Author: Julie Evans
Codes: D, T, P, K
Summary: This is a short coda to the episode "Latent Image". This takes place in sickbay shortly after the doctor has returned to duty.
Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount/Viacom. I am borrowing them for fun, not profit.
Notes: This story may be archived to the ASC, the BLTS, the PTF Archive, and the PTC Archive. All others, just ask and it shall be granted.
by Julie Evans (Juli17@aol.com)
"Well, Doctor, you seem to be functioning within your normal program parameters."
"Does this mean I‘m fit to return to duty as chief medical officer, before Mr. Paris wreaks any more havoc in my sickbay?"
Though there was no visible sign of havoc in sickbay, B‘Elanna didn‘t respond to his deliberate provocation, and the doctor watched her press several keys on the diagnostic panel before turning to look at him. "Your personality and cognitive subroutines are stabilized, and are no longer in conflict with your ethical subroutines. I‘ll schedule some follow up diagnostics to make sure there are no incipient problems, but as far as I can tell, your program—you—are sound."
The doctor nodded as B‘Elanna closed the diagnostic program still displayed on the monitor, his brow furrowing as he watched her.
"I sent the captain a copy of my final diagnostic report, so you‘re all set." She turned back to him again then moved away from the table and around him, on her way out the door. "We‘re through here. Happy diagnosing, Doctor."
"Lieuten—B‘Elanna, are you annoyed with me?"
B‘Elanna paused in mid-motion and looked at him cursorily.
"No. Why would I be?"
"I haven‘t been in the best of…moods lately," the doctor said, with a pleased expression at the idea of his having full-blown "moods" rather than simply personality subroutines. "I have it on the authority of several of the crew that my capacity to annoy has reached a higher level over the past couple of weeks than ever before." The doctor managed to sound unapologetic, even almost proud, of that fact.
"So I‘ve heard." And B‘Elanna had heard from several of the crew who had taken part in the "babysitting club", as it had come to be called in private conversation, that the doctor had been unusually argumentative and morose—not to mention given to erratic "mood" swings—while he‘d been trying to deal with his program‘s adjustment to the new and unstable subroutines his emotional response to the moral dilemma eighteen months ago had created. The captain, and Tuvok and his security officers had been the ones who‘d suffered through most of the doctor‘s mental anguish, though Neelix and Seven had both requested a place in the rotation also. Tom had been busy covering for the doctor in sickbay, and she and Harry by virtue of their positions had little free time available and hadn‘t been asked to assist. She preferred not to dwell on how glad she was that she hadn‘t had to consider whether she would be willing to sit with the doctor while he suffered through his emotional turmoil…
B‘Elanna glanced at the doctor again, aware that he was watching her curiously. "I‘m sure that your capacity to annoy will return to its previous only slightly less elevated level now that you‘ve resolved your programming conflicts, Doctor."
The doctor snorted at B‘Elanna‘s sarcastic observation. "Thank you for that vote of confidence, Lieutenant. Though I must admit, even I was starting to find my own company unpleasant." The doctor said that as if the concept was incomprehensible to him. "It‘s far more difficult to deal with internal moral dilemmas than I‘d expected. It was quite a trying experience. At times it made me long for the days when my program was new and unencumbered by so many experiences and added subroutines, when I could simply make decisions and view their ramifications with the complete dispassion inherent in my original programming." He frowned. "Though dispassion is the goal of a physician, I‘ve learned that it is apparently not always the reality."
"You don‘t appear to regret the experience, Doctor," B‘Elanna pointed out.
The doctor shook his head. "As painful as it was, I think it was a valuable experience. It has allowed my program to continue to…evolve even further beyond its original parameters."
B‘Elanna looked at the doctor for a long moment, then nodded.
"Yes, I suppose it has."
The doctor‘s brow furrowed contemplatively and he pursed his lips. "In fact, now that I‘ve added to my emotional experiences the great agony of self doubt and self recrimination, I think it has broadened my understanding of the incongruities of human—and Klingon—emotions."
