Episode 3: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Location: Counseling Offices
Timeline: Current (after departure)
Doctor Arnon Barak sat in his office, recording some notes from a previous session.
"The fetish seems to involve carnivorous shellfish, a spatula, and a garden hose," he was saying. "I must say, every time I think I've heard everything, someone comes along with something even stranger. Normally, I wouldn't be concerned, but there is the question of the dangers posed by the carnivorous shellfish, as well as the question of cruelty to animals. The client seemed evasive when I attempted to determine if she uses holographic carnivorous shellfish with the safeties on or the real thing. If it's the real thing, I assume that her lover has to come to her quarters. I mean, I'm sure someone would have commented by now if she was regularly hauling heaping buckets of carnivorous shellfish through the corridors..."
The comm unit on Arnon's desk beeped.
"Computer, stop recording, please," Arnon said. "Go for Doctor Barak."
"Doctor Barak," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Markos Ileos, Arnon's trusted assistant. "Your next appointment is due any minute."
"Ah, yes!" Arnon said, snapping his fingers. "Thank you, Markos! Who am I seeing again?"
"Commander Tara Neprem," Markos replied. "I briefed you on her case this morning."
"Yes, of course!" Arnon said. "I remember now...wait, she's not the one who collects her boyfriend's toe lint, is she?"
"No, sir," Markos said. "That one is coming later. Commander Neprem is a Joined Trill who experienced a very traumatic joining and is having a spot of trouble adjusting."
"Ah!" Arnon said. "Now I remember. Send her right in when she arrives!"
Unfortunately, Tara passed through the waiting room doors when Arnon asked about someone collecting someone else's toe cheese, and she stared with dumbfounded disbelief at Markos behind his desk.
"And here I thought I was supposed to be the crazy one..." Tara mumbled as she headed for the door that would lead her to the Arnon's office. "Yeah yeah, I heard him, go right in..." Tara said as she waved off Markos from showing her the way in. The Trill entered the office, glancing around warily; what kind of officers were on this ship?!
Arnon rose from his chair and greeted Tara warmly.
"Ah, Commander Neprem," he said walking over an offering his hand to be shaken. "Welcome! I'm Doctor Arnon Barak. Please, sit! Can I get you anything to drink? I have all manner of soothing teas, some from my homeworld. I believe I even have one we specifically created for Joined Trill."
"Oh, uh, do you have Earth butter tea?" Tara asked as she shook his hand, then approached one of the comfortable looking couches in the office. She was still quite uneasy about this meeting, especially after the rather disturbing thing she heard just outside, but this was about her, not the unusual fetishes of someone else.Who was she kidding, she was even more uncomfortable talking about herself! Mostly because she was still trying to grasp who she was now...
"Excellent choice!" Arnon said, pouring some butter tea into a bowl. "I was just having some this morning so you get to have the real thing. Well, the butter was replicated, but the tea leaves are real. Careful! It's hot."
Arnon handed the bowl of tea to Tara and took a seat across from her.
"So, Commander," he said. "Tell me about yourself and this situation you're in regarding your joining."
Arnon paused for a moment, then spoke.
"This is a safe place, Commander," he said, a very gentle tone in his voice. "I'm not going to judge you or scold you or even tell you how you 'should' be doing things. You're going to do almost all of the talking. Mostly, I'm just going to listen and ask questions here and there? Every now and then, I might make a suggestion, but in general, I prefer my clients to come up with their own answers and solutions. I'm just...a guide if you will. Okay?"
Tara took the bowl and simply held it for a moment to enjoy the warmth and smell of the tea for a moment. She hesitated in taking a sip when she heard his explanation to help relax some of her unease, and while it drew a smile from her, she was still quite tense.
"I'm sorry, it's just that I've talked to so many counselors and doctors since returning to Trill, I'm getting a bit tired of it all," Tara admitted somewhat sheepishly. "They've already determined that I'm stuck the way I am, and now I have to work with more professionals to see if I'm adapting sufficiently to be considered fit enough to return to full duty, and now I have this special assignment and it feels like I don't even have the time now to stop to take a breath!" Tara sighed and stared down into the murky yellow tea in her hands. "Arjin, my former host, never had a problem talking about himself, but I've never enjoyed going on and on about myself and I still don't. I don't know if I'm ready to return to Starfleet, but I'm ready for the evaluations to be done!"
