DELTA BLUES @ Reviewboy.com - Jim Reviews...

"Critical Care"

[Disclaimer]

Paramount pretty much owns everything you're about to read. It's their dialog, their characters, their franchise. For whatever reason, they've chosen to left me alone, and I thank them for it.

This is all meant in good fun, as though I were reciting the episode to you around the water cooler at work. You'll find the closest thing online to watching the actual episode, though I do sometimes take liberties when I think it will help the narrative. Any errors in fact or interpretation are my responsibility alone.

[Captioning sponsored by Paramount Television and United Paramount Network.]

[Summary]

And you thought your HMO was bad...

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

A lone vessel of unfamiliar origin flies toward a planet. Down it goes...down, down, until it goes suborbital.

The surface of the planet is an urban nightmare. Polluted seas, fed more muck by smoke-belching factories. Lightning storms scar what little surface is not covered by more buildings, and the clouds themselves have a sickly, death-gray pallor. Green-brown smog hangs over--and under--the taller of the mushroom-shaped skyscrapers, and as the small vessel flies over, we see very little evidence that the local population spends much time outside--or could if it wanted to. Acid rain would be an improvement.

One building looks quite a bit less nasty than the rest, though. It floats above the eastern shoreline, not too far above the tallest buildings, shaped a little like a titanium umbrella the size of San Francisco.

It is toward this hovering superstructure that the spaceship makes its final approach.

*

Inside the floating building, all is chaos. The sick, wounded and dying crowd together. Some are attended to by an overworked medical staff in reddish robes. This looks like a triage area where meatball surgery is the best you can hope for. Moans, screams and shouts for assistance are joined by the constant drone of an overhead intercom system, which introduces some of the week's guest stars and gives context to what we're watching.

"Trauma team four to Level Four. Dr. Voje, com the Intercessor. Positron imaging, maintain status. Pulmonic unit, stand by for intake patients. Nursing facilitator, Level Red. Dr. Ovando to Emergency Intake. Intercessor Chellick, access outside communications. Code Four nursing unit, report to Level Red. Intercessor Vendell, com the Allocator.... "

Through this madness weaves a decently-dressed guy (unless you're offended by leather) whose face looks like he stepped off the road company of CATS. It's an expressive, felinoid face that somewhat resembles Jack Nicholson's Joker in BATMAN. He's carrying a small box, and he makes his way through the gauntlet of sick folk like...well, like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

He is stopped at a juncture which lights up and beeps to tell him he can go no further. Impatiently, he endures the scan.

"Negative for dysplasia, viremia, necrobiosis," states the all-business computer voice. "Please extend your arm." The cat man extends his arms reluctantly, enduring the invasion with head bowed.

A moment passes. Then a beep. "Species: Dralian. Identity: Gar. TC: Fifteen. You may proceed."

The cat dude, Gar, gets a Cheshire grin, and continues on his way.

*

A corpulent, grumpy looking guy oversees the madness when Gar approaches him. He doesn't look happy to see the newcomer.

"Chellick! Lucky I caught you."

"Mr. Gar. I wish I had time to talk." Actions speak louder than words; Chellick is busy, but he runs away like someone who wishes Gar would fall out the nearest airlock.

"Well, all you have to do is listen. I have a new supply of cytogenics--"

"Your last supply was useless," Chellick grumbles. "Expired lots, diluted samples..." Chellick moves away yet again.

Gar follows. "Oh, I have something special this time--"

"The latest in substandard technology, no doubt. "

Gar persists; he acts confident, appearing to enjoy the hard sell. "Oh, this item is far from substandard! And as a gesture of goodwill, I'm offering it to you first." He opens the box and shows it to Chellick.

There are two metalic items. One, I don't recognize. The other--well, let's just say it's awfully familiar.

Chellick isn't impressed. "We don't need another neural monitor."

Gar smiles. "This is much more sophisticated than that." He grabs the device and begins tapping its interface.

Chellick has his back turned. "I'm sure it has some ingenious use. But I'm not interested--"

He changes his mind when Gar's final adjustments kick in, and the device grows a certain loveable holographic curmudgeon.

"Please state the nature..." Doc looks around, and his voice trails off. "...of the medical emergency?"

Suddenly, Gar has Chellick's undivided attention.

* * *

"Where have you taken me?" Doc demands of Gar.

Chellick also looks at Gar, who explains. "It's a holographic construct programmed with over five million medical protocols."

"I demand to be returned to Voyager at once!" Doc grumbles--he doesn't like being ignored as though he isn't there. It reminds him too much of his earliest days on Voyager.

"What's Voyager?" Chellick asks.

"The Federation Starship to which I am assigned!" Doc says for Gar. "This man is a kidnapper!"

Chellick doesn't like the sound of that. Gar defends himself--and changes the nature of the charge. "I would never offer you stolen property!" (In other words, he doesn't deny being a kidnapper--he denies being a thief.) "I traded warp-grade dilithium for this program."

Chellick is interested. "What's your price?"

"This negotiation is pointless!" Doc rages. "I'm not about to perform medical services for a pair of common thieves!"

Chellick is unfazed by Doc's accusation. "It doesn't seem to be in working order," he says with a humorless smile. Gar starts to look nervous.

An alarm goes off. The intercom comes on. "Trauma victims are now arriving at Emergency Intake Seven."

Chellick talks back to the voice. "What caused their injuries?"

The voice responds. "A generator explosion at the Gammadan mining facility." The voice, we will later learn, is called The Allocator.

Chellick heads to the emergency; Doc's recalcitrance causes him to lose interest in the "faulty software." Gar growls at Doc. "You better start cooperating, or I will dismantle your program and sell it off one subroutine at a time."

Doc isn't scared. "When Captain Janeway discovers what you've done--"

But Doc himself is distracted by the sight of incoming wounded. A young doctor named Voje does his best with one of the nastier burn victims, but he's clearly in over his head.

The Allocator's voice kicks in. "Patient's TC is four. Transfer to level green. "

Voje shakes his head angrily. "Green isn't equipped for this!"

But Chellick sides with the Allocator. "His TC's only four. Take him to Green."

This gets Doc's dander up. He runs over to treat the wounded patient. "Don't touch that! This patient's bleeding seriously. He needs an immediate infusion."

"What are you doing?" Voje demands. "Get away from him!"

Doc gripes about the medical tools. "With technology this primitive you may as well be using leeches." He leaps into the work of healing anyway.

"Who is this man?" Voje demands of Chellick.

"A Doctor, of sorts," Chellick says, bemused. To the Doctor, he adds, "I thought you were withholding your services."

"Fortunately for these patients, I am programmed with the Hippocratic Oath," Doc explains, which he probably shouldn't. "It requires me to treat anyone who's ill. This patient needs 20 milligrams anesthizine. Get me a hypospray." Voje never heard of one. Doc grimaces with irritation, then tells the patient, "I'm sorry, this may hurt a little."

From the scream that follows, it's a safe bet that Doc was understating.

Gar simply smiles. He can smell a sale.

*

Meanwhile, back on Voyager...

Tom Paris and Harry Kim trudge through the corridor toward Sickbay. They're wearing hockey uniforms, gold with cherry-red shoulders. Tom is #8, Harry #7. (awww. Harry keeps Seven near his heart...) They're also bearing some impressive battle scars.

"Did you have to program that Nausicaan guard to high stick so much?" Harry asks.

Tom smirks. "Well...you play hockey, you got to expect a few lumps."

"What are we going to tell the Doctor? You know how he feels about our 'juvenile' holoprograms."

"Relax! I'll come up with something."

That's what Harry's afraid of.

*

The Doctor is looking busy when Tom and Harry arrive.

"Hey, Doc," they say sheepishly.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," Doc says pleasantly.

Harry starts. "I know what you're thinking but there's a simple explanation." Of course, he can't think of one himself. "Tell him, Tom."

"Right," Tom says, thinking fast (for him). "Well, uh, see, Doc, we were running these...invasion scenarios when this species of proto-humanoid..." It's a lousy lie, even for Tom.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," Doc says pleasantly.

What? Tom and Harry are caught off guard. "Are you okay, Doc?" Tom asks.

Doc runs a quick scan, oblivious to the opportunity to say something unkind. "Please take an analgesic and return in 24 hours."

Tom and Harry share a quick look.

*

"It's a replicated fake," Torres reports to Captain Janeway in the conference room.

"The program running in Sickbay is from one of Doc's old training files," Tom adds.

"I want someone to tell me how this snake oil salesman managed to evade every security protocol on the ship," Janeway says. She looks irritated, but not angry.

Tuvok starts off. "I take full responsibility."

"I'm not interested in fault," Janeway says. "I just want to know how it happened."

Neelix goes next. He looks guilty. "Uh, Gar spend the night in Sickbay. He claimed to have gotten food poisoning at dinner."

"He had plenty of time to learn about the mobile emitter from the Doctor," says Chakotay, who sits very close to where Janeway stands.

