Darkness

Debra Fran Baker



He placed the glass on his bedside table, and positioned his commbadge next to it. He picked up his eyeshades and put them on. He wouldn't need them this time, but they were comfortable, comforting. He had the computer shut off all the lights. He lay against his pillow and closed his eyes. He embraced the darkness and the sweet oblivion as they came to take him. This time, the surrender would be complete.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Look at that. Harry walks in and the room lights up." Captain Kathryn Janeway was having breakfast with her first officer in the mess hall. There had been a record number of breakdowns lately, including the food replicators. This meant that Neelix had a captive audience, and a dwindling variety of food. Breakfast was yet another skimpy helping of vegetable and grain stew. The dull food made everyone irritable. Then Harry Kim walked in.

"Nothing like youth and enthusiasm to bring one's spirit up." Chakotay nodded at the trail of smiles that followed the young ensign as he made his way to the serving area.

"It's more than that. We have other young and enthusiastic crewmembers." Chakotay smiled at the "we". After all that time, they were finally one crew with one captain. She was still talking, still looking Harry. "He accepts everyone on their own terms - Maquis and Starfleet alike. Look what he's done for Tom Paris. Just by being there, Harry turned our angry young pilot into an exemplary officer."

"I think you had something to do with that, Kathryn. You inspire loyalty. At this point, any of my former crew (Chakotay looked at her meaningfully) would die for you."

Janeway returned the look. "Our crew." The conversation segued into crew evaluations.

Harry collected a trayful of stew and searched the room for his two best friends. They were sitting together across the room, picking at the food. Leaving yet another trail of smiles, Harry made his way over to their table.

"Good morning, Tom, B'Elanna."

"Why are you always so cheerful, Starfleet?"

"Me?" Harry looked honestly confused.

"Yeah, Har. You." Tom Paris smirked at him.

"If you say so. I never thought I'd see you two eating together again." They'd broken off their courtship only a few days ago, and things had been rather strained.

"I know. Thanks for all your help, Harry." Harry'd spent hours with both of them as their sounding board. Now they were friends again and the whole ugly episode (Tom grinned internally) was best forgotten. How could he ever have thought himself in love with B'Elanna? At least Harry had seen through that. Just like he'd seen through their own relationship.

Torres toyed with her stew. How she missed meat. The Doctor had her on dietary supplements to make up for the enforced vegetarian diet. Klingons had not evolved from herbivores. She had to get those replicators running again - if she could just think of how.

"B'Elanna, I had an idea last night about the replicators. Why don't we..." Kim let loose a stream of, so far as Tom was concerned, pure technobabble, but B'Elanna was fascinated. This was something they hadn't thought of yet, and while she'd have to run this by the captain, it might just get them out of the mess hall for awhile.

"Tom, could you get the Captain? I think she'd like to hear this. Harry Kim, you are a genius." Harry turned red. He was so...sweet. Hmm, and he had such broad shoulders... B'Elanna, you just broke up with Tom. Do you think Harry could handle Klingon love? Or maybe he could teach me human... This is crazy. It'd be like sleeping with a little brother. Or, maybe not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuvok stood on the bridge, early as usual. In this way, he could prepare for the coming shift while the delta shift security officer completed her final logs and neither would have to waste time. He was quite pleased with the former Maquis's work. The Bajoran had certainly proved herself. He would have to pay close attention to more of Ensign Kim's recommendations. The young officer had excellent judgement.

Ten minutes to the beginning of alpha shift. The captain and Mister Chakotay entered the bridge. They were conferring over a padd and absently nodded to Tuvok as they disappeared into the captain's ready room. Tuvok was confident that one or the other would emerge at the proper time.

Five minutes to the beginning of alpha shift. Harry Kim arrived, just as the book recommended. He held a quiet conference with the Ops officer. Tuvok could hear the young ensign gently compliment the other on a decision he'd made, and equally gently correct a minor mistake. Perhaps if they'd been back home, he would have guided Mister Kim to the command track, but here he was needed too much at ops.

