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'i am not a battlefield nurse. i've never saved a soldier and the war keeps getting worse. there is no kindness to be found here, these eyes are just a curse.'

Posted on Mon Nov 8th, 2021 @ 8:24am by Evahnae Kohl & Ships Doctor Hiram Maitland M.D.

Mission: Holoworld
Location: Crew's Bar
Timeline: MD3 2300
6896 words - 13.8 OF Standard Post Measure

Eva didn't catch tail nor hide of Hiram for the rest of the day, but just as she'd begun to pack up the bar from behind the counter for the day, a movement from outside the threshold of the door alerted her to someone sliding through just before the locks clicked shut.

The familiar towering demeanor of the ship's doctor cast a lengthy silhouette across the bar's counter and the man himself offered her a smile once she turned to face him. He held several containers in hand, each covered, filled with a veritable assortment of goods and desserts.

"Ms. Eva," he greeted warmly. "I was uncertain what constituted decent fare in your opinion, so I-" his lips danced in an odd little shrug. "Improvised." It did, at the very least, emanate a highly pleasant aroma-either Hiram had a solid replicator program or he was a half-decent cook.

What greeted him wasn't immediate appreciation, or gratitude, or even confusion. None were excluded from eventually putting in an appearance but the bartender's first reaction was a rather unfocused hesitancy that suggested she was taking a brief departure from outwardly expressing her emotions to idly contemplate the size of his nose. Or perhaps she was counting his eyelashes, or wondering why his head was so big, or just as likely, attempting to recall his name. In that initial instant, Eva didn't appear to be there and quite possibly had been somewhere else for a good while before this new arrival. Very few people were using the bar at the moment, when the holoship offered such impressive alternatives.

Glassy eyes blinked slowly, so much so that they forgot to open again at first. "Eva." Her already canorous voice had developed its fatigued husk since their last conversation. When the brunette opened her languid eyes again, they finally settled on his with quiet sincerity. "All things considered, I think you can drop the Ms." A wandering, unsteady gaze took in his fragrant chattel and her brow finally fluttered with the first hint of consternation. "What did you do?"

"Eva," he corrected himself softly, setting down the containers onto the counter. They were encased in a stasis field, preserving the meal aesthetically and not just lumping it together in a tupperware-he did put the effort in, even if his expression remained within its ordinary enigmatic stoicism. "I do believe I owe you dinner," he explained, wry and gentle. Eva had looked better, but there was no judgment in his eyes, and he didn't pry.

Sometimes, it took the unexpected to jumpstart a mind that was trying so valiantly to just shut down until it could find its way back to functionality. Not only did the proffered spread look nothing like what she'd actually expected, if she could have been accused of expecting anything to come from her earlier quip, the growing realisation that it must have taken considerable effort to supply left the partial-telepath slightly perplexed. Technically, the facilities over on the Holoworld had already provided the crew with fare well-beyond the usual possibilities and despite having no evidence that their current location was responsible for the feast, it at least provided an explanation until further updates clarified. What Eva couldn't fathom was that he'd gone to such extensive effort for her sake.

Darkened eyes wandered the variety of serving dishes, each one producing an extra notch to the crease of her brow until, having arrived at astonished incredulity, Eva finally lifted her gaze to meet Hiram's.

"You were allowed to recover first."

He unclasped the stasis box and began arranging each individual dish in a soothing array before her-some of it was Betazoid, some Earth-a deep-dish pizza with uttaberry drizzle inside the tomato sauce certainly blended the best of both worlds-and with a flourish he presented a small bowl of distinctly shimmering-as if painted with glitter-slices of warm, layered bread with a small bottle of oil at its side. "Perhaps so," he said. "But good food certainly stimulates healing, hm?" his eyes flicked back and forth as they were wont to do as he met her gaze, saccades and striations visible and metronomic.

