It was much as she remembered it, but instead of being surrounded by the city as in reality, nothing but flat, dry desert stretched out in every direction. She found the main gate, and saw a sehlat pacing there, blocking any approach. The sehlat was badly injured. It was missing most of one ear, one of its fangs was snapped clear in half, and it limped as it walked.
It stopped when it saw her, sniffed the air, and stepped closer to her. It circled around her, body language alert but not alarmed. She slowly stretched out a hand, and touched its head, and it pressed up close to her and gave a happy grunt. "If you represent the part of my husband's mind which protected him from harm, I am grateful to you," she said, and stepped toward the gate.
The sehlat moved in front of her. T'Lin paused and waited. It sniffed her all over, as if being absolutely certain that she was who she seemed to be. Finally, convinced, it moved aside, and let her in.
The courtyard was empty, as was the entrance to the house. She stepped through the privacy doors, into the family area, and went up the stairs, toward the suite of rooms that Veral and his immediate family occupied. As she turned the corner, she felt a hand on her arm, and was yanked into the suite. Veral shut the door behind them.
"You will be safe here."
When her surprise passed, T'Lin looked around. She had been in this very room before, and it was much the same as she had seen it, but larger than in reality. She wondered if he had constructed it from childhood memories.
She turned to Veral, seeing him finally, and found that there was a livid dark copper bruise ringing one eye, and, worse, bruises in the shape of fingers circling his neck. She knew she was seeing a representation of what had been done to him, and her chest ached with anger and hurt. "They tried to kill you."
"We are safe here," Veral said again, and T'Lin recalled her purpose.
"Yes, we are. But it is time to leave now."
"No!" The surge of fear that came from him was intense. "We must stay here, where it is safe."
She sat down on the pillows that surrounded the sunken fire pot, and after a moment, Veral joined her. She coaxed him to lie down and put his head in her lap. "Will you tell me what happened?"
"DT6 is at 308 and increasing at 6 milligrams per second," the nurse announced. Veral checked the display above the bed again. The R-wave pattern had not changed.
"Administer four milligrams of nevaset," Veral ordered.
There was a pause as the medicine was administered, and then, "DT6 is continuing to rise at 2 milligrams per second. Currently at 326."
The R-wave pattern precluded more nevaset. "I am going to try a dvolau-nohv."
"Rapid-response," called the nurse.
"Rapid-response acknowledged," called another healer from across the room, affirming that she could step in in the event that things went badly.
The nurse affixed a cortical monitor to Veral.
"All clear," Veral said.
"All clear," the nurse said to confirm that no one else was touching the patient.
Veral found the meld points. A dvolau-nohv, a set meld, was relatively easy, as these things went. He just needed to convince the brain to reset the R-wave. It should only take a moment.
He slipped through the first layer of the patient's mind, opened his own, and--
The attack came hard and fast, a sandstorm that threatened to engulf him.
He pulled back, into his own mind, but the attacker followed.
He ran, through the layers of his mind, down and down, deeper and deeper, to the safe place. The storm followed him, raging, a malignant, angry, intentional thing, that wanted to strip the flesh from his bones.
He closed the gate, and all at once the storm ceased. It was then that the realized what had happened. A telepathic trap. He had never been exposed to one in earnest. During his training at Gol, the adepts had simulated such attacks, and he had spent so many hours that they could be counted weeks in meditation creating a safe place in his mind to go if one ever attacked. He had almost resented the training at the time, as it took time away from the things that could actually help people, but he was grateful for it now.
The storm was gone. There was silence. He waited several long moments, and when there was no indication of further danger, he opened the gate.
That was when the second attack came.
The blow to the side of his head, momentarily stunning him. A shadowy figure, not another mind, not a person, but real enough in this mind-world. Fingers around his neck. The mental construct began to dissolve. He clung to it. He had to keep the construct. He could not be pulled from this safe space, not allow his reality to be dissolved. The shadow was strong. He tried to twist away from it, but it held him firm, choking him. He couldn't breathe. Was that a mental illusion, or was this telepathic assault instructing his body to stop breathing?
The sehlat came, the form of his own protector, and knocked the shadow away. Veral scrambled away from the ensuing fight, into the house, into the innermost of the inner rooms, and closed the door.
"I want to hurt the person who did that to you," T'Lin said. This deep in his mind, there was no sense in hiding anything from him.
Veral sat up. "With a DT6 of 326 and rising and an R-wave that unstable, the dvolau was her only chance. She is almost certainly dead." Despite everything, he felt a twinge of regret at not being able to save the patient.
"Healer N'Livek tells me the danger is now gone," T'Lin said. "I believe her."
Veral had thought the same, and nearly died. He trusted both N'Livek and T'Lin, but he was unconvinced.
T'Lin took his hand. "Will you show me this place that you have created to keep you safe?"
Veral licked his lips. "This room is the safest."
"But the entire place is safe?"
"Yes. I modeled it on my home in Shi'kahr. A childhood home is a good choice for these constructs, assuming your childhood was generally a pleasant one." She glimpsed his memory of the lecture where he had been taught the basics of how to construct this place as he spoke.
"N'Livek said you might have created a fortress for yourself."
"That is another thing that people do. It is an individual choice."
She looked around, astonished by the level of detail in the space. Like being in the holosuite, it was hard to believe she was not physically here. She could feel the cushions underneath her, smell the desert air, hear a soft wind in the distance. "I have created mental constructs, but I was never taught anything like this."