The rest of the alpha shift bridge crew filed in, with Tom Paris as usual arriving at the last possible moment. He relieved the pilot and sat down at the console. Mister Paris didn't seem to need to confer or read reports - it was as if he became a part of the ship when he flew her. As the last of the delta shift officers left, presumably for what passed for meals, Captain Janeway and Mister Chakotay emerged from her ready room. The various posts reported, and alpha shift began.

Paris stifled a yawn. This was the most uneventful piece of space they ever flown through. The computer could be flying the ship. He glanced over at Harry. Harry flashed him a smile, and went back to his console. He looked worried.

"Captain?"

"Yes, Mr. Kim?"

"I'm detecting some anomalous environmental readings."

"Let me see." She walked over to his position.

"As you can see, the temperature gradient is up, but only in these specific areas. These are public areas, not under individual control."

"Harry, B'Elanna's implementing your suggestion. Could that have an effect on the environmental controls?"

"Possibly. The way we have this ship patched together, there are all sorts of strange interactions. I'll check."

"Very good, Mr. Kim." She returned to her seat in time to read an hourly report.

A few minutes later, Kim called again to the captain.

"Ma'am, I think I've found the problem. It doesn't seem related to the replicator modifications. I believe I can solve it from here."

"Good job, Harry. Do so." Yes, she was fortunate that even shiny new, Harry Kim had been competent enough for such a responsible position. He'd truly grown into the job, and was training others. If he hadn't been so competent, she would have had to have taken someone else out of engineering. Her blood ran cold when she realized that she probably would have chosen Seska. They'd all probably be dead right now. Harry, do you know that you saved our lives just by being here?

That was when all hell broke loose. Sparks showered from Harry's board. Klaxons began sounding. Harry sat staring at the readouts and clutching his right hand. Paris ran to him.

"Har, let me see your hand. It's okay, buddy. You didn't burn it."

Harry didn't seem to hear. He pointed to the readouts on his board.

Then the reports came in.

"Bridge, what's going on up there? There's no gravity in the gym!"

"Someone, help! I can't control the temperature in my quarters and the doorlocks don't work!"

"Gravvvity tooo....high in holodeck 2...help!"

"Captain, this is engineering. I'm having trouble keeping the inertia field together."

"Bridge, the air circulation in sickbay is offline. I can't treat patients in here."

Quickly, Janeway had rescue teams dispatched to the emergency areas while Kim fought to contain the damage. He reconfigured his board and kept strict tabs on the teams, while coordinating efforts with Torres and Paris. Within the hour, all was secure again, and the environmental systems were running normally. The remarkably few injured were taken to sickbay, where most were released back to duty, and repair crews took care of the ship. And Kim slumped exhausted at his post.

"Mr. Kim? Harry? Do you want to be relieved?"

"I'm all right, commander. Captain, I'm sorry. I was mistaken. Both the original malfunction and the correction interacted with the new modifications I'd proposed. I'm sorry. I should not have been so hasty." Harry looked as though he were confessing to murder.

"I see. I'll expect a full report on that tomorrow. And, Harry, you managed the crisis in an exemplary manner and I'm very proud of you."

"There should not have been a crisis."

"These things happen, Mr. Kim. We're none of us perfect." Although you come very close to it, if you but knew it. Janeway took a closer look at the young man. What are you worried about? This is Harry. He'll be fine.

"Engineering to bridge."

"Janeway here, B'Elanna."

"Captain, I'm a little short-handed down here. Could you send me some people to help out?"

"Captain, may I go? Ops is pretty secure right now."

"Harry, are you sure you're up to it?"

"Sure. And maybe I can solve the interaction problem if I go."

"Very well. B'Elanna, I'm sending Harry down to you."

"Thank you. He's just the man I want."

"I'm on my way." With that, he bounced out of his chair and into the turbo lift. Ah, youth. Chakotay and Janeway shared grins. Harry certainly shook that off quickly.

Minutes later, Kim was in engineering. He looked guilty.

"B'Elanna, I..."

"Harry, I'm glad you're here. I need your input."

"About the mods, I'm.."

One of the techs interrupted him.

"May I shake your hand, Mr. Kim? No one else could have gotten us through that."