Janeway rolls her eyes and raises her hand dramatically. "Who I'm sure was more than willing to extol its virtues."

"Medical logs show the training file was activated just before Gar left Voyager." Torres says.

Janeway has what she needs for now. On to the next steps. "Scan for his ion trail."

She casts a witheringly affectionate glance (level 5 skunk eye) at her tactical officer. Her voice is hemlock-tainted honey. "And lets review safeguards for accessing low-security files--shall we, Mr. Tuvok?"

Tuvok fidgets, then nods.

*

Neelix catches up with Janeway in the corridor. "Captain, don't blame Tuvok for what happened. It was my fault."

This surprises Janeway. "How so?"

"Gar kept complaining how bland his dinner was so I added a few...exotic spices."

Janeway gets a puzzled look. "I'm not sure I see your point."

"I was trying so hard to create something he liked that I didn't take his alien physiology into account. Everyone's assuming he faked his illness...but I might have really made him sick."

Janeway stops, and pats Neelix on the shoulder." It's not as if your cooking turned him into a thief ," she says, attempting to console him.

"No...but if he hadn't gone to Sickbay, he may never have come up with a plan to kidnap the Doctor! Much less have the opportunity to do it."

Janeway folds her arms over her chest. "In my experience, Neelix, men like Gar have no trouble finding opportunities to take advantage of other people."

Neelix takes some comfort from this. But not complete comfort. "I just hope there is something I can do to help find the Doctor."

Janeway smiles, and lands a friendly poke to the Talaxian's chest. "Well, when and if that opportunity arises, I'm sure you'll make the most of it."

That gets the hamster-wheel turning in Neelix's furry little mind.

*

Meanwhile, back aboard the HMO Mothership...

The Doctor wraps up yet another medical miracle. He places a damp face cloth on the forehead of his latest patient, satisfied that he's done his duty.

"That was the most impressive cortical bypass I've ever seen," Voje says with open admiration.

Doc preens. "It's just a question of possessing the basic skills."

Voje lets out a tired sigh. "If I had 'basic skills' like yours, they'd move me up to Level Blue." He instructs the orderly to take the patient to Yellow.

Doc looks around for his next challenge. "You seem a little low on resources here. If I could contact my medical staff I might be able get you some additional supplies."

"Uhh," Voje says, not sure what to say to such a generous--not to mention unprecedented--offer. "Communication is usually restricted. But the Allocator might give you clearance."

"Good! Where can I find him?"

Voje gives a blank look at the strange but talented program. "The Allocator isn't a him. It's our main computer."

Doc notes an elderly gentleman, propped up against a wall, coughing up a few of the more essential internal organs. His programming mandates that he do something. "Well....Perhaps it could establish a communications link with Voyager's main computer--"

Poor Voje--he's got an eager associate, but one who is new to this particular facility. "You'll have to submit a formal request to Chellick and support it with form 83W in triplicate. Even then..."

"Why hasn't this patient been treated yet?" Doc demands, noting the suffering old man.

"He's waiting for proton imaging," says a new voice. Doc turns to see a young man with a smile that brightens the room. "There are a lot of other people ahead of him."

"It's nice to see someone knows what's going on," Doc says happily. "What's your name?"

The boy is eager to respond. "Tebbis."

Tebbis now has Doc's attention, so he gives the kid a brief visual scan. "Well, Tebbis, this doesn't look too serious."

"It's just a little osteal extravasation."

Doc looks up, pleasantly surprised. "Excellent diagnosis!"

"I hope to be a Doctor someday," Tebbis says.

"Really? Well, I hope your working conditions are better than these." He waves his tricorder.

"It wouldn't be so bad if they'd let us listen to music," Tebbis suggests.

Doc sighs. "It would certainly improve my mood."

"It's not just that," Tebbis says eagerly. "Music has great healing power."

Doc's estimation of the boy rises even further. "I couldn't agree with you more," he says with a slight bow.

Tebbis winces and emits a gasp. Doc quickly runs a more thorough scan--and frowns. He takes a few steps away from Tebbis and lets Dr. Voje look after him while he processes the data.

Voje joins Doc a moment later. "Can't you give him a neural blocker?" Doc asks.

"He's already had his allocation."

"A leg injury isn't all I'm picking up," Doc says softly. "He's got some kind of systemic disease."

Voje nods wearily. "It's a chromo-viral infection. We have 12 cases down here. He's in the final stage."

Doc hates to hear that. "Is there an established treatment?" Cytoglobin injections, Voje explains. Doc reviews his a scan on Tebbis, and looks up with confusion on his face. "These scans don't show any cytoglobin in his bloodstream."

Voje shrugs. "He hasn't been given any." Why not? Doc asks. "He doesn't have a high enough TC," Voje explains.

Doc's starting to get irked. "'TC'? What's that?"

But before Voje can answer, Chellick shows up. "There you are!" he says to the Doctor. "I'm happy to report that I've acquired your program from Gar. Please come with me."

"I will not! May I remind you, I'm being illegally detained? Or hasn't the rule of law reached this society yet?"

Chellick isn't intimidated. "We follow the Allocator's rules, and it's determined that your services are required on Level Blue."

Voje urges Doc to go along with the directive. "Please, Doctor. The Allocator knows which patients need help the most."

Following his internal directives--treat the sick--Doc does what he's told.

*

In the turbolift--surprisingly spacious compared to the triage area--Doc tries to chat up his new, er, owner. "Level Blue is your critical care area, I presume."

Chellick doesn't respond immediately. His answer is enlightening. "Level Blue is the area where it's most critical that we provide excellent care." Not exactly what Doc said, but close.

When the lift doors open, Doc is stunned.

Level Blue looks more like a Beverly Hills plastic surgery boutique. It's well lit, and impeccably clean. There are about three doctors and support staff for each patient. Everyone gets their own treatment alcove. The receptionists are appropriately attractive and pleasant. There's even music, for heck's sake.

A patient, in for a particularly virulent strain of hangnail, complains mildly about the room temperature--and gets an immediate click upwards in the climate control, and a few extra grapes hand-fed by a well-oiled Adonais to make up for the chilliness. Another patient, a male, is getting a sponge bath from the Swedish Bikini Team to overcome the trauma of having sat through an entire Yanni concert.

Chellick turns to the horrified Doc. "These patients will be your chief responsibility from now on. Do whatever you can to make them well."

One suspects that Doc's first suggested treatment plan will be a swift kick, administered someplace soft.

* * *

Doc examines the overstuffed leather comfy chair, going unoccupied while there's standing room only of the walking wounded on Level Red. This does not sit well with him. "Why are these patients getting preferential treatment?"

"They have a higher TC than the others," Chellick says casually.

"Indulge me," Doc says through gritted teeth. "What's TC ?"

"Treatment Coefficient. The Allocator assigns one to every patient. It determines the level of care they receive."

Doc doesn't like the sound of that at all. "How is this--coefficient derived?"

Chellick leads the way to his desk--which, naturally, is on the ultra-comfy Level Blue. "Through a complex formula that involves profession, skills, accomplishments..."

Doc's eyes go wide. "How is any of that relevant to medical treatment?!"

Chellick shrugs. "An agricultural engineer is obviously more important than a waste processor."

"Important to whom ?"

"Society," Chellick explains with bureaucratic coldness. "When your resources are limited, you have to prioritize." Chellick takes a seat at his desk, unconcerned with discussing this further. It's almost a surprise that he has deigned to speak with his purchase at all. To Chellick, Doc is just another medical resource to allocate.

"So you base treatment on whether patients have particular abilities?" Doc asks, disgusted.

"It's much more complicated than that. The Allocator assesses the entire individual."

"And reduces his life to a number!"

"It may seem impersonal," says Chellick impersonally. "But it's what the Dinaali have contracted us to do."

A new person enters the picture. He looks almost completely human, like Tebbis and Dr. Voje. Slightly balding, medium height, dark hair, no telltale alien markings or nose or ears. His lab coat is powder blue, and he has the haughty patrician bearing of a skilled doctor. His voice has that aura of bored disinterest that suggests extreme skill, and extreme apathy. He's ideally suited to the climate of Level Blue. "Chellick's people are known throughout the sector for their administrative skills. Before they came here, we were a dying race. Eco-disasters, famine..."

Chellick nods toward the newcomer and performs the introductions. "Dr. Dysek, Chief of Medicine," he says to Doc. "The medical hologram I told you about," he says to Dysek.

Doc turns his indignation, obviously wasted on Chellick, toward Dysek. "Are you in charge of what passes for care on Level Red? Because those people are suffering! "

Dysek doesn't bother to respond. "Intriguing technology," he says to Chellick. "Can we use him to treat patients yet?"

"That's what he's here for."

"In some societies," Doc huffs, "it's considered rude to refer to someone in the third person while he's standing in front of you!"

