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The Doctor's Tale
by Amanda Bonner
I am known to Starfleet as the Emergency Medical Holographic Program. "Program," however, is an inadequate term to describe just what I am. I am artificial intelligence, imbued with protocols, paradigms, and innumerable subroutines to enable me to respond and react as a simulacrum of a human being. My artificial intelligence is also "adaptive" -- meaning that, unlike conventional AI, I "learn," creating new routines and protocols "on the fly," so to speak. This unique ability was created, I am sure, to enable me and others like me to learn new medical techniques nearly instantaneously through observation, rather than through the more cumbersome methods of reprogramming or uploading new software. What it has meant for me, sometimes damnably, is the ability to become more and more like my creators. I have learned to feel.
This Captain -- this crew -- has given me two gifts in the time we have been together. The first was the respect of a title -- Doctor -- which was originally born, I am sure, from their need to order a reality that they could cope with, but sustained by their eventual respect for my superior medical skills. The second gift was self-will -- or the closest thing to self-will that could be given to a creature dependent on an outside source of power, and ultimately subject to the various robotic rules of control imbedded within its -- my -- protocols. I now can come and go as I please, immune to the peculiar discourtesy extended to any entity subject to the whims of those they must please.
So "Doctor" is what they call me. Some still ask me to "name" myself, not realizing, not knowing, that I have been Named, named by the one who summoned the emotion I believed I would never experience as an AI confined to the world limned by the range of the holoemitter. She -- Denara Pel -- calls me her Shmullus; and I love her. Only her lips have ever formed that name, and I know I will keep it that way. The rest can call me Doctor, for all that I care. Ironic, that intense feeling gives way to not feeling, or more accurately, not wanting to feel. Perhaps - someday - I will permit another the privilege of using the name Denara gave me, but I cannot project such an instance occurring anywhere in the near future.
If there were any I would permit the privilege of calling me by name, it would, of course, be Kes. She is an apt and willing pupil, who herself has offered tutelage to me in return. As time passes, I am certain that I have learned far more from her than she from me. I teach her medical facts and medical techniques; she counsels me in dealing with the more complex and obscure adaptations which manifest themselves as I interact with human beings and my environment in a fashion which was never anticipated by my original programmers. It was she -- Kes -- who assisted me in identifying what I was experiencing with Denara. And I know that she, more than anyone else on the ship, cares about my well-being.
The changes wrought by my encounter with Denara have triggered a cascade of other "adaptations." One is a heightened curiosity about the personal lives of the crew for which I care. It is only logical that the more I know and understand about this crew and their lives together, the better I can treat them for their various physical and psychological injuries.
To that end I've begun to sit and observe the crew whenever they gather for an evening in Sandrine's, the holographic Marseilles bar established by Lieutenant Paris. For some reason unknown to me, the crew has embraced this particular scenario as their off-duty gathering place, a place where they allow themselves to interact as individuals, and not simply as officers aboard a starship. So it is there I go to observe the crew, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
At first, I just sat at a table in the corner. That proved problematic, however, since the others felt compelled to try to include me in their activities. I soon learned to sit and sip at a drink, even though I have no need or desire for a drink, as such. The glass or the mug served as adequate notice that I was otherwise occupied, and I was left to my own devices. From this post, I watched and listened and learned about the crew.
Such observations are intensely intriguing, especially in light of the fact that I have instantaneous access to any individual's full medical and psychological record as I watch. For example, Ensign Kim's interactions with the crew are consonant with his profile and his experience -- or lack of it - in performing as a senior officer on a deep space vessel. One need not probe Ensign Kim too deeply to find the individual. As time passes, however, it becomes apparent that the good Ensign is leaving behind his initial credulity and developing more complex emotions which he tends to keep hidden from his crewmates.
Then there is Lieutenant Paris. His records and profile reveal that for a young man, he has both experienced and endured a great deal that should have defeated other men; even the Captain, who I know fancies that she knows him best, does not know all about him. One might anticipate from his background an individual who lacked self-confidence and avoided the company of his peers. Yet Mr. Paris is one of the more aggressively social members of our crew, especially when the crewmembers are female. Perhaps his profile is best revealed by the fact that he engages incessantly in mating rituals designed to lead to monogamous relationships, while assiduously avoiding any of the commitments which such relationships necessarily entail if they are to be rewarding and successful.