"In fact," the doctor continued, ignoring B‘Elanna‘s effort to halt his musings. "I believe I have now developed a new sense of empathy for my fellow beings. I can see myself becoming a kinder gentler healer, a font of compassion, rather like a holographic medical version of Gandhi—"
"Doctor!" B‘Elanna rolled her eyes at the doctor‘s self-aggrandizing ruminations, then shook her head. "I have other things to do."
"Of course, I may be exaggerating a little," the doctor admitted readily. "But I do sense a change—perhaps an enhanced ability to see the signs of emotional distress in the crew—that has affected my program. For instance, it‘s been clear to me while you‘ve been performing my diagnostic that you are bothered about something, Lieutenant. Well, you are always bothered about something," he amended, ignoring B‘Elanna‘s scowl, "but in this case it seems to involve me…"
"Nothing is bothering me, doctor," B‘Elanna said with obvious frustration, "Except that I have a lot to do in Engineering, and I can‘t afford to waste any more time here."
The doctor stared at her intently for a moment, then shrugged. "Very well." He waved a hand, dismissing her even as she turned and strode toward the door. "But I did want to thank you, Lieutenant, for not rewriting my program even when I asked you to while I was in a distressed state. Your and the captain‘s action—or inaction—compelled me to evolve, to grow."
B‘Elanna had paused in her headlong pursuit for the door, and now she turned and looked at him. "It was the captain‘s decision, not mine."
"Well, of course it would be the captain‘s—" The doctor paused, and took in the stiff expression on B‘Elanna‘s face. "Oh, I see."
"The captain felt that since we‘d given you a soul, we had no right to take it away, to interfere with your…evolution by reprogramming you at every sign of internal conflict within your programming, even if it adversely affected your behavior."
"A soul?" The doctor‘s face lit up a bit at the thought, and he smiled, obviously enthralled by the concept. "I must say I never thought of myself as possessing a soul."
"Neither did I," B‘Elanna said flatly. "I‘ve always thought of you as a computer program—with sophisticated subroutines—but a program nonetheless."
The doctor looked at B‘Elanna. "A collection of subroutines and commands and algorithms? I suppose from an engineering standpoint that is what I am," the doctor conceded a little sadly. "Is that what is bothering you, Lieutenant? That you disagree with the captain‘s decision not to rewrite my program?"
B‘Elanna sighed. "I thought that if your program was behaving erratically, if it was not operating at optimal levels, then the obvious solution was to rewrite the affected subroutines, and erase the data that had contributed to your erratic behavior…"
The doctor nodded. "Erase all my memories of Ensign Jetal, and of how my decision affected her life. I preferred that solution myself immediately after viewing the replay of her…death." The doctor looked pained at the memory. "I suppose even humans would find the idea attractive sometimes, don‘t you think, Lieutenant? To be able to erase unpleasant memories so that you don‘t have to deal with them."
B‘Elanna stared at the doctor for a long moment, then nodded. "But we don‘t have that choice, Doctor. And maybe we shouldn‘t." She frowned. "And maybe you shouldn‘t either."
"I am a computer program, Lieutenant, not a person, as you pointed out. My situation is different."
The doctor‘s voice was tinged with regret, and B‘Elanna sighed. "The captain decided it wasn‘t. And after I thought about it I decided that maybe I was wrong. It seemed reasonable to view you as simply an extension of the computer, a program like any other, but you are far more than that. As you‘ve pointed out, you‘ve exceeded your program parameters. You‘ve evolved. Maybe I was wrong to think that we should simply rewrite you every time a glitch occurred instead of letting you adapt. That it would be best thing for you. Or the right thing."
The doctor held B‘Elanna‘s gaze for a long moment, aware that in her own way she was almost apologizing, a rare event. Her look of remorse faded a bit at his smug perusal, and she finally crossed her arms defensively and gave him a belligerent glare, once again the lieutenant he‘d come to know and love. "So do you think I have a soul, Lieutenant?" he asked, both curious and unable to resist baiting her.