Dysek doesn't give a rat's patoot what Doc thinks. He raises an eyebrow at Chellick, who smiles. "I'm sure you'll make good use of him."

Dysek spins on his heels and walks toward a patient. Helplessly, Doc follows.

*

Voyager pursues Gar for an undisclosed period of time.

"The warp trail ends here," Tuvok announces. "Gar should be directly ahead."

"All stop," Janeway orders. "Red alert. On screen."

Instead of Gar's ship, they find a designated decoy--an unmanned beacon. "It's emitting a false warp signature," Tuvok announces.

Janeway frowns. "Looks we've underestimated Mr. Gar again."

"Now what?" Lt. Paris asks rhetorically.

Tuvok puts his legendary thinking powers to good use. "There may be another way to find him."

"What do you have in mind?" Chakotay asks.

"He traded us high-grade iridium, which has a very brief half-life," Tuvok explains. "His ship is slow. Logic suggests he acquired the substance within a radius of three light-years."

Janeway smiles; she likes the way he thinks. The captain turns to Ops. "Cross-reference our sensor logs and long-range scans."

Harry checks. "Two planets, no atmosphere or technology. A T-Class nebula..."

A moment later his eyes light up. "Here's something. An asteroid with approximately 200 humanoid lifesigns. Subterranean structures."

"Sounds like a mining operation," Chakotay says.

"If that's where Mr. Gar acquired the iridium," Tuvok says, "they may be able to help us find him."

That's good enough for Janeway. "Tom, how fast can you get us there?"

"Less than two hours."

Janeway rests back into the Big Chair. "Do it."

*

Two hours or so later, Voyager arrives at the asteroid.

Tuvok's station chirps. "We're being hailed."

Janeway stands. "Open a channel."

The alien who greets them has a nasal whine. "I want my iridium back now."

"I beg your pardon?" Janeway asks. (Oh, no. Shades of "Live Fast and Prosper"?)

"I've scanned your ship. I know you've got it on board. "

"Yes," Janeway says with forced cheerfulness, "we obtained it from a man called Gar. A merchant--"

"You mean thief."

Janeway and Chakotay share a knowing look. "So you have had the pleasure of meeting him," Chakotay says.

"He was here two days ago. He sold us 3,000 induction units. He was gone a day before we realized he'd also stolen 20 kilos of ore. "

"We had a similar experience," Janeway says, and smiles. "Maybe we can help each other."

"How?" the alien asks suspiciously.

"Do you have any idea where we might find him?" Janeway asks sweetly.

"Will you return my iridium? "

Janeway waves her hand dismissively. "By all means. But Gar only traded us half of what he stole from you." She bores her eyes into her fellow victim. "However, we might be able to get the rest of it back."

Mollified, the miner nods and agrees to cooperate. "All I can tell you is that the induction units came from a planetoid called Velos. "

Janeway sighs. This is gonna take a while. Clearly, Gar is one slippery kitten.

*

Dysek dismisses a nurse at the close of a procedure. "You may go." Off the underling goes. Dysek moves on to the next patient.

Doc raises his estimation of Dysek a notch after seeing the man at his healing work. "Your surgical technique is impressive!" he says, genuinely pleased.

Dysek accepts the compliment graciously. "You've obviously had experience with cellular repair."

Now it's Doc's turn. "As a matter of fact, I've done extensive research on the subject. I'd be happy to share it with you--but we'll have to contact Voyager to get it."

Dysek is instantly on guard. "You'll have to discuss that with Chellick. He authorizes all communications."

They reach the next patient, an unconscious female. Dysek checks the chart, then calls over a nurse. "It's time for this patient's next injection."

The nurse walks over to a replicator station. "Requesting one cytoglobin injection for patient B-3, priority Blue-7 Gamma."

The Allocator's voice answers. "One cytoglobin injection authorized." A pen-sized hypospray appears, which the nurse applies to the neck of the patient.

Doc's ears perk up at the sound of cytoglobin. "Does this patient have a chromo-viral infection?" he asks.

Dysek is surprised by the question. "No, why?"

"I was told cytoglobin is the standard treatment for that disease."

Dysek nods. "Ah. Cytoglobin also prevents arterial aging." He dismisses the nurse with a regal "you may go."

Doc runs a scan. "This patient's arteries appear to be healthy."

Dysek barely pays attention to the tension in Doc's voice. "At the moment. But daily injections increase life expectancy up to 40%. We prescribe them for all Level Blue patients."

This is almost too much for Doc to bear. "I just saw a boy on Level Red who's dying!This medicine could save his life!"

Dysek doesn't see the relevance. Or pretends not to. "This woman is a chief engineer of an irrigation facility which provides water to half the subcontinent."

"So her life is more valuable?" asks a scandalized Doc.

"Keeping her healthy contributes to our survival. Can you say the same for the boy on Level Red?"

"Who knows what he'll accomplish if he has the chance!?!" Doc demands. He's already seen Tebbis' potential.

Dysek tries to brush it off. "If he becomes more valuable to society, his TC will rise, and then he'll receive better treatment."

"He may not be around long enough!"

Dysek does his best to look like a cold administrator feigning sympathy. "I'm sorry he's sick. But our society is much better off since we began following the Allocator's protocols." Despite his words, however, Dysek walks away looking troubled by the conversation.

As well he should. Medicine that could save lives, is being withheld so it can be used instead to improve the quality of life for those who may not even need the extra boost.

For his part, Doc is grim as he watches Dysek go. "Some of you are."

*

Apparently even software gets a little time off. Doc uses his to revisit Level Red.

Dr. Voje is surprised. "I never expected to see you again." Doc wonders why. "Level Blue is much more prestigious."

"Prestige is the least of my concerns," Doc insists, walking over to Tebbis. "How is he?"

Not well, Voje says, and the chart backs up that diagnosis. Doc's expression wilts. "His condition's deteriorated so rapidly--"

"His coenzyme allotment's been reduced," Dr. Voje explains.

"Are we here to help these people, or kill them?" Doc rages.

Voje sympathizes, but explains that Tebbis' TC is just too low. Doc suggests they raise it. Voje says there's no way to do that. Doc explains that they can simply fudge the data a little. Voje protests that they don't have the authorization to do any such thing.

Doc takes a deep breath and explains patiently. "Voje. When you look at your patient lying there, you have to ask yourself: what can I do? What must I do? We can amend his database to include additional skills!"

Voje still doesn't look convinced. "Such as?"

"His extensive knowledge of neutronics," Doc suggests. Voje points out that Tebbis knows nothing about neutronics. What's your point? Doc counters. "We can say he does! What's the harm in trying?"

Voje is swayed. He punches into the Allocator and makes the request. "Amend Patient R-12's TC to include an expertise in neutronics."

Ah, if only it were that easy. The Allocator thinks for about half a second before chirping caustically, "Unable to verify. Amendment denied."

Voje shrugs helplessly. "You see?"

Tebbis, who has been sleeping to this point, stirs. "Hello," he rasps weakly.

"Lie still," Doc says.

"What are you doing?" Tebbis asks. Trying to get you the proper medication, Doc says.

"You're wasting time you could be...spending with other patients," Tebbis whispers.

Doc is really starting to dislike this place and its values. "You have as much right to treatment as anyone!"

"It's not...your fault." Tebbis drifts back to sleep.

"There's nothing you can do," Dr. Voje says, fatalism in his voice.

Doc's jaw sets. The hell there isn't.

*

Doc marches into Level Blue and finds the nearest nurse. He marches over to a random patient and then calls the nurse over. "Why hasn't this patient received her additional cytoglobin injection?"

"Additional?"

Doc sighs. "If you'd examined her chart, you'd see that I've increased her dosage."

"Dr. Dysek didn't say anything--"

"Dr. Dysek is at home with his family," Doc says officiously. "Would you like me to contact him so you can explain why you're not doing your job?"

If there's one thing this species understands, it's cowering under the officious eye of a superior. "No, Doctor." She calls up the injection, and the Allocator approves.

Doc takes the injection from her. "I'll do it myself." She offers to assist, but Doc tries something he learned from Dr. Dysek. He hands her the chart PADD and waves dismissively over his shoulder. "You may go."

Like Pavlov's dog, the nurse moves away without a moment's thought.

Doc places the injection to the neck of the patient...then pockets it unused.

*

Back on Level Red, Doc works his way slowly past the choked throng of the dying, doing his best to avoid the attention of the other doctors.

He eventually reaches Tebbis' bed. Taking another look around to make sure nobody notices, he injects the young man with the life-saving medicine.

And then he smiles, his programming satisfied. He can work within the system, bending the rules ever so slightly to fulfil his directive to heal the infirm.

By Hippocrates, he can do this.

* * *

On Voyager, the search for Gar continues.

They've reached Velos, and have reached someone potentially useful on the comm channel. "He convinced me to let him take the induction units on consignment," grumbles the irritated alien, a fellow victim of Gar's deceit. "That was more than ten days ago. I haven't heard from him since."

