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Outpost Phoenix: Personal Com-Net image
Family Matters: Waves of Grief

Outpost Phoenix: Personal Com-Net

by Lieutenant Lukas Behr, Doctor S. Vasari, Doctor Erik Vaeros
[Stardate ]


( Special thanks to Counselor Erik Vaeros of the USS Aldrin for his appearance in this series. )

He slept for two days straight, not even waking to eat.  Despair, regret, anger, remorse, and sorrow all hung over him, suffocating the life from him slowly.  When he found he couldn’t force himself to ignore the waking world any longer, he remained in bed. By the time he realized he was going to starve himself to death, five days had passed.  Lukas had simply believed the gnawing feeling in his stomach was grief. It was actually hunger. There was no care to his disheveled appearance or slept in shorts. For the first time in years, stubble marred his jaw.

The German paused when he reached the door and noted the tray with an unpacked ration on the floor.  Lukas stared at the square meal and debating the meaning of its presence. It was obvious that Jane had left it.  He silently wondered how many times she’d placed a new one at his threshold only for him to be unaware of it being there.  He slowly lowered to squat and picked it up, returning to his feet. He brought it with him down the stairs.

His steps carried him to the office and he placed the ration on his desk before moving to the kitchen.  He stood at the fridge for several minutes as he debated a beer or a bottle of water. Lukas knew the beer would not help except to dull his senses and that seemed pretty desirable.  Still, he chose the water and returned to his computer. He didn’t figure he was going to taste or enjoy anything he put in his mouth, so why waste good beer?

He tapped to open a subspace communication to Farpoint Station and took a bite of the ration as he waited for it to connect.  Once the familiar face of the Martian operations officer appeared, Lukas nodded in greeting. “Marius, put me through to a counselor again.  Anyone but Lindell, if you can.”

Marius Ewing raised his brows as he studied the man he knew from frequent communication with the outpost on Tahnna Whanna IV.  There was something vastly different about the man, and he knew it from more than his appearance. “Lukas, what’s going on man?”

“There’s a reason I’m asking for a counselor,” he grumbled pointedly.  The German watched as Marius muttered his apologies and then transferred him to the medical offices.  Lukas sighed and lifted the brick of compacted food to take a bite.

“This is Doctor Jane Joss,” the counselor responded as the viewscreen on her computer flickered to life.  There was a brief pause as she stared at the face to study the man. Marius had taken some time to inform her that the patient to whom she would be speaking was going through some troubling times.  There was concern in her eyes but the smile remained on her lips. “How may I help you, Lieutenant Behr?”

Lukas didn’t even bother to look at the woman.  He moved his finger to the controls and cut the subspace channel.  There was something about talking to anyone named Jane that set him on edge.  He couldn’t concentrate on himself. Suddenly, the ration in his hand tasted like ash and he wrapped it back up.  The operations officer stood up and tossed the barely eaten meal into the recycler before taking the bottle of water and heading back up to his room.

* * *

His first attempt at a duty shift had been a complete failure.  There had been no communication with his roommate regarding the use of the shuttlecraft, so he was left stranded at the house.  It wasn’t that he’d developed a fear of the transporter, but he was incredibly resistant to using it. Another security officer ended up coming out to get him.  The questions that bombarded him were relentless and he simply wasn’t prepared to deal with them. Lukas tried deflecting, being polite, being short, but in the end, he snapped at an ensign who was just trying to offer his condolences.  The German hunched over his desk, his very posture warning people to stay away.

Jane had made her way to the security department in search of the operations officer.  She knew it was his first day back and simply wanted to be present, to let him know he wasn’t alone.  She’d taken her shuttle, not realizing that he wanted to attempt his usual shift, and there was guilt at not having offered to take him to the outpost.  Though, the surgeon was fairly certain that her best friend didn’t want to see her. His words echoed in her ears, and it was near impossible to silence them.  She gave everyone a timid smile. The department was completely foreign to her and barely knew anyone. “Hey,” she whispered the moment she reached his desk.