It was enough to coax her to divert her eyes, for once swift to avoid the fascination with his percussive twitching. If there was one thing her brain did not require currently, it was an opportunity to render useless the contents of the abandoned hypospray on the back counter. Thankfully, the food was ample excuse to switch focus and though Eva's confusion showed no signs of abating quickly, it was slowly being joined by a faint glimmer of bewildered awe. "You made dinner." It was a statement, an affirmation of the undeniable, and a first step towards accepting the sharp turn her night had just taken. Eating at all had possibly not even been on the agenda.

It wasn't a common feat to throw the bartender so completely off-course that she floundered for suggestion. She had manners enough not to kick him out, though it frankly hadn't even occurred to her to do so, but self-preservation enough to wish to avoid further surprise. The bar had been empty for hours and would likely continue that way but, on the off-chance that fate had other ideas, Eva reached beneath the bar to activate the manual doorlock and then gathered what remained of her equilibrium to ask, "Do you want something more than water to go with it?"

"I did," Hiram hummed and sat down at the stool opposite her, his eyes flicking rhythmically to follow her momentum. "And ice water would be wonderful," he neatly sidestepped the question-but by now, it was perhaps apparent why he didn't drink alcohol. A central nervous system depressant was liable to turn their evening into an emergency bonus round. "How have you been doing?" he asked, head canting to the side inquisitively.

"I have tea and coffee. And I salvaged more than enough juice and mixers from the deathtrap next door to make virgin mocktails if you want something with actual flavour." Eva's tone, a little sharpened, carried with it a degree of resignation. Despite the offer, she was already part-way to the coolstore and dragged out two bottles of water, placing a clean glass atop each, before dispelling the myth about a bartender's lack of corporeality below the waist by actually stepping away from the bar to approach one of the small tables. It served a dual purpose; the circular surface would make better access of the food to share, and it simultaneously stretched the distance between them to a point where choosing not to answer him might almost have passed for accidental.

Whether or not Hiram noticed wasn't explicitly clear, and he didn't push it. "I'll take a decaf, if you have it," he acquiesced once she listed some of the other fare that could be prepared at the bar aside from alcohol, although his choice was as boring and predictable as one could expect. "I experimented a little with blending Hedayan," -this was an area on Betazed, oddly specific, but spoke to personal familiarity with someone from there- "and human cuisine," he admitted, his tone tinged with mild wryness. "Hopefully I didn't go too catastrophically astray."

"You say that like I'm fussy."

A glance shot at him on her way back towards the coffee pot was a little more indicative of Eva's normal spunk, a consent towards at least trying to carry on as normal that was as close to gratitude for his lack of prying as she'd make obvious. Switching out a half-filled pot of rich Arabica for a clean pot of decaf, Eva set the machine to brew and carried empty glass mugs over to the table.

"Or in any position to complain. Where did you get this stuff anyway?"

At that, Hiram's features relaxed into a smile, somewhat sheepish-it was a stilted expression, one clearly practiced, but nevertheless for her benefit, a product of years of studying nonverbal communication and an agile facility with conveying his intentions. "Well, I made it," he huffed-an expression of amusement that was more genuine. "Followed a few recipes, got some tips from an old cadre-mate. I had to replicate most of the ingredients, but-" he shrugged his right shoulder, a silent plea to the replicator-gods above that it approached a reasonable facsimile.

"You can cook?" With the option of envy or admiration, Eva chose the latter for the time being, having no headspace remaining for any more self-recrimination. It left her wishing she'd taken a closer look at the specifics responsible for the pleasant aroma slowly filling the cozy space but examination, and appreciation, would come soon enough. She gestured for him to bring the platters over, returning to retrieve both pots of coffee.

"It smells amazing," she admitted, easing into a chair to set the coffee down wherever space allowed. With a hesitancy that had yet to prove typical, Eva's eyes flitted up to briefly acknowledge her dinner partner, a furtive glance that didn't settle and instead skirted immediately to survey the spread as if forced by natural repulsion to relocate. "I don't think I've had authentic Hedayan food in over a year." The specification of his choices struck the brunette as unexpectedly intimate, an actual attempt to cook her dinner rather than just provide food as a perfunctory gesture of polite thanks. Trapped by an unexpected wave of vulnerability, she added quietly, "My father usually cooks it for his birthday."

