by Dr. Jekyl

Summary: It's six years to the day since our heroes were cast into the Delta Quadrant and for one crew member, this day is of more significance than to most....

Disclaimer: Paramount is all-mighty and I respectfully acknowledge that they own Voyager and her crew.

Today was my birthday, not that anyone remembered. Or even cared. From where I stand by the window I can see them all, every person, each wrapped in their own personal worlds with memories of friends and family not seen in six years, too far distant to see, to hear, to touch; to do anything but remember. Some sharing stories and hopes, dreams for the future and tears for loves lost, others toasting to comrades long gone and mourning those recently departed. No time for me in the corner, alone and unheeded, left to my own thoughts and devices. I'm tempted to leave, but stay anyway. Kes would have wanted me to.

I can't really blame them for neglecting to remember. After all, today is the same day they were dragged here, halfway across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant. It may be my sixth birthday, but it's the sixth anniversary of the day Maquis and Starfleet were forced to set aside their differences, to survive in a hostile quadrant and to leave all they knew behind. No guesses as to which is of more significance to them. Despite knowing their reasons, why this day, to them, is not one for celebration but mourning, it still hurts to be forgotten, hurts in some undefinable way.

I sigh to myself and stare out the window at the stars streaking by. I never saw the stars for myself until I was almost three. Three years ago. Three birthdays since completely unrecognized. Funnily enough, I'm the second youngest person on this ship. I was the youngest until little Naomi Wildman came along, delivered by my counterpart upon a duplicate Voyager. Six years old, I think with a mental snort. I'm probably one of the longest-running holograms in Federation history and I almost certainly hold the record for an EMH. Designed to function for less than two months, each new day is a milestone for me, even an everyday miracle. Each one goes unrecognized.

Unlike Naomi, I've never had the pleasure of a party to celebrate this remarkable achievement, nor have I ever received a present save a single kiss on the cheek by Kes, my former assistant whom I miss dearly. She was the only one who ever really treated me as a person without hesitation, who thought of me on the anniversary of my first activation, and at many other times where I would otherwise have been forgotten. She helped me to stand up for my rights, to earn some respect and to grow beyond my programming. I could always trust her to be there, to be willing to listen and to offer counsel. I think of her often, replaying our times together, moments and memories I shall always treasure. I still hold hope of seeing her again one day, in the future perhaps. I wish she was here now.

I turn back from the window and survey the room. The entire crew is here: Maquis and Starfleet, Human and alien, female, male, Equinox, Voyager, even Borg, all intermingled, blended together until you can hardly pick the differences between them, who and what they originally were. Seven talking to Harry, Tom flirting with B'Elanna, the captain flirting with the commander, Neelix playing host and annoying Tuvok, groups and pairs and conversations all around.

And one lone hologram in the corner by himself, brooding.

Brooding.... I was never programmed to brood on my fate, on my life, if you can call it that. It's one of those things that spontaneously generated itself in my personality files, one of those things like my own set of morals and values, like friendship and loyalty, compassion, even jealousy and anger. One of those things like love.

Now, more than ever, I find myself brooding when left alone, or even when in a room full of people. Pondering the future, examining the past, evaluating my own existence... wondering why I'm no longer happy. I used to be happy, contented in my simulated life. I think it stems from when I was forced to change my perception of how I was regarded among the crew after discovering that Captain Janeway had re-written my program to deny me access to certain memories. And that she was more than willing to do so again, and again and again. Those hours I spent in sickbay, waiting for them to come and again re-write my program were the worst moments of my short life... the realization that they could and would alter my very being , that I could have my consciousness and memory tampered with, without my consent, without me even knowing why, and all at their whim. Even though the captain had relented in the end, I no longer feel completely at home with any of them. I doubt I will for some time yet, if ever. Instead now I see them and wonder just how I am regarded. Now I look at them and wonder just what rights I have aboard this ship, whether they are all just an illusion created to keep me happy, keep me controllable, or whether they do actually think of me as a sentient being in my own right.

