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They stretched us out until we split

Posted on Sat Oct 30th, 2021 @ 4:30am by Evahnae Kohl & Ships Doctor Hiram Maitland M.D.

Mission: Holoworld
Location: The bar
Timeline: MD - 7, 2100 hours
3091 words - 6.2 OF Standard Post Measure

All the hum of ship's activity had drawled a slow crawl under the covers, as the fluorescent lighting in the hallways dimmed and the night shift skeleton crew began their tired shifts. Impervious to the din and drudgery of night, the ship's bar-overwhelmingly considered a work-in-progress by Rosie's inhabitants-was as fitting a place as any for Hiram to find himself.

The door servos hissed a welcoming tune as the tall and lanky ship's doctor stepped inside its relatively empty quarter, looking immediately out of place as a member of this crew let alone someone who would ever deign to visit a bar in the first place. His dress slacks (rolled up at the hem to reveal a polished shoe) and button-down shirt were pressed and ironed, not a hair out of place on his head.

Hiram offered a spare wave as he approached Eva's counter, eyebrows bouncing playfully. "Good evening," he murmured, a voice ordinary. "Trouble you for some ice water?" His eyes crinkled up at the corners, a reflexive smile settling on his features easily.

"Trouble? No. Slight disappointment? Eeehhh."

The wibble-wobble of the bartender's hand, a teeter-totter of playful judgement, offered jest where the slightly docile slackness of her features perhaps struggled to convey anything other than weariness. There was contentment embedded in her fatigue, however, enough to suggest that Eva was embracing the end of a mostly-successful day rather than lamenting the hardships of dissatisfaction. Her smile and its accompanying huff of amusement showed promise of a good mood, at least, possibly enough that there was no real offense taken to someone ordering water after she'd just spent the last two hours uploading her entire menu of cocktails to the database.

A bottle pulled from just inside the refrigeration unit was one of plenty, though that wasn't an immediately obvious fact from a distance. Chilled water was not only her own particular preference in between pots of void-black coffee but it made for impressive arsenal when trying to impart wisdom on the already-intoxicated. Nothing awoke the senses like a frigid cold dose of damp reality. Eva poured two glasses, added several more ice cubes than was strictly sensible, and settled one in front of the newcomer. Another unfamiliar face, though no less intriguing than the mottled assortment she'd already encountered. Her eyes, having erred towards their greener preference for the day, studied his face a moment before her earlier smiled solidified into a trademark half-grin.

"Let me know if it's strong enough."

The man's nose wrinkled up congenially, accepting the joke with a mild amusement. His thoughts, unlike those of his human compatriots, were a static-hum beneath circuit-board flares, the placidity of a lake under a blue sky, a mountain-range emblazoned on a post-card one might find in a hotel lobby. Stock photographs inside their frames.

His shoulders set straight, posture perfect, he picked up the glass and gave her a wry salute. "My apologies for the disappointment," he said, his own shockingly electric eyes glowing under the dim lighting overhead as he raised the tumbler to his lips. "Anything stronger and you'd be carting me off to sickbay, I'm afraid."

"Or at least, you'd hope so."

The ridiculous waggle of her eyebrows left no room for anything other than playful devilment in Eva's response. She often played the villain in her own jokes, not uncommon for a profession where self-depreciation played a crucial part in helping others relax. A sly, contemplative tweak to an already-upswept eyebrow left her considering, in ample mockery, all the other options available to a bartender whose wares had inadvertently rendered a patron indisposed and in need of medical intervention.

She took a virtuous sip of her own glass.

"I could always put you on a stake in the corner to serve as a warning to others."

Her eyes toyed for him a moment until the sliver of ice between her teeth shattered to a single bite, and then the brunette laughed, a lack of commitment to the charade in favour of something a little more convivial.

"Though that sounds messy and probably impolite." Setting her glass down again, Eva continued, "So, welcome to..." Her eyes took a wander briefly to the side and then to the tables beyond. "Honestly, the name is a work-in-progress, if you consider having no inspiration any progress at all."

Hiram's head tilted, but he didn't move even an iota from his formal bearing, not a muscle twitched out of place at her statements-whether he was unaffected or merely considering wasn't apparent, not even to a telepath's senses, either a stunning lack of self-awareness or an endless well of patient discipline couldn't be quite discerned. "You could always call it The Inspiration. Keep things ironic."

The subtle bags underneath the barkeep's eyes hinted at another reason for Eva's unimpressive perception, already lacking in the predictable telepathic prowess that would have allowed her a clearer understanding of her latest patron's unique mind. A rather determined refusal to capitalise on hereditary gifts left her ill-placed to appreciate the tranquility on any conscious level anyway but, despite her lack of intent, the tension across her shoulders had eased. Intuition, rather than overt empathy, cast Eva's features in a softer light. She offered an amused huff at his suggestion.

"If she finds any more ways to throw a tantrum, I might end up with a far less polite name than that. I've been here less than a week and I'm already on first-name basis with half of the maintenance crew. Speaking of which..." Having leaned back against the bench that ran along the back of the bar, the brunette settled for lifting a hand in greeting, a tired wave. "Eva."