Arnon smiled warmly.
"I think you've been evaluated enough," he said. "Besides, I said I wouldn't judge you in here. If I can't judge you, that's going to make it very difficult to evaluate you, wouldn't you say. My job today is to listen. So, instead of giving me all the gory details of your joining and all the stresses it's caused you, why don't you choose the subject. You talk, I'll listen."
"Really?" Tara asked dubiously. "So... What if I just want to sit here and listen to music while I drink tea?" she asked with just a hint of Arjin's mischievousness shining through.
"Clever," he said. "But I didn't say you could do anything you wanted. I said you could tell me anything you wanted to tell me and I would listen. Commander Neprem...Tara, meet me half-way. You are required to see me for the time being. Let's make the best of it. You talk, I'll listen and ask a few questions here and there. Any subject that has to do with you and your life is fair game. For example, what is your favorite color?"
"Damn," Tara muttered when he foiled her attempt to be sneaky. But then he asked her favorite color, and her mouth opened agape for a moment, unable to speak; no one had ever asked her that before! "I... I don't know what my favorite color is..." she finally said, somewhat surprised by this revelation. Then she thought long and hard about what her favorite color used to be, and she kept coming up with too many answers! "And I can't seem to recall what my favorite color used to be."
"That's normal with hasty joinings," he said. "And not just the hasty ones. If I suggested that you paint or maybe color in a coloring book, adult or child would you be willing to do that? Call it a homework assignment. Paint or color with as many colors as you can, explore the rainbow and beyond, mix colors, make some up, until you find one that you really like. That one would then be your favorite color...for that day. And if you got confused again, you could paint or color some more and maybe pick a new favorite color. I think, eventually, the colors that you choose as your favorites, and it's perfectly fine if your favorite changes, that the colors you choose will be Tara Neprem's favorite color. What do you think?"
"That's... actually pretty reasonable," Tara admitted, then finally took a sip of her tea. "Oh wow, this is really good!" she said, quickly taking a sip. "And you're not so bad either," she added with a hint of a smile.
"Thank you," Arnon said. "So, ready for another tough question? I guarantee that I have another fun homework assignment for you if you get confused on this one."
"Um, okay?" Tara replied with a shrug.
"What's your favorite food?" Arnon asked.
"Oooh, yeah, that is a tough one," Tara admitted, her eyes widening as she thought about it. "Well, Arjin is- was, uh, quite obsessed with, uhg, bacon cheeseburgers, and as a result I've, uh, kind of put on a little weight... But I think my favorite might be these pastries I used to get on Deep Space 12, but I haven't had any since being transferred. Once I went back to Trill for my treatment, I tried to reach out to the vendor to see if he would be willing to part with a replicator pattern, but he wouldn't do it, so without any way to try them, I don't know if I still like them or not."
"You don't seem to be an unhealthy body weight," Arnon said. "But maybe have smaller bacon cheeseburgers and not everyday. Even replicated, they can be fatty and loaded with cholesterol. But if you're prudent and do so in moderation, the solution to that is the same as it was for your favorite color. Try different foods and see what Tara Neprem likes to eat now that you're joined. So, I'm guessing there's a lot of information in your body when it comes to your likes and dislikes. I bet that can get very stressful. Do you think you could describe to me what it feels like when this kind of confusion happens? Is there anything that you're confused about that you'd like to discuss with me today? If not, that's okay. We have plenty of time on this voyage to explore this issue and others, if you'd like."
"I'm definitely trying to cut back on the burgers, but it really comes down to habit, which also answers your question about confusions," Tara replied. "Sometimes when a Trill takes on a symbiont, a habit from the previous host is so strong that the newly joined Trill finds them doing it without realizing they're doing it, only to realize they don't like something their previous host liked. It can be a major frustration for all newly joined Trill, and it does take a while to retrain themselves. So that's where a bit of my confusion comes from: I order something for myself and then wonder why I ordered it, or I do or say something and I wonder where it came from."