"I'm pleased you think so," he answered-and it seemed to be the truth. Or at least relieved that she recognized it-as Betazed was not a monolith and was, like Earth, comprised of a multitude of cultural hubs and regional disparities, Hiram had followed his friend's instructions on the off hope that it would at the very least be more familiar than unfamiliar, not knowing much about Eva other than her heritage. Hiram picked up a slice of pizza and plated it for himself. "Is that where he's from?" Hiram asked, his eyes tracking back and forth as if reading invisible words in front of him that no one else could discern.

A sip of water interrupted Eva's response, enough that it was reduced to a non-committal hum rather than actual words at first. Finishing most of the glass and wincing at the frigid assault to her soft palate, the half-Betazoid studied the pizza before reaching out to select one of the smaller slices. "His family is a little more coastal." Hefting the slice, she took an experimental bite from its tip and savored her first impression before adding, glancing up to make nearly-successful eye contact, "Apparently he learned a few recipes to impress a guy and, when that didn't work, he took it as an indication that he needed more practise." As the family's peacemaker, Talon had an annoyingly optimistic outlook even in the face of defeat.

"It sounds like he did his best to look on the bright side," Hiram acknowledged, taking a bite from his own plate. Such a quality could be admirable, but Hiram expected it came with its own set of downfalls. "I usually make this when I'm homesick," he confided, gesturing to the pizza. "I varied the sauce a little this time, but it's mostly the same." It was a little bit sweeter than usual-tart, but not sickly, combined with basil, parsley and roasted tomatoes forming a thin barrier overtop and separated with heft due to the amount of cheese and thick crust that defined deep-dish pizza. It was a personal detail, although somewhat small, for Hiram it was a noticeable reciprocation, for what Eva was willing to share of her own family.

"With frustrating regularity," Eva agreed regarding her Betazoid father's personality quirks. Something about the simple act of eating, and perhaps hydrating, had eased some of the tension across her forehead and, likewise, had relaxed her posture to at least several degrees away from a fight or flight response. She ate in small, deliberate bites, eventually succumbing to the unforgivable sin of picking off pieces from the topping to enjoy individually. Destroying food by reducing it to its component pieces was a childhood habit she'd never tried to avoid. "It's good," she reassured him, looking up once more to flirt with the idea of actually engaging with his eyes. The attempt was superficial, though her smile was not. Pouring them both their respective coffee became an almost-immediate excuse to divert her attention and preserve the final moments of seclusion before the impact of the day's adventure inevitably played out as some sort of explanation. He was a doctor, Eva already knew how this conversation went. "Do you get home much?"

"You would like Gino's," Hiram answered as to her assessment of the food, using a fork and knife to cut off a bite of his own in disgustingly prim-and-proper fashion before raising the utensil to his lips. "Best pizza in the galaxy, hands down." He tapped his fingers lightly on the table for emphasis. Each time she tried to meet his eyes, she found him there, steady and unwavering as far as he could be, the way his eyes never seemed able to hold a fixed spot in space. But he didn't push, or pry. A doctor he was, but something about him remained-distinct. Unusual enough to be visible but not enough to name. "The last time was about... six years ago. Just before I got accepted to the Academy."

"No attempt to drop by for a visit before flinging yourself into this craziness?"

Eva sucked the grease from her fingers and set down the last third of her slice, pausing to take several slow gulps of black coffee before sitting back. A foot perched on the edge of her chair brought her knee upwards towards her chest and, resting against the edge of the table, created a place to balance the steaming mug. Having made the decision to stop eating, the brunette considered the air behind him in thoughtful silence for a moment, contemplation of the day's events rendering her decently empathetic to the unnerving prospect of hurling oneself into fickle uncertainty whilst estranged from everything arguably the most familiar. She didn't know what his family situation was or whether home was somewhere he enjoyed being, but he had mentioned homesickness.

Finally, she looked at him.

