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My mind keeps my corporal-self subordinate

Posted on Sun Oct 31st, 2021 @ 12:03pm by Ships Doctor Hiram Maitland M.D. & Evahnae Kohl

Mission: Holoworld
Location: Holoworld
Timeline: MD3 1300
6288 words - 12.6 OF Standard Post Measure

The message chimed in on Eva's PADD at a little after lunch time, associated with Hiram Maitland, the ship's new medical department lead with whom she'd discovered a somewhat musical connection at the bar a couple of days ago with a curious entreaty: Good afternoon. Of course this guy texts with full punctuation. I've heard we're permitted to explore a little on Holoworld, care to join me? I've got a pretty good studio program we can check out. I'll be at the airlock in 36 minutes.

If her goal had been to avoid sleep for several days in favour of meeting every single member of the crew in various states of relaxation, panic or undress, then Eva was well on the way to becoming an overachiever. It was partially self-inflicted, since her newfound freedom had come with the caveat that she would accept as many opportunities to embrace the unexpected as her new home wanted to fling at her, but the morning's salvage had left her questioning the wisdom of succumbing to the crew's preoccupation with this holoship. Something wasn't right. In fact, several somethings were obviously very wrong.

She stared at the message, frowning.

What Maitland was proposing didn't sound immediately threatening, however. She'd already utilised her own programmed space without incident and, unless the physician had also conjured some sort of rowdy audience equipped with flamethrowers, there wasn't a lot that could go wrong with enjoying some musical creativity with a fellow artist. She craved the release, the distraction, not to mention a resolution to her curiosity about the doctor's own talents. There was something reassuring about him too; he didn't seem like the type to see shadows out the corner of his eyes and hear footsteps that seemed to be coming from inside the walls. Perhaps he was the perfect solution to the slow descent into paranoia that was already starting to annoy her greatly.

Staring at herself in the mirror, having retreated to her quarters rather than bother trying to open a bar that nobody cared about right now, Eva drew in a deep breath, set her shoulders square and grabbed her guitar case.

One would never associate the word harried to Dr. Maitland, a man who appeared to be as on-time-every-time as they came, but a sudden influx of Bolian karovirus having broken out amongst some of the lower decks crew resulted in some surprise inoculations that took him to just-this side of temporally concerned. Meaning: he didn't quite have time for his own typical routine, and was ergo just, like, doing it in the middle of the hallway. This dude seriously cared about punctuality.

As he rounded the corner toward the airlock and came into Eva's view, he was in the middle of loading and prepping a hypospray and he jammed it into the crook of his elbow over his clothing before returning it to the med-pack slung over his shoulder, criss-crossed with the bag that he'd elected to take with him housing a deceptively large drum-kit inside. Compartmentalized by a miniature transporter buffer, a gift from the ambassador of Betazed before his departure from Earth that allowed him to lug quite a bit of cumbersome equipment around.

His eyes brightened when they landed on Eva and he offered a wave, eating up the distance between them quickly with long-legged strides. Much like their first meeting, he appeared today in no less than starch-ironed slacks and a dark, sleek sweater, continuing the theme of long-sleeves despite the adequate ambient temperature on board. A fashionable scarf was tied around his neck, the only hint that Hiram was a sentient being and not a literal robot, it was patterned with festive smiling popsicles and watermelons with sunglasses.

"Tell me I am not the only one that finds this whole thing a little odd?" he lifted his chin to the airlock as its' gear-like doors rolled into place and hissed, venting the pressure before opening to allow them entry through the gangway. "I can't help but feel like this is a deceptively convenient vacation."

If asked to make any sort of prediction, Eva would have bet actual latinum that she'd arrive last, if not late. She'd been so certain of her place in that particular equation that she'd actually referred to the message again several times to convince herself she hadn't got the timing wrong. Watching him appear, not exactly frazzled but certainly a degree more animated than what she'd come to expect, was either a rare treat or just another discrepancy in a week full of things that refused to make sense. It was hard to tell.

She stared at him.