Apparently Tuvok is doing his part in the search, and Janeway has given him the right to speak with the witnesses. "You appear to be an experienced merchant, Mr. Kipp," Tuvok says. "Why would you trust someone like Gar?"

Mr. Kipp is eager to show he's not a complete chump. "He came highly recommended ."

"By whom?" Tuvok asks.

"A buyer I know. He said he's been trading with Gar for years."

This is helpful. Very helpful. Janeway jumps in. "Do you know where we can find this buyer?"

*

Apparently he does.

Janeway next finds herself chatting with a pudgy, wheezing fellow whose voice is a perpetual whine. "Yes, Captain. I am the fool who said that Gar could be trusted." Unlike Mr. Kipp, this guy is beating up on himself pretty severely.

Janeway would normally be amused by such a pathetic creature. But a member of her crew has been shanghaied. "Sounds like you've changed your mind."

"I--I--I should have known it was a mistake, but...well...you see, I have never been able to say no to my wife," the guy whimpers. (Yes, that's the sound of a whip cracking.)

"What does she have to do with it?" Tuvok asks.

"Well, she's the one who asked me to recommend Gar." His voice breaks a little when he says that name.

"Then she must know him well," Tuvok says.

"They're...friends." More whimpering.

"May we speak with her?" Tuvok asks.

The poor shlub looks about ready to lose it. "She's, uh...well, she's not here. "

Janeway cuts to the chase. "Do you know where we might find her?"

Folds of flesh quiver on his chins as all composure flees. "She left me...."

*

"You're a woman," says a sultry vixen with big hair and a low-cut gown. "You saw my husband with your own eyes--overweight, depressed. You would have left him, too especially if you had met someone as exciting as Gar." Her eyes light up like a pachinko machine when she mentions her feline pal.

At this point in the search, Janeway is drained. There's only so many losers one can deal with at a time before the funk sets in. The captain stares dully at the screen, leaning her chin on her open palm, looking annoyed. "Yes, he's very exciting," Janeway says, her every syllable a lie.

The vixen gets suspicious. "That's why you're looking for him, isn't it? You want him for yourself." The claws come out.

Janeway manages not to laugh. "I assure you, I have no romantic interest in him whatsoever."

"Why? Not good enough for you?"

This perks Janeway up--she's their closest thing yet to a lead, so she needs to stay on this straying wife's good side. "No, it's not that. It's just that..."

Janeway struggles for a good way to short-circuit this. She looks around. Chakotay is nowhere to be found. Tuvok, however, is. She reaches out her hand, and grabs Tuvok. Her eyes go coquettish; she bats them a few times. "I already have a man."

Tuvok recovers quickly enough to keep the gag going. For their parts, Tom and Harry manage to bite back their sniggers.

"We...have a business opportunity for Mr. Gar," Tuvok says, trying to look taken. "One that will expire if we don't find him soon."

The psycho hose beast with the high-price 'do seems satisfied that Janeway isn't after her man, but that she WOULD be if she weren't taken, thus validating her own taste. She volunteers the information. "He's on his way to the gambling tournament on Selek Four."

Whew. Mission accomplished. We're gonna get you, sucker.

But the woman has a final request. "When you see him--" she asks, leaning forward to showcase her cleavage, "Tell him to hurry home." Lust drips from the screen as the channel closes.

A nanosecond later, Janeway and Tuvok break contact with each other, and the laughter begins in earnest while the captain buries her face in her hands.

One of these days, they have GOT to build themselves a decent backup system for that frelling EMH....

*

Tebbis wakes up, and feels surprisingly good. He sits up on his deathbed.

Doc is right there. "How are you feeling?" he asks with a smile.

Tebbis considers the question thoroughly. He can't explain it, but has to admit: "Better!"

Doc is pleased. "That's what happens when you get the proper treatment."

Tebbis grows alarmed by this. He looks up at his chart on the wall, and his eyes grow wide. He looks back at the Doctor. "But I'm not authorized to receive cytoglobin!"

"You are now," Doc assures him. You'll need several more injections, but you can expect a complete recovery."

Tebbis is not convinced. "Whatever you did, they'll find out. They'll punish you."

Doc's confidence wavers a little. "You're assuming I've done something illicit."

"Didn't you?"

"Of course not! I simply had a talk with Chellick, explained to him what a bright young man you are, and he had the Allocator recalculate your TC."

Tebbis begins to relax, and gratitude takes over. "I've never met a Doctor like you."

"Well..." Doc says, suddenly humble. Then his pride kicks in. "It's not hard to stand out when the general level of competence is so low."

Tebbis asks a favor. "There are patients on this level who deserve a higher TC than I do. Could you talk to Chellick about them?"

Doc shows his teeth. Things are looking up around here.

*

Dr. Voje (pronounced voh-jee) sits on break during yet another long shift, and thanks an orderly for the report he's just been handed.

Doc arrives. "Ah, Voje! You're not busy, are you?"

"Well, actually, I was just..."

"Good! I want you to help me dispense these injections." He opens up his bag which contains several needles.

Voje's eyes go wide. "Where did you get the cytoglobin?"

"Level Blue. Where else?"

"You stole it?"

Doc frowns, then smiles. "I prefer to think of it as 'reallocation.'" (ba-dum boom.) "We're going to treat every chromo-virus patient on this level."

Voje, still the dutiful managed care worker, blanches. "Do you have any idea what kind of trouble we could get into?"

"'We?'" Doc smirks. "Then you will help me!"

Voje almost agrees before sanity takes over. "No! Absolutely not! Modifying data files was bad enough."

"Well," Doc huffs, "I certainly wouldn't want you to do anything to compromise your ethics ."

"I'll help you." Both doctors turn to see Tebbis, on his feet with eagerness in his eyes.

"You should be in bed," Voje says sternly.

Doc, however, jumps at the offer. "Actually, now that he's improving a little, activity will do him good." He turns his back on Dr. Voje as he and Tebbis move off to their first patient. His voice is scornful. "You can go back to doing...whatever you were doing."

*

They reach the first patient, who is dying. Doc shows Tebbis where to inject the cytoglobin. Nervously, the boy complies, and is rewarded with Doc's praise. "Excellent work! It's nice to see someone in this hospital has a future as a healer."

Doc hears a sigh behind him. He turns to see Voje reaching for some of the needles. "If we each take a third of the patients, maybe we can finish before someone catches us."

And then there were three. Smiling, Doc hands him the needle, and the men part company to save some lives.

*

Dr. Dysek finds Doc on Blue Level. He isn't happy. "Who do you think you are, prescribing unnecessary medications for my patients?!"

"It wasn't unnecessary," Doc protests.

"If you believe that, you're incompetent. Or perhaps malfunctioning."

Doc smiles. "I was simply trying to...increase our allocation of resources."

This catches Dysek completely off guard. "What are you talking about?"

Doc explains. "I did some checking. Last month, Level Blue's total medication requests were down by six percent."

Dysek nods. "Because our cure rate was higher."

"Exactly! Because you performed so efficiently last month, the Allocator will determine you're able to do with less next month!"

Dysek's eyes go wide. This software is more resourceful than he previously imagined....

"If we don't order more medication now," Doc continues, "we may not get it...when we need it. Think about it, Doctor! If you don't have the proper resources, your cure rate could go down."

Dysek is listening most intently now.

Doc finishes him off with a whisper. "If that happens...the Allocator may assign you to a lower level."

Enlightenment dawns.

Chellick arrives, noting the intense conversation between the chief of medicine and his latest, troublesome acquisition. "Are we having a problem with our newest piece of technology?" The alien administrator asks gruffly.

Dysek gives the Doctor an appraising look. "Actually...he seems to be learning the system...quite well."

Score another one for Federation medicine.

*

Back down in Level Red, Dr. Voje is beginning to see the light through the red tape. "Three of the patients we injected are practically virus-free!" he says to the Doctor, examining the charts.

"What did you expect?"

Voje's voice drops to sotto voce. "Um, maybe we could 'reallocate' other medications treat more patients?"

Doc is scandalized. And he couldn't be happier about it. "Now you're thinking like a Doctor! And to support your efforts, I've arranged for resources from Level Blue to be diverted here on a regular basis."

Doc's legend grows in the eyes of his young colleague. "How did you manage that?"

"Let's just say Dr. Dysek and I have developed a...professional rapport." He preens. "Sometimes I even surprise myself."

Voce seems to take pride in his profession as never before. "We may actually make these people better."

"That feeling you get from healing someone..." Doc says. "Infectious , isn't it?"

Smiling, the two head over to check up on Tebbis. Dr. Voje is surprised to see the young man working on something technical. "Where did you get that?"

"One of the technicians was going to recycle it because it wasn't working," Tebbis explains. "But I think I fixed it."