"I've treated Trill before," Arnon said. "I know there's an adjustment period. It's important to be mindful of when that is happening and, time permitting, take a moment to process that information. That sounds very jargony doesn't it? What I mean is that it's important to examine the thought process behind the decision you made, without drowning in your own thoughts and Neprem's thoughts, and all the other thoughts in your head. Meditation can be helpful with this. If you can find somewhere quiet, an office, your quarters, and just sit or lie down, close your eyes, breathe, and go over what happened. Sometimes you may be able to unravel what belongs to whom and gain better control over what you say and do. So, here's a big question. Does this sense of confusion, and sometime lack of conscious control, interfere with your duties? I'm not judging or evaluating you, Tara. I'm asking you to evaluate yourself."
Tara nodded. "I understand, and I'm quite familiar with meditation, although Arjin gets bored and makes my mind wander when I try, so I don't do it as often as I used to. But when I can get my mind in the right mindset, I do take that time to examine what I do and why I do it. I've got a rather extensive log I've kept, if you'd like access to it?"
"I would love to, thank you," Arnon said. "Okay, so, here's where we're going to leave things today. You're going to do the colors exercise and tell or even show me the results in our next session. If you want to experiment with food, you can, but do it in moderation. And if you have a craving for something unhealthy, try having a small portion of it, just enough to satisfy the urge. Make up the difference with healthier foods. As for your fitness for duty...will you promise to be honest with me about your level of control? If you start to feel a lack of control over your professional decision making process, will you immediately notify me so we can try to work out the problem?"
"Fitness for duty is definitely the big concern, and part of the reason I'm on the Nogura now," Tara replied. "My assignment here is supposed to determine if I can keep my condition from interfering with professional decisions, which I think I've done well so far, but... well, I'm being asked to do something that would be stressful for any normal person regardless of their species or joining; I have to help hunt and capture someone who was once a very dear friend of mine. It just doesn't seem fair that this should be my test, although if I pass I guess that means I can take on anything."
"It isn't fair, really," Arnon said. "And it's alright to be angry about that. If you ever need someone to talk about your friendship with Nathan Hunter and your feelings about having to hunt him down, I'm here listen. In fact, why don't we plan to talk a little about that next time you're here? Maybe a week from now? I can do sooner if you feel you like to meet sooner or we can schedule for a week and you can let me know if you need anything between now and then."
"A week is fine," Tara said with a weak smile. She finished off her tea and set down the bowl. "Although I must say, I think I'm already regretting this color assignment... Arjin is already wondering of I can replicate some rather, uh, inappropriate coloring material..."
"I'm Rigelian," he said. "I certainly won't be shocked by pornographic coloring books! You should have seen the pictures in the books our middle and secondary school students are assigned for our version of 'sex education' which is very different than you probably had on Trill. If you would like, I can probably find you a replicator pattern for 'The Kama Sutra Coloring Book'. I think there's even a holodeck program where you can color the 'people' and position them and even get into the positions with them."
"You know-" Tara started with a sigh. "Most joined Trill reach a state where these sorts of things simply aren't embarrassing because of long life histories that help put things in perspective, but unfortunately, I haven't attained that just yet," she said in a very 'matter of fact' tone. "Although you have greatly amused Arjin, so I suppose I should thank you for that much."
"Sorry if I made you uncomfortable," he said. "Needless to say, nothing Arjin urges you to say will be terribly embarrassing for me and if he tries to get you to make a pass at me, you can rest assured that I take my oath as a physician and my role as a psychologist seriously. I don't get involved with clients. So, see you in a week?"
"Oh no, no worries of me making a pass at you, Arjin has had me chasing skirts lately- and I cannot believe I just admitted that out loud to someone..." Tara sighed, again; maybe now he could see the frustration this could be for her. "Yes, a week, see you then," she said, then rose to leave feeling better about her situation than she had in a long while.