"Thank you!" Her exclamation loud enough to avoid discretion, Eva reached towards him with both hands, an entreaty to continue his suspicious analysis. "I have been over there several times now and I still cannot fathom how this crew keeps skipping through airlock like they're on the way to..." She floundered, at a loss to recall even a single fantasy world from the stories of her childhood. Eva lowered her hands and, relieved to finally have an ally that might not actually accuse her of overreacting, the agitated bartender rubbed at her thigh, no longer concerned with masking her own sense of trepidation. "I'm all for opportunistic salvage but I've worked on cruisers before with not even anything remotely as advanced as this holo-array. If nothing else, we should be swarming with competition by now."

"I presume it's a facility with danger that keeps people from asking too many questions, but-" Hiram gave a very slight shrug of his right shoulder, eyebrows raised pointedly. But it was his role to ask the questions, to assess the danger, and make the appropriate preparations. "All the same, life is important. I'm pleased you're approaching this with a measure of caution. Truth be told, I've been more interested in getting a look at this place than availing myself of its amenities. Although, I am happy to multitask." He tapped the strap over his shoulder with his index finger. "Shall we?"

Every time she did this, Eva was left feeling like she was about to make a series of choices she would come to regret. The fact that none of that had eventuated yet did very little to alleviate her concern. Despite the smattering of reluctance in the swoop of her head, a bob of agreement that didn't seem to trust its own wisdom, there was determination to the set of her brow as the airlock opened and the accompanying woosh very quickly gave way to the monotonous thrum she'd come to associate with their current vacation spot.

Regardless of her opinions, Eva stepped through first, a stubborn refusal to be thwarted by her own commonsense. It took only several steps into the pristine corridor for a familiar prickle to settle at the base of her neck. Tiny vibrations, almost imperceptible to the moderately sensitive, were a testament to the deceptive infrastructure of the Holoworld, a ship so infatuated with its own holo-technology that it longed to disguise even the most mundane of its locations. Whereas most ships contained the recreational use of holograms to facilities specifically designed to make the best use of them, this monolith seemed to take great delight in being able to change its fa├žade at whim. The corridor seemed familiar enough but Eva lead the way like a hunter who expected to flush its prey at any moment.

"The first set of turbolifts will take us up to the closest holosuites. Unless you want to take the scenic route that involves vast communal spaces without a single sign of residency."

"Charming," Hiram murmured, and this time that powerful, eerie gaze was focused outward like a laser. Categorizing and cataloguing anything and everything that breathed and twitched whether artificial or alive, his mind at-first hesitant to roar to life, now alive in a synchronous, quieted hum of organic engineering. He printed flash-bulb photographs of the ship's interior to memory as they walked, his own posture-peculiar. At ease, straight and narrow without being tense, one hand clasped over the strap of his bag while the other swung idly by his side. And yet, every step he took-purposeful. Direct, unsparing. They rounded the lifts and he gestured to them in answer. "I'll get a look at the residences another time," he decided without explaining further.

Inside the turbolift, her guitar case swung from her shoulder to rest on the floor, Eva leaned back against the far wall. She watched the doors close, tried to derive some comfort from the innocuous cocoon the enclosed space created, and allowed her head to thunk back against the smooth plating in partial relief. "Your message mentioned studio space. Did you actually manage to strap your entire drum kit on your back?"

"I did," Hiram stepped inside and raised his hand to the door so that it wouldn't close over Eva's foot, or something even more morbid. "My parents gave me this before I left Earth, figured it would get some good use." He motioned to the bag over his shoulder. "It compresses its contents using a transporter-bounded wave function."

"Huh." Visions of struggling to juggle an assortment of instruments whilst getting her horns stuck in low-lying branches reminded Eva that there was a time and place for actually planning things out. She filed the idea away for future adventures and let her gaze settle instead on his. For a moment, she simply watched him, her head bobbing gently to the side as if following along with an indistinct rhythm. When her features finally softened, it was to permit the faintest of sly grins to curve her lips to one side.

"So what's our song selection?"

It was always a dance of trepidation when two musical minds met, especially given Hiram's proclivity for the fast and loud, but he had enough training to hit melodic. "I'll follow your lead," he assured, since she was the one with the guitar. He gave off the impression of someone who was quite content to go along to get along, and this was no exception, even as his eyes once more met hers, allowing the scrutiny with little concern, just as before. The turbolift doors hissed open and he raised his arm politely. "After you."