"I guess...but it was..."

"Thanks!" Other people slapped him on the back and thanked him. Torres was pleased for her friend. He deserved all of that. Too bad she had to cut it all short.

"All right, folks. Let the hero of the hour be. Get back to work, or else face an angry Klingon." Everyone laughed, but went back to their stations.

"Now, then, Harry, about those mods...if we use these particles..." At first, Harry seemed to want to interrupt, but he soon was caught up in the technical discussion. By the end of the shift, they had the replicators back on line, and working more efficiently than ever. No one would have to eat vegetable stew tonight. There was a party in the resort to celebrate.

Harry didn't go to the party. He was supposed to be the guest of honor, but he said he was too tired, and that he would rather spend the night in his room. Everyone noticed that he was uncomfortable with the praise, but they all thought it was only his natural modesty coming through.

He didn't call up his favorite foods from the replicator like everyone else, either. Instead, he sat on his bed in his spotless quarters and raged quietly. Couldn't they understand? If I hadn't been so stupid, there wouldn't have been any crisis to manage, and they would have had the replicators anyway. I could have killed them all because I was so incompetent.

Everyone likes me so much. If they only knew. If they only knew how stupid I am, how I fail so often. Why were they all so blind? I made so many mistakes, I said the wrong thing. And this afternoon, I was working with B'Elanna and all I could think about was how beautiful she was. How could I do that? She's my friend, and Tom's my friend, and Libby's waiting for me. And I'd hurt Tom so badly when we'd broken up. I don't deserve any of this. When they realized that, they'd all hate me. Why didn't they realize it? He rubbed his eyes. Only one thing would help him tonight. He'd managed not to use it for a few days, but he needed it now.

He went to his dresser and pulled out a small vial holding a dark fluid. He held it up to the light. There wasn't enough for more than a few doses at his current level. Well, he didn't have to ration it any more. With the replicators online, he could make more (and with his computer skills, no one, not even Mr. Tuvok would ever know.) He could have darkness and sweet oblivion tonight. He got a glass of water and measured out a dose. He stood there, with the vial over the water glass.

Oblivion tonight, but he'd be back in the morning. And he'd remember his stupidity and their blindness. There was enough darkness left in that vial so he wouldn't have to face them, or himself, again. He wouldn't have to do the impossible anymore. He wouldn't be a lifetime from home and in charge of something he knew he wasn't ready for.

He made his decision. He emptied the vial into his water glass quickly. That was it. He felt relieved, at peace. He wrote a note on a padd, and prepared himself for bed. He emptied the glass in one gulp.

As he lay there, he felt the familiar darkness seep into his blood. He couldn't move, and didn't want to. Soon, I wouldn't have to think or do anything. The world would turn black and then...

The party in the resort wasn't especially loud; it was nice and relaxed, with groups of friends sharing their favorite foods and chatting. Two or three couples danced to the gentle music. Janeway stared at the holographic waves; Paris and Torres were talking seriously over plates of ice cream and Chakotay watched all of them. If he watched one of them more closely than any one else, well, that was fine.

Tom and B'Elanna seemed to come to a decision. They finished their ice cream quickly and walked up to Chakotay.

"Sir, Harry should be here."

"He said he wanted to be alone, Tom."

"It doesn't seem right to celebrate without him. We're going to his cabin to see if we can't roust him out. Want to come with us?"

Chakotay thought about it. Harry had seemed a little down after the events of the morning. A nice party like this might be just the thing.

"I'll go with you. And I think the captain might also want to come along." He went to her and touched her shoulder. Janeway was instantly alert. She agreed to the plan, but warned them that if Harry really wanted to be alone, they should respect his feelings.

They signalled at Harry's door, but he didn't respond.

"He's probably asleep, gentlemen. Let's let him rest."

"That signal is pretty loud, Captain." Paris took a deep breath and entered the access code. The older two stared at him.

"Harry gave it to me a long time ago. He has mine. B'Elanna, too."

The door opened. It was pitch black. Harry slept best in the dark.

"If he's asleep, we should let him be." The captain's whisper pierced the blackness.