Doc examines the boy's work, and laughs. "It seems to be in good condition." To prove his point, he runs it over Tebbis, and his smile grows. "And so do you. You'll be well enough to leave soon."

This doesn't have the expected impact. Tebbis looks nervous. "Couldn't you say I'm still sick?"

"Don't you want to go home?" Doc asks.

"If I do, they'll send me to work in the refinery with my father."

Doc doesn't understand. "What about school? Your medical training?"

"I would never be authorized for that," Tebbis says, frowning. Voje confirms this. In this society, your TC determines more than just the level of care you get. But there's a bright side. "If I stay here, you can teach me, and I can help you treat your patients."

Now Doc frowns. "But I'm not planning on being here that long myself."

Tebbis looks sad, but then he looks to Doc's colleague. "Then I can help Dr. Voje."

Voje seems touched. "We'll see what we can do."

*

It had to happen eventually.

"I have picked up Gar's ship, directly ahead," Tuvok reports.

"Again?" Paris teases.

"I'm reading his biosigns," Tuvok assures him.

Chakotay checks his station. "Any sign of the Doctor or his emitter?"

"Not yet."

"Should I hail Gar?" Harry asks.

Janeway shakes her head. "If we let him know we're here, he may try to slip away."

Chakotay approaches Janeway and offers a suggestion. "We could drop out of warp at close range and grab him before he knows what's happening."

Janeway smiles. "I like it. Tom...Tuvok," she says.

The preparations begin.

Voyager drops out of warp, almost on top of the smaller vessel, and instantly latches on with tractor beams.

"He's hailing," Harry reports a moment later.

Janeway smirks. "I guess we put him in the mood to talk. On screen."

Gar doesn't look happy, despite the permanent rictus. "I thought we were friends, Captain. Why am I being treated this way?" he chides. "I think I deserve better. "

Janeway doesn't bother to answer the charge. "Where's our Doctor?"

"I have no idea. I certainly hope nothing's happened to him." He's a good actor, I'll give him that.

"Scans are complete," Tuvok reports. "Neither the mobile emitter nor the Doctor's program are aboard Gar's ship."

Gar looks relieved. He may not have been sure whether Voyager could have traced whether he EVER had it on board his ship. "Well, of course they're not," he blusters.

At that moment, Voyager shudders. "He's trying to destabilize the tractor beam with a feedback pulse," Chakotay says.

"Compensating," Harry says instantly.

Janeway waves him off. "Don't bother, Harry. Just beam him to the brig." The captain glares at the screen, which turns to ice. Frost forms on the end of Gar's nose.

Brrr.

*

It's night time. Doc works his way carefully through the darkened confines of Level Red, whispering to Tebbis--wherever he may be. He's in a cheerful mood. "Tebbis...wake up. Time to make our rounds."

He makes his way to Tebbis' bed, but when he turns on a light, he finds an old woman sleeping there. He asks the Allocator to locate "Patient R-12."

The Allocator responds. "Patient R-12 has been transferred to Level White."

Level white? Is that good?

Dr. Voje shows up. "Tebbis has been moved," Doc says.

"I know." Voje doesn't look happy.

"What's Level White? Some kind of patient recovery area?"

Voje glares. "It's the morgue."

Brrr.

* * *

The Doctor is on a search-and-destroy mission. The target: Chellick.

He finds the man on Level Blue, naturally. "I demand an explanation for the death of that boy!"

"I'm responsible for thousands of patients," Chellick says, not even bothering to look up. "You'll have to be more specific."

"His name was Tebbis!" This gets no reaction. Doc's voice rises even higher as he amends, "Patient R-12!"

Almost casually, Chellick calls up the file on screen. "Acute chromo-viral disease," he says as though reciting the time.

"He was recovering!"

"Apparently, he developed complications."

Doc is suspicious. "What kind of complications?"

"A secondary infection. It spread rapidly." A smooth player, this Chellick. He betrays little.

"How was it treated?" Doc demands to know.

"It wasn't. The patient had exceeded his medication allotment." Doc reacts as if slapped as Chellick looks up with chilling eyes. "It seems someone had given him unauthorized injections."

Doc is speechless.

"Did you...think I wouldn't find out?"

"Don't you have any ethical standards?" Doc pleads, desperate to understand the sort of species that could commit such barbarities.

Chellick's voice doesn't rise, but his eyes blaze. "You are hardly in a position to speak to me of ethics. Lying, stealing...any other crimes you wish to confess?"

"I was trying to save lives!"

"And I am trying to save a society!" Chellick says, his voice rising at last. "Do you really think Patient R-12 is going to help me do that?!"

"His name...was Tebbis," Doc repeats angrily.

"He wasn't contributing. He was a drain on resources." Maybe not by his scale.

But Doc sees different. "You're not just rationing health care here. You're getting rid of the sick and the weak!"

"If the boy had been fit, he would have survived," Chellick suggests, convincing nobody.

"Why don't you just put a phaser to their heads?" Doc practically spits.

This offends Chellick. "We're healers, not killers." Coulda fooled me....

Doc sighs heavily. "I'm going to expose you."

"To whom--the people who employ me? They brought me here to make the hard choices they don't want to make." Oh, man--dry ice makes pilgrimages to this guy's pants just to cool off. Not a man you want handling your insurance forms, that's for sure.

Chellick continues, a bit calmer. Apparently his species has a knack for composure under stress, and ignoring the suffering of others that doesn't compute. "From now on, I'm restricting you to Level Blue. You've done enough damage on Red."

"You mean those patients that I treated?" Doc asks sarcastically. "Yes, that was inconsiderate of me."

He's surprised to hear Chellick agree. "You managed to exceed their annual medication allotment in a matter of days. They're being sent home."

Doc is stricken. "They'll die!"

"You should have considered the consequences of your actions."

"Please, don't make them suffer for my mistakes," Doc begs. "It won't happen again."

Chellick returns to his work. "I'm making certain of that. From now on, your time will be strictly regulated."

"Meaning what?"

"I've interfaced your holomatrix with the Allocator. Starting now, it will determine where you go, when you go and what you do when you get there." He presses a button.

The voice of the Allocator, male and indifferent, makes Doc cringe. "The medical hologram will now commence treatment on Level Blue. "

To drive home the point, Doc disappears from beside Chellick's desk.

And materializes across the room, by a patient's bed.

"You have six minutes to treat Patient B-3. "

Farewell, frying pan. Hello, fire.

*

Gar, stuck in the brig, holds firm under Tuvok's interrogation. "I don't know where he is!"

"Not now, perhaps. But you know where you took him."

"The last time I saw him, he was in your Sickbay." Gar seems to think he knows enough about these Federation types to know that they treat their prisoners well. He's not agitated in the least.

"If you refuse to cooperate, your knowledge of his location can be extracted," Tuvok, exasperated, says ominously.

"How?"

"A mind meld."

"What's that?" Gar asks, starting to get worried. He hadn't planned on this.

Tuvok plays up the moment. "An invasive and disturbing procedure."

"Dinnertime!" Neelix shouts, cheerily bearing a bowl of something hot on the other side of the force field.

Tuvok is annoyed. "Mr. Neelix. I am in the middle of an interrogation." His eyebrows whup Neelix upside the head like a marathon session at slaphillary.com.

"Commander!" Neelix chides, tsk-tsking the Vulcan. "You know better than anyone that Starfleet has strict guidelines about allowing prisoners to eat."

Tuvok relents. "Very well." He nods to the guard, who drops the force field long enough for Neelix to enter the cell. "I'll wait."

Gar rubs his hands together and licks his lips hungrily. A look of anticipation that the average Voyager crewman does NOT bear when going to the mess hall.

Neelix relishes the appreciation, and hands him the bowl with a flourish. Gar digs in.

"I'm glad to see you enjoying a meal," Neelix says happily. "When you got sick last time, I thought my food was to blame." Gar keeps digging in, clearly enjoying the meal.

"Until I realized it was just a ruse for you to get close to the Doctor," Neelix adds. The tenor of his voice changes ever so slightly. A gleam appears in his eyes. "I used Talaxian Wormroot as the base."

"Mmm." Whatever it is, he likee.

"I'm glad you like it! Some people react badly," he says, nodding at Tuvok, who tries to ignore him.

A moment later, Gar stops shoveling it in. We hear a rather loud, distressed URP deep within the bowels of Gar's...ummm...

"React...(urp)...how?" Gar asks, already dreading the answer.

Oh, man. This isn't going to be pretty. And you thought the Bolian restrooms needed to be specially designed....

"Oh, dear, I hope you're not getting sick," Neelix says, the very picture of sympathy. Not. "If it's the wormroot, it's going to get a lot worse."

UUUUUUUUuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrppppp.... "What have you....(frommmpp)...done to me?" Gar's eyes cross with the intensity of the gas ball now eating through his duodenum.