B‘Elanna‘s glare held for a moment, then she frowned and gave him an openly uncertain look. "Who knows exactly what constitutes a "soul", Doctor? I know the human and Klingon definitions and honestly they are less definitions than abstract concepts, especially the human one. The physical aspect of thought and emotion is really no more than a series of electrical impulses, only slightly different from the electrical impulses that drive your subroutines and allow you to…think and feel. To be self-aware. Beyond that who‘s to say where a soul begins, and how it manifests itself."
"I had no idea you had such a proclivity for philosophical introspection, Lieutenant," the doctor said dryly, earning an irritated look from B‘Elanna. Then his expression became thoughtful and a little bemused. "But you‘ve obviously given this subject some thought."
B‘Elanna nodded slowly. "I suppose I have. I am glad the captain decided against rewriting your program, Doctor, and that you‘ve kept your memories and experiences, and that you‘ve had the chance to learn from them."
The doctor looked almost touched at her obvious sincerity.
"Why, thank you, B‘Elanna."
"Even if it does mean more frequent diagnostics and more work for me," she added severely, though she didn‘t look particularly put out about it. In fact there was a hint of a smile playing about her lips.
Tom Paris yelled out the doctor‘s "name" before the sickbay doors were even completely open. "You‘re back!" he said as he burst into the room, followed by Harry. "For good, I hope." He threw a sidelong glance at B‘Elanna, and received a small nod of confirmation.
"Yes, Mr. Paris, I am back."
Tom grinned. "That‘s great. I‘m glad you‘ve finally got all your subroutines sorted out. We‘ve really missed you around here."
"Really?" The doctor beamed, looking gratified.
"Especially your bedside manner, Doc. I think it keeps all the minor trifling complaints at a minimum."
The doctor‘s eyes narrowed. "Are you saying I drive away my patients?"
"Or maybe Tom‘s legendary charm is so irresistible that the patients just rush in when they know he‘s on duty," Harry gibed, eliciting a nod and a grin from Tom, and a snort from B‘Elanna.
The doctor wasn‘t listening; he was looking Tom up and down.
"Why are you attired in the apparel of that...Captain…"
"Proton, Doc," Tom supplied, and grinned at Harry, who was also in his garb from the holodeck program. "Buster here and I have been combating evil and saving the Earth from the nefarious clutches of Dr. Chaotica once again."
The doctor glowered at him. "This is how you run my sickbay?" he groused. "From the holodeck?"
"Come on, Doc, I can‘t be in here every second. I‘d go crazy." Tom gave him a pitiable look. "Besides, there are no patients right now. And I‘m on call if needed." He patted his chest. "I‘ve got my beeper right here."
Tom pulled open his leather jacket. "Commbadge. Whatever."
The doctor shook his head, obviously unappeased. "What is it about you and that holoprogram? What do you see in it?" He glanced at B‘Elanna as he spoke, and she only shrugged and gave him a long-suffering look.
"It‘s fun, Doc," Tom said, and Harry nodded in agreement. "You should try it sometime. I‘m sure I could find you a role, and a cool outfit."
The doctor perused Tom‘s attire again, and shrugged. "I still don‘t see the assets in wasting your time running around shooting "rayguns" or whatever in that silly outfit…"
B‘Elanna stepped back slightly, and looked at Tom from behind. "Well, there is one asset that I‘m aware of."
The doctor followed her gaze, which was locked on the snugly leather clad rear end of Mr. Paris. She looked up at Tom then, her expression slightly predatory, and he returned her look with a provocative smile. Harry groaned, and the doctor shook his head. "That dubious attraction aside, I expect you to be in uniform when you are in my sickbay, Mr. Paris. That outfit may be fine on the holodeck, but it serves no purpose here."