By this point, there was one holosuite that had become Eva's 'favourite', if she could be accused of having one at all, purely because of its proximity to the turbolift. Had anyone else the same kind of sense of self-preservation, there might have been some competition for the convenience but it was one of the smaller rooms and, as such, didn't really cater for the lavish plans of Rosie's enthusiastic crew. Hugging her guitar to her chest, both to keep it from banging against the wall and to ensure it was within swinging range if anything jumped out from the ether at her, the petite musician retraced earlier steps and presented the suite's unimpressive doorway with a flourish of her hand.

"May I present the quadrant's finest alternative to actual existence."

"Quaint," Hiram responded with an amused huff, but it wasn't mocking. As someone who could exist in just about any set of conditions, this was so far from the extreme environments he was accustomed to that it didn't even register as something others might view as rustic or even lacking. He shucked off his bag and opened it carefully, slowly withdrawing pieces of his drumset until they snapped together and formed a full-sized rig. The large bass drum bore a logo featuring the word CENTRALIA in ghoulish script and brick-wall negatives, spray-painted stencils and elaborate designs. "Ta-da," he finally withdrew two sleek black drumsticks and tossed one in the air, catching it easily.

Though her first instinct upon entering was to scrutinise his choice of 'pretty good studio', it didn't take long for the main attraction to become the doctor's trans-dimensional storage system. A perplexed frown started Eva's evaluation but by the time the kit was fully operational, the brunette was caught between admiration for the instrument itself and outright covetous envy for the contraption that it had been transported in. "Okay, I need to get me one of those." The potential for application was vast, but her immediate desire aligned directly with not having to avoid a dulcimer to the face next time she donned her tiefling horns.

Her guitar, an acoustic hybrid with electric functionality, was far less ostentatious than his rig. The design was sleek, and despite constant use, it was obviously well-maintained, but it wore its glory tucked beneath its frets. As a colour, its timber finish strayed towards hints of mahogany but it bore no decoration, no embellishments. It was also, as an experimental strum proved instantly, somewhat out of tune. Backing up to a stool, Eva bent over to rectify it, using nothing but her own internal pitch correction.

"So, Carava'ani's 4th Overture?"

She grinned, plucking relentless at a string.

"Or were you hoping for something a little more lively than Betazoid chamber music?"

The program itself was sparse, with only accoutrements available to house a number of instruments depending on what was brought in. The floors were wooden, the walls paneled, a mirror tucked out of the way for an unknown application as well as some seating arrangements. Its real quality came from the painstaking audio engineering that went into it, which became immediately obvious when Eva strummed a chord, echoing nicely through the room at a clear, consistent volume.

"You can adjust the sound to your liking, these are just the default settings. The equalizer's on the wall over there," Hiram jerked a thumb as he plopped down into the leather-coated stool in front of his set. When she suggested chamber music he snorted, shaking his head. "I can't say I'm familiar. We mostly did punk shows, a little screamo here and there. Couple of M.I.A covers."

He played a light ba-dum-tiss to accentuate his point, demonstrating a tightness in control that came from consistent, constant practice-and perhaps, too, something about putting those odd, rhythmic pulses behind his eyes to work in the physical moment. "But I'm happy to give it my best shot." Ever the people-pleaser, or so it seemed.

"Alas, no part for drums or guitar, she was purely a woodwind aficionado. Maybe we can get you a bassoon."

A glance towards the equalizer acknowledged his offer but Eva didn't move, fixated for the moment on the minute discrepancies between the G note in her head at the one her guitar was trying to convince her was accurate. It was for the best, and she might even have admitted it out loud, that she didn't stray down the route of messing with the sound settings. They'd never get anything done.

Slowly, as an evolution of her relenting to the imperfection of old strings she just hadn't had time to change out yet, an improvised series of notes became a floating melody that mimicked, without Eva really noticing, the spellcasting riffs she'd learned for her bard interpretation. A final strum signaled her satisfaction, or at least her gracious defeat, and she allowed the guitar to settle in her lap as she swiveled in her stool to face him.

"Give me a half-beat?"