Indeed, this particular evening Mr. Paris is in rare form as regards his mating technique. Lt. Susan Nicolletti - an attractive human female by any measure, man's or machine's - is present tonight at Sandrine's. Her entrance occasioned a spell of heightened color in Mr. Paris' cheeks, a slight rise in his body temperature, and behavior that would be safely characterized as seductive: near constant eye contact, physical proximity to Ms. Nicolletti, whispered asides for her ear alone, and sporadic touching of a hand, a hip, a shoulder, all while pursuing a pool game with a great deal more showmanship than is his usual manner.
What is remarkable tonight is the fact that Ms. Nicolletti is permitting Mr. Paris' liberties. On prior occasions she has discouraged Mr. Paris, ofttimes openly snubbing him. Tonight, however, she is matching him touch to touch, whisper to whisper, and openly admiring his facility with the pool cue. Her atypical behavior is influenced, I am sure, by the four ounces of genuine ethanol she has obtained this evening from Madame Sandrine, the holographic bartender.
In looking beyond the pool table, I notice that I am not the only one to observe the uncharacteristic behavior of Lieutenant Nicolletti. There, at a table recessed in the corner, sit both Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway, each sipping some variant of synthehol. Captain Janeway is plainly watching the couple at the pool table, occasionally leaning forward to murmur a few words to the Commander, who seems to be engaged in observing other crew members at their recreation. The two of them, I am sure, engage in gossip, for each has displayed a quick wit and amused tolerance about the romantic couplings which are occurring more and more frequently aboard the ship these days. We -- the three of us -- have had to consult occasionally about such things, for a pairing may become emotionally overwrought and affect the functioning of the crew; one time, sadly, a relationship became physically violent and required our immediate intervention.
Both the Commander and the Captain come more often these days to Sandrine's than they did in the past, a change in behavior I associate with the disturbances wrought by that Kazon barbarian's brief takeover of the Voyager. A sharing, a bonding took place among the crew during their exile, which did not leave the Commander or the Captain unaffected. Both of them now engage themselves more regularly in the daily lives of the crew, and retreat less often to that lofty place called "command." I believe it is healthy, given that our unplanned mission to the Delta Quadrant is likely to last some time longer than the one or two years the Captain and the crew originally anticipated.
Indeed, I had a particular concern for the Captain, who seemed determined at one time to forever hold herself aloof from any member of her crew in the interest of preserving her command presence. At times it appeared that she was making the least healthy adjustment to our anomalous situation, refusing to acknowledge that the likelihood of finding a wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant or discovering the Caretaker's mate wasn't just a few days or weeks away. I made allowances for the fact that of all people, it is the Captain who must exude such faith and confidence -- yet as time wore on it was becoming apparent that the stresses were wearing on her. At times I was forced to order her to engage in some appropriate recreation or face the consequences I could impose upon her as the CMO of the Voyager.
Those days are past, however. The Captain seems to acknowledge better that the Voyager's mission is a long term one, and that she, herself, must embrace that fact and live her life accordingly. The change has been subtle; there are few discernable differences in her outward appearance and in her command style. But for one such as I, who can never forget, never not observe, I see the signs of engagement, of change. The only remnant I concern myself with these days is the slight uncertainty and self-questioning which has apparently plagued the Captain since she lost the Voyager to the Kazon. I have hesitated to raise it with her, not only because I suspect that she would ask me to mind my own business, thank you, but also because it may be one of the factors which has lead her to subtly change her command style.
There is, of course, the Commander. Like all the Maquis, he is more of a closed book to me, since he came under my care without any records or profiles. While it is true that I possess the Commander's records from his years in Starfleet, he has been profoundly changed and altered by his subsequent return to his ancestral spirituality and his participation in the Maquis rebellion. Thus, as with B'Elanna Torres and the other Maquis, I am left to my own observations and speculations about his behavior. This is not the most felicitous situation; perhaps if I had had access to such information, I might have identified Mr. Suder as the risk he was before Crewman Darwin's murder.
The Commander has noticed my attention, and has lifted his glass to me. I return the gesture. I know that he has surmised my purpose, which is nearly identical to his: to discern the crosscurrents and eddies present in the life of the crew, to spot the potential conflagrations and remove the kindling before the spark can light the fire. This is a small ship, with an equally small crew, who has been shut up together for nearly three years now without any real rotation, leave, or break. Attention must be paid, if the ship is to return to the Alpha Quadrant intact.