He released a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding and straightened slightly to look up at the medical officer.  It’d been nearly a week since he’d seen Jane and as much as he wasn’t really handling the loss of his family well, he wasn’t handling the loss of his best friend well either.  Talking through his problems with himself was poor therapy. “Hey,” he greeted softly. Lukas didn’t know what to say, how to interact. It felt like he’d lost more than his family- he’d lost himself.

The silence between them was deafening.  Her hands slid into her lab coat pockets.  There was no pride in her posture and she found it difficult to even attempt any semblance of confidence.  “Uh- Sorry about the shuttle. I- I didn’t know you were coming in today. I would have waited for you,” Jane muttered.  The entire statement felt like a pathetic attempt at conversation, but it seemed better than nothing.

“Joe Myers came and got me.  He’ll bring me back too.” The second statement was added so she wouldn’t feel obligated to wait for him.  There didn’t seem to be any warmth between them anymore. Lukas couldn’t really attempt to figure out why. His mind just wasn’t with him yet.  After just a few minutes on the outpost, he knew that he’d made the wrong decision in trying to work. But now he was stuck and he would have to muddle through the day somehow.

“I don’t mind,” she attempted.  “Seems silly having Joe take you when we’re going to the same place?”

The officer in question, Joe, happened to be passing the desk when he overheard Jane.  He nodded and smiled supportingly, thinking perhaps that Lukas simply needed a wingman.  “Yeah. She can take you, Lukas She’s way prettier than my ugly mug,” he laughed with a shake of his head.

The German leaned forward and propped his elbow on the desk, resting his temple in his palm.  He grumbled quietly to keep his thoughts to himself. The outburst just minutes before was still fresh and Lukas didn’t want to attract that kind of attention to himself again.  As he thought about asking Jane if they would meet at the normal time, he found that the room had suddenly closed in on him. His gaze shifted as he sat up and he grunted as he pushed to his feet.  The need to escape overwhelmed him and he muttered about going on a patrol to get out of the building.

Her gaze followed him before her body managed to push into motion.  His strides were long and quick and she found it difficult to keep pace without breaking into a jog.  “Lukas,” she called out to him, her hand touching his arm once they rounded the building. “Hey. Talk to me.  I’m trying to help. I just want to help.”

He pulled his arm away as he turned and stepped back to remain at a distance from her.  “What else do you want from me Jane? You’ve broken me, I have nothing left.” His brows furrowed as he stared.  “I don’t want your help. Hör auf mich zu verletzen. Lass mich allein. (Just stop hurting me. Leave me alone.)”  

Her brows furrowed.  “What? I don’t understand.  What did you just say?” His tone did nothing to alleviate the ache in her chest and the pain that had taken root the week prior gripped at her heart with more force.  “Lukas- Please. This isn’t-” She was desperate to salvage whatever was left of their friendship, though she was sure it was beyond repair. She had taken the burden of his family’s fate from his shoulders and he blamed her for it.  Although she knew that they were gone well before he had gotten the transmission, it didn’t ease the guilt.

Lukas made a shooing motion toward her and turned to leave her behind.  He tapped his badge and called Joe Myers to be sure he would still have a ride home.  As he walked, he cursed himself for agreeing to build a house with Jane. He was stuck there for another two and a half years.  He knew he would have to protect Lina so that the medical officer couldn’t use his niece to hurt him.

* * *

He took another week off of work.  During that time he studied his master suite to see how he could rearrange to make room for Adelina.  Lukas moved all of his clothes out of the closet and started construction to adjust the space. A small bed was placed along one wall and the window he’d installed provided natural light.  It was the perfect size for a four year old and it kept her in sight. It was an easy job, so it only took a couple days.

The German had taken to eating once a day since he noticed that there were no more offered rations at his door.  He never saw Jane, no matter the time of day that he roamed the house. He decided that maybe she’d finally realized how deeply she hurt him and was going to stop dragging him down.  Lukas struggled with the silence, however. Even during the times that he was alone, there had always been a faint glimmer of hope that things would change.

That candle had guttered out.  And in two months, he would become guardian to a four year old.  His own dream of a family would never come true. It would just be him and Lina, lost without their family.  The heaviness in his chest had him back in front of the computer in the office. Lukas sighed as he contemplated whether he really wanted to attempt another counseling session.  He groaned quietly and tapped to initiate the subspace.