He was studying her, that much clear, his eyes following a curious nystagmus with every animation she made, though the rest of his body remained motionless-save for the idling of his fingers over the condensation lining the rim of his glass. "I'm Hiram," he introduced himself mildly at the prompt, lips pursing. "Boarded at Freecloud. I'll be taking over as the ship's physician in light of Dr. Nicoli's departure." He paused to take a sip before continuing, this time with a barrage of colorful ideas. "The World's Worst. Stupid Fucking Inspiration. Cheers In Space. I've got an endless supply of these."

"Sounds like we arrived at about the same time."

It wasn't a profound observation but it gave Eva time to consider whether she even knew who Dr. Nicoli was. She hadn't been lost for company since arriving but introductions were sporadic and mostly dependent on whether the crew member in question really cared who was pouring the drinks. Though atypical of her normally-astute uptake, the bartender had yet to notice the peculiarities of his eyes, or indeed pay any heed to his scrutiny. The faint crease of her forehead hinted at a preoccupation with faint discomfort that acted, for now, as an excuse. The frown lingered a moment longer than was easily deniable before dissipating into a more typical smirk.

"Your naming policies are practical, I'll give you that much. They don't exactly roll off the tongue though."

And then she looked at him, nursing her glass of water with her head resting loosely to one side. Like a microscope moving into focus, her attention finally centered on the source of vague irritation forming as tension behind her eyes and in that moment of pinpoint precision, she fixated, an unflinching eye contact drawn to the metronome of his flickering gaze.

1, 2-and, 1, 2-and...

"Alas, marketing never did call my name," Hiram let out a low huff of laughter, a mostly-silent exhale through his nostrils. His gaze completely snapped to hers as she caught his eyes, pupils flaring momentarily as he locked onto her. There's no sense of danger, there-no predatory posturing. Just awareness-a man who plainly knows he's being observed. "I don't suppose you can expect great things from the guy who's idea of a stiff drink is ice water, huh?" his brows bounce, light-hearted. "Did anything in particular bring you to the Mary Rose?"

"Entrepreneurial fatigue and an extreme case of stagnation avoidance."

It took effort not to stare, which was likely why Eva completely failed at first. The syncopation of that twitch, the absolute precision of its time signature, was the closest thing to mesmerising the partial-telepath had witnessed in a long time, which was likely going to be a very difficult thing to explain should the conversation eventually loop around to why she couldn't take her eyes off his. There were clichés about that, after all, but a swelling of violins moving towards a crescendo would have ruined his internal percussion entirely.

She settled for hunching her shoulders, as if movement from the rest of her body could detract from the insistence of her gaze.

"In a reversal of what most might consider normal, I got tired of being my own boss. There's something to be said for never being quite sure what direction you're headed." Her lips twitched. "What about you?"

Frankly, and perhaps somewhat more peculiarly than the staring itself, was Hiram's total lack of concern over it. He merely held her gaze, blinking in nearly scheduled intervals. "You owned your own place, then," he surmised succinctly, giving a nod and pressing his lips together, the whole expression oddly exaggerated as though for Eva's benefit. "I can see where that'd get overwhelming pretty fast. Were you in space then, too?"

"Oh, I still own it. I just left it in the hands of a slight buffoon, so we'll see how long it lasts."

Recollections of home, and the obligations that were bound to follow her no matter how far she tried to run, were enough to finally coax Eva's eyes to blink, where they remained closed for just long enough to betray her distraction. "I've worked 'in space' before, though the ships were a little bigger than this one. And," she added, grinning suddenly, her expression flooded with sudden warmth, "You avoided the question. What's your grand plan, your heart's desire, your great calling that has dragged you kicking and screaming to this venerable relic?"

Something gave way at the creases and lines in Hiram's face, lending more warmth to how his lips hooked to the right this time, his nose wrinkling up in turn. "I just want to do good work. One patient at a time." He raised his hand and sliced it flat through the air, palm-up, an attempt to convey the seriousness of his answer despite its banality. "Being out here seemed..." he let the word hang while he searched for its proper counterpart. "Familiar."

"You know, I feel that."

It was almost as if the sincerity of her agreement had taken even Eva by surprise; a minor epiphany that masqueraded, at least for now, as a suitable explanation for the odd sense of déjà vu she was currently experiencing. Familiar was a good word for it, even if it felt like it applied more to their interaction than their mutual decision to follow a motley crew into the buttcrack of space.

"There's an uncertainty to space travel you just can't replicate with both feet stuck to the ground. I even missed being crammed into spaces that barely have enough room to swing a guitar case."

Hiram's eyes unfocused a little, a whirr of thought kicked up like dust unsettled in the back of his mind before coating the underside of his brain in a fine film: status-quo. "I've spent most of my life with two feet on the ground. Not all of it," he acquiesced easily, "but most. Figured a little time with my head in the stars couldn't hurt. Will it be loss?" he wondered after a moment, drawing a line back to her earlier statement. "If this buffoon really does botch it?"

