Part Four: Five Stages
Being with him provided her with some sense of normality. He was the one constant in her life during the last two months of the Dominion War.
In the EMH-Mark III, Aurellan Markalis found a kindred spirit--someone who was as socially challenged as she was. She had found this particular version of the Emergency Medical Hologram far more personable than earlier versions, though he still exhibited some of the same deficiencies she had such as properly understanding and expressing her emotions. Ironically, she had become something of a social mentor to the hologram, whom she started to call Leo Houseman after a person of his likeness she had encountered in a dream, and even a lover.
The program was severely damaged during the war’s final battle. The EMH program was easily repairable, but required a new memory core. For all intents and purposes, the man Aurellan knew as Leo was dead. She remembered that one of her professors in medical school said that the humanoid brain contained a “spark of life” that could not be replicated. With a holographic image, though, she could at least make an attempt.
She had made a lunch date with a crude recreation of the EMH-Mark III in one of the smaller crew lounges to spare herself the embarrassment of interacting with a man declared dead. She lacked the technical know-how of the first EMH program’s original masterminds, so there would surely be flaws. The image shorted out from time to time. And he may have looked and sounded like a regular run-of-the-mill EMH Mark III, but Aurellan still knew deep down he was not Leo.
“One patient came in this morning,” Aurellan told her holographic date, as they were polishing off their meals, “with multiple injuries resulting from, of all things, falling out of bed while having an arachnophobic nightmare.”
“That is rather unusual,” the EMH said with the dispassionate tone Aurellan had become so accustomed to. “Isn’t it more likely that one would be dreaming of being chased by a legion of Jem’Hadar or Breen?”
Aurellan gave a reluctantly agreeing nod. “Talarian hook spiders, on the other hand, are pretty damned scary.”
“But their venom is fairly harmless compared to the black widow or the brown recluse on Earth.”
Aurellan considered that fact and tilted her head slightly. “The fear of spiders is largely instinctual.”
“Ah, evolutionary genetic predisposition,” Leo realized. “Evolutionary psychology holds that the presence of venomous spiders led to the evolution of a fear of spiders or made acquisition of a fear of spiders especially easy. Like all traits, there is variability in the intensity of fears of spiders…”
Aurellan grinned sheepishly while listening to him reciting a passage in a library computer file verbatim. She appreciated that she connected with him more on an intellectual level than a physical level. On the other hand, he demonstrated one of the major flaws in her programming. She had a greater understanding of how she used to bore family and classmates by reciting this stuff now that she was on the receiving end of a lengthy spiel. Aurellan just nodded politely while mostly tuning out his words.
She was brought back to reality when she heard the doors hiss open. Lieutenant Shinar sh’Aqba, the ship’s Andorian chief engineer, entered along with two human male crewmen. Sh’Aqba and her fellow engineers walked in looking rather nonchalant until Shinar stopped suddenly upon seeing the EMH-Mark III. “Doctor?” she gasped. “How are you here? The holo-emitters haven’t been…”
“Computer, end program,” Aurellan instructed, causing the hologram to disappear. Then looking at Shinar with a repentant smirk, she said, “Sorry if I caused you to see a ghost. What are you doing here?”
“Coincidentally,” Shinar answered with slight amusement, “overhauling the holo-emitters in this section as part of a deck-by-deck inventory.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on leave?”
“Get started,” Shinar instructed the two engineers. They both gave acknowledging nods and walked towards two different corners on the opposite end of the room and carefully set down anti-gravity lifts and toolkits strapped to their shoulders. Once satisfied that they weren’t listening in on the personal side of the conversation, Shinar answered Aurellan’s query. “It just seems easier to throw myself into my work,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders. “What I’ve just witnessed looks more like a cry for help.”
“You needn’t worry about me,” Aurellan plainly insisted. “Will you still be attending counseling sessions?”
Shinar took another look at her two crewmen to make sure they weren’t actively listening. “That’s supposed to be confidential,” she insistently whispered.
Aurellan did not seem the least bit concerned about eavesdropping. “I am aware that what you talk about is confidential,” she said with a slightly less hushed tone. “But the counseling staff is part of the medical department. I am chief medical officer, and I just wanted to make sure you were attending those sessions.”
“Of course I’m attending them. I am more curious as to who is keeping an eye on the chief medical officer’s emotional well-being.”
Aurellan sighed in annoyance. Maybe Shinar was trying to reach out to her as a friend or a concerned colleague. She still found her inquiry rather presumptuous given her lack of a medical degree. “What’s abnormal about interacting with a holographic recreation of loved one who has died?”
“I’m not sure,” Shinar conceded. “Erhlich wished for five more minutes just before final battle. Who knew that he would be one of the casualties?”
Aurellan smiled even as the sorrowful memory of Leo telling her he loved her as his image faded away came to mind. “I find myself wishing for five more minutes with Leo. I’m glad you understand.”
They stared at each other blankly for a few moments as if wanting to give the other a comforting hug or pat on the shoulder. Neither of them gave way and just exchanged polite blank-faced nods before Aurellan left the room.