Being right-handed, Hiram's sticks crossed as he settled into an easy half-time beat, adding just a small amount of flair but nothing intrusive that would detract from what Eva was playing, allowing her to settle into it and letting his mind wander. Each hit was precise and orderly, fully aware of its role as a supplementary for another person-a duet in harmony, not in isolation. Which was one of the many things that drew Hiram to drumming in the first place. As she adjusted tempo he followed suit, providing a few openings for her to play harder or softer if she wanted. "All right?" he called, meeting her eyes from his spot across from her.

A faint nod was meant as reassurance, though there was no mistaking the distraction in Eva's expression. When she'd first been approached to join the crew's holo-adventure, it had sounded like a whimsical frivolity, some light-hearted entertainment with just enough creative liberty to masquerade as performance art. She hadn't expected the intricacies of the lore, or the compulsion to take the melodies attributed to her character's profession and actually expand them into something more than a cursory attempt to replicate a bard's actual skill. They were riffs, short phrases, and so she was left to pick out improvisational extensions but that was part of the appeal. The supportive rhythm kept her grounded, a heartbeat that took control from her mind's internal metronome and allowed her to focus, instead, on melodic movement.

She hadn't blinked once.

Hiram noticed-managing to divide his attention easily between what his feet and hands were doing as he brought in more footwork on the cylindrical kick down below, underscoring some of her more improvised, speedy bars with something that was fuller and more rounded out.

People on the whole fascinated him, and he was enjoying the opportunity to view Eva participating in one of her hobbies, something that she derived both enjoyment and learning from-and it helped that she was capable with her instrument, making it easier for Hiram to appreciate his role all the more. He branched out a tad, but nothing dramatic. Lending a burst of the individual here and there where it slotted itself in naturally.

He was content to follow Eva's focus, only shifting when she did, moving along to some other acoustic-experimental prose, which endured for some time before an oddity occurred in Hiram's playing. It was subtle and hardly worth stopping the session, but it may as well have been as overwhelming as if he'd slammed the stick down on the hi-hat without warning for how jarring it was compared to his previously demonstrated skill.

The slight twist of his lips showed that he was aware of it, but it was easily passed off as human error.

A younger Eva would have stopped, not necessarily intending to make a critical observation but out of sheer inability to process her own music in the midst of arrhythmia. Even now, her dependence on the predictability of the percussion grounding her melody was evident in the brief pause in strumming that sounded out of place amongst the flow of arpeggios. She smiled at her own blip, having matured enough as a performer over the years to simply play through imperfections with the assurance that most of the audience hadn't even noticed.

A pattern had almost established itself, however. As several bars solidified themselves into predictable phrases, the brunette hummed a counter melody as the arrangement emerged from the recesses of her mind to the experimental stage. With the expression came relief, a resolution to a specific tension that was never easy to explain and rarely the topic of any attempt to. An incomplete arrangement was like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing.

The basis of presumption that Hiram was a good drummer came from his proficiency in movement and consistency in tempo and pacing, the way he wielded the space around him and intuitively understood how to do what, when-and it didn't take a whole lot of observation to determine this.

But evidently, first appearances were deceiving.

While the rest of the bridge went smoothly, it happened again in short order, that clanging off-beat slip-up as prominent as a car crash in the middle of the studio. This time it was Hiram who stopped playing, raising a hand momentarily and straightening up, taking in a few deep breaths through his nose with his hand on his chest.

When he spoke, there was nothing in his expression nor his voice that betrayed any crack in his usual mild-mannered, stoic demeanor. "Ms. Eva, if I could trouble you to come here for a moment, please?" When her eyes finally landed on him, though, the sight that greeted her was alarming. In that it was highly unusual.

Hiram's cheeks were blanched of color, a sickly-blue, pupils wildly dilated. That vivid blue eclipsed entirely in void-black as he dragged his gaze up to meet hers. Each breath he took had a high-pitched wheeze at the end of it, although he clearly attempted to suppress this.