“Lukas,” Marius greeted with a hesitant smile.  “You sure you want to try it again? I think if you hang up on someone, they revoke your privileges for a while.”

He nearly rolled his eyes but nodded in affirmation.  “Maybe you could try someone not from the station. Someone who’s been through the loss of a loved one.”  Lukas gave the operations officer a pointed look.

The Martian’s grin faltered and he gasped softly.  “Oh man, I’m sorry. Yeah, let me see who I can find for you.  Hang on, man. I’m thinking of you, Lukas.” The screen blanked as he attempted to reach out to the ships that had docked at Farpoint Station.

He rolled his eyes as he heard the computer screen flicker to life.  Erik Vaeros didn’t even bother looking up to stare at the face that was waiting on the viewscreen.  Marius Ewing was a constant thorn in his side since the USS Aldrin docked at Farpoint Station. The officer hounded him for advice.  “What is it, pimple face?” His voice was gravelly, his tone telling of his impatience.

“They’re freckles,” he grumbled for the umpteenth time.  Marius shook his head. “Doc, I’ve got a guy at Phoenix who’s been trying to talk to someone for almost three weeks now.  Spoke of a loss but hasn’t been specific.”

“Tell him to go talk to the shrinks at his end.  Why the hell is he talking to someone on subspace?”  Grief couldn’t be managed over communication. It needed to be dealt with delicately - or not.  It really depended on the patient and there was simply no way to know what a person needed unless the psychologist met with him or her face to face.  Erik was no stranger to grief. He’d suffered from it time and time again, the last being one of the worst in memory. The Draconian lifted his chin and stared at the viewscreen finally.

The operations officer hummed quietly and shook his head.  “Phoenix doesn’t have a counselor and the ones here- didn’t work out for him.”  When the counselor only continued to stare, Marius blinked and quickly tapped to connect Lukas with the Draconian.  “Oh, he’s going to hate me for that.”

While he’d waited, the German had made himself a bowl of teriyaki noodles.  Lukas didn’t notice that the screen had changed and that there was someone on the other end.  He was turned to the side and focused on forcing himself to eat the small chunks of vegetables and chicken.

Erik said nothing.  He simply stared at the screen and his eyes swept over the face of the man who appeared before him.  The officer had dark brown and unkempt hair, his face was unshaven. There was a bit of a hollow in his cheeks.  His pointed ears twitched as he attempted to gain a sense of his far off patient. The distance made it hard, but he managed to steal a glimpse.

A large galleon rocked in tumultuous seas.  There was no wind in her canvas sails and the wood creaked with every motion.  A steady downpour soaked the deck and the lone man on board stood at the large wheel and gripped at the handles, but did not attempt to steer the vessel one way or the other.

“Great.  Another one,” he muttered under his breath.  His chin lifted and fell once. “I hear you’ve dumped all the other counselors, so I’ll just get to the point because it’s clear you don’t want your time wasted and I don’t feel like playing nice.  What happened?”

The fork clattered against the bowl in his surprise and he blinked toward the screen as he sucked the noodles into his mouth.  Lukas licked the brown sauce from the corner of his lip and cleared his throat as he set the dish down. Once he’d finished the bite, he furrowed his brows and glanced again at the counselor.  The maroon hair and amethystine eyes were far from what he expected of a doctor, let alone one of psychological sorts. “My family got caught in a transporter buffer and I couldn’t give permission to release their patterns so the woman that I’ve loved since the Academy forced my hand to sign.”  There was no break in his explanation, no pause. It needed to be said before he lost his nerve to talk about it. “My niece was the only survivor and now I’m her guardian.”

A low whistle escaped him.  He had to admit - he rather liked the fact that the man on his viewscreen quite literally got to the point without a beat of hesitation.  Others would have gone into several paragraphs, practically writing an epic prose in explanation. “So, you’re depressed that you’ve lost your family, pissed at this woman you think you love for killing them, and you’re about to be a dad.  That about sum it up?”

“Sprechen macht es wahr, (Speaking it makes it true.)” he murmured with a nod.  He leaned forward and propped his elbow on the desk so he could rest his head in his palm.