Neelix thinks slowly, and explains with all the compassion of a master Cardassian interrogator. "Well, the usual symptoms are...abdominal spasms, which increase in severity for thirty hours..."

Gar's right toe explodes, shooting out a five-foot stream of flame. Gar's eyes turn purple. Voyager's environmental control systems go critical.

Neelix grins. "Forty at the most." Gar yowls like Calico cat being scrubbed with steel wool.

Tuvok slaps his chest. "Tuvok to Sickbay."

Neelix pats the security chief on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Mr. Tuvok it's not fatal! It's horribly unpleasant, but, uh..." He looks over at Gar, who is even now rising off the bed of the brig in a fart-propelled fetal ball, bouncing off the walls, ceiling and forcefield like a zero-G flatunaut.

"There's an antidote," Neelix says slyly.

"Then give it to me!" Gar screams, as his trousers melt from yet another toxic blast, generated courtesy of exotic and unpredictable Talaxian condiments.

Neelix braces himself for the stench, then takes a seat beside the agonized felinoid, whose nine lives are expiring live and in color like a line of mahjongg chips. He whispers the next part. "Unfortunately, our Doctor is the only one authorized to administer it. Maybe if you remembered where he was..."

The remainder of Gar's clothing burns off, turned to powder and sloughed off like so much dust in a whirlwind. Gar's gut turns translucent, liquefying as we watch, revealing a Mobius strip of roiling intestines.

Tuvok pulls the Essence of Emeril's evil twin aside. "Mr. Neelix...have you deliberately poisoned this man?"

"Relax! He's just having gas pains." Earth-shattering gas pains, but still...

Tuvok thwacks him with a Starfleet-issue olive loaf. "Your actions are not only against regulations..."

Neelix just laughs. "Didn't I hear someone threaten a mind meld?" he asks with a mock scolding tone.

"I was merely trying to encourage the suspect to be more forthcoming."

Neelix looks over at Gar. "Yeah. I think he's getting all the encouragement he needs...."

The worm root kicks it up a notch--BAM!

FFFRrrrrrrrrmmmmpppppptttthhrrbbb....Gar's right butt-cheek disintegrates in a methane implosion.

Janeway was right. Neelix found his own inimitable way to make up for sending Gar to Sickbay in the first place.

Neelix cooks for two reasons: pleasure, and revenge.

And unlike the worm root stew, revenge is a dish best served cold.

*

Despite the bad outcome of the Doctor's underground requisitions, his influence on Dr. Voje are apparent. When an orderly arrives to prepare one of the patients for discharge, Voje tells him to back off. "I'm not finished with him yet."

The orderly is confused. "But Chellick's orders are--"

"Are to discharge the patient at the end of the shift," Voje says sharply. "The shift isn't over, is it?"

"No, sir, but I need time in order to..."

"I'll tell you when he's ready," Voje growls.

At that moment, the Allocator summons the mere mortal to Olympus. "Dr. Voje, report to Level Blue to assist Dr. Dysek in surgery. "

Yowsa. A trip to the major leagues.

Big time.

*

Doc is working on a patient in a mostly-deserted Level Blue when Dr. Voje arrives. The younger doctor is stunned by what he sees.

"Voje!" Doc yells.

"I didn't realize that any of this even existed," Voje admits.

"I need to talk to you," Doc says urgently.

"I don't have time. I just got a message from the Allocator that Dysek needs me."

"I'm the one who sent for you. I used his access codes."

Voje is about to protest that you can't do that, but then he remembers who he's talking to. "Oh."

Doc's request is simple, but fraught with peril. "I need you to smuggle my mobile emitter off Level Blue."

The Allocator is still giving Doc too little time to do his stuff. "Time has expired for treatment of Patient B-1. Proceed to Patient B-3." Doc stuffs something into Voje's hands just before he disappears.

He reappears across the room. "The medical hologram has one minute to treat Patient B-3. "

Doc runs back over to Voje. "You have to help me!"

But Voje has begun to return to his senses, and he's not a happy camper. "Twelve patients on Level Red are being sent home because of you!"

"That's why we have to hurry. We may still be able to save them."

"You've already endangered my patients! And now you're asking me to risk my career? Why should I help you?" It's a good question. Strictly speaking, Doc is making some major Prime Directive no-nos on this unexpected away mission. He's mucking about a lot in the natural affairs of this very screwed up people.

Like he cares. "Because I have a plan to heal those patients. That's what Doctors do--we heal! So, choose--what kind of Doctor are you going to be?"

"The medical hologram has 30 seconds to deactivation. " Uh oh. That doesn't sound good.

"Do you hear that?" Doc begs.

Voje hesitates, but makes his decision. "How can I get you off this level?"

Doc points to the box. "Deactivate my mobile emitter and put it in inside this selenide medkit. It'll shield the signature."

"And then what?"

"Take it to Level Red, and reactivate me." (How would he know how?)

Now Voje is suspicious again. "What are you going to do once you get to Level Red?"

"The medical hologram has ten seconds to deactivation. "

"There's no time to explain! You'll have to trust me."

Inexplicably, Voje decides to trust him.

*

Chellick finds Doc hard at work in Level Red. "I suspect young Dr. Voje helped you escape," Chellick growls irritably.

"He had nothing to do with it," Doc lies.

"No matter. You're becoming far too troublesome. I'm going to have to deactivate your program." Chellick reaches for Doc's mobile emitter.

But Doc does a deft bit of Med Fu. Within seconds, Chellick is immobilized with his arm behind his back, and Doc is plunging a hypospray into the administrator's neck. He screams for Voje to come over and help.

"What's wrong with him?" Voje asks as he helps Doc get Chellick on a bio bed.

"What are you doing?" Voje demands.

"A little experiment in empathy."

"You told me you were just developing new treatment protocols!"

"A single protocol, actually."

Chellick is rapidly losing color. He gasps. "You're only making things worse for yourself!"

Doc shakes his head, fiery determination in his eyes. "As a matter of fact, I'm making things worse for you. I'm going to make you a patient in your own hospital."

Hmmm. Whatever happened to "first, do no harm"? Nice to see his adventures with Crell Moset didn't rub off on him any...

* * *

"What was in that injector?" Chellick demands weakly.

"A neural blocker. Combined with the same virus that afflicted Tebbis."

Voje is outraged. "I trusted you!"

"And Tebbis trusted me!" Doc leans in close to Chellick. "You remember Tebbis, don't you? Patient R-12?" Doc calls up a chart on the computer screen. "Maybe this will jog your memory!"

"What are you doing?" Voje demands.

The Allocator announces the identity of Level Red's newest victim. I mean, patient. "Patient R-12. Species: Dinaal. Identity: Tebbis. "

Chellick begins to panic. He's completely paralyzed, and his voice has a guttural Lary Flynt quality to it. "This is ridiculous! I'm not Tebbis!"

"But the Allocator thinks you are," Doc says.

Hmmm. He and Neelix must be mind-melded this week.

Voje is surprised yet again by the Doctor's inventiveness. "How did you do...?"

"Simple--the Allocator identifies patients by reading blood factors. I altered Chellick's by injecting him with antigens from Tebbis."

The burgeoning horror of the situation begins to show in Chellick's eyes.

Doc claps his hands together. "Now! Why don't we see if we can get your condition treated," he says, heading to the computer. "Requesting one cytoglobin injection for Patient R-12."

BZZZT! "Treatment denied." O cruel mistress Fate...

Chellick isn't going to take this laying down. Oh, wait--I guess he is. "I order you to medicate me now," he says, beginning to drool a little.

"Ordinarily, I would. But if the Allocator says 'no'..."

"Is this some sort of revenge?" Chellick demands to know.

"Not revenge. Leverage. I want enough cytoglobin to cure every infected patient on this level."

"We don't have an adequate supply."

"There's plenty on Level Blue," Doc reminds him.

"Where it's being used to prevent arterial aging!"

"Those patients will survive without it. But a dozen people on this level won't. I will not let them die."

This is a surprise. Doc has popped open a child-safety cap of prescription-grade whupass.

And for the moment, he's in the driver's seat.

*

Voyager arrives at the planet. "Entering orbit," Lt. Paris reports.

"Scan for the Doctor's signature," Janeway says.

*

Voje still hasn't bought into this latest experiment in alternative medicine. "He's dying!" Voje protests.

But Doc is adamant. "As soon as we get the cytoglobin, we'll be able to treat all the Level Red patients. Including him."

"You said it yourself: Doctors heal. We don't make patients sick!" He's got you there, Doc.

Doc shrugs helplessly. "I don't know any other way to help these people."

Chellick makes a direct appeal. "Dr. Voje...I need the medicine. Now."

Voje also shrugs helplessly, but he actually means it. "Sir, I only have a Level Red clearance. You know I'm not authorized--"

"Then find someone who is!!!"

Voje gives Doc a withering parting glance, and heads for the lift.

Well, Doc. It was worth a try.