If anything, the expression that dominated Eva's gaze was closer to sadness than anything else. The combined efforts of alcohol and analgesic had dulled her natural vibrancy and rendered her pupils the closest shade of dark brown they managed given her Betazoid inheritance. Exhaustion, the aftermath of physical pain, stole strength from her smile but not sincerity. She didn't quite make the eye contact she had coveted earlier, forced herself not to notice the inherent flutter of his own eyes, but she gave him the benefit of her attention even though it took effort. All things considered, it seemed warranted.

For a split second, those rhythmic movements in his gaze paused, before starting up once more as he directed his vision back down to his food. "Oh, my family were quite busy at the time," Hiram laughed softly, but there was no hint of resentment or malice in it-nor sadness at all, a pure statement of fact. "My father's the ambassador to Betazed. By the time I left the Palais, they were halfway to Aven Station. And yourself? Where do you consider home?"

It seemed natural to wonder if his parents would have considered being busy adequate excuse not to make time for him had the day's events gone differently, but that required allowing her mind to wander down the dark path of alternate endings and Eva had wrestled with those demons enough for one day. Instead, she took the puzzle pieces he offered her and filed them away, adding to the odd assortment of information she already had. He was certainly...unique. That done, Eva considered his question and squinted one eye shut as she decided on the best response. "Oh, that's complicated one. Eh. Well, I was born in New Orleans and then opened a business there, I guess as far as home bases go, it's probably up there. Kristof was born in the Ukraine though and Talon's from Betazed, and I think we'd been to most of Europe by the time I was 10. We travelled," she summarised with a soft laugh. "And we did live on Betazed for a while." Her gaze dropped to watch the slow swirl of coffee through the glass. "I guess home has always just been wherever I am."

"Hopefully that extends to the Mary Rose," Hiram replied as a natural segue of her last statement. And while his was certainly bland, it came associated with the odd sensation that he was imprinting all of this to memory, his focus entirely transfixed on her. "But it sounds like things were quite eventful in your youth." He himself had never quite gotten around to traveling, other than the places he'd ended up via necessity of his professional voyage, but given where they were now, all of that was decidedly about to change. If there was one thing civilian vessels did a lot of, it was traveling.

The curl of her lip, favouring one side as was typical when she was tired, alighted a tiny hint of a familiar slyness to Eva's expression. "Oh, it was eventful enough." She didn't elaborate, possibly at a loss to know where to start when it came to regaling him with tales of her chaotic youth, but instead focused on his first statement. "And I guess Rosie hasn't disappointed yet, even if this current situation is starting to not feel like the vacation everyone thinks it is." She paused, contemplating the wisdom of pushing the conversation forward, and then succumbed to quiet curiosity. At some point, after all, they'd have to get around to the elephant in the room. "Is that why you're here then? To travel?"

"I suppose," he nodded. "In a manner of speaking." He really had meant what he'd said the first time she asked that question, although by now it was quite clear he was expertly able to evade more nuanced details. "I was in Starfleet," he revealed, simple. "But, I received a job offer from the Federation Council during my last year of residency. Being on the Navir was illuminating, but-" he shrugged, very slight. "It was regressive. For me. And to be frank, I was not all that interested in the mandates of exploration and discovery. I suspended my commission to work at the Palais, but when it came time to renew, I elected not to."

More details, more slivers that might one day resemble part of a mosaic that had actual identifiable shapes and images. For now, he had the enigma of a brand new acquaintance with just enough unfamiliarity to feel like an uncommon discovery. In her world, with her upbringing, the uncommon had value. Unique was something to revere.

As factual information, however, it wasn't really something Eva could relate to. Starfleet had been the further thing from her ideal occupation, mostly because it had been on the top of her father's, and had grown in her mind to encompass everything she really didn't want out of life. She entertained the idea that perhaps the oddness to him that she perceived stemmed from his previous career choice but Eva didn't think it was that. Her telepathic skills might have been scrambled and erratic but she didn't think even Starfleet training could gift you the kind of mind he seemed to have.

At least, she was pretty sure he had. Getting any kind of read on him was challenging.