The cessation of sound was immediate. In astonished rigor mortis, Eva's vacant stare moved rapidly through the layers of preoccupation, yanking her viciously from the throes of transposition to fully-fledged awareness in a matter of seconds. As a deviation from process, it took her mind several heartbeats to understand the peril, to catalogue it and recognise the need for action, but once she understood that the violent change in his disposition was evidence of a very alarming deterioration in health, the musician flung off the guitar strap, placed the instrument on the ground rather than tarry with tucking it away in its case, and was by the doctor's side in the several strides that were her short leg's best effort at speed.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"It is going to be all right," Hiram assured her, labored though it was. "In my kit-" he waved to the corner where his small medical bag was resting. "I need you to retrieve the touchPADD from the primary compartment and switch it on. It should automatically pair with my implant. I have a Synapse-it regulates neural pulses from my brain stem through my phrenic nerve-" each word was punctuated by long, rattled breaths. "We'll have to run a diagnostic and attempt to repair it, and I cannot-" he swallowed roughly, straightened again, and continued. "I cannot do it on my own." And he didn't need to say that there wasn't going to be time to go back to the Rosie and find a real doctor. "I'll walk you through it, I promise." His eyes focused and unfocused, crossing a little before landing back on her once more.

In terms of sheer technical definition, none of what he said made any sense. Those were questions for another time, however, and Eva was left instead to rely on the years of first response training that had been mandatory with just about every position she'd ever undertaken. It had become so much second-nature to maintain her first aid competency that she'd kept it up once she was her own boss; a patron's capacity to split their head open or consume something that didn't agree with them didn't really care who was in charge, after all.

Swept up in the adrenaline of function over reaction, the brunette snatched up the bag and found, with relative ease, the touchPADD in question. It was almost impossible to miss, even a cursory glance at the bag's contents revealed the kind of methodical organisation one might expect from a kit that contained apparently live saving equipment. On her way back, she dragged over her stool and sat it close to his knee. Slipping onto it placed her close enough that the only way to accommodate all their legs was to slip his knee between hers, but that was the point of the proximity. It gave her scope to make sure he could see the PADD without having to modify his posture.

Dark eyes, having lost their vibrant green flecks, found his.

"Tell me what to do."

"Switch it on-all right, good," Hiram pawed at it and checked the output, his shoulders rising and falling with every heaved breath. Immediately as the device flared to life it became inundated with rows upon rows of debug code, and Hiram looked as though he were studying it but his thoughts weren't quite catching up to it. "I need you-to look through this and tell me where it shows in red. This tells the implant what to do, and it's not syncing correctly-there's a back-up, this must mean it's failed." Ordinarily Hiram wouldn't see fit to essentially ramble, but with the decreased oxygen, his cognitive abilities weren't necessarily at 100%. He squeezed her arm, an attempt to convey comfort. "Mark all the errors you see, and then we'll-" he sucked in another rattling wheeze. "-figure out the common denominator."

Had there been more time to balk at the prospect, Eva might have transferred her recent paranoia into immediate suspicion regarding the universe's determination to enforce her father's priorities. Without the barrage of adrenaline flooding her already-primed mind, there may have been more temptation to hesitate, to wrestle with familiar demons and waste valuable time on her own sense of reluctance and frustration. Were there time to refuse, to make excuses or to pass the gauntlet, she may have adroitly dodged the compulsion already threatening to consume her but his labored breaths, such an urgent and ragged rhythm, created a momentum that allowed for nothing more than unblinking, unwavering focus. The numbers on the screen sharpened, magnified, and then announced as a faint whisper their inherent melody.

They drew her in.

And, in an odd reversal of fortunes, he lost her for a moment. Not literally, of course, the warmth of her legs cradling his was entirely palpable and the steady rise and fall of her chest, so tranquil compared to his own imminent suffocation, was proof enough of enduring vitality, but her mind was elsewhere, transported through the rapid darting of her pupils to the privacy of her inner calculations. Unlike the flutter that his own eyes were prone to, these movements were geometric in nature, tiny little triangles that spun in jagged rotation as the lines of red code scrolled down the screen. An initial scrutiny took less than twenty seconds, followed immediately by a finger swipe to the very first line in the sequence and, from there, the periodic tap of a finger pad to mark and isolate identified discrepancies.

"You're doing great," Hiram did his best to bolster her, that rhythmic nystagmus typical of him-one that was oft distracting and peculiar now in full and borderline erratic effect. He wasn't lying, either, because she was efficient-a positive he hadn't quite expected but one he was grateful for. When she presented her initial assessment he dragged his finger down the PADD in an attempt to reconcile the information in front of them.