A wry smirk, coupled by a slight rolling of her eyes, gave every impression that one might expect when passing judgement on someone who occupied the 'practically a sibling' role, especially when there was no actual relative to compete for the spot. "Anything's possible, but then there's no guarantee of continued success even if I'd stayed and then what?" Eva sipped at her water and, finally, her eyes cast downwards to observe the bar's sleek surface. "It'll be fine." It sounded very much like an affirmation that had been spoken in endless litany for quite a while.

"Your peace and prosperity are important," Hiram said, in a tone of voice that suggested he approved, although there was no necessity for it. Life was too short to waste it on the questions, and Hiram was well-accustomed to action over consequence. "But if I had the choice, I'd pick peace every time." He saluted his glass momentarily before taking another measured sip. "Well, as peaceful as you can get out here," he hedges dryly.

"Not a lot of fun in playing it safe," Eva agreed, and as her eyes lifted again to meet his, there was an effort, this time, to avoid the compulsion to track his twitches. Instead, she grinned and picked at a melting ice cube, capturing it between thumb and index finger to let it hover above her mouth as she added, "I promise I'll try not to overwork you though. No broken bones yet, right?" A bulging cheek added a degree of ridiculousness to her exaggerated playfulness, though it didn't last more than a few seconds before the discomfort of frozen teeth saw her wincing through the effort to crunch the ice to melting point.

"Broken bones, I can fix," Hiram replied with a low chuckle. "Give or take a couple. You know, snag the finger. Not your neck." He taps the side of his own pointedly. He mirrored her, dumping a few ice cubes into his mouth and crunching on them between closed lips, savoring the sensation. "You mentioned guitar, do you play?" his eyebrows curved upwards, curious.

A hum sufficed as confession initially, as Eva massaged some feeling back into her numb cheek with the pad of her middle finger. "Easiest to travel with," she eventually managed. "My piano wouldn't fit in my case." Nor did most of her recording equipment, or her assortment of percussion instruments that she mostly collected because she had an extreme appreciation for their varying tones.

Hiram nodded. "I feel you, I just barely managed to bring my kit aboard but it's nowhere near as satisfying as the real thing. I play drums. Farted around with a band once upon a time in med school," he revealed, far more open to discussing this subject and volunteer information than any other so far. "How many do you play?"

"Depends on the level of proficiency you'd accept." It wasn't humility or discomfort that resulted in Eva chuckling at her own expense, but a well-rounded self-awareness. She tried her hand at a lot of music; that didn't mean it always sounded any good. "I guess piano is the main one since I started in diapers. I picked up guitar on my own some time after I was toilet trained and there's some viola in there somewhere." It was never the easiest question to answer, since the musical grounding of her childhood was still hugely influential to her songwriting and performance but Eva could hardly claim to put the hours into mastery, especially when it came to strings, required to claim them as solid components of her repertoire. She shrugged. "If I can get a sound out of it, I'll play it. Percussion though..." the bartender added, directed a finger towards him, "I'm putting my order in now for a set or ten."

"I'd love to jam sometime," Hiram enthused warmly. "Talent means very little to me-it'd be hypocritical if it did, as I'm stunningly mediocre. I can play some guitar, but drums-" his smile was genuine for a second time, eyes flicking to a point over Eva's shoulder-a brief flare, momentary out of time as the static rose for a split second and then receded like a wave breaking over-shore. The tide goes in, the tide goes out. Such is the way. "Drums are special."

"Bass and percussion are elevators." He wasn't going to get any argument from her, even though she'd worked with plenty of arrangements that had neither. "And mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder. Musical proficiency comes with practise, which definitely means we're going to need to find a space." Peering around him towards the corner, Eva added, "I have hopes I can convert some space in here for a small stage but I don't think we'd fit a full rig up there."

"I'd be more than happy to help you set it up," he replied, straightening just a little in his chair. It was the only indication of veiled interest he gave, that minute shift-anyone who wasn't partially Betazoid or at the very least attuned would easily miss it. "I'm sure we'll find room for all the essentials. If not, we'll improvise." His eyes crinkled at the corners, reassuring.

A slow nod of her head showed similar optimism. "I've already beaten the sound system into submission, it's as good as it's likely to get. And I am very determined to introduce this crew to the concept of open mic session. Who knows, we may find a few hidden talents." The opportunity to perform and create had played a significant role in the brunette's decision to launch herself into space and far away from responsibility and obligation. Having already found a potential ally did very little to curb her impatience.

"Of that I have no doubt," Hiram agreed, draining the last bit of his water. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Eva. I'll be sure to stop by to see if you need an extra hand with things at a later time," he murmured, rising in a single fluid motion from his stool with leashed feline grace.

"Good to meet you, doc."

In no rush to move away from the bench currently propping her up, Eva extended a hand, fingers pointed upwards, in farewell and then watched him leave. Gazing at the closed door for several minutes after being left alone to her own devices, the bartender eventually smiled and pushed herself into the first throes of closing up for the night.

 

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