"There are a lot of private enterprises out there crying out for good doctors. Is now a good time to tell you I could have hooked you up with a far cushier job treating holiday-makers and thrill-seekers?" The first hint of a grin tugged her mouth to one side. "I mean, you've seen how well pleasure cruises go."

It elicited a low rumble of laughter from him. "Holiday-makers and thrill-seekers aside-" The sudden promotion and the unique case of Ms. Livaam were already proving the Mary Rose as a formidable harbinger of excitement. The pace of conversation was slow and steady, meandering without necessarily requiring to arrive at a destination, despite all that had happened today and the eventfulness thereof, he wasn't incredibly invested in dragging it all out for examination-not especially as such a thing was evidently deleterious. "-I am grateful for the opportunity of my position here."

"We'll find a way to have fun."

That much was a personal goal, particularly in regard to the space she'd inherited and the role she'd been hired to fulfil. From the conversations she'd had so far, it seemed the crew was far too ready to settle for someone who could pour a decent drink and smile at all the right times and Eva couldn't begin to fathom just how dull that sounded. Life was too short to simply exist; you took what you had and you made something out of it. Her entire life had been the pursuit of that one basic realisation.

But, as much as there was no pressure from the other side of the table to deal with the day's events, even the contemplation of enjoyment brought with it a sober recollection that life often found ways to interfere. It seemed almost impossible to cast her mind back before the episode, before fate's near-lethal interlude, to appreciate the actual reason they'd gone to the ship in the first place, but Eva forced her memory back through the fog and, finishing her coffee, returned the glass to the table so she could rest her chin atop her knee.

"We just need to find a way to fit your drumset in here."

That made his chin jerk up slightly, the slightest jar of an otherwise intricately ticking watch. "With the two of us on the case I am certain we will succeed," he said, pausing to savor the last bite of his pizza slice before taking another. He ate methodically and mechanically, one bite after another until the food on his plate was reduced to a neat pile of crumbs. "We did have a good rapport going," he murmured at last, flicking his eyes to where he thought he might catch hers, momentary. "You play very well."

The elephant was looming now, announcing its presence as a relentless stubborn throb just behind her eyes. Nothing she'd taken had been strong enough to be effective indefinitely, Eva knew there was a certain amount to her recovery that simply involved time, but the intrusion was unwelcome regardless. Curled up in her chair, huddled in such a way to betray just how unimpressive her stature truly was, the brunette managed a faint smile. "So do you." It was a little lacking in proper critique, perhaps slightly more a polite overture than her actual opinion, but she had enjoyed playing with him and certainly saw promise in their collaboration. "Or at least," she continued softly, "when the cosmos isn't trying to stop you."

He reached forward for just a moment, setting his hand on the table right in front of her for a beat before letting it slide back over to his side-a way of reaching out without being too invasive with something as bold as outright touch. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened-that his condition had cost him friends, alienated him from his peers, startled and upset and frightened people. He knew the cost that came with trying to reach for others. "It seems the cosmos found itself a worthy adversary today. One for whom I am very grateful."

"Does it happen often?"

Of all the questions that had flooded her mind since returning, that singular concern had been near top of the pile. Eva didn't count herself amongst life's champions. She didn't really see herself as being a natural choice for heroism, nor did she go out of her way to assume the mantle since the cost of failure made the prospect a little too daunting for her liking. When it came to carved out niches, she'd always considered that her role was to facilitate relaxation and entertainment. If she was doing her job properly, it was just as likely that nobody would even remember her, too caught up in the chance to connect with others sharing the space she had provided to really notice the host or even understand the role she'd played. That one-way street had always kind of suited her since it allowed for sustenance in the moment without the repercussions of ongoing expectations. Her professional life was infinitely easier to manage than her personal life had ever been and it seemed unlikely that would ever change.

But that didn't mean she couldn't care, and it didn't mean that she found it easy to ignore suffering once she became aware of it. Now that she understand what could happen, Eva couldn't ignore the sense of responsibility that came with awareness. Her expression reflected her concern, and a degree of trepidation, but not as an excuse to withdraw. For the first time all night, her eyes centred on his and did not move.

