Chapter 1 - Client: Ensign Syla Charit (Telescopic Subspace)
Just because this was an event Kyle was used to, doesn’t make it easier. Speaking purely professional wise, trying to calm a skittish new patient inside my office was not my favorite part of this job. I’ve dealt with grieving, with rage, catatonic silence, etc… But the nervous fidgeting that’s stilled only to resume again, her milky eyes seeming to wander over me and my desk and the various accouterments adorning it, and the humming silence occasionally broken by a mangled attempt at a sentence before breaking it off himself. A pattern repeating for the first couple minutes, allowing that nervous energy to expend as I got his records in order.
“Alright Mr. Charit, before we get down to business, let’s get the pleasantries out of the way.” Bringing her attention onto me fully, antenna slightly waving my way.
“Let’s start with how your day has been so far? I understand you just got off of your shift?” Charit nodding along,
“Yes, mainly helping with cleanup after…” waving a hand in the air, “but it’s been alright. The holos had already removed most of the heavy stuff.” Trailing off for a moment, before continuing.
“It was mainly just trying to salvage our work stations and trying to get it all back to a safe and functional order.” I watch him start to pick at his nails, thumb sliding underneath the others in an attempt to clean them.
“Is it going well?” Her mouth snapped shut, seeming to be in contemplation for a moment.
“…in general? Yeah, it is.” Well that’s a red flag if I’ve ever heard one.
“Were you running into any difficulties?” I try to keep my voice gentle, wondering if this was the crux of the issue.
“You could say that, although… I don’t understand why.” Before I can ask for clarification, he continues.
“When helping out with others and in most of the lab, it was just tedious. Sorting through broken glass, damaged terminals, and the like. But, when it came to my work station… I couldn’t do it.” The last part exiting like a dire confession, her hands twisting together.
“I stood there, frozen, and I don’t understand why. It wasn’t that messy.” A broken chuckle at the poor attempt of a joke, I hum in acknowledgement.
“This ‘freeze’ you’ve experienced, is this something you’ve dealt with before?” I watch her sit back and think for a few moments.
“I can remember a couple times when I’ve been really frightened but there wasn’t anything there. In the science lab, I mean.” At least he knows it’s a fear response.
“Were you expecting something to be there?” Past ghosts or something more recent? I’d not just be remiss but stupid to forget about our recent Shakedown cruise having an effect.
“I don’t think so… I just couldn’t stand to be near it.”
“Why don’t you tell me more about it?”
“My workstation?” He asked incredulously, one of those moments I can feel a client start to slip away.
“How about your job in general? I understand we have a few different types of scientists on this ship and hopefully you can forgive my ignorance in your field.” A compromise, an inquiry.
He nods, “I am an astrophysicist, due to this being an unexplored quadrant, there’s quite a few of us, but I focus primarily on subspace astrophysics.”
“So you most likely have a better understanding of what happened to us.” I throw out, “not that I’m gonna make you explain, unless you want to.”
“If I want to?” She asked, eyebrows pinching together.
“Well it’s not like I can make you not talk about it, it is up to you what you want to disclose or discuss something.” I explain.
“Huh, kinda thought the whole point of counseling was to talk about… you know.” Shrugging the last words off like she’s trying to forget something.
“Counseling is a space that allows you to talk about your problems, but it’s unreasonable to expect someone to only speak about them.” I watch him slowly shake his head in agreement before I continue.
“Now, as a Counselor I will be asking and doing some prodding, afterall you did set up this appointment for a reason; but even if Dr. Chase or the Captain ordered you to see me, you’re the one who has to open up, it is your life after all.”
“…I guess that makes sense, but what do you do if you’re not sure?” Worry tracing her face, “I just have this freezing fear when I’m near my workstation, and I couldn’t even step inside our telescope to be sure it wasn’t damaged.”
“Yes, due to how barely charted this sector is, we’re trying to gain as much information as we can, and so our telescope is quite large due to how it can be switched between modes, so to say, of infrared, x-ray, ultraviolet, etc… And, so to actually look through it, you have to go inside and look through the specialized scope.”
“Is this something you normally do? Do you normally use the telescope?”
“Often enough, it’s not our only piece of equipment but it gets a fair amount of use… I used to volunteer all the time in the Academy to be able to use theirs.”
“Have you ever had these feelings pop up before when you were near the telescope?”
“No, normally I’d be thrilled but now…”
“Now you’re having this ‘freeze’ response, would it be fair to assume this started happening after our Shakedown cruise?” I finish the sentence for him. He contemplates for a second, before nodding.
“Why don’t we start there?”
“Well… as I’m sure you know, it seemed just like a normal cruise, we’d just gotten the Science lab assembled into an appropriate configuration. I remember how excited everyone was, my console was beeping incessantly, a disturbance, a destabilization was about to hit us and it all happened so quickly when suddenly it felt like we were being pulled in separate directions until thrown in one.” I nod along, humming in agreement at the last statement, remembering my own sling shot into the bridge carpet.
“Do you remember what happened after that?” He freezes for a moment, tries to shrug it off, but I keep a careful eye out.