I am not finding my conclusions to be particularly flattering at the moment, especially in light of today. But then why allow me to progress so far? To actually develop these feelings? To allow me to develop a true sense of "self" and worth?

There has always been much talk of "home" aboard Voyager; the Alpha Quadrant, Earth, Vulcan and a host of other planets in star systems I've never seen. I used to share in their goal of returning home. I guess I never knew any better and got carried away, swept up by their expectations, by their hopes and by their dreams. Now I see things differently. Home for me is Voyager. I have never known another. I know my sickbay more intimately than most people know their own bodies. After all, I spent the first two years of my existence all but imprisoned there. Would not an inmate know every nook and cranny of his cell by the end of his sentence? The Alpha Quadrant holds nothing for me. I have no family, no friends there, no one anticipating my arrival. Most likely what awaits me there is a barrage of tests to help Starfleet scientists design newer, better versions of me until I am completely obsolete, pointless and valued only for the novelty. The only item I've ever called my own would likewise be confiscated for study. After all, who could turn down the chance to study technology from hundreds of years in the future? My only consolation is that this may mean that sooner rather than later, all holograms will have the luxury of freedom of movement that I enjoy today.

With a sigh I begin to weave my way through the crowded mess hall towards the exit. Not even Kes could begrudge me leaving now. This anniversary holds nothing for me any more, if it ever actually did in the first place. Just another reminder of what I am, and what I'll never be.

"Leaving so soon, Doctor?" the captain says, hastily catching up to me.

"Much as I hate to spoil the party by leaving, I am. I have work to do, Captain, so if you'll excuse me...."

Work. I've always had work to do. It was what I was designed for, to patch up and take care of these... organics... who don't even recognize their need of me and who offer no repayment for the service I render. Organics... I dislike using the term for my "living" counterparts. I have no wish to go down the path of that poor, twisted isomorph B'Elanna and I went to rescue, though now I am beginning to see his motivation, understand his reasoning, insane though it was. It scares me to think that I do understand, that one day I may no longer be able to stand it myself and just... snap, like he did.

Ultimately though, like him, I am still their servant, even their slave in many respects. At their beck and call, day and night, never an apology, rarely a thank you, no vacations, no breaks, no holidays. No rest for the never weary. No privacy either. Why would a mere hologram need privacy? Somewhere to be alone, to think, to ponder, to play, not that I ever really have had an opportunity to "play." The very idea is laughable.

Some of this train of thought must show on my face, for the captain picks it up and opens her mouth to comment or ask me what's wrong. Afraid of what I might say if given the opportunity, I rudely brush past her and beat a hasty retreat back to my sickbay. My refuge. My home.

I sit at my desk in my small office and stare at the dark monitor for a long time. For a fleeting second I toy with the notion of packing it all in and just up and leaving them, stealing a shuttle or even going to the extreme of de-compiling my program. Maybe I could find somewhere where they don't care that I'm a hologram, where they'll accept me for who I am and what I am without question or qualm. I discard the notion somewhat regretfully. I can't leave. They need me too much. Whether they appreciate and accept me or not, I am oath-bound to care for them, to heal them of their hurts and feel concerned for their welfare. Duty binds me more tightly than any shackle.

I've become bitter and discontented of late, and this saddens me, for it is not who I want to be. They will never know these thoughts of mine, in fact I sincerely doubt if any of them have even thought me capable of having them, though I do. Tomorrow, when I'm re-activated to deal with the fruit of some minor mishap or illness, I'll mask my true feelings under the walls of false cheerfulness and sarcasm that have always stood me well. Tomorrow, they will never know.

Seeing no good reason to linger, morbid and miserable on what should be a happy day for me, I stand. Tomorrow I can pretend to be happy, for them, but for now:

"Computer, deactivate EMH."

For the tiniest fraction of a second, just before I fade into cybernetic oblivion, I can almost hear a melodic voice saying "Happy Birthday, Doctor" and feel the feather-light brush of a kiss against my cheek.

It somehow makes the day seem worthwhile.


Story © 1999 by Dr. Jekyl. Reproduced on the Official Robert Picardo Home Page with permission of the author.

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