Yet the Commander cannot know that this is my entertainment, my solace as well as my duty. And I am sure he does not know that I have noticed that his hand will stray to the Captain's hand when he believes no one notices, or how he will gaze upon her face until interrupted by some other event or the Captain's own remark. And I note that the attention is not unwelcome. The Captain will squeeze or pat his hand before she pulls it away; when she interrupts his study it is with a smile or a fond look. This more intimate friendship between them is apparently another consequence of the exile.
One might have thought that it would have been a result of their stay on the planet the Commander and the Captain refer to as "New Earth." I would not have been surprised if a sexual intimacy had developed between them during that time, given their circumstances. Yet it was not so. In fact, there appeared to be less intimacy, less sharing than might have been expected for two adults who had spent the better part of the last four months together alone; some might say there was hostility. Such tension as there was between them, however, dissipated over a few weeks, and they appeared to resume their usual places within the crew's hierarchy. But then they did not evidence the closeness they now display since the ending of the exile.
There is a flurry of activity over by the pool table; the players are changing, other members of the crew are preparing to play the game. And the Lieutenants Paris and Nicolletti are leaving Sandrine's in each other's company. Mr. Paris' triumph is plainly showing in his face and carriage; one does not need plumes to display as a peacock does. Ms. Nicolletti is more....how shall I describe it? Blurred, perhaps; certainly, she is showing the effects of the additional two ounces of ethanol she has consumed since I began to observe her and Mr. Paris at the pool table. She smiles in a way I am not accustomed to see on her, and waves gaily as the pair departs.
Most everyone in the bar watches as they leave. It is Ensign Kim who breaks the silence. "Boy, what's gotten into Susan?"
Ensign Hogan, one of the new players, laughs loudly. "It's not what's gotten into the Lieutenant, Harry, but what will get into the Lieutenant, so to speak...the question is why..." Ensign Hogan, a Maquis who has the unfortunate habit of speaking his mind a bit too freely at times, is silenced by Ensign Kim and other members of the crew, who manage to point out the Captain and the Commander at the far table. To that pair's credit, they appear deep in their own conversation, apparently oblivious to the recent events or the commentary made upon them. They do try their best to let nature take its course, as it were, without any interference on their part.
And then I see that our Third Watcher has been with us; I could not see her until the crowd around the pool table thinned. She is sitting along the farthest wall, alone with a drink. She is Lieutenant Candace Deupree, assigned to the biology section of the Voyager. Despite her somewhat exotic name, she is, in appearance, simply unremarkable. Brown eyes of no particular depth or size, dark blond hair, verging into brown, that has been called "dishwater blond," I believe, and average features. Not that she is unattractive; but she is the sort of person that one can pass by very easily without notice; many crewmembers, in fact, do. She is no hero or warrior; her job is the thankless task of collating, cataloging, and classifying the data collected, via samples and tricorder, on the various away missions. In a slow time she embarks on what original research she can.
I've gotten to know Lieutenant Deupree a little better than some of the
crew, simply because of her difficulties with her eyes. In Starfleet, one
must possess uncorrected vision of 20/40 or better to remain on active duty.
Ever since her Academy days, the Lieutenant has been fighting a battle with
nature to maintain a visual acuity sufficient to retain her commission.
If there is one thing Lieutenant Deupree values, it is her commission, and
her opportunity to research and explore in deep space; thus, she has undergone
multiple surgeries for corneal shaping and for installation of corrective
devices. I did the last such set of surgeries nearly a year ago, and noted
sufficient degenerative changes that I knew that I would be the last to
do such work on her eyes.
She was upset when I told her that when the next set of changes occurred, it would be better for me to replicate an old-fashioned pair of reading glasses for her close work than to attempt any more surgery. She insisted that she would risk the surgery rather than surrender her career; she finally accepted my edict only after I pointed out that Captain Janeway could hardly send off to Starfleet for a replacement for her.