Tom shrugged. "Okay, Doc." An irreverent smile played at his lips again. "I just thought, given the…asset of this outfit," he flashed B‘Elanna a quick sidelong glance, "that wearing it might be give the patients‘ morale a positive boost."
B‘Elanna rolled her eyes and Harry laughed. "The female patients, I presume," Harry said sardonically, then closed his mouth at B‘Elanna‘s frosty look.
"I‘ve got important things to do in Engineering," B‘Elanna stated emphatically, giving Tom an admonishing look. "I don‘t have time for this."
"Thank you for your assistance, Lieutenant," the doctor said as B‘Elanna turned to retrieve the datapadd she‘d brought with her. "And for the…enlightened conversation."
B‘Elanna paused and looked at the doctor, then nodded slowly. Tom‘s gaze, suddenly intent and curious, moved from her to the doctor. "Did I miss something?"
The doctor shrugged. "Just a discussion about the nature of the soul, Mr. Paris." He smirked. "Nothing that would interest the shallow sensibilities of Captain Proton."
It was hardly the response the doctor had expected, and he doubted his final gibe had even been heard when he noted that Tom‘s gaze was locked on B‘Elanna. It often amazed the doctor how quickly Tom Paris could switch modes from thoroughly irreverent to suddenly serious, and his gaze on B‘Elanna was serious. The doctor watched Tom brush his hand across B‘Elanna‘s shoulder as she turned around, datapadd in hand. Then Tom squeezed her shoulder once and their eyes met in a brief meaningful look. The doctor got the definite impression that Tom and B‘Elanna had talked about B‘Elanna‘s feelings on this subject recently. Tom‘s intent gaze seemed to imply a question, something the doctor might suspect was along the lines of "is everything okay?", if he was inclined to speculate. B‘Elanna nodded almost imperceptibly to Tom‘s unasked question and Tom looked satisfied as she turned to speak to Harry.
"Harry, don‘t forget the IPS recalibration at 1600," B‘Elanna said as Tom‘s hand dropped away. As she slipped past him her own fingers brushed lightly across his back, perhaps unconsciously, the doctor surmised, since her purposeful look was fully trained on Harry. Or perhaps not.
Harry nodded. "I‘ll be there. I was just about to head for my quarters and change for duty."
"Ah, the beta shift," Tom said sympathetically. "Now that the Doc is back, I guess I‘ll have some free time tonight." He gave B‘Elanna a significant look and she raised her eyebrows, a small smile playing around her lips.
"Not until I‘ve done a full inventory of my sickbay, Mr. Paris, to see just what havoc you‘ve left behind while I was gone," the doctor informed him with a smug smile.
"I didn‘t disturb anything, Doc," Tom protested. "I didn‘t even catalogue your new picture gallery yet, so I wouldn‘t disturb your profound sense of order," he smirked.
The doctor‘s eyes brightened at the mention on his collection of deep body scans. And B‘Elanna had waited again a minute too long to get out the door as the doctor speared her with an enthusiastic look. "Lieutenant Torres, wouldn‘t you like to see what you look like from the inside out before you leave? It‘s quite fascinating."
"I‘m sure it is, Doctor," B‘Elanna said reluctantly, from the opposite end of the enthusiasm scale. "But no, thanks."
"Are you sure, B‘Elanna?" Tom asked, and the doctor raised his eyebrows at this unexpected source of support. "I‘d like to see that myself." He glanced at the doctor. "I assume the scans are anatomically correct?"
"Of course they are anatomically—"
B‘Elanna gave Tom‘s shoulder a light shove—for her—but hard enough that he stumbled slightly, and she met his unrepentant grin with a exasperated look, while the doctor glared at Tom, belatedly realizing the meaning behind his question.
"See you tonight," Tom said as B‘Elanna turned away and strode toward the door. As the door opened, she stopped and looked back.