"Most people do not need to create it because most people meld only with those they call pi'maat. Healers meld often, for many reasons, with minds well and unwell. There is an inherent risk in that. It takes a great deal of time and energy and a certain innate talent for the mental arts to be able to build this--" He gestured around him. "--in the mind. In general, it is only healers who are taught, because we are the only ones who make telepathic contact so indiscriminately." She sensed exasperation from him. "With the exception of Starfleet officers, who will meld with anything that they even suspect might have a consciousness ten minutes after meeting it, and then are surprised when they are diagnosed with three different neurological diseases before they reach the end of their first century."
"Starfleet officers are outliers and should always be accounted for in the data analysis," T'Lin said, directly quoting one of her instructors.
Veral was in total agreement with the assessment.
"Show me the rest of your construct," T'Lin said again.
Veral raised an eyebrow. She was trying to ease him out of the room, and he knew it. He looked at the door, then back at her. "How is the sehlat?"
"Injured," T'Lin said. "As you are." She touched the ring of bruises around his neck. "N'Livek said you need treatment."
"I will heal on my own. If I stay here, where it is safe, my mind will heal."
"How long do you plan to stay?"
"Until I am sure it is safe to emerge."
"How will you be sure it is safe?"
Veral had no answer for that. "I will show you the rest of the construct," he said. "But I am not ready to leave it."
T'Lin inclined her head. "We will go nowhere until you are."
The rest of it was much the same, a detailed replica of Veral's family home. She spotted some differences from the house she knew, but she was not certain if that was because Veral had deliberately made changes, was remembering it from an earlier time, or her lack of familiarity with it was causing her to misremember certain things.
"All three," Veral said. There was no barrier between thoughts and words here. Indeed, neither of them was truly speaking at all. It was all thought, some that their minds were interpreting as speech in this construct. Mindspaces were interesting things.
T'Lin stepped close to a painting. She could see flecks of gold in the paint. "Why so detailed?"
Veral stepped up next to her. "The more detailed the construct, the more protective it is."
"I would have thought that maintaining it would take concentration and energy away from one's ability to fight, or shield."
"It can be counterintuitive at first because many mental constructs do require energy to maintain in the moment, but this sort of construct, once properly built, needs only routine maintenance. It is like a physical wall. One does not need to expend all of the energy one used to build it while the arrows are hitting it because the work has already been done." He gestured to the painting. "Details such as this are one way of ensuring that the construction is solid."
"It took a long time to create?"
"Hours upon hours of intense meditation." And then an adept would come in, tear it all down in a moment, and tell him to build it again.
They went out into the courtyard. The sehlat was still pacing in front of the gate. T'Lin gestured to it. "You created that as well."
"In a sense." Veral watched it pacing, frowning at the limp. "It is a way to focus my mind's protective instincts and abilities, and to allow them to act autonomously while I protect my core self."
"Fascinating," T'Lin murmured. She had had telepathic training, but she felt like a child playing at blocks while Veral was a master architect.
Veral was quick to assure her. "Your abilities and training are perfectly adequate for your path in life and the risks you are likely to face. There is no reason for you to know how to do this anymore than there is a reason for me to know how to repair a warp core. Division of labor is fundamental to almost all known complex cultures." He thought about the small but real risk that she might be telepathically assaulted someday. "That said, if you ever wish to learn some additional ways to protect yourself, I will teach you." He would teach her how to fight back, in ways easier and more effective than the methods he was allowed to use. Veral's training was harder because it was designed to be non-violent. As a healer, he assumed the risk of his melds. If anyone attacked T'Lin, she was under no obligation to give any consideration to her attacker.
"I have been trained in mental as well as physical self-defense."
Only the arts that the schools are allowed to teach, Veral thought.
"No, my parents taught me some things as well, messier than the methods learned at school, but effective if I were ever fighting for my life."
Good, Veral thought, with no sympathy for any hypothetical attacker.
T'Lin raised an eyebrow. "I am still committed to the path of non-violence. I hope that, even in a survival situation, I would choose the path of least harm."
She cut off a flood of other thoughts about pacifism and non-violence as a way of life. She was at risk of getting wildly off the topic. It happened often when she and Veral communicated. He was so easy and so interesting to converse with that their conversations often wandered into various topics without either of them being aware of how far afield they had gotten from their starting point.
Sometimes the wandering was both metaphorical and literal. Once, they had gone for a walk together, and gotten so lost in a discussion of the history and myth surrounding the War of the Seven Stones that they had gone eleven point six kilometers before realizing how far they had gotten from home.
"I also enjoy our wandering," Veral said. "We can converse here."
T'Lin was unimpressed. "We cannot stay here, and you know it."
She took a step toward the gate, and Veral took a step back. She turned to him and inclined her head in thought. "Fear is an interesting thing. It told you to run before you even knew what you were running from. Trusting that instinct probably saved your life. But outside of a survival situation, fear must be controlled, lest it become maladaptive."
"And yet it is one of the hardest emotions to tame, because it is so fundamental to survival."
"You have tamed it before, many times." When Veral did not reply, T'Lin asked, "Do you truly believe that there is still a threat lurking?"
Veral looked at the sehlat. If that part of his mind was at relative rest, then no. There was no threat remaining.
Unless it was buried so deep that none of his techniques could find it.
"Doubts are fractal," T'Lin said gently. "No matter how closely you examine them, they never fully resolve. At a certain point you must accept the most likely explanation and move on."
Veral sighed. "The inherent uncertainty of life exhausts me."
She stepped closer to him. "You would prefer that we existed knowing all that was to come? A life pre-planned and without the possibility for deviation?"
"No…I just wish we existed within certain secure parameters."
An understandable desire. However. "The universe has not provided any parameters for our existence beyond the most fundamental physics."
Veral knew that all too well.
T'Lin held out her hand to him. Veral looked at it. She waited. She could feel him working through his fear, and said nothing, trusting him to take the logical action in the end. Finally, he took it, and the construct dissolved.