“It’s hard, I remember feeling sparks hitting my skin stinging me. It was a cacophony to my ears and senses, people falling and fragile equipment breaking, suddenly my vision began to waver- I was trapped in a type of darkness I’d never quite experienced before.” Her face twisting into a grimace, antenna wavering just over her head.
“I do see on your file that you are blind, but your telepathy accommodates it. Have you experienced a.. Black out like this before?” Apparently a trait typical of the Aenar. I remember seeing the note in his file and similar with the few other Aenar crew members.
“…No. Not that I can recall, I’m still not entirely sure why this happened. I suspect possibly due to an impossibly high level of feedback running through the systems- But next thing I knew, was anywhere I’d placed my hands was solid. I couldn’t move and I was trapped. I was so focused on my loss of sight that I don’t know if I’d been thrown around or if it all came down around me.” Cutting himself off, eyes clenched shut, before I can say anything, he takes in a deep breath.
“That sounds terrifying,”
“…it was.” He said quietly.
“How did you get out? Did someone help you?” I asked quickly, trying to not let her get stuck in that feeling.
“Bit of both, I think, I later learned that half of an exploded console had trapped me against the wall. It was a tight fit but after a few minutes I was able to help push from the inside by bracing against the wall and one of the holograms pulling it away.”
“Did you suffer from any injuries?”
“Some bruising and a migraine, not a concussion but from whatever caused my ‘black out’ as you put it.”
“I’m glad to hear it was minimal, though I know head pain is very annoying to deal with. Now, I want to circle back on what you said at the beginning; about how the fear surrounding your workstation. I understand why an event like that would cause anxiety in the aftermath but I want to see if there’s an underlying issue.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well I just want you to tell me, in your own words, how this fear feels to you, if there’s any certain thoughts or emotions it triggers. Just why don’t you want to go near your workstation?”
She sat for a few moments, gnawing on her lip, antenna twitching until “I feel… vulnerable. Like the security I used to have- my own space and post, and now it almost feels like it could come crashing down, trapping me. I couldn’t step inside the telescope because all I could think about was if it somehow locked behind me or-or debris blocking it and then I’d be trapped.”
“That’s very understandable, is this a fear you already have, a fear of being trapped?”
“I mean in a general sense I guess?”
“And now? Would you say the same?”
“..I-I… I don’t want to think about it.” For the first time, he turned his head away to avoid looking at me at all, eyes clenched shut.
“Alright, that’s enough of an answer right now.” I instinctively placed my hands out before me, before realizing how useless the gesture was.
“Mr. Charit?” He wasn’t responding, still turned away and closed off, watching him raise a thin fist and rub the knuckles against her chest bone.
“My chest feels a bit tight… it gets that way when I start to think about it too hard.” She quietly says, she’s opened her eyes again, it hasn’t seemed to help.
“Hey, stay with me, now I’m gonna ask a favor of you. Real simple, just take a deep breath- inhaling for four seconds…” I followed her breath, slowly counting the numbers out loud leading her into a breathing exercise.
“Exhale for four seconds… hold for four… and repeat.” We stayed in this rhythm for a minute, until he stopped rubbing his chest bone so hard.
“Feeling better?” Asking gently, she nodded. “Yes.”
“Good, that’s something I’d recommend you keep in your back pocket for when this anxiety starts to crop up. It can be a useful tool to recenter yourself, just four fours to remember.”
She nods, “thank you Counselor Hawthorne.”
“Of course, anxiety is not an easy thing to deal with after a traumatic event like you had described.”
“Well that seems a bit excessive…”
“Maybe, but it is also impacting your ability to do your job and simply thinking about it almost sent you into an anxiety attack. I’d say your body certainly agrees it was traumatic.”
“It just feels like I should have a better hold on it.” Sentiments like that always make me feel a bit sad, I do the same, but the guilt of not having full control over one’s emotions, I’ve seen tear too many fine officers apart.
“And you will, this kind of thing takes experience to learn how to deal with fear and stress in a healthy way. Now this is something I can obviously help you with in terms of talking about it and exploring different coping mechanisms that you can learn to help you when you feel this anxiety starting to appear. There are also medicinal options that Dr. Chase could discuss with you, you have options.”
“I see… Do I have to talk to Dr. Chase?”
“I’m not saying you have to, just that some people find it easier to deal with their anxiety with medication, it’s not a route that works for everyone but it’s there in case you want to try it.” I continue speaking.
“What I will recommend is for you to continue seeing me, I think having some dedicated time each week to deal with this will help you continue back into your job easier and quicker.”
“What will I do until then?” Referencing her next shift.
“One thing is to keep that four breathing exercise in mind, to focus on your breathing and your environment while trying to navigate these difficult emotions. I know you graduated from the Academy, you can do it, just need to get some practical use in.”
“Alright Counselor, I would like to be able to get back to my experiments…” A wistful tone at the end, seeming to remember why she’s here with Starfleet.
I grin, “that’s the spirit. You are capable of doing this Ensign Charit, I know you’ll move past this and be stronger for it. Now, let’s get your next appointment set up.” He nodded and stood, as I typed away on a PADD with orders to return the same time next week. He thanked me and left.