“Standard, mopey,” Erik grumbled in complaint.  “Gods. I swear- What the frak is the use of having a universal translator if it doesn’t work.”  He ran his hand roughly over his face, as if doing so would relieve him of his irritation.

“Yes, and now I’m not talking with her-”  Lukas grunted quietly and shook his head. Already this guy had been better than anyone else he’d talked to, but at the same time, he wasn’t sure he was ready for the truth.  The operations officer should have been the one to make the decision, and he couldn’t because he didn’t have the spine to do it. She’d taken away his choice, but also the guilt that would have come with it.  It didn’t make it okay.

The Draconian raised a brow.  “Wow. Ain’t love if you’re not chit-chatting with her.”  He shrugged one shoulder.

He sighed heavily and shook his head.  “She leaves me time and time again and I keep hanging around because I can’t let her go.”  This was the last thing he’d imagined they would talk about. He was more depressed about losing his family - wasn’t he?

“So.  Let me get this straight.  You couldn’t metaphorically kill your family, so this woman did it for you.  Then she just up and left you to deal with the fall out?” The counselor’s eyes searched the room behind Lukas.  The woman was the last person he had mentioned and there was a heaviness to the tone that spoke of her importance.  It was imperative he speak to her to get a better picture of the German’s mental state. “She’s gone, I’m guessing? Left just like you said?”

“We built a house together.  We have to stay for three years.”  

Erik nodded.  “So where is she?”

Lukas glanced up to watch the screen.  “At the outpost on duty, I imagine. Probably the morgue.”  A flash of emotion colored his irises, though he couldn’t tell if it was anger or disgust.

He chuckled despite himself and shook his head.  “Wow. You fell for a necro?” he muttered under his breath.  Erik didn’t know this woman, but if she took on the weight of doing what the operations officer couldn’t do, then there was clearly something there.  He just didn’t know if it was love or if the woman had a nasty streak. He straightened in his chair and studied him again. “How long was your family stuck in the transporter buffer?”

His shoulders slumped as he relaxed to think back on the answer.  “Four or five days. Earth is ten weeks travel, there’s no way I could have made it back to do anything.”  Lukas shifted his gaze to the PADD on his desk that was still filled with the calculations he’d made. If only he hadn’t been stationed so far out, he would have been closer to be able to help them.  He could have been the one to check the transport operations to be sure there would be no failure. He could have been there to get them out before any degradation took place. If only the outpost wasn’t so far away.

“They were already gone, and you couldn’t move to the next stage of healing because as long as their patterns were in the buffer, you could make yourself believe they were alive.  And if they were alive, you would still have a family and you didn’t have to be your niece’s father figure.” He nodded to himself as the picture grew more clear. A rare hint of compassion flashed over his eyes as he repeated his analysis.  “You were stuck, much like they were, and I’m guessing you didn’t do so hot- What did you do after finding out about your family?”

Lukas lifted the PADD from the desk, just to show what he’d been working on.  There was no effort made to explain what he’d theorized. “Ran through calculations to pull them back together, to save them from the buffer.  Went through theories and ran simulations.” He sighed heavily and dropped the device onto the surface of the desk. It was then he realized that even if he had been closer, he wouldn’t have been able to pull them out.

His lips formed a thin line.  “So this woman, the one you can’t let go, did it for you.  She did what you couldn’t do and she probably knew she’d be the villain in this.  Just so you can accept what happened and really mourn. So now, you’re scared because you’re without a family, about to be a dad to your brother’s or sister’s kid, and- you just lost the woman you loved.”  There was no way he could hide the emotion at the last statement.

He lifted his gaze to watch the counselor on the screen.  The pause in the last sentence caught his attention. The German wasn’t sure if he could assume correctly, but it felt like Vaeros had suffered some loss as well.  He listened more closely. “At least when they were alive, I knew I could call them at any time, sent a note, get a package in the post.” Lukas furrowed his brows.  Defensiveness moved through him - men weren’t supposed to be scared. “She played God with my family, she had no right. It should have been my decision to- She killed my family.”  Despite the emotion in his voice, the words sounded hollow. She hadn’t killed his family, they were dead before he’d even gotten word from the Transport Authority. He was stubborn, however, and couldn’t acknowledge the truth.