*

"I've got him," Paris reports. "He's aboard a vessel above the northern continent."

"Can you get a lock?" Janeway asks.

B'Elanna's on the bridge. She handles the attempt. "It's not going to be easy. His program seems to be interfaced with the main computer."

Janeway growls. "Hail the ship."

"They're responding; audio only."

It's the voice of the Allocator. "This is Hospital Ship Four-Two. Allocation Module Alpha."

Oh, great--a bureaucratic computer. "This is Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager. I would like to speak with someone regarding a member of my crew who is aboard your vessel."

"Administrator Chellick is currently unavailable ."

Janeway rolls her eyes. "Then may I speak with someone else?"

"Only Administrator Chellick is authorized to communicate with alien species."

Janeway throws up her hands. It's just been one of those weeks.

*

As luck would have it, Dr. Voje went straight to the top. He returns with Dr. Dysek.

"Are we having a problem here?" asks the chief of medicine, the ranking native of Hospital Ship Four-Two.

"Dysek. Finally," the dying Chellick mutters.

"I'm sorry," Voje tells Doc. "I had to tell him."

Dysek scans Chellick the way he would any other patient--dispassionately.

"What are you waiting for? Give me the cytoglobin!"

Dysek finishes his scan. "I don't think I can."

"What are you saying?" Chellick gurgles.

"Cytoglobin isn't authorized for Level Red patients."

"Dysekkkkk!"

Dysek offers a helpless shrug. "I don't want to break the rules."

"I made the rules!"

Dysek smiles. "Then you should be pleased I hold them in such high regard."

The Doctor's own smile, gone since the death of Tebbis, returns.

*

"I'm sorry, Captain--I can't transport him without damaging his matrix," Lt. Torres says after a while.

Janeway sets her formidable jaw. "Then you'll have to go down and get him." Awww, you mean we won't be getting a replay of The Chute, where Action Kate comes down with Betsy blazin'? Dang.

"Aye, Captain," Torres says, heading for the turbolift. Janeway sends Chakotay along to assist.

Nice to see they let him do SOMETHING this week.

*

"Don't tell me you're allied with this defective hologram!" Chellick gurgles. He's fading fast.

"No, but he has given me insight into some of the intricacies of our system," says Dysek clinically. "For example: did you know, if I don't request enough resources for Level Blue this month, I won't get what I need next month?"

"What are you talking about?! "

Doc joins in for one brutally effective tag team. "You know, Doctor, one way to increase your allocation of resources on Level Blue would be to increase the number of patients. I know at least a dozen people who should be treated for...arterial aging. Saving their lives would be just a--" he smiles. "Side effect."

Dysek concurs. "Hmm. Perhaps we should have them transferred to Level Blue."

"If you're looking for a second opinion, I concur."

Dysek looks down on the wilting administrator. "Well...? Chellick...what do you think?"

"It's absurd!" You gotta admit, this is one seriously dedicated pencil-pushing rear-echelon puke.

"We'd have to transfer you to Level Blue as well," Dysek adds reasonably. "You'd get your cytoglobin."

At that moment, Doc hears the unmistakeable whine of a transporter. Doc looks over to the source of the noise to see Chakotay and Torres.

"Doctor!" the first officer says.

Doc smiles. "It's nice to see some friendly faces."

"We'll get you out of here."

"Who do we talk to about accessing the main computer?" Torres asks.

Doc pauses. "I'll be with you in a moment. I'm with a...patient." He looks down on Administrator Chellick. "Do we have an agreement?"

Chellick's teeth grind to powder as he caves. "Yes. "

Kaaaa-Chinnng!!!

*

It wouldn't be a Voyager episode without at least one Seven of Nine scene. To the (pleasant?) surprise of some, it was held off until the epilogue.

Doc gives Seven of Nine her latest checkup in Sickbay. "You've managed to stay well while I was away. I'm giving you a clean bill of health."

Seven wonders what all the fuss is. "You were only away four days."

"A lot can happen in four days--injuries, infections..." A cloud passes over his face. "Malfunctions."

"As you said, I'm fine. Thank you." She rises to leave.

"I was wondering if you'd mind doing me a favor?" Doc asks, stopping the former Borg. "I'd like you to give me a checkup."

Seven is on alert. "Have you been experiencing problems?"

"No. But, as you said, I've been off the ship for awhile. Interfaced with an alien computer..."

Seven obliges. She runs a diagnostic. The beep sounds encouraging enough. "Your program appears to be operating within normal parameters."

Doc is surprised. "Really? What about over the past several days?"

Seven checks. "There's no indication of diminished capacity."

Doc looks pained. "No...problems with my ethical subroutines?"

Another quick check. "None."

"I see." Doc looks lost in thought.

"You seem disappointed."

Doc needs to spill his guts to someone, and Seven is the closest friend he has aboard. "While I was aboard that ship...I poisoned a man."

Seven is surprised. "Deliberately?"

"Yes," he confesses. "I was trying to force him to let me treat patients who were dying."

Seven considers this. "You were prepared to sacrifice an individual to benefit a collective."

Doc winces. "No offense, Seven, but I don't exactly aspire to Borg ideals."

Seven seems to understand. "You were hoping your behavior was the result of a malfunction."

Doc nods silently.

"I'm sorry, Doctor. But I must give you a...clean bill of health."

It's not what the Doctor wanted to hear.

[Analysis]

Episodes featuring the Doctor typically fall into two categories: terrific, or terrible. Some of my most and least favorite Voyager episodes have been vehicles for Robert Picardo, and have typically hinged on whether I bought the premise, less than the quality of his performances (which are uniformly stellar).

I bought into this week's episode in a really big way.

The guest performances were excellent, and contributed greatly to the enjoyment of the episode. The writing was tight and at times wildly amusing. Even the most minor part had character. Whether it's the weepy dork whose vampy wife left him, or the vampy wife, or the eager young man with "Dead Meat" written all over him, to the soulless Allocator giving the yea or nay to every request, to the tough-as-nails administrator and the doctors young and old, everyone looked and sounded and felt like real people.

You have no idea how much I love that.

The regulars also had their moments to shine. Paris and Kim in the hockey outfits. (What is it about those Nausicaans, anyway? I can only imagine one of them high-sticking Harry. Love that image.) Neelix and Tuvok interrogating Gar; it's not often someone in that much face prosthetics does such a good job emoting gastric distress. Janeway and Tuvok suffering through a string of baby-step leads, dealing with victim after victim of Gar, even resorting to a moment of lovey-dovey handholding, which is awfully tough to pull off convincingly with a Vulcan. The new "everyone gets a moment" approach to ensemble work does seem to have its benefits, if episodes like this are an indication.

The hour, of course, belongs to the Doctor. And blessedly, after the Year of the EMH Cantata, there is no singing this week. It actually involves the Doctor, in a doctorly capacity.

The theme is blunt, but topical: "Managed" care, particularly the soulless corporate variety that handcuffs doctors by approving or denying access to medical resources. Not by need, but by merit.

It's not exactly subtle, though I didn't see any particular HMO satirized by name.

The society in question has a dilemma. Through a nice use of "show, don't tell," we saw the planet served by this floating medical contracting agency. The planet is polluted, overcrowded, darn near uninhabitable. This is a world in dire need of salvation--but where to begin?

If this were The Next Generation, we'd see the Enterprise show up and within 48 minutes concoct a brilliant solution for stripping away the toxic clouds of poison that choke the atmosphere, perhaps phaser down to a nice rich layer of renewable resources near the planet's core, or otherwise transform a planet of billions from a deathtrap to a paradise.

But this is Voyager. They tend to go in, get their people, and get out. Changing the world--any world--is not their forte, unless they are dragged into the struggle (see Unimatrix Zero or Scorpion). The Doctor is not kidnapped to save a world; he's stolen and sold as casually as any other medical instrument. He becomes the software equivalent to the other doctors on staff--bound utterly by a strict code that determines what they can and cannot do.

The irony is that the Doctor, the only one on staff who IS programmable and thus in one sense the least able to manage his own destiny, is actually the most able to adapt to the limitations of the system, and teach the other doctors how to do the same.

The Doctor's efforts are not without cost. In a brilliantly cruel ploy, the episode gets us thoroughly hooked on Tebbis, the young boy with the really low Treatment Coefficient (TC). The kid's got immense potential. We hear him intuitively understanding the therapeutic qualities of music, and see him both willing and able to help the Doctor treat the patients on Level Red. We see his technical skills as he fixes a "broken" instrument. Here's someone whose skills and enthusiasm could be used in any number of ways...but his society deems him almost worthless, not worth the few shots of life-saving medicine that is handed out to his betters like candy. We genuinely like this kid, and have hope that he'll make a full recovery and help transform this hellhole of an HMO...only to have him up and die on us, and almost instantly forgotten by all but the Doctor. The audience is expected to feel outrage over the death of the boy, and I think the script does so effectively.