"OK," his chest heaved shallowly, and he pitched forward, clattering the PADD to the floor in the abrupt movement. It bounced harmlessly. When the PADD reappeared in his hand again, thanks to his assistant, he tried the maneuver once more with success. "Here-here," he tapped a cluster of errors that she'd found, where the random blips had converged to a repetitive pattern of red.

As Eva perused the information, it all-at-once narrowed down on some of the values that were wildly exaggerated but if one had changed the binary on the backend to a 0 or a 1, the numeric would have otherwise been correct. It led to only one conclusion: one of the bits inside the internal computer chip had been flipped, and it set a cascade reaction throughout the entire system. It was likely the result of a gamma radiation burst from far off, sending errant bursts of electrons and neutrinos floating harmlessly through the galaxy until they interfered with the device.

A fluke. An utter fluke.

"How do we recalibrate it?"

It took visible effort to centre her gaze, as if by some cosmic design the magnetism drawing her towards the revolving sequences required considerable exertion to escape. Eva's expression betrayed disorientation, a series of fluttering blinks as she scrabbled for purchase on the mundane function of normal conversation, but the pucker of her brow expressed a consternation beyond the cacophony of her own thoughts. She forced her eyes to focus on his.

"Without causing you further harm."

"In my kit-" Hiram was taking longer to respond-and the fact that ataxic respiration often rapidly plummeted into full blown agonal breathing was not lost on him. His mind swam with visions of shrieking hospital monitors, his back to the hot dust of Meile's unforgiving desert as he clanged around inside of his bodily prison. Desperately clawing. "In my kit," he tried again, offering her a smile, terribly insincere and out of place. "There's a small black pouch. It has the tools necessary to take apart the touchPADD. Mini-spanner," he swayed dangerously, close to passing out.

A small hand curled around his bicep, an attempt at stabilisation even though it was clear that Eva's capacity to catch him as dead-weight was going to be severely limited by the fact she only reached his shoulder. It crossed her mind that it may have been safer to secure him lower to the ground but the time for that had passed and she couldn't tell if a change in position would further restrict his airflow. She hesitated, concerned that if she left him he'd hit the floor before she had a chance to return but there was no alternative and nobody else to play fetch. This time, as she left her stool to grab the bag, she brought it with her, creating minor chaos in the meticulous layout of the contents by frantically dumping everything out on the floor until she found the mini-spanner.

She knelt beside him, eyes trained on his vacant expression, and gently pried the PADD from his shaking hand.

The allure of panic made its best attempt to unsteady her grip, overridden almost immediately by a stubborn experience with the jitters that had developed into a tendency to flood her mind with irritation and leave no room for anything other than outrage at her own weakness. Eva refused to think about what would happen if she failed, if, when she finally pried open the PADD, there was nothing staring back at her that screamed displacement. Using his knee as a workbench, she set aside the backing and flipped the device, studying the inner-intricacies with mounting dread. She wasn't an engineer. She'd battled all her life to avoid becoming an engineer. Snatching it up, she twisted it upwards and held it within his view, using the end of the spanner to indicate her best hunch.

"This. This doesn't look right. It's flipped. Is it meant to be flipped?" Her tone was taut, thin.

His eyes took a long moment to snap into focus, sweat sprouting from his temples rolled down his forehead but he didn't make a move to wipe it off, purely devoted to putting one proverbial foot in front of the other of his mind so that he could address the exposed components in front of him. His mind wasn't well enough to perform the calculations necessary to confirm it or not, but he gave a resolute jerk of his head. "Flip it back," he said decisively. For only a brief moment in time, he glanced heavenward, swallowing with the weight of his choice.

"I swear to the Six Divines and Eleven Minor Deities," she cursed, referencing one of her father's more-obscure historical references, "if this doesn't work and you die on me, I'll..."

The threat evaporated, disappearing into the ether where it made about as much impact as a metaphorical bug on the cosmic windscreen. Her shallow breathing hitched once until Eva forced an enviable lungful to inflate her diaphragm and then she held it, directing all attention to the fingertips gently coaxing loose the offending chip and meticulously realigning it. She winced at the slight resistance of the casing, terrified that too much force would cause irreversible damage, and then squeezed her eyes shut as the components relinquished their struggle and the chip slide smoothly into place as if, against all hope, it had been designed for the very purpose.