Tom just grinned as she slipped out the door. He didn‘t appear too concerned over her possible rejection, and B‘Elanna obviously had learned to tolerate—or from the doctor‘s perspective—even occasionally enjoy Tom‘s brazen behavior. He could only assume that B‘Elanna, who approached everything and everyone as if preparing for a confrontation, appreciated Tom‘s generally much more easy approach to life. Perhaps that was part of the attraction between them, and while it might be a beneficial balm for B‘Elanna‘s temperament, it didn‘t do the same for him. He shook his head, giving Tom an aggravated look. "Mr. Paris, do you ever desist?"
"I can answer that, Doc," Harry said, grinning. "No."
Tom shrugged. "I guess I‘m just incorrigible, Doctor."
"I have to go get changed for duty," Harry said. "It‘s good to have you back, Doc." He gave Tom a quick companionable slap on the shoulder before turning toward the door.
"Thank you, Mr. Kim. At least someone seems to mean that sincerely." The doctor gave Tom a remonstrative look.
Harry stopped as the sickbay door opened and looked back at the doctor solemnly for a several moments. "No, Doctor. I‘m the one who should thank you, again. So, for what it‘s worth, thank you." He slipped out the door before the doctor could reply.
"So, you really are feeling "yourself" again, Doc?"
The doctor pulled his gaze slowly away from the door and looked at Tom, who was watching him closely. "Yes, Mr. Paris, I am feeling myself again. A little battered perhaps, but myself."
"You remember everything?" Tom asked, sympathy in his voice.
"You mean do I remember what happened to Ensign Jetal?" the doctor asked. "Yes, I do. And I‘m glad. I don‘t enjoy that particular memory…" his face became grim for a moment. "But I wouldn‘t want to give up my other memories of her. Even though I didn‘t know her well…" he paused again, and although he didn‘t add "as well as Harry", he was sure Tom knew he was thinking it. "It would do her a horrible injustice to simply forget that she ever existed," the doctor said, his gaze on Tom searching, his voice disturbed.
"We‘ve always remembered her, Doc," Tom said quietly. "We still talk of her, as we do of everyone else we‘ve lost. We haven‘t forgotten."
The doctor nodded, gratified that even if he‘d been deprived of his memory of Ensign Jetal, the rest of the crew had continued to honor that memory and hadn‘t deliberately dismissed her, only avoided speaking of her in his presence. "I would suppose you remember her, Mr. Paris, since I recall she was one of the many crew members so inexplicably influenced by your fondness for twentieth century vernacular." He paused after that dry observation that elicited a small smile from Tom, and frowned. "Now that I have the choice, I don‘t want to give my memories up, even if I have to live with the memory of how she died, and of the decision I made that ended her life."
"You had to make a hard decision, Doctor—"
"I know, Mr. Paris. And it affected her life. That fact is there and it‘s a part of me now. And I guess I‘ll just have to find a way to live with it comfortably somehow."
Tom gave the doctor a thin smile. "Been there, Doc. You adjust."
The doctor looked at Tom for a long minute, wondering if he‘d imagined the bleak look that had crossed Tom‘s face, before that face became expressionless. But he was as aware of Tom Paris‘ past as was anyone. "Yes, I suppose you do, Mr. Paris."
"But don‘t expect to ever live with it comfortably. Just living with it will have to do."
The doctor and Tom looked at each other, sensing the uneasy connection between them, the shared bond of bitter experience, which was discomforting and disquieting. Finally Tom spoke again. "I‘ll go to my quarters and change, Doc. Then I‘ll come back and brief you on everything that happened while you were gone."
The doctor nodded, noting that Tom was clearly anxious to leave. "That will be fine, Mr. Paris."
"Okay. Oh, and, Doc…I did reset your music preference."
"You reset my music preference?" The doctor gave Tom an appalled look. "So instead of Verdi and Mozart intended to lull the patients, you‘ve no doubt flooded my sickbay with the cacophonous sounds of that music you call…"stone"…"
Tom chuckled. "Rock. And the patients, what few there were, liked it. But don‘t worry, Doc. You can reset it right back. But before you do, you might want to listen to one of the selections. Paris selection 453. Just now it made me think of you, and you might find it interesting."