I call her the Third Watcher since she joins the Commander and myself in watching the crew in Sandrine's. She never joins in, never contributes; she is content to sit at a table and watch. But unlike the Commander and myself, she comes for a particular purpose only. It took several visits to discern her objective; it was only then I noticed that when Lieutenant Paris was absent, she did not stay; and, if Lieutenant Paris was present, Lieutenant Deupree would leave once Lieutenant Paris left for the evening.
True to her habit, Lieutenant Deupree finishes her drink and leaves after the commotion has died down. No eyes follow her, her departure excites no comment; yet, somehow, it seems a silent signal. Soon after the Captain excuses herself; and then the Commander; and a general exodus takes place. Soon, only Hogan and Kim are left, playing against that abominable holographic pool hustler Mr. Paris installed into the program. I retreat to my office in Sickbay.
What with one thing and another, several days pass before I can return once again to Sandrine's. A faulty valve in Engineering resulted in some painful but non-fatal plasma burns; two Security guards attempted Lt. Torres' holographic training program without the safeties engaged, with the inevitable aftermath of broken limbs and twisted joints; and we celebrated yet another birth aboard the Voyager. With my Sickbay full and each patient requiring regular attention, I can hardly continue my visits to the faux bistro of Madame Sandrine. But I finally see the happy couple and their newborn son off to their quarters in the company of Kes, and my work, for the time, is done.
I materialize in my accustomed place earlier than usual; evening mess has concluded only an hour ago, and the crowd in Sandrine's is still small. Frankly, I hope to learn more about the odd pairing of Mr. Paris and Ms. Nicolletti before either might make an appearance tonight. To use the vernacular, I am nosy, even though it would be both convenient and more professional to lay my inquisitiveness at duty's door. Honesty, however, compels me to state that it is my curiosity about human feelings which inspires my punctuality this evening.
I am gratified to see that Lieutenant Torres is present tonight, practicing alone at the pool table. I enjoy interacting with the Lieutenant; she is refreshingly direct. True, her dual Klingon/Human nature can spark a display of temper, and I know she still struggles with the other consequences of her duality and an unhappy childhood; but the importance of that struggle seems to have lessened with her growing confidence in her place as the ship's Chief Engineer.
Having business with the Lieutenant anyway, I go up to the pool table, hoping that perhaps the conversation can be steered to....gossip.
"Hullo, Doctor." Lieutenant Torres lines up her shot, the six ball in the side pocket, and with an easy, relaxed stroke, she sinks the ball. Straightening, she smiles at me. "What can I do for you, Doctor?"
"Your holodeck program, Lieutenant. It needs to be modified, or you need to put a security lock on it."
"I have. That fool Harriman used his Security override to gain access. I've downloaded it onto a chip for the time being." She paces around the table and picks her shot, the nine ball in the corner pocket. She scratches, and she growls, softly.
"Extra practice, Lieutenant?"
"I'm partnering with the Captain in the tournament next week, and I don't want to humiliate myself, or her." She goes around and reaches into the pocket to retrieve the cue ball; she looks at me with a half-smile.
"Doctor. What do you really want to talk about?"
"Excuse me, Lieutenant?"
"Doctor, I know you. If you had wanted to talk about my holodeck program, you would have sent me a log communication or brought it up in a staff meeting. And you usually have no interest in our pool games. So what do you really want to talk about?"
Lieutenant Torres is correct: she does know me. She maintains me, maintains my systems, and she is the one who installed the fix which has given me the ability to govern my own appearances without being subject to the whims of whatever human may happen to be in the room. We also consult as colleagues. When she is grappling with a particularly difficult problem in engineering, she will visit me to discuss it. Often, I can provide some insight, using a medical model unfamiliar to her. This evening, it is I who wishes to consult with her, however, and on a matter that is not strictly within the parameters of our duties.
"I am curious, Lieutenant, about your...observations...on Lieutenants Paris and Nicolletti."
The Lieutenant laughs as she places the cue ball back onto the table. "Tom and Susan....that is a curious topic, Doctor." She again lines up a shot, and this time is successful. She looks up at me with a broad smile. "I think, if you're interested in that topic, you should watch Lieutenant Baldwin, when you observe us tonight."
She shakes her head, and says nothing more; others are beginning to join us in Sandrine's. Lieutenant Torres quickly finishes her solitary game and partners with Harry Kim against the two Maquis crewmen, Jerron and Dalby. And I return to my usual table, to continue my watch and to ponder the name the Lieutenant has suggested to me.