In this system, it's the Doctor who is to blame. He falsely raised hopes; he bent the rules; he used in mere days a quantity of medicine allocated to last a year.

Silly him; he thought the idea was to heal people. Apparently he didn't get the memo. His real job was to heal the right people.

*

I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a moment.

This particular planet is in sorry shape. We're not told everything that's wrong with it, but Chellick makes the case that the entire society is dying. Dr. Dysek backs this up, saying the planet is a lot better off since the HMO From Hell came along to allocate the precious medical resources.

One of the most fundamental concepts in economics is supply and demand. The trick, regardless of the economic model, is finding that equilibrium between the potentially unlimited demand for a given product or service, and the limited supply of same. This need not be related to money; for example, EVERYONE needs air to breathe, but there's only so much air in the atmosphere to go around. The air may be far more plentiful and renewable than the demand for it. But other things, such as cars or aerosol deoderant or beef (made from ozone-depleting gaseous cows) or Chanel No. 5, can generate stuff that decreases the supply of breathable air. In some parts of planet Earth, folks go to oxygen bars and pay hard-earned cash just to get a few hits of the good stuff.

In the field of medicine, we're able to do some amazing things. We've even learned how to transplant many vital organs from one person to another. We have effective cures or treatments for some truly hideous diseases. But there are only so many transplantable organs to go around, and some of the treatments for the more exotic diseases have an exorbitant price tag.

So who gets that donor heart? Who gets that interferon? Who gets the laser eye surgery or the career-enhancing pectoral augmentation?

In a pure market economy, the answer is simple--throw it on eBay and see who coughs up the highest bid. But is the person with the most cash always the best person to get this precious and rare resource? Is it, to borrow the politically correct phrase, FAIR?

There are many possible answers to the question of Who Should Get It, and one is not necessarily better than the other. Should it go to whoever needs it most? If so, how do you determine that? Should it go to whoever would most benefit society by receiving it? Again, how do you make that determination? Is it better to give to someone young and unproven who could get decades of use from it, or to someone older, whose value to society is proven but whose remaining days are few? How about lifestyle--would you give a liver to someone injured in an accident over someone who drank their original organ into a gelatinous, pickled goo? Is it money, fame, power, merit, seniority, lottery, or luck that should determine who gets the medicine or organ and lives, and who doesn't and dies?

Because the hard fact is this: It's impossible to save everyone when the demand exceeds supply.

Take another example. You're the surgeon general of the great state of S.O.L., the Socialist Order of Lobbyists. Your budget for pharmaceutical disbursement is 50,000 krapees per year. In this particular year, the medical establishment develops cures for three longstanding, fatal diseases. For 50,000 krapees, you can save ten people suffering from the virulent Bromidrosis, which if left unchecked could infect half the population--particularly those who wear the occasional python boot, which includes most of the major employers in the nation, any one of which would put tens of thousands of people out of work by their deaths. Or, save 100 people from a terminal case of Yanni Fever, which strikes only people who make 75,000 krapees per year (which places them in the top 10% of all wage earners in S.O.L., and who form the upper-middle-class taxpaying and consumer backbone of the state.) Or, you could save 10,000 low-income people whose only contribution to society is keeping your favorite horndog El Presidente in office from seeing the re-release of The Exorcist without having a sufficient number of antacids on hand to prevent a fatal onset of acid reflux the day before the big impeachment vote--and without the huddled masses, El Maledicto Maximo is toast.

Whom do you save?

Perhaps now you see the dilemma.

Now let's add a complicating factor. Let's say one of the big problems on this planet is that they've got great medical supplies, but they suffer from overpopulation. Disease used to thin the herd enough to maintain equilibrium, but advances in health sciences now means there's a shortage of everything--food, water, habitable land, breathable air--because folks who would normally have kicked the bucket by disease are now drains on society. Most of them working in middle management and the mainstream media.

There was an episode in the original series where Kirk was kidnapped and compelled to get busy with a beautiful woman for the express purpose of giving her a deadly illness, in order to solve their horrible overpopulation problems. Some folks might call this brilliant social engineering. But the doctors forced to treat the dying might feel differently.

In this episode, the EMH is a doctor in the trenches. His responsibility is to each and every patient he treats. He rages against, and seeks ways around, anything that would prevent him from carrying out his duty--to save his patients' lives. Normally, this is a good trait in a doctor, and he is taken to Level Blue where those skills can do the most good. Unfortunately, he was activated first in Level Red, and he couldn't be satisfied working in Level Blue. To him, it is downright criminal to withhold lifesaving medicine from anyone who might need it, if it is available.

But Chellick--we don't know the magnitude of his task. We do know he's a hireling, brought in to "save society" using a ruthless statistical formula. If society lives or dies based on the status of your health, you're given the royal treatment. If you're just another mouth to feed, you'll be lucky to get a once-over with a tricorder and a pre-recorded version of last rites before you breathe your last on the way to Level White.

But I have to ask...is this any way to save a society?

We see hints that it is not. Tebbis, the smart young fella, is clearly someone with enormous potential. But his society deems him of little to no value. His inquisitiveness and talent are not factored into the Grand Equation that determines his worth to society. For a society in peril, Tebbis is just the sort of person you'd want to save.

The anecdotal evidence of Tebbis can be misleading. I'm sure I could point to a given person who pays more for prescription drugs than their dog--but does that tell the whole story, or is that simply an exception that proves the rule? Is there an entire generation of Tebbises who are itching to save the world if only they could get some cytoglobin...or is he the only one who would know what to do with his newfound health? Would the rest lock themselves in the Batcave with their new PlayStation 2s?

Doc raged against the machine, but he was fighting more than just the system. His fellow doctors, even his patients, seemed quite versed in the rules--and were more than willing to follow them, no matter how bleak the personal consequences. Is their society in such dire straits that the "hard choices" Chellick is imposing have actually been embraced by the populace as their culture's only hope of survival?

In a one-hour show, of course, you're not going to get a good answer to that. You have to make assumptions, among them that WYSIWYSTG (what you see is what you're supposed to get). That Chellick really is a compassionless jerk because he seems to be one. That Doc's efforts, questionable as they may have been at times, will eventually accomplish a real good, because he got buy-in from the starchy chief of medicine (the brains) and the overworked young idealist (the heart), both natives of the world Doc is trying to help. That the ends, in this case, justified the means.

Never mind that he's fought against this very philosphy in the past. Or that when he jumped into it with both feet because his ethical subroutines were deleted (Equinox) he showed why it's a bankrupt philosophy. "When the cause is just--promoting health care reform--it's really okay. A little guilt never killed anyone..."

Right?

*

As I said, the previous section is largely Devil's Advocate stuff. The episode did a good job of showing that Doc's attempts, while noble, were not always well thought-out. His efforts to cultivate the chief of medicine's new attitude were sound. His efforts to circumvent the system, though, didn't take into account the brutal efficiency of the omnipotent computer and the skilled bureaucrat, so for a time he actually made things worse. Lives were endangered because of him. Tebbis would have died anyway, but Doc's unconventional drug acquisitions would likely have been taken out on Level Red doctors for months by an uncaring Allocator.

This brings to mind the reasons behind the Prime Directive. You simply cannot, in a short period of time, grok the entirety of a society and know the extent of alteration even the smallest of interferences could inflict. TOS was rife with examples of how previous Starfleet encounters had mutated to a point where Kirk and Company had to beam down and set things aright. Thanks to the movies and to DS9, we have at least two examples of how Kirk's own interventions led to later sorrow ("Demon Seed" begat "Wrath of Khan" and the events that later led to the death of Kirk's son and, from there, to the near catastrophic war with the Klingon Empire. Kirk's actions in the mirror universe led to the Bajoran/Klingon/Cardassian alliance that wiped out Earth.)

Ripples in a pond...

The Prime Directive is essentially the codification of the maxim, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Whether or not Doc violated the letter of the Prime Directive--we can assume that this planet is warp-capable--he certainly violated the spirit. But he has an excuse--his medical prime directive likely takes precedence. He's programmed to be one heck of a medic, not the ultimate Starfleet officer.

Even so, we see here the perils of jumping in with limited information--and we can only hope that the "happy ending" we're left with truly is so; that the society will be better for the reforms Doc introduces, and the extreme measures he took with Chellick will result in more than just a little personal guilt.

*

A brief comment about the "arrest" and interrogation of Gar. It's nice to see Janeway and crew practicing a little unconventionality in these matters. Neelix's cruel stews are a terrific technique; I laughed long and hard at that scene. It was just plain witty, and I give major kudos to all involved.

All in all, I liked this one a lot. Strong performances, good pacing, excellent comic moments that draw upon the characters' strengths, and a story with a message. Not too shabby.

Call it 4 stars on the 4 star scale. Thumbs up. Check it out.

Next week: Lookin' for Oo-mox in all the wrong places...

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Last Updated: November 4, 2000
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