"It happened more before it was directly understood the full spectrum of neurological effects my condition causes," Hiram nodded solemnly. He tapped the rim of his mug-the one containing decaf coffee, as an example. No liquor, and no caffeine, either. "But I have only had one other incident related directly to an implant failure. The Synapse is a very sophisticated piece of technology, but unfortunately, it is fallible. I truly regret that you were exposed to such a situation on my account. I know how harrowing that can be."

"No, it's..." Shaking her head, Eva was forced to immediately amend her response. "I mean, yes, obviously nobody's ever in a hurry to have someone..."

She closed her eyes, dealt for a moment with recollections that only ever decided to bother her when she was already feeling low, and then exhaled slowly to try again. Once her eyes opened to meet his again, they had retained a little of their hazel tinge. Eva didn't find personal exposition a very comfortable topic but outside that restriction, her preference was for direct and to the point communication. Avoidance just blew things out of proportion.

"I'm glad I was there," she managed, sounds perfectly sincere. "And...anything else, isn't your fault. I'm fine." It was as close as she'd got to actually acknowledging not only how rough she looked, but her keen understanding that he hadn't failed to notice. "But what happens if you're alone and it fails? Shouldn't there be some way of alerting people that you need help? I..." She hesitated, not wanting to step out of bounds. "I mean, you can rig something to the bar if need be, this place isn't often empty." It was an awkward way of expressing a desire to help and, frankly, surprised Eva herself. She hadn't planned to remain involved, had a throbbing head that suggested perhaps she shouldn't, but those laboured breaths, so close to a final death rattle, were a sound she wasn't sure she'd forget easily. Their familiarity stung.

Hiram lifted his wrist, drawing his sleeve down just enough to expose a silver bracelet with an embossed, translucent isolinear touch-glass screen that glowed briefly upon activation to its lift sensors. With the motion revealed faded, circular, porous scars over the back of his hand and the top of his arm, and before her eyes could catch them and register them more fully, he quickly drew the sleeve downward once more.

"It's a medical alert chip," he explained succinctly. "Linked to my life-signs, which sets off an alarm in the sickbay. It did work." He'd been flanked by the ship's two medics the moment he beamed back aboard- "But a total equipment failure like the one I experienced today-" He didn't think he needed to finish that sentence.

His condition had deteriorated to life-threatening in under a minute, belaying any requisite response time on behalf of their crew-but moreover, at the moment, he was the only physician currently employed on the ship who understood how to treat it. Linking that alarm to the bar would only cause more chaos, and despite the drama that had followed him today, Hiram did try his best to reduce suffering and harm where he went, not to add to the increase of entropy and decay throughout the universe.

"I plan to have our engineering team take a look at the specifications, to see if we can build in additional redundancies to prevent similar incidents in the future." When he looked up from his food, it was with a smile, gentle. "The offer is deeply appreciated," he made sure to tell her. "But I would never seek to lay that at your feet. I owe you a debt that cannot be repaid, and I will not forget that."

Silence followed. It was not of the ilk to promote comfort or camaraderie, but instead was pregnant with unspoken confession and confidences untested. It was no secret that his reassurances were a relief and that the removal of responsibility ought to have felt like a load lifted too, but it was hard for Eva to divorce herself of involvement or investment when she knew so much of her intervention had yet to make much sense. It was more important that he involved the expertise of those who could help ensure such catastrophic failure never occurred again and she was glad he was already reaching out to seek help from his new colleagues, but if her role as first respondent was to be superseded by others then there was something else that really needed to come to light.

And she wasn't sure she was ready for it. If she'd ever be ready for it.

Slowly unraveling, Eva pushed back her chair and made her way unexpectedly to the bar. Rather than go around, she found leverage on the base of one of the stools and bent right over, hanging upside down as she rummaged around in the storage beneath. The rush of blood to her head didn't help matters but she returned only slightly disorientated, PADD in hand. Alternating between index finger and thumb, the brunette tapped out a rapid sequence, eventually closing her eyes to aid her focus, and once done, scrutinised the entry before sliding it across to him. Almost immediately, she resumed her previous stance, though this time both knees pressed against the edge of the table as a barrier between herself and imminent exposure.

