SIM:Whale: A Why to Live
A Why to Live
“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
(( Starfleet Veterans Hospital, Earth ))
:: It was surprising how little the hospital had changed since she’d last been there. Granted, it hadn’t been all that long -- Shelley had resigned her position as Assistant Director of Emergency care in late 2385 -- but she had still expected SOME changes. New furniture, maybe a replacement for that horrid pea-green tile in the foyer. But it all seemed to be the same and it made her wonder whether the SVH was having another one of its funding crises. During her tenure at the hospital, they’d gone through a period where they couldn’t get approval for anything beyond the necessities and while they’d never been given a reason for it, they had all assumed it was because of the vast amount of resources Starfleet was dumping into the war with the Gorn that was going on at the time. ::
Otumbé: Well, well... if it isn’t our adventure-seeking Doctor Shelley.
:: Turning around, Shelley smiled. Indira Otumbé was one of only a handful of people at the SVH that Shelley could really call a friend. The pair had started working at the hospital within days of each other -- Shelley in emergency care and Otumbé in the mental health department -- and had had a standing “coffee date,” as Otumbé called them, every Tuesday. ::
:: They embraced and Otumbé patted Shelley on the shoulder. ::
Otumbé: And how are you doing? How is your life of adventure in Starfleet?
Shelley: A little too adventurous at times.
Otumbé: And yet you stay?
:: She winked. Shelley chuckled. ::
Shelley: And yet I stay. :: beat :: Don’t psychoanalyze me, Indira.
:: The other woman laughed a deep, rolling laugh. It was the kind of knowing laugh that said no psychoanalysis was needed. ::
Shelley: How about tea?
:: She was thankful for the change in subject. ::
Otumbé: Tea? When did you start drinkng tea, girl? Your blood used to be seventy-five percent Columbian Bold.
:: Tea was David’s drink. This was going way too far. ::
Shelley: Just testing you.
:: Liar. ::
Shelley: Coffee would be great.
Otumbé: I just need to drop this off :: she held up a padd :: and I’m free and clear for an hour.
:: With a smile and a nod, Shelley followed her friend through the maze of corridors that made up SVH. ::
Otumbé: You know, with you popping in today too, it’s like there’s a reunion that no one told us about.
:: Shelley frowned. Reunion? The duo had come to a large room filled with video monitors. Most showed empty rooms, but a couple showed two people seated at a clean white table opposite each other. ::
Shelley: Sorry, I don’t follow...
:: Otumbé nodded toward one of the screens. ::
Otumbé: The Ackerman Event. That’s David Whale -- he came in to visit Alton Vines.
:: Shelley’s attention snapped to the screen. Of course. Now that she was actually looking, of course it was David. And she should have recognized Vines, he supposed, but he looked so much older than she remembered. Vines had been the chief engineer of the USS Ackerman and had been one of only three people to survive the disaster. He and Whale were the only two still among the living today. ::
Otumbé: You all right, Fiona? You look-
Intercom: Doctor Otumbé, please report to Central. Repeat, Doctor Otumbé to Central.
Otumbé: Damn it. :: beat :: Sorry, I’ll make this as quick as I can.
:: Shelley offered her friend a sympathetic smile -- she knew what hospital life was like, she understood -- but Otumbé wasn’t even fully out the door when Shelley returned her attention to the screen. Then she began looking around for the audio button. The mental health ward at SVH had always monitored the visiting rooms -- they had to in order to make sure nothing was said or done that would agitate the patients (or worse) -- so she knew there would be a way to listen in on- Ah. There it was. She hit the button. ::
Whale: ...inking about it a lot lately.
(( Visitation Room ))
Whale: I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
:: He sighed and looked across the table. Alton Vines -- formerly Lieutenant Commander Alton Vines, chief engineer of the USS Ackerman -- stared blankly at the shiny white tabletop, little comprehension or recognition in his eyes, his mouth slack, with a tiny little string of drool hanging from his lip. ::
Whale: Wondering what my life would have been like if it hadn’t happened. What it would be like if I could go back now.
:: If it was possible, Vines seemed to have gotten even worse than when Whale had last seen him three years ago. Though he would only have been in his mid-sixites, the man was haggard and pale, his hair -- which had been greying and receding even back on the Ackerman -- was now nothing more than a few pathetic white whisps. As he sat in his wheelchair, slumped forward, he looked positively ancient. ::
Whale: Frell it, I don’t know. :: pause :: I don’t even know if you can hear me or if I’m just talking to myself.
:: Sighing, he rubbed at his face with both hands. ::
Whale: We had some pretty good adventures, didn’t we? We had the best ship in the fleet -- hell with what Kirk said about his old bucket, the Ackerman was always the best of the Constitution Class. You made sure of that.
