it was, yet she still took the necessary precautions; her own mental barriers were ready and well-defended, but treating this as a potential first contact situation, she decided to approach only a few paces before planting her feet firmly in the ground. Using her mind, she communicated with a calm inclination. "I am Lieutenant Commander Kanaka Shakura of the U.S.S. Poseidon, a ship belonging to the United Federation of Planets. I hail from the planet of Betazed; are you able to identify yourself?"
"Do you know how long it's been since I talked to another?"
The being that wasn't Oscar, turned. The face that should have been there, wasn't. What appeared to be an ethereal cloak with two energy ribbons for eyes gazed back at Kanaka. What had before been the figure of a man - at least from behind - completely switched to the same fabric-like material that cloaked the expression of the being. The ribbons of energy turned purple, soaring into a depressive tone of energy. It was some time before it spoke again.
"The Hirogen took me prisoner behind their strange field of energy," the being said, after a time. It's voice was a mixture of a ocean waves crashing onto shore and what could be described as a gentle stream. It was pained, grovely, different. "They tortured me, did things to me. For a time, I lost my ability to traverse the expanse. I was so, so sad."
Kana was taken aback by the form that had presented itself to her. She tried to make sense of it's ethereal nature but unlike the rest of the scenery around them it was almost had to focus on directly. Squinting and shielding her eyes, she listened as the being explained itself. It didn't identify itself directly, but it mentioned being held captive by the Hirogen. "That explains how it came into contact with Lieutenant Oscar Vladinchi, at least." She felt it's pain as it described its torment and sadness, to the point that the Chief Counsellor had to actively try not to feel the same.
Still communicating through her mind, she decided to press on. "I'm sorry to hear that happened. You're aboard the Poseidon now, you're safe. May I ask if you know what has happened to Oscar Vladinchi, the man whose mind you seem to be connected to. Is he still here?"
"The man? Yes," the being said, "He is alive. When he first came to us, I was anticipating release and return to the void. But when he died from those energy lances, I saw my chance to escape dwindling. When he touched the field of energy, I was able to escape into his body. All I wanted to do was run. I saw in his mind the one place that was central to his memory. It was here. I was able to traverse the expanse, in doing so I restored him. But now I am trapped, not by a field of force, but by the man's inability to release me. It has been peaceful here, in these strange lands of his mind, but I am lonely again. He does not know I am here. I cannot reach him. I just want to go home."
Kana felt a sense of immediate relief at first that the Lieutenant was in fact still alive. Yet, the being then confirmed her next worst fear: that in the ensuing chaos of his death and the journey here, the damage to his mind - indeed his very soul, if you believed such a thing existed - had caused both he and the intellect to become so intertwined as to become unable to separate from one another. What was worse, it seemed, is that both it and the Lieutenant were in separate realms of the mind. The Chief Counsellor was certain at that point she at least knew what had happened, but as to how this would be resolved, it would take a lot more thought and she wouldn't be able to solve it alone.
"I give you my word: together, we will resolve this. We will get you home." She tried her best to comfort the being, but she could already begin to feel the mind-meld she had initiated with the Lieutenant taking it's toll: this was the first time she'd attempted something like it in quite some time, and they were never designed to last for very long. "I must go now, but I will return; hopefully, with some answers."
A sudden burst of white light engulfed them as she took one final glimpse at the ethereal form, before she finally found herself returning to her own body in her office aboard the Poseidon. A cold shiver went down her spine as she reoriented herself in her own mind and body, the feelings of the creature still conflicting with her own. Reaching for her own glass of water, she drank it all in one successive go. She then drank some orange juice, the little spark of energy she needed to refocus her mind.
Looking across at Oscar who seemed similarly dazed, she compelled him to do the same by putting the glass of water in his hand. "Drink this." She instructed, going as far as to help him perform the task. Once that was done she gave him the orange juice and did the same.
"I don't know how to explain this to you, Lieutenant, so I'll just come out with it: you were resurrected and transported here by some form of higher intelligence which was being held captive by the Hirogen ship you boarded. It brought you here because your mind revisited here in your final moments. The good news is that you are very much alive and you are you; the bad news is that your mind and that of this higher intelligence has been interwoven and that - during the ensuing trauma of your death, resurrection and transportation here - it shattered your memories and has left you both stranded in different parts of your mind."
Finally letting out a breath as she finished her explanation, the Chief Counsellor moved herself to be kneeling beside the Lieutenant, hand on his forearm resting on the chair, looking directly into his eyes. "I know it's a lot to take in and comprehend. I must admit I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but I want you to know: I've felt this presence. It means you nor I any harm. It's alone, it's afraid and it just wants to go home. I think that with continued sessions - and with some input from both Science and Medical - we can find a solution."
During the encounter, the Lieutenant was all but dormant. The being existed in the peaceful state of Oscar's mind, the one that held his safe spaces from the horrors of war. It was great for the entity, but bad for Oscar, moreso because during the mind meld he had been pushed into a literal hell. For what felt like an eternity, his mind - the part he controlled - replayed the events of his death multiple times. Each time under very different scenarios, the last of which involved the Hirogen doing unspeakable things to the prisoners and him. In all this, he was unaware of reality, the very fabric of existence contorting and hiding him from the safety of real life.
His mind a prison for him, he suffered and endured the horrible memories of war; loss, suffering, heartbreak. Over and over his entire existence was shattered multiple times. In that, however, came a blessing; resilience. In the final moments before Kanaka was to drag him back, in the eternal hellscape of his mind, he fought back against the Hirogen. This time, everything played out as it should, not as it could of been. As his last moments played out, dying from the wound, hearing the cries from the bridge, his one good eye looked over to see his long-dead family standing not too far from him.
They were smiling. His father nodded to him. His wife blew a kiss. His children waved. Oscar smiled. In that moment of peace, the Lieutenant died again.
Until he wasn't. When he came back, he came back not as a foreign displaced soldier of war, but as a man who had confronted his demons and saw first-hand his death. He had lived again every moment. He had experienced every possibility. In the end, he lived and endured the true final moments of his life and finally came to peace with it. His family, all of his family, was the very metaphorical conclusion to a man who had to come to terms with that death. A true death.
When he came to, he released a breath he had been holding. After he consumed the required drinks, his eyes stared into Kanaka's as a tear dropped from his eyes. The realisation and acceptance of his new life was now complete. He had come to terms with it. He slowly nodded to her after her explanation, not understanding it fully, but accepting it. He accepted this was how things were. Given time, he was sure he'd learn to accept his new hitchhiker. In a way, he already had an explanation.
"At least I saved one," he said, his voice firm, assured; soft. "I saved one with my death. That alone makes everything worth it."
Kana felt a single tear rolling down her own cheek. This wasn't one of her own, it was one for the entity that existed now within the Lieutenant's mind. All the pain that it felt - both shared with Oscar and on it's own - was now slowly releasing itself from her mind, though she would not soon forget it. While still uncertain about a lot of things, Kana was resolute in the face of the challenge ahead. This was her element. This is what she had signed up to do all those years ago when she decided to leave her life on Betazed behind and joined the Academy; she wanted to help piece people's minds back together, bring them some inner peace. In a way, while this situation was still something highly irregular, it still felt somewhat tangible to the Chief Counsellor; compared to all the other mysteries on board this vessel she was pursuing, at least this one had a clear imperative. While that single tear expressed sadness, her face beamed with confidence and determination.
Lieutenant Vladinchi's face being a reflection of the same, the Chief Counsellor did something she very rarely did and in an act which was a slight break of convention; she hugged him. Not just for him, but for the other being who remained inside him.
"Good soldier. Good soldier." She consoled them both.