By coincidence, Lieutenant Gerald Baldwin is yet another biologist, my Third Watcher's first. Where Lieutenant Deupree is a cataloger and archivist, Lieutenant Baldwin conducts more of the ongoing original research, such as it is, on the Voyager. He is the one who goes on away missions when an exobiologist is necessary, the one who interfaces with the Captain. His records and profiles reveal no unusual quirks, no difficult background, although he has shown a tendency to rigidity in the face of changing conditions. It is not surprising that the only blots on this officer's record are a few incidents involving the Maquis crewmembers when the two crews were first learning to function as one.
The crew has begun to arrive in earnest, now, and the tables are filling. Commander Chakotay comes in with Lieutenant Deupree, of all people; they go to the bar to order their drinks, all the while discussing the ancient Lewis and Clark expedition of the 19th Century. The lieutenant talks about the risks they took, their thirst to open up new territories and see new wonders; the Commander talks about what those expeditions meant to the Native American tribes that encountered them. Whatever has engendered this conversation, Lieutenant Deupree is clearly engaged: her face is animated, alive; her eyes sparkle as she makes her point to the Commander about those old North American explorers. It is remarkable how her smile transforms her face.
Finally, the subject is exhausted, the conversation ends, and Lieutenant Deupree once more becomes the mild and unremarkable person I know so well. She and the Commander each obtain their refreshments from the bar and part, retreating to their accustomed places. at the same time Lieutenant Baldwin arrives with a group of other officers; Baldwin and his friends commandeer a table across the room. Despite Lieutenant Torres' cryptic comments, I note nothing remarkable about him; he appears to be, like many of the crewmembers here tonight, merely unwinding with his companions.
But then the Lieutenants Paris and Nicolletti make their entrance and take up places as observers at the pool table.
The two of them are plainly broadcasting their romance; Lieutenant Paris keeps his arm around Ms. Nicolletti's waist at all times, and Ms. Nicolletti lays her arm across Mr. Paris' shoulders. And they maintain two conversations; one with their companions, and another, more intimate talk between themselves, with words murmured between them while their heads and cheeks touch.
Lieutenant Baldwin is staring at the golden couple. His face, so animated before, is flat and hard. He drinks his drink mechanically as he looks at the pair, focusing on Ms. Nicolletti in particular.
Interesting. Is it jealousy? A bested rival, perhaps? Lieutenant Torres is correct: this is a situation worth observing. I might have missed this without her guidance.
Mr. Baldwin continues his observation until the game at the pool table shifts once more. Mr. Paris drops his embrace of Lieutenant Nicolletti to pick up a cue and to rack the balls for a new game, and Ms. Nicolletti is temporarily without Mr. Paris' attentions. Lieutenant Baldwin drains his mug, rises, and strides to the place where Ms. Nicolletti stands. He leans in to the Lieutenant, murmurs a very few words, and steps away from her, walking around the group at the pool table.
The effect on Ms. Nicolletti is immediate. The brash, confident woman who entered on Mr. Paris' arm appears, for the moment, as a crushed small child, her face pale, her shoulders hunched. Then the Lieutenant finds herself, pulls herself up and turns to see Lieutenant Baldwin walk up to Candace Deupree, greet her, and take her hand; Lieutenant Deupree, startled by the unexpected attentions of her superior, stutters an invitation to Mr. Baldwin to join her. Ms. Nicolletti pauses for only a moment before she crosses over to the bar and demands a drink from Madame Sandrine.
Once again, her drink of choice is ethanol, not synthehol.
As Ms. Nicolletti returns to Mr. Paris' side, drink in hand, I look about to see if any other has observed this ripple in the crew's life. Not Commander Chakotay; he's absorbed in a conversation with Williams in Security. Certainly not my Third Watcher; she is laboring to overcome her shyness and ill-ease with Lieutenant Baldwin's attentions. But Lieutenant Torres, now seated across from the Commander, is staring at me intently, a half-smile playing about her face. I catch her eye, and she nods before rejoining the conversation at her table.
There is nothing in my files or database that can explain this odd grouping of personalities, or the obscure game playing out between them. I am left to sit and ponder the rest of the evening, to observe and guess and speculate with the common herd. I have become so damnably like them.
I note that it is 0220 hours when the call comes over my emergency medical holographic channel.
