“The time is 0600 hours.”
Aurellan stirred in bed when her alarm woke her. She felt sufficiently rested but couldn’t bring herself get out of bed. Though she had to be at work in an hour, she was dreading the day ahead. A sense of powerlessness pervaded her thoughts, knowing that what little hope she had of rekindling her romance with Leo was gone. It was a feeling of loneliness and of emptiness--an intense sadness and despair that logic could in no way explain.
The computer reminded her of the time again. A minute had passed while Aurellan was staring up at the ceiling wondering how she would face the next few days. She tapped a control panel on the nightstand, instructing the computer to wake her in another half hour, and then covered her face with the top pillow.
Shinar sh’Aqba awoke in a cold sweat when the computer informed her of the time. She just stared blankly at the ceiling and contemplated her immediate future. Today was one more day that she was an outcast among the Andorian people after she ignored her betrothal vows. Today was one more day that she was pregnant by a man who gave his life during the Battle of Cardassia. Erhlich Tarlazzi insisted he chose to pilot a kamikaze
maneuver on one of Cardassia Prime’s moons to minimize the loss of life in the war’s final battle. Shinar was certain Erhlich volunteered for a suicide mission to get out of familial obligations that were thrust upon him so suddenly. For that, she could never forgive him. Or maybe she felt frustration that she could never tell him how angry she was him.
What was more, she could not carry her unborn offspring to term because of the unique nature of Andorian sexes. As a shen
, Shinar could ordinarily act as an intermediary during mating in a group of four. Ordinarily, a shen
would find a zhen
surrogate in the event she became pregnant in a dual mating. For Shinar, though, being shunned by her own people made finding a viable surrogate impossible.
The Andorians had known they were an endangered species for the last century, but Shinar felt that was no justification her race’s repressive marital laws. What had happened in her life in the last five months, though, made her feel that starting a revolution was too costly. What was done was done, and there was no turning back now. But at this moment, she had neither the will nor the strength to try to look forward.
Aurellan entered sickbay adjusting a lock of her blond hair that was out of place. Having straggled her way out of bed, she did not have time to shower, and so was looking a bit unkempt. She greeted Doctor T’Pren with a smirk meant to hide her embarrassment with her appearance. T’Pren just stared blankly at Aurellan in acknowledgement of the chief medical officer’s arrival.
“This is today’s appointment schedule,” T’Pren said, handing Aurellan a padd.
Aurellan took a quick glance at a list of names and a brief description of their injury or illness. “What about the field tests on the EMH-Mark IV?” she inquired.
“Additional tests will be conducted this afternoon.”
Aurellan nodded, doing her best to hide her emotions. which T’Pren still saw right through.
“Please do not think me unsympathetic,” T’Pren offered, indicating to Aurellan that the Vulcan woman saw right through her façade. “Your relationship with the Mark Three was not trivial simply because he was a hologram,” T’Pren added.
Aurellan scoffed. “I suppose you’re also going to remind me that he was a real person to me. Leo’s ‘death’ was a dagger in my heart, but I’m better now.”
“You display emotional restraint of a Vulcan. However, because we learn to suppress our emotions, that does not mean we do not grieve a loss. The woman to whom my brother was betrothed was killed during the war. He has been prone to irrational behavior since his loss despite his outward efforts to maintain emotional control. Thankfully, he has friends and family to help him cope.”
“He’s blessed to have such caring people in his life,” Aurellan said with a sympathetic smile.
“And you do, as well. Despite your introverted tendencies, your colleagues care about your emotional well being. Let them provide you emotional support, Aurellan.”
Rarely did a Vulcan address a non-Vulcan or a superior officer by given name, which suggested to Aurellan a reaching out on T’Pren’s part. “I’ll keep that in mind, Doctor,” she said with a slight grin. “Thank you.” Another quick glance at the padd in her hand, and she noticed a familiar name. “It says here Lieutenant sh’Aqba has a pre-natal exam right now.”
“Correct,” T’Pren replied. “But she has been neglecting her last five appointments.”
Aurellan had an idea of why. “Computer, locate Lieutenant sh’Aqba.”
“Lieutenant sh’Aqba is in her quarters.”
Aurellan handed the padd back to T’Pren. “I’ll go check on her.”
Shinar came to her door after the third ring of her doorbell dressed in a bathrobe and some kind of mesh hair net covering her hair and antennae. “What?” she impatiently asked Aurellan.
“You haven’t coming to your last five prenatal exams,” Aurellan plainly replied.
Shinar rolled her eyes and trudged back into her cabin. “Non-sentient mammals carry their young, and give birth to offspring without the need for prenatal exams.”