"Just in case they need them. A complete malfunction like that probably messed up the logs, right?"

On the PADD, lacking any presumption, eight 16-digit lines of code presented their 0s and 1s in straightforward simplicity.

"You can see where the inverse chip distorts the sequence. First quadrant," she explained quietly, meaning the first two pairs of the first line, "Second, third, fourth and then it repeated."

Hiram's expression didn't shift even as she clearly displayed prowess well beyond what one would expect of a bartender, but that was starting to become on brand for him-the lack of reactivity, the inscrutability that went beyond anything as mundane as the logic or reason typically extolled by species like the Vulcans. He took the PADD, studying it with a thoughtful hum, tracing his fingers over the proffered code. "This is an incredibly valuable insight, Eva. Thank you," he said, committing it to his own exacting memory. "I appreciate your taking the time to compile this."

There had been ample opportunity in one conversation for him to pry and yet his repetitive failure to interrogate presented as a thin hope against the odds. It took a moment longer for Eva to trust it, having dodged obvious questioning for longer than seemed likely but, even with her eyes cast downwards, the half-telepath processed his response with fading anticipation. People were inherently nosy for the most part, either from a longing to find solutions to life's little mysteries or a rampant desire to collect narratives that could be later manipulated into conversation pieces to bolster status. It was becoming increasingly less of a surprise that the composed doctor fell into neither category but that only left the baffling uncertainty of where he actually belonged.

Eva reached out to pick up the cold remains of her piece of pizza and, slowly allowing her feet to slip to the ground, sat forward to take a bite. "Don't ask me what flipped the chip in the first place though." Finally looking up, she licked sauce from her finger. "Diagnosis I can do. Actual repair?" She wrinkled her nose. "If I told you how basic my engineering certification is, you might panic." As as soon as the words left her mouth, Eva paused and then offered him a faint half-grin. "If that's actually possible."

Hiram's lips quirked upward, and his eyes crinkled a little at the corners. "I'll admit that panic is quite unlikely," he agreed with her observations, perfectly willing to acknowledge what she very evidently had picked up on. Sincerity was a lifelong struggle for Hiram, but he could be honest when the situation called for it-when he didn't expect that it would frighten away the individual on the receiving end of that information, which it very often had the unintended consequence of doing. "According to Mr. Burnstein, it was most likely a gamma ray burst that released a cloud of electrons that interacted with my device. Preventative measures in the future will include more adequate shielding around its component parts."

Whilst chewing, Eva paused and the hazel eyes that found it marginally easier to meet his blinked vacantly beneath raised eyebrows. She had understood every individual word he'd said but strung together in an apparently-cohesive sentence, they left her struggling for clarity. In the absence of a more accurate point of reference, Eva veered towards what had become her favourite explanation for everything unpleasant and undesirable. "So what, ghost ship over there isn't safe for you?"

His head shook, a single jerk of his chin to the left. "It should be fine moving forward. Regrettably, I happened to be in the wrong place at quite the wrong time. Gamma ray bursts are very powerful, so it's something that would have to be extremely far off in the distance. The particles emitted would have been traveling for a long time, and just so happened to hit strike the bit." In other words, Hiram had an absolute negative amount of luck.

The clunk of pizza crust hitting the plate was promptly followed by a savoured gulp of cooling coffee before Eva sat back to attempt to follow his explanation. Coincidence was a thing, she'd experienced it as much as anyone else had, but given the sheer life-or-death complexity of this particular series of apparently unrelated events, it boggled her already-frazzled mind that the outcome had been anything less than one dead doctor. She frowned at him, struggling with an impulse to disbelieve arbitrary luck. "So an event that happened way over on the other side of wherever created particles that just happened to be strolling along at just the right speed and in just the right location to randomly almost kill you?" She squeezed her eyes shut and screwed up her nose. "Why does it sound like the odds of that occurring would be astronomically small."

