Our Regular Session
Episode 01: "Exordium"
Location: Counseling Office, USS Thames
Timeline: Mission Day 01, 1400 Hours
ON: [[Counseling Office, USS Thames, Mission Day 01, 1400 Hours]]
When Adessa had first arrived on the Thames, she'd made arranging her counseling office a top priority as well as a labor of love. Aesthetics mattered, particularly when it came to the room where men and women routinely unburdened themselves, searched out their feelings, and bared their souls. Every time Adessa stepped through the doors, she was gratified all over again that she'd taken the time to arrange the furniture just so, hung her collection of richly jewel-toned Betazoid tapestries at precise intervals along the walls, and added the luxuriously soft pillows and throw blanket to the long couch set against the wall. Even in Starfleet, sometimes a comfortable pillow went a long ways in settling a person's nerves.
She was completely unsurprised when the doorchime rang precisely at 1400 hours. Adessa smiled at Commander Whittemore as she welcomed him in, stepping aside to allow him to seek out the seat of his choice while she grabbed the PADD she always kept nearby during sessions. "Right on time I see, as per usual," she said as she turned back to face the Commander.
"I can leave and come back in five minutes," he told her, "Shake things up a little."
Adessa laughed, appreciative of the Commander's occasional quips. Her last Commanding Officer had been as no-nonsense as they came, and as effective as she'd been, Dessa much preferred serving under someone more approachable. "I'm not that starved for excitement today," Adessa replied. "But ask me again next week and I might just change my mind."
Cassius smiled. He crossed the room toward one of the chairs instead of the couch, picked up the pillow that lay against the back, and then lowered himself into the seat. "How are you this afternoon," he asked.
"I'm very well, thank you," Adessa said, her answer given cheerfully without being too exuberant. "Commander Makino invited me on an early morning hike. Real live fresh air does wonders for a body."
As the counselor spoke, Cassius realized he was still holding the pillow in his hand. He took a quick glance around the immediate vicinity to see if he could find someplace to put it. The couch was a little too far away, meaning he would have to toss it or get up again to put it there. Putting it on the floor next to the chair was always an option, but he would have to remember to put it back when he was finished. Unsatisfied with either of those options, Cassius decided the easiest thing to do was to place the pillow in the open space between himself and the arm of the chair, which he did.
Hiding an amused smile, Adessa settled herself in the armchair that she and her patients both seemed to consider 'her' chair. "Did you have a good morning yourself, Commander?"
"I suppose so," Cassius replied.
"I'm glad to hear it," Dessa said, crossing her legs and threading her fingers together around her knee. "So, what would you like to talk about today?" Even though it sometimes made her newer patients uncomfortable, Adessa usually let the patient begin in sessions like these. The opportunity to articulate a leading thought, comfortable or not, was more enlightening and effective than one might suppose.
A moment's pause settled over them as Cassius seemed to consider the invitation. There were, of course, a couple of ongoing conversations they'd been working through over the past several weeks. Diving right into one of those was always an option, though not one he'd made a habit of yet. It was usually helpful to open with something a little more immediate and see where things went from there.
"Do you ever find it strange," he wondered, speaking aloud something that had been on his mind since the early morning, "looking out from a viewport and seeing something other than the blackness of space?"
Adessa nodded, smiling softly. There were no viewports in her counseling office, but more than once she'd been pleasantly caught off guard by the arresting sight of the planet's surface from her quarters. "The Thames' ability to enter a planet's atmosphere is remarkable," she said, an honestly opined but intentionally neutral statement. "The new view is quite a change."
"Takes some getting used to," Cassius agreed. Part of him had already decided this was just another example of something new he needed to get used to. Despite having had two years to familiarize himself with this new "world", a random experience like this would come up out of nowhere and then stick with him for awhile. Hearing that someone else found the sensation equally dis-orienting made him feel a little better. It helped him to know there were others who still found landing a starship like this enough of an unusual practice so as to be notable.
Inclining her head slightly, Adessa nodded again. "But that doesn't mean that the change is necessarily bad, I think," she said, the statement meant to be a gentle push for Cassius to elaborate more.
There was another pause as Cassius pondered that thought. Change wasn't bad. It wasn't necessarily good, either. Change was nothing more or less than what people made it out to be. Designing starships capable of multiple landings and take-offs seemed like a reasonable enough development, if for no other reason than to increase the safety of those aboard. The opportunity to look out of one's viewport and see the landscape of a world being settled for the first time was certainly an added benefit. "Reminds me of Cestus III," he admitted aloud.
Cestus III, as Dessa knew from her previous sessions with the Commander, was a planet of great significance to Cassius. “Does it remind you more of the Cestus you knew when you last saw it, or the Cestus you knew when your family was there?”
“Both,” Adessa repeated quietly. She’d never before worked with someone like Cassius, who had lost not just loved ones but literally everything familiar and recognizable. Temporally displaced, they called it, and it was one of the more extraordinary situations she could imagine. “Cestus has been on your mind a lot lately, I think,” she surmised. “And given what I know about you, I can certainly understand why.”
Cassius offered her a small, half smile. Once again, they had managed to find themselves poised to enter a conversation about what he'd been forced to leave behind. A small voice somewhere inside his head insisted he really needed to get over this whole thing and move on with his life. If these sessions had convinced him of anything, however, it was that doing so would be an ongoing process. It wasn't something he would be able to achieve overnight. So here they were again.
"I spent some time there before coming aboard," he told her, "Most of it involved getting ready for this assignment - attending briefings, making final crew selections, that sort of thing. I suppose maybe I was just trying to keep myself busy enough planetside that I wouldn't have time to worry about anything else."
Adessa could sense his hesitation to speak to anything deeper on the subject, but she was still pleased that the subject had been brought up in the first place, even if only in very vague terms. "Under the circumstances, I would have been surprised if you hadn't found ways to distract yourself," she said candidly. "From what you've said in previous sessions, it sounds to me like you weren't ready to to confront the deep significance that Cestus holds for you, to face the pain of what you've lost."
“You’re probably right.”
"You know, Cassius," Adessa began after a beat of silence, her smile supportive, "we're in no great hurry. When you're ready to talk more about your family, then that's when we'll talk about them. There are no milestones we need to meet, no progress reports to produce and analyze. When the words come to you, you'll speak them, and I'll be here to listen."
Cassius smiled again, more warmly this time. This was the beauty of their time together. In all their conversations and in all the silences between, Adessa never presumed to speak his mind for him. Neither did she ever claim to fully understand exactly what he was going through. She listened, reflected back, and invited him to say more. Most of the time, that was all that was necessary.
“Thank you,” he said, “You don’t know how much I appreciate that.”
Dessa smiled. "Of course." Their session drawing to a natural close, she rose to accompany the Commander to the door. "Well, as Dr. Barra, I'm looking forward to seeing you at our next session. But as Diplomatic Officer Barra," she said with a grin, "I'm sure I'll be seeing you sooner rather than later."
Commander Cassius Whittemore
USS Thames NCC-80629
Lieutenant Adessa Barra, MD
Counselor & Diplomatic Officer
USS Thames NCC-80629