"Doc? Doctor? Are you there?" The voice is panicked, scared; of course, I instantly recognize it.
"Doc. I - we need an emergency beamout. She won't wake up -- she's not breathing."
"Who, Mr. Paris?"
"Susan Nicolletti. I'm in her quarters."
"Initiating, Mr. Paris."
They materialize in Sickbay, Mr. Paris holding the limp body of Lieutenant Nicolletti in his arms. Both are in civilian clothes; but while Mr. Paris is wearing a soft white shirt and black drawstring pants, Ms. Nicolletti is wearing a long nightgown, her arms and feet bare.
I pull out my tricorder and scanner as he places her on the bed. Unfortunately, Mr. Paris' diagnosis is extremely accurate. Not only is Lieutenant Nicolletti deeply unconscious, but her respirations are suppressed to the point that we are going to lose her here and now unless measures are taken.
"Over here, Mr. Paris. Help me with this." We transfer her to the main biobed and in a few minutes the clamshell is erected and functioning as a respirator for Ms. Nicolletti. Mr. Paris stands rooted, staring at her face. I reach over and grab his wrist to get his attention.
"What happened here, Mr. Paris?"
"I don't know."
I tighten my grip. "I need the truth, Mr. Paris. Her life depends on it."
He pulls away, becoming more upset. "I don't know. We...we left Sandrine's, and she said she wanted to change her clothes, that she'd meet me in my quarters. I waited for over an hour and then I thought I should check on her. I...I defeated her security code, and let myself in. I thought she might have passed out."
"Did she drink a lot tonight? Ethanol?"
He pauses, and looks again at the unconscious woman, then back at me. "Yes. Maybe six or seven drinks. She told me she has an allergic reaction to synthehol..."
I scan Lieutenant Nicolletti once more, looking this time for reactions to alcohol, synthehol, or ......
Phenobarbital. There is a massive concentration of phenobarbital in her stomach and in her bloodstream. Combined with the alcohol, it will be fatal unless we act soon. Clearly, I am going to need assistance, and Mr. Paris is in no condition to give it to me. I tap my commbadge.
True to her nature, she answers immediately, even if in a voice obscured by sleep. "Doctor?"
"We have an emergency. I'm going to need your help."
"I'm on my way, Doctor. Kes out."
Time is of the essence now. I must continue to question Mr. Paris as I administer a stimulant and prepare Ms. Nicolletti for the ugly but necessary procedure of emptying her stomach.
"Mr. Paris, you must tell me. Are there illicit drugs circulating amongst the crew?"
He has shrunk back against the other biobed. "No. Not that I know of."
"Did you give her any medication?"
I believe him, his haunted eyes, his frightened demeanor. I am left with only one conclusion. The replicators would not have produced this drug for Ms. Nicolletti, and I do not distribute it. She must have planned this, obtained the compound somewhere -- perhaps from one of the ship's laboratories. Once again, I tap my commbadge. The Captain must be informed immediately.
"Captain Janeway. Please turn to the Emergency Medical Holographic Channel."
There is no answer, and I try again.
"Captain Janeway, please respond."
Once more, there is no reply. The Captain's commbadge signal indicates that she is in her quarters, and I use my ability to tap into the ship's internal sensors to assure myself that she is, indeed, in her cabin.
The Captain is there, on her bed. I sense her respirations, her heartbeat......and I am left bewildered. The Captain is not alone.
Someone else lies with the Captain, a second breath, a second heartbeat. Who, I wonder...and then I know that there can be only one answer.
Just then Kes enters the Sickbay, and recalls me to myself. "Doctor?" I have been...too human, again.
"Kes. Please finish preparing the Lieutenant for a lavage -- she is suffering from a self administered overdose of phenobarbital combined with ethanol. I need to raise the Captain."
This third time is the charm. Captain Janeway stirs, rises from her bed, pauses - perhaps to pull on a robe? As she activates her channel, I can see her brush her hair out of her face and behind her ears.
"Doctor. What is it? I hope this is an emergency."
"We have a suicide attempt, Captain."
"A suicide. Damn. Damn. Doctor, who is it?" I sense the Commander as he steps very close behind her, perhaps touching her....
"My God. Tom...Tom Paris. He isn't involved?"