Almost instantly the PADD flared to life, glowing a brilliant blue in her hand, and Hiram sagged in the stool, electric eyes disappearing beneath fluttering lids as they closed in relief-just for a moment, as he marshaled himself and regained his sense of composure. His breathing at once evened out-still raspy, and he'd need to take a closer look when he got back to the Rosie, but for now-he looked up, resting his hand on her knee and giving it a squeeze. "That must have been very difficult for you," he said, a little hoarse, but already the color was returning to his cheeks. "Thank you, Eva." He forwent the usual honorific, simply addressing her as she was-whole and individual.

"Difficult? Difficult?"

Relief was an odd beast. When it came at the expense of several personal sacrifices that would take their own toll in one way or another, it didn't take much to morph into comorbid frustration, or indignation, which was one short step away from pure outrage. For a brief moment, having convinced herself that catastrophe hadn't accepted her invitation to intervene, Eva looked like she might actually punch her patient.

She stood, clambering to her feet in an effort to take the several steps necessary to retreat from impulsive temptation. With her back to him, fists clenched out in front, Eva forced herself to exhale, the inhale, then deflate. As she spun on her heel to face him, the lingering heat of retribution burnt as green fire in her eyes but she kept her words careful.

"Are you all right?"

Hiram didn't appear to take it personally, his hand still splayed over his own chest as he tracked his breathing with more of his faculties in check. "I believe so," he replied in the affirmative, having retrieve a detachable tricorder scanner from the contents of his now-upturned kit on the floor. It pulsed and beeped as he waved it over himself. "I am all right," he assured after studying the outputs. "I am uncertain what caused this to occur, but I regret that it impacted you."

It was too easy to get angry. She wanted to, every part of her screamed for the release, the distraction. Experience had taught her something, though, and maturity was giving her some capabilities at actually taking heed of the lessons. Besides, if this was his reaction to near-death, Eva got the feeling that yelling at him wouldn't even ruffle his shirt collar.

Closing her eyes to battle her demons alone, the brunette turned her back on him and bent to pick up her guitar. He wasn't asking questions, and that expression she'd come to expect, the wary disbelief, didn't seem likely from a face that didn't even process terror several heartbeats from death. She was grateful for that, at least.

"We should get you back," she said, settling on quiet fatigue. She clipped the instrument back inside its case.

He slowly animated to rise from his stool and knelt beside her to where the contents of his kit were strewn about the floor, picking them up and placing them somewhat haphazardly back inside with the plan to fully reorganize it all once he returned to the sickbay. She was right-he didn't seem to harbor any disbelief or wariness, nor any distinction of his demeanor toward her at all in any capacity-but he did comment, born of concern and not the demand of interrogative questions. "I am sorry," he looked over to her, attempting to catch her eyes. "If there is anything I can do to help, I will."

Exhaustion won; it always did. Exhaustion and just a smidge of her own disbelief, which was the most prominent expression when she conceded to his attempt to get her to look at him. Amusement softened it, as well as providing its own source of resolution. Whatever price there was to pay in the coming hours, he wasn't dead and he still had the capacity to create humour where Eva was reasonably certain he had no intention of being responsible for its existence.

"I don't think you need to apologise for needing help." A hint of her typical wryness was evident in her tone, though the smile that accompanied her reassurance lacked the weight of accompanying tease.

"I don't suppose this one's going on the studio recording, huh?" he murmured back, the joke mild and testing but nonetheless warm. His eyes wrinkled at the corners which indicated what passed for genuineness in Hiram, and what those very observant could use to tell the difference. He checked and double checked the paired touchPADD before replacing it in its compartment in his kit, giving it a lingering look before zipping it up and moving on to dissemble the drumset.

She didn't answer him. Instead, the neck-end of a guitar case caught him gently in the back of the knee; just a nudge, a playful overture that might very well have presented as a better olive branch than any spoken consolation. Eva moved towards the door, used her elbow to activate its release, and then turned to face him, framed in the doorway.

"You owe me dinner."

He turned to face her, his back having been to her when he felt the light brush from the guitar case, and smiled, nodding solemnly in accompaniment. "I shall be certain to deliver on the obligation," he promised, nose wrinkling up as he watched her disappear from the door's threshold and listened to her receding footsteps.

 

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