Aurellan snuck through the doorway before the doors slid shut. “With a high-risk pregnancy such as yours,” she persisted, “prenatal exams are quite necessary.”
Shinar dropped herself on the sofa and stared out of the window. “I didn’t ask to become pregnant. And I certainly didn’t plan on being a single mother after Erhlich selfishly chose to abandon me and my unborn child.”
Aurellan paced towards a chair facing across from the sofa and seated herself there. “Many mothers throughout humanoid history didn’t ask to become mothers. But they love their children as much as those who did plan on becoming parents.”
Shinar derisively shook her head and continued staring through the window. “I know, I know. But I don’t know if I have the strength to care for this helpless infant. I don’t know if it’ll survive a normal Andorian pregnancy given my situation.”
“You have a lot of hard choices. But all you can try to do now…”
Shinar let out an exasperated while looking sternly at Aurellan. “You’re not going to guilt me into this appointment, Doctor. You think I’m just neglecting these exams in order to find out if someone will care enough to reach out to me. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t care if I miscarry right this very second.”
Aurellan frowned sympathetically. “You don’t mean that.”
Shinar grabbed a ceramic bowl on the coffee table. “You don’t want to test me,” she hissed. “Now get out!” She threw the bowl in Aurellan’s direction. Aurellan was quick to duck out of the way, and then watch the bowl shatter against the wall.
Aurellan momentarily glanced at Shinar before leaving the cabin without a second thought.
Commander Ronnie Kozar took a look at a padd while seating himself behind the desk in the ready room. “So let me get this straight,” he said to Doctor Markalis, who was standing at attention on the other side of the desk. “You want me to order
Lieutenant sh’Aqba to attend her prenatal exams? I’m afraid that’s beyond my purview as executive officer. Now, if she was a danger to herself and others…”
“She certainly is,” Aurellan replied, stepping closer to the desk. “She said she doesn’t care if she miscarries. And she became violent with me, so I had security guards posted at her door.”
“Those certainly are ominous warnings,” Kozar agreed. “Unless she’s taken actions in the line of duty that make her a liability, there’s nothing I can do. It is within your power as chief medical officer to relieve her of duty on those grounds. Can you certify that, Doctor?”
“No, sir,” Aurellan deferently answered.
Sh’Aqba was continuing to sulk while sitting on the sofa in her quarters. The security guard standing by her door was a reminder of extreme shame she felt having threatened someone who was only trying to help her. She dreaded having to face that person again, even more so when the doorbell chimed. “Go away, Aurellan!” she shouted.
“It’s Commander Kozar,”
a familiar masculine voice replied. That immediately caught her attention. She stood up and made some minor adjustments to her hair that was draped over her forehead to while pacing towards the door. “Sorry if I don’t look more presentable,” she said after opening the door to admit the first officer.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Kozar replied. “This is not a formal visit. May I come in?”
She didn’t dare say no to a longtime colleague and friend who had been like a brother or an uncle. “Of course,” she reluctantly answered.
“You may wait outside,” Kozar whispered to the guard, who quickly obliged. Taking another quick at how Shinar was dressed, he asked, “So this is how you ‘throw yourself into your work’?”
“You just said this wasn’t a formal visit,” Shinar reminded him while sitting back down on the sofa.
Kozar took slow steps towards the coffee table and remained standing. “I’m here as a friend who is worried about you. I was willing to let you take today off considering your current difficulties. So my question is why you chose to cut short your earlier shore leave in the first place.”
Shinar sighed with frustration. “I’m an outcast on Andor. Taking time off only serves to remind me how much I’ve lost. Staying here and assisting in low-priority repairs to make sure this ship passes inspection also reminds me of what I’ve lost and what I’m forced to deal with all on my own.
“Except you’re not alone, Shinar,” Ronnie offered. “Your family on Andor may have forsaken you for skipping out on your betrothal vows, but we’re your family. Doctor Markalis is going that extra kilometer to reach out to you. You’ve been the ‘little sister’ Morrison and I have looked out for the last thirteen years.”
Shinar chuckled while fighting back tears at the same time. “When you put it that way…”
Ronnie seated himself on a chair and flashed a sympathetic smile. “Many of us lost a lot of friends and family during the war. Hell, a planet everyone thought was an impenetrable fortress was attacked. But you’re responsible for a new life now.”
Shinar grinned limply. “In other words, be grateful for that new life.”
“You want to be mad at Erhlich for leaving you with a baby you never wanted, then be mad at him. Just don’t take it out on that innocent life inside of you. Life happens. One either meets it head on or runs away and dies a little at a time.”