Pressing his lips together, Hiram could only nod in agreement. "Trillions to one, I'd wager, but it does happen-often enough that many computer units come with built-in failsafes. The Synapse is a novel piece of technology, so-" he shrugged his left shoulder. "I am afraid I reap the benefits of poor fortune. But you live and learn, thankfully. With the correct adjustments this should not occur again."

His estimation didn't take into consideration the likelihood of him not being alone and Eva didn't even want to factor in her own set of odds for being in a position to actually assist. The enormity of it was terrifying but acknowledging it created space for the tired woman to move past the anxiety of her own explanation to fixate instead on how daunting it must feel to have the universe conspire against you in such a vicious and nearly-successful way. Not that she was getting much of an emotional read from him, though Eva was inclined to put that down to the pressure and tension sitting just behind her eyes. She hunched her shoulders to suppress the cold shiver that ran down her back and then exhaled softly. "At least it means it probably won't happen again, right?" Clinging to optimism was a struggle only attempted because it was for the sake of another.

"My hope is that it will not, but I am accustomed to a degree of uncertainty," Hiram said, as if that were likely to put her at ease, when really-he was more or less exposing his lack of discomfort with the idea of death. "It is something I have dealt with for many years, but I am grateful for every day I am able to be here." At least the optimism did seem genuine, and it was. Hiram did not prefer to fixate on bitterness, even when doing so would be far easier than not.

It sounded, to Eva's ears, like a dismal headspace to occupy and it put hers into perspective with such a violent shove that she actually lowered her eyes as if chastised. It wasn't her place to pity him, however, she had personal experience with how insulting that was, so instead the struggling telepath chose admiration. He reminded her of another equally as unique individual who persevered through incredibly stacked odds and the comparison left her smiling softly at her empty plate. It also gave her the strength to look up at him again.

"You scared the crap out of me, you know."

It was a pivotal moment of honesty, a first brush against the wall between them that he'd already acknowledged in his gentle way through several apologies that she'd brushed aside. Eva didn't linger on the sentiment, however, not wishing to make it sound like an admonishment.

"But it's clearly not your fault and, though I may have a headache for days," she sprinkled in another partial admission without elaboration, "I'd do it again. I'm glad you're okay." It surprised her that these words were so easy to speak with sincerity but there was also no doubt in Eva's mind of their truth. Something about the doctor, perhaps that link to another already cherished, or simply the protection he offered from unwanted prying, left her glad she'd contributed to a second chance at getting to know him.

His nose wrinkled up when he smiled, a clue of sincerity, and he inclined his head in full awareness. "I expect it was quite a stressful and frightening experience, and I regret that it originated from me-regardless of personal responsibility," he added, perfectly aware that it wasn't based on a choice he'd made, but all the same-it was his struggle, and his problem, that had leaked outward and touched another. "Your presence was certainly fortuitous," he added, meeting her eyes, his own flicking back and forth in metronomic sequence. It at the very least explained that, if something was neurologically wrong with him, and unveiled the thick blanket of mystery a little further. He placed his hand on the table again, a way of reaching out without being as overbearing as to physically touch her, but nevertheless an attempt to convey meaning.

"Let's just not gamble with fortune again in a hurry." Draining first her coffee and then what remained of her water, Eva allowed herself to slip down a similar path of openness by massaging the centre of her forehead with both index finger and middle, though her attention focused on what remained of the food. She hadn't put much of a dent in it herself, though that certainly wasn't indicative of her usual capacity, but what she'd tasted was a vast improvement on anything she'd managed in recent times. "Unless it involves you teaching me how the hell you made this."

"I would be happy to," Hiram replied, taking her at her word despite knowing it was very likely a surface comment. It was an election to take something a little more literally if it facilitated bonding, and he was perfectly content to transfer his skills to others, although he'd never had the opportunity to teach someone else how to cook. It couldn't be too difficult, right?.... Right?

Right.

 

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