“No.”  He was firm in his interruption, his voice naturally gruff and demanding of attention.  He’d gotten enough of a clear picture, though he was making assumptions on this strange woman’s motivations.  “The gods already took your family away from you. She showed you everything in that moment. She took the burden you didn’t want to bear and she shifted that blame so that you didn’t have to take it-  She showed you everything.” Erik shook his head. “Or maybe, she was playing some sick perverted role as the all powerful and I’m just talking out of my ass.” His thick calloused finger tapped at his desk and he shrugged.  “What do I know. Like you said, she ran off after she did it. You didn’t see her ever again.”

Lukas frowned and his chin dipped with the shake of his head.  “She left me rations.” The admission was made both in jest and in guilt.  He reached up to rub his face as the guilt started to creep more into his thoughts.  “You’re the first person I’ve talked to that made any sense. I needed you three weeks ago.”  The operations officer sighed heavily. “How do I- get okay with this?”

“You don’t.”  A heaviness settled in Erik’s chest and he rubbed at the pain that stabbed through his ribs.  “Death- Grief- Grief is all encompassing.” He spoke from experience, and he struggled to remain on the subspace link to complete his job.  “You’re not just grieving a loss. You’re coping with a life-changing event.” His hands lifted and cupping his palms created a circle from the point of his fingertips to the bottom of his palm.  “It takes up the entirety of your life. And there’s no way around it. No way to shrink it. That loss will stay with you forever. What happens, over time, is that the circle that defines who you are grows.”  His hands pulled apart as he showed the circle increasing in size. “It isn’t that your loss shrinks. It’s just that you learn to accept it as a part of you. And in accepting it, you become whole again- You allow room for other things, happier things, to join it.”

The German stared, not sure if he wanted to believe the counselor or not.  The whole expanding circle seemed a bit draconian - no pun intended - in its application.  But mostly, he feared that it meant that he could never repair things with Jane. There was a brief moment when he wondered why he wanted to do such a thing.  She’d killed his family and pushed him away, though those thoughts were beginning to sound wrong, like he was lying to himself. Lukas considered what she had done for him without his noticing - leaving rations and just being there - and he wondered if perhaps he’d actually been the one to push her away this time.  An inkling of dread crept into his thoughts, a fear that he’d done this to himself. His head shook slightly in denial. She hurt him deeply.

“You were stuck.  You couldn’t start the process because their patterns remained in the buffer.  You’re angry with her because she forced you to accept what you already knew and now you’re going through the stages.  Some days you’ll feel like you’re over it. Other days, you’ll never get out of bed. When you finally realize you don’t hate her, you’ll have to deal with the fact that you actually hate yourself.  Because she shouldn’t have been the one to force your acceptance. You should have been able to do it yourself.” Erik shrugged and added in true fashion to his character, “Sucks to be you. It’s really going to piss you off when you realize what she really did.”  He grunted from the assault to his memories.

Lukas continued to watch the Draconian as he absorbed the counselor’s words.  There was some truth in what he’d said, but there were some things that he didn’t have to accept.  After several long moments of silence, the German took in a deep breath and nodded. “I’m sorry for your loss.  Thank you for your time.” He leaned forward to tap the button but paused when he heard the man speak.

“Yup.  Don’t call me again.”  Vaeros reached forward to end the transmission.  He muttered under his breath. “Frakking prissy ass.  Dammit, Bright Eyes. I tried, but everyone is so damn irritating.”  He growled softly before the subspace communication was cut at his command.

He sat at the console for hours, just staring at the screen.  Lukas mulled over the counselor’s words and debated how to apply them to his situation.  Some of his assessment was pretty spot on. He sighed and wondered if he should have asked how to move on from Jane if he’d actually lost her.  He wondered if he really still cared for her the way he once had. The operations officer decided it didn’t matter. He had to focus on his niece.  She needed him to be her support. With Adelina in his life, no woman would want him anyway. He pushed the PADD aside and lifted to his feet. The bowl of cold noodles was dumped in the recycler and he retreated back to his room.  

For the next two days, he didn’t get out of bed.

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