Mr. Paris hears this. "Captain, no!" His interjection is anguished, fearful.
She pitches her voice lower. "I see, Doctor. I'll be right there."
I pause, and then I speak. "Should I inform the Commander, Captain?"
"No, Doctor, that won't be necessary. I'll tell the Commander myself. Janeway out."
I cut my link to the comm and the sensors, and turn to the unhappy task of undoing all that Susan Nicolletti has done to herself.
The next evening finds me once more in Sandrine's, but I am not alone. Lieutenant Paris sits with me, his back to the pool table, to the people gathered around it. Our roles are reversed: a short while ago we sat here, and he counseled me on the rules of courtship. Now I counsel him, attempting to smooth the harsh edges of his bitter disappointment.
"She used me." It is both a question and a statement.
"I cannot share everything we learned, Mr. Paris, but I can assure you that you were not the cause of her anguish."
"Of course not." He falls silent, moodily sipping his wine, and then he looks at me again. "It was Baldwin, all the time. I was just a means."
He is right, of course; but I, bound by my oaths, cannot deny, cannot confirm. I can't tell Lieutenant Paris about the broken engagement, the final rejection, or about a man with too much judgment and too little forgiveness. Nor can I tell him about a woman driven by grief to a series of actions that were the ones most likely to seal that man's decision, and earn her his contempt as well.
Nor is that the only cost of her acts. She will continue to pay, enduring my constant attendance via sensors and comm, wherever she goes, twenty-four hours a day, until we are assured that she will not attempt her suicide once more. Captain Janeway's order, confirmed by her thumbprint, is already recorded in my medical logs.
Mr. Paris cannot know any of this; but he does know that the mean ending to his storied affair is the now the fodder of common shipboard gossip, that once again eyes follow him as he walks the ship. But I know he will survive, and even heal, with time. His price, and his burden, is small.
"Say, Doc." Mr. Paris looks at me with a crooked grin. "I really can't stand being here tonight. D'you think you'd want to go to another holodeck and join me in some hiking, some rock climbing?"
I shake my head. "I am not the companion you want, or need, Mr. Paris. Perhaps you should ask one of your friends."
He looks over to the pool table, where Harry Kim is laughing with Hogan and B'Elanna Torres.
"No, I don't think so, Doctor. Too noisy. Not tonight."
"You should cultivate a wider circle of friends, then, Mr. Paris. Lieutenant Deupree, for example. She is a quiet person. I am sure she would enjoy a hike with you." He looks over his shoulder, where Ms. Deupree sits in her usual place, with her usual drink. "Candy? But she's...." He lets the thought trail away.
I complete it for him. "She's not the kind of woman you take to bed, Mr. Paris?" Hischeeks redden, and he stares into his drink.
"I suggest that you might want to try some other criteria for some of your female companions, Mr. Paris. You might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome."
"Yeah." He examines his drink once more. Suddenly, he looks me in the eye, smiling his trademark grin. "Excuse me, Doc." He stands, picks up his drink, and walks over to Lieutenant Deupree's table. They exchange a few words, and Mr. Paris joins her. As he sits at the table, she smiles, a genuine smile. It really does transform her face.
And Ms. Deupree is not the only one smiling. Commander Chakotay, with undisguised amusement, raises his glass to me in salute. I nod in return, and watch as he leans across the table to murmur a few words to Captain Janeway. She looks over her shoulder, a quick, small glance to take in the new pairing, and turns back to the Commander to speak a few words in return. And as she speaks, his hand covers hers for the briefest of moments; and for a instant, they are transformed into the lovers I know them to be, sharing what I cannot ever share again with my own love.
The moment passes; and now they are Captain and First Officer again, crisply professional while socializing with their crew, a crew who tonight gossips freely about a couple that never was, while unaware of another, truer relationship unfolding in their midst. And as I consider these matters, some scraps of verse, discovered and read during my time with Denara Pel, rise unbidden to my consciousness:
So let us melt, and make not noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant,
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
I have become so damnably like them.
Afterword: The verses are from John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," 1633 This story was written in the summer of 1996, prior to "The Swarm" and "Basics II;" I decided to let poor Hogan live in my universe. The story is dedicated to the Doctor who was, the Doctor who will be, and to Robert Picardo, whose warmth, wit, and humanity bring the Doctor to life.