:: Maybe it was his imagination, but Whale thought he may have seen a slight twinge of recognition from Vines. Maybe the infamous pride of an engineer was still in there somewhere. But then again, maybe “the old days” wasn’t the best topic of conversation. Despite surviving the Ackerman Event, Vines had been horribly scarred, emotionally, and had almost entirely shut down from day one. While Whale had lost a great deal due to the tragedy, Vines had lost so much more. He’d lost his wife of thirty-five years. He’d lost his three grown children. He’d lost his four grandchildren. When he woke up in the 24th century and learned they were all gone, he’d had a breakdown from which he’d never recovered -- and from which he was never expected to recover. He was a permanent resident of the Starfleet Veterans Hospital and when he finally left, it would be in a box. ::
Whale: But the ship I’m on now is pretty good, too. USS Constitution. Galaxy Class. Big bugger -- three times the size of the Ackerman, easily. Engineering covers three decks. You’d love it.
:: No response ::
Whale: Sorry, I’d give you specifics, but you know how I could never remember anything engineering-related? Yeah. Well, I haven’t improved any in that area.
:: For a moment they just sat in silence, Whale watching Vines for any sign of comprehension and Vines staring blankly at nothing at all. ::
Whale: I really wish you could give me some kind of sign that you can even hear me. ::pause:: Life’s been very... complicated. Very complicated lately.
:: Sighing, Whale leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. ::
Whale: I just feel like I can’t even catch my breath anymore. I almost get killed every time I take a frelling step. I’m so... I don’t know. So out of it. So disconnected. All these people I’m working with, they have all these shared experiences, they have fist-hand knowledge of planets and aliens that we hadn’t even made contact with yet in our day.
:: He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. ::
Whale: I feel like a gorram anachronism. I don’t belong here. Never will.
:: There was still no reaction from across the table, aside from a small twitch of the upper lip. ::
Whale: And I can’ go back -- I can’t go back in time and resume my old life. :: pause :: I can’t go back and I can’t move forward. So what hell am I supposed to do, Vines? What the hell am I supposed to do?
:: He looked to Vines, hoping for something -- for anything -- but the broken old man just continued to sit there, his breath rattling in his chest. ::
Whale: Niou-Se, I don’t even know what I’m doing here.
:: Another sigh; another long moment staring at the wall, his shoes, the table -- anything but the broken remnants of a man seated in front of him. Why Vines was essentially a vegetable while Whale himself was fine -- well, “fine” was a relative term, wasn’t it? -- was anyone’s guess. All kinds of counsellors had put forward all kinds of hypotheses -- some even got published for it, the self-aggrandizing turds -- but Whale found all of their reasons far too complicated. They were all engaging in intellectual masturbation. The real reason Whale came out of the Ackerman Event was the same reason it happened in the first place -- a cosmic toss of the frelling dice. It was luck. ::
:: Pushing his chair back, Whale stood. there was no point in continuing this. Whale was pretty much the only one in the room. ::
Whale: I’ll come by to see you again next time I’m in town.
:: Which would probably be in another two years. ::
:: Shaking his head slightly, Whale began to head out, but as he passed Vines, something brushed his hand. And then he felt a grip -- weak, frail, but a grip nonetheless -- on his left hand. Looking down, he saw the terribly thin, pale fingers of Alton Vines wrapped loosely around his own. ::
:: The voice could barely be considered a whisper. It was like the sound of sand flowing through the neck of an hourglass -- just a soft, rolling rasp. ::
:: Frowning, Whale knelt beside his former crew mate. ::
Whale: What? Don’t what?
Vines: ...feel guilty. :: pause :: ...for surviving.
Whale: Vines, I just feel-
:: The grip tightened momentarily. ::
Vines: ...shut up. Grown-ups are talking... :: pause :: You have a second chance, Whale. Make it count.
(( Observation Room ))
:: At some point during the exchange, Shelley had found herself fighting back tears. All the horrible things she’d thought about Whale over the past sixty days, all the nasty things she wanted to say to him... none of them seemed to really matter that much anymore. She’d been here at the SVH when the Ackerman survivors had been brought in, but she’d only really ever dealt with their physical injuries. Yes, she’d known there would be some psychological trauma, but the DEPTH of that trauma... she hadn’t even understood it in Whale, a man she considered such a close friend. ::
Otumbé: Okay, sorry about that. We can... Fiona? What’s the matter?
:: Quickly wiping away the tears, Shelley turned to her friend and smiled. ::
Shelley: Just remembering some things. I’m fine.
:: Otumbé nodded and glanced up at the monitor, where Whale was still kneeling beside Vines. ::
Otumbé: You know, I took a peek at his personnel file. He’s a Lieutenant Commander now, Whale is, and he’s survived quite a few crises. :: beat :: If I believed in god, I’d say he had an angel watching over him.
:: Shelley just forced a smile. ::
Otumbé: God or not, SOMEONE loves that guy.
:: She flicked another glance at the screen. ::
Shelley: Yes. Someone.