"Something from the twentieth century? Somehow I doubt that, Mr. Paris."
Tom shrugged and headed for the door, then paused as it slid open, leaving the doctor to wonder if anyone ever simply left sickbay anymore without thinking of something additional to say. "Doctor…"
"Yes, Mr. Paris?"
"About what Harry said. When he thanked you for saving his life…"
The doctor had realized that was what Harry was referring to, but he was still uncomfortable with the idea of any praise associated with that incident. "By sacrificing someone else‘s," he said disparagingly.
"I suppose you could look at it that way, Doctor. But the other perspective is that two people were surely dead, except for your quick thinking and skills. Thanks to you, one of them is still alive today." Tom stepped backwards into the corridor, and the door started to close. "You didn‘t kill anyone, Doc. But you did save someone."
The doctor stared for a long moment at the closed door. He knew what Tom said was true, but he still didn‘t find it particularly comforting in light of the trade off. One life for another. His choice. And now he would remember it. And as Tom had also said, live with it. He walked through the quiet sickbay to his office, pausing just long enough to give the computer a command. "Computer, play music selection Paris 453."
As he stepped through the door into his office the sound of drums and brass exploded through the speakers throughout the sickbay and a raspy voice warbled.
:::Now when you‘re feeling low and the fish won‘t bite,
You need a little bit of soul to put you right
You gotta make like you wanna leave a trail
Then a little bit of soul will come your way.:::
The doctor shook his head as the words continued to burst out of the sound system. Where did Tom Paris manage to find this ancient nonsensical music… The doctor opened his mouth, ready to delete Tom‘s preference settings from the sickbay audio system entirely, whether the patients enjoyed it or not. Then he paused, catching the words again.
:::And when you‘re in a mess and you feel like cryin‘
Just remember this little song of mine.
And as you go through life trying to reach your goal
Just remember what I said about a little bit of soul.
A little bit of soul, yeah, a little bit of soul,
A little bit of soul, yeah, a little bit of soul,
A little bit of soul…:::
"Computer, end selection."
The computer complied and peaceful silence surrounded the doctor, but he was unable to stop the smile that crept over his holographic, but so human looking, features. He wasn‘t sure exactly what those words were supposed to mean, the words he‘d actually been able to understand, but he was intrigued. A little bit of soul indeed. Perhaps Tom was on to something…
"Computer, pull up all files pertaining to the concept of a "soul"."
"Please state cultural preferences."
"All cultures in the database."
There was a millisecond long pause. "Files ready."
"Place those files on hold for now." He would read them later, after he was done leading Mr. Paris through a thorough inspection of sickbay and a review of the injury reports and status logs from the past two weeks, before he let him go meet Lt. Torres, perhaps just a little late. But right now…
"Computer, begin recording personal log."
The doctor sat down in his chair and leaned back. "Doctor‘s personal log, Stardate 50489.6. Today I have resumed my duties as chief medical officer. More about that later. But first I want to remember someone. Someone I‘d forgotten for quite a while. Ensign Ahni Jetal. Not to remember how she died, but how she lived. And all those little things that made her who she was, that made her a valued member of this crew, and a valued…friend. True, I didn‘t know her as well as many of the crew, but I feel her loss deeply. Perhaps as deeply as I felt the loss of Kes, for different reasons. And even though she‘s no longer here, as with everyone else we‘ve lost, I think a bit of her…soul remains on this ship as long as we remember her. I‘m glad she‘s no longer being openly denied that remembrance, now that my own memories have been restored."
The doctor leaned back further into his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. He stared reflectively for several moments at the far wall, cataloguing in his mind those memories that had now become precious to him. Shortly, he began to speak again.
"What I remember best about Ahni Jetal is that she found good-natured humor in almost every situation. And she had the most lovely smile…"
Song credit: "Little Bit O‘ Soul" by The Music Explosion, copyright EMI-Capitol Records.