“You’re right,” Shinar agreed with a twinkle in her eyes as if she experienced an epiphany. She gently caressed the bulge in her abdomen, which she had only now realized had become noticeable in the last two weeks. “Instead of wallowing in my grief, caring for this new life is how I should honor Erhlich’s memory. And the way to do that is go to my prenatal exams.” She quickly got up and headed for the door.
“Hold on,” Kozar snapped, eliciting sh’Aqba to stop in her tracks.” Shouldn’t you get into uniform first?”
“Right,” sh’Aqba said with an embarrassed chuckle.
Aurellan entered the sickbay’s primary ICU, pleasantly surprised to see sh’Aqba seated on one of the secondary biobeds. She momentarily got the idea that Commander Kozar had a role in Shinar’s sudden change of heart. It was a notion she quickly dismissed, considering his earlier refusal to offer any help. “Lieutenant,” she said flatly. “Can I help you with something?”
“I’m here for my prenatal exam,” Shinar replied, as if that was not something she was trying to avoid.
Aurellan grinned lightly. “What changed your mind?”
“Commander Kozar has a way of getting to me.”
Aurellan nodded, having realized the first officer’s coaxing had to have been informal, yet still reminding herself to thank him later. “Nurse, prepare the prenatal exam equipment” she instructed a Denobulan woman sorting hyposprays nearby.
The nurse headed for the biolab as instructed. Aurellan, meanwhile, opened a medical tricorder perched at the foot of the biobed and trained the hand sensor to Shinar’s bulging abdomen. “Heart rate and blood pressure are normal,” she informed her patient. “Internal organs developing normally, bone density and muscular structure development normal. Amniotic fluid pH levels optimal. Everything’s looking good so far.”
“The ‘for now’ part still worries me,” Shinar said with an exasperated sigh. “How will we address the fact that I can’t carry the baby to term?”
Aurellan put aside her tricorder and seated herself on a chair to the left of the biobed. “I’ve been working on that problem almost non-stop. Starfleet Medical has made many advances in incubation units that allow normal development of partially formed fetuses in the event of serious maternal injury or death. I put in a request for one, and it should be arriving in a day or two. I just need to tailor this particular unit for Andorian physiology.
Shinar gasped joyfully. “Oh, that’s wonderful.” She hugged Aurellan without regard for how she often recoiled from physical contact. She quickly composed herself, though, and gradually pulled herself away. “I appreciate this. I really do. I hope it’s not a way to hide from your own feelings.”
“I’m telling you,” Aurellan insisted, clasping Shinar’s hands. “I’m handling it.” But then she lowered her head and burst into tears and put her arms around Shinar’s shoulders. “I’ve been trying to convince myself he was just another casualty,” she said, letting tears freely flow down her cheeks, “or that nothing about our relationship was real, he just told me he loved me because I said it first.”
Shinar gently stroked Aurellan’s hair. “You told me once he demonstrated his love for you through his actions even if he didn’t express that feeling in a way most people do. You needn’t pretend none of that was true.”
“I know that I shouldn’t. I just feel embarrassed sometimes to let my emotions go or that others won’t take me seriously.”
Shinar looked Aurellan in both eyes while holding both her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter what others think. You loved him. And that’s what matters. We shared a common experience. We can help each other through that. Come with me to the support group meeting on the starbase at 1800 hours. You can explore your feelings there without fear of being judged or marginalized.”
Aurellan sighed, feeling a huge weight lifted off her shoulders--feeling that she no longer hide her grief. She clasped one of the hands on her shoulder. “Sure, I’ll be there,” she said with a smile and her eyes still brimming with tears.
Shinar and Aurellan sat next to each other at the grief counseling support group. The whole group sat in a circular arrangement, so each person could see one another. Most of the participants were human, along with a few individuals of various races that included two Andorians, a Denobulan, and three native Rigelians.
The group foreperson, a blond-haired human male introduced both Aurellan and Shinar as newcomers to the group. Aurellan offered to introduce herself first. She felt awkward explaining to total strangers how she wound up romantically involved with her ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram. That awkwardness was tempered by the knowledge that these strangers had also experienced significant personal losses during the war. Knowing that gave her the comfort to express her mixed array of feelings while in this man’s presence and now that his essence was gone. At no time did she feel her relationship was trivial or that her feelings were no less valid than if she had experienced the death of a person of flesh-and-blood.
Aurellan could actually smile without feeling judged when she said how much she loved Leo, as if he was every bit a real person.
Lena Katina: Never Forget