In the corridor, Aurellan trudged across the hallway and leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the entrance. Alone, she found she could not hide her grief. She buried her face in her hands as she slid down the wall into a sitting position, but found she couldn’t shed any tears over her loss. Maybe, she thought, she was in denial about being in denial. She was in denial that her feelings of grief and loss were as legitimate as those resulting from the death of an organic being. And thus, she was in denial of being in mourning.
Crewman Lorne lowered himself from his anti-gravity lift after having assessed one of the holographic emitters. Crewman Bates had completed his assessment of one as well, and they both reported to Lieutenant sh’Aqba, who was making notes on a padd.
“This optronic emitter is shot,” Lorne informed her, pointing towards the left corner across the room. “We’d better replace it.”
“What about the ODN lines to sickbay and the computer core?” sh’Aqba inquired while momentarily looking up from her padd.
“From what we can tell,” said Bates, “those are still in good working order. A full diagnostic might still reveal something we didn’t find.”
“All right,” sh’Aqba said with a slight nod, “we’ll leave them be for now. What about environmental controls in this section?”
“Their running on tertiary atmospheric pumps,” Lorne answered. “It’s no big deal as long as the ship isn’t regularly traveling at warp.”
“The sooner, the better though,” sh’Aqba remarked. “A technical team from the starbase can get on it as soon as one’s available.
“What about an ex-Maquis who doesn’t follow every safety regulation?” Bates suggested. He grinned momentarily, but that expression quickly subsided when he saw how perturbed his superior was.
“Excuse me?” sh’Aqba asked with subdued annoyance.
“I wasn’t referring to anyone in particular,” Bates stammered. “I’m just saying…”
“Tarlazzi’s routine disregard for safety regulations eventually cost him his life,” sh’Aqba said with festering anger. “It’s hardly a joking matter, Crewman.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it, ma’am,” Bates attempted, even knowing it would do no good. “I…”
Sh’Aqba sighed, not sure what had just come over her. “Just carry on, gentlemen,” she instructed the two technicians. And she stormed out in a huff.
“It was rather crass of you,” Lorne remarked, almost as if he knew of sh’Aqba’s relationship with the late Erhlich Tarlazzi, and how any subtle reference to him seemed to hit a nerve.
“I know, I know…” Bates replied with a frustrated sigh.
Aurellan Markalis entered the sickbay’s primary intensive care unit to find a three-person engineering team running field tests on a new holographic doctor, who was staring blankly, as programming subroutines had been loaded into it.
This hologram was female, though, with medium length blond hair and a trim and curvy physique. If Aurellan was attracted to women, she’d find this new holographic doctor an ideal dating partner, but that was far from the point right now. One year after the Mark III was added to Starfleet vessels, the Emergency Medical Hologram was being upgraded once again.
“What’s going on?” Aurellan curtly demanded.
“I’m sorry,” replied Ensign Kaplan, a young dark-haired human male. “I thought Commander Kozar or Lieutenant sh’Aqba would’ve informed you. We’re starting field tests on the EMH-Mark IV. Don’t worry. We’ll try to stay out of your way if there’s a medical emergency.”
“Of course you will,” Aurellan said with a sheepish nod. She had hoped not to mention her romantic affiliation with the Lambda Paz
’s Mark III after they both had worked to try to keep the personal and work lives separate. A rebooted Mark III would certainly not be Leo, she held out hope that she and a rebooted Mark III would fall in love all over again.
“But a Mark Four
?” she went on. “Why not a Mark Three? That just needed a needed a new memory core.”
“We’re just following the duty roster, ma’am,” Kaplan plainly replied. “And it’s on orders from the Corps of Engineers to update the EMH to current technical standards. Now, I really should be getting back to work.”
Kaplan made his way back towards the main diagnostic console, but Aurellan stepped in front of him. “He wasn’t just a piece of equipment, Ensign,” she said with restrained anger, catching the attention of the other two engineers. “He was a person. Many people were able to survive the war because of that man. And now they’re just willing to pretend he didn’t exist?”
“I’m no philosopher,” Kaplan coyly replied, “so I’m far from qualified to argue either side. I’m just following orders. You’re free to file a complaint with the Corps.”
Aurellan sighed, taking Kaplan’s statement as a cue not to try to continue to argue with the man, even when a hot-button medical issue came to mind. What if a doctor was in a position to resuscitate a flesh-and-patient patient already declared dead? Would she be ethically obligated to at least try to restore that patient to life?
“Fine,” Aurellan snapped, quickly making her way out of the medical bay. “Whatever. Not that it’ll do one damn bit of good.”
Upon leaving the sickbay, she hurried to her quarters. Once there, she locked the door using several layers of encryption, hoping she could hide from the outside world indefinitely. She leaned back against the door frame, nearly bumping her head against it.
One could not die of embarrassment, she knew, but she wished for that not to be true at this moment. While she prided herself on keeping her personal and working relationships with Leo separate, and she tried to put up such a front just back in sickbay, that hardly diminished her shame at having made such a fool of herself back there.