"Something feels wrong, Captain. Harry's never asleep this early, even when he's exhausted." Paris was clearly worried.

"I agree with Tom. Something is off here." Chakotay led the way into the room. The light from the hallway was dim, but enough for their eyes to adapt. They made their way to the bedroom, which was too far from the hallway. Janeway ordered dim light in the living area.

Harry was lying in his bed impossibly still. B'Elanna went to him, and put her ear on his chest.

"He's barely breathing, and I can hardly hear his heart. Harry! Harry! Wake up, damn you!"

"Computer, 50% lights!" This time, Janeway shouted. "Medical team to Harry Kim's quarters." Kes materialized moments later. She lost no time getting to her patient.

"Captain, I can't wake him. He appears to be drugged." Kes ran an instrument over him.

"Drugged? With what?"

"I don't know, but we have to get him to sickbay right away. I think he's dying."

"Captain, look here." Pale with shock, Paris held out a small vial and a glass. "Harry is drugged. He drugged himself." .

She took the articles. There was a tiny drop of dark fluid in the vial, and a film on the glass. She passed them on to Chakotay.

"How do you know what this is, Lieutenant?"

"I used it once, between Caldik Prime and the Maquis. I didn't like it, but I don't like drugs in general. I can't believe Harry would use darkness."

Chakotay handed the vial and glass to Kes, who signaled the transporter room to beam her and Kim to directly to sickbay.

"What is darkness?" Janeway was honestly confused.

"It's a drug, Captain." Torres sat down on the bed. "The doctors call it Lethanos, and use it as an anesthetic and sometimes as a tranquilizer. The people who use it ... recreationally call it darkness...When you take it, the world goes dark - and the darker the world already is, the better it works. Those eyeshades. He was telling us..."

"What's the pleasure in that?" Chakotay was honestly confused.

Paris sat down next to Torres and began to rub her shoulders. He took up the tale. "There is no pleasure, exactly. It isn't a euphoric or an hallucinogen. It takes the world away, and leaves you in a state of nothingness, where you don't know anything or remember anything - a sort of oblivion. Then you just go to sleep. It's a way of escaping. Some people used it in the Academy when things got too pressured. What did Harry have to escape?"

"Whatever it was, he didn't intend to come back. Look." Chakotay had found the padd. His voice was thick with tears. Janeway took the padd from him.

"'I'm sorry for the mistakes I made today. Now I won't make any more. Good-bye.'" Janeway's voice broke in the middle, but she managed to finish.

"Why didn't we see this? He's supposed to be my best friend. We'd even been lovers! I missed all of it. Harry a darkness addict?"

"You don't know that, Tom." The captain touched his shoulder.

"Darkness is potent stuff. You dissolve it in water. If he were only going to use it the one time, he would have replicated it that way."

"Sickbay to Janeway."

"Janeway here. What is it, Doctor?"

"We have administered the antidote to Mr. Kim and he will recover." Thank You! Torres found she could breathe again.

"Were any of you aware that he was using Lethanos on a regular basis?"

"He was?"

"He has a very high tolerance level. Perhaps he misjudged his normal dosage."

"Doctor, it was purely intentional. We have a note."

"Indeed. I was going to suggest that Mr. Kim have drug counseling. I was under the impression that he was holding up rather well."

"He fooled a lot of us." Now that she wasn't worried any more, Torres was angry.

"Doctor, is Harry awake?"

"No, Captain. He's sleeping naturally as an effect of the drug. He should have a bad headache, but nothing more when he awakens."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"Sickbay out."

Janeway turned to the others.

"Okay, people. We have a crisis here. Where would Harry get his drugs? Who would be supplying it?"

Chakotay touched her shoulder. "Kathryn. I don't think that's important. Harry certainly has the skills to replicate something without us knowing it."

Paris snorted. "Yeah, and use his own rations at the same time. Harry wouldn't steal."

"No. Harry wouldn't hurt anyone else." Torres sounded sad as well as angry. They all nodded.

"You're all correct. The real question is why would he do such a thing?"

"I think we'll have to wait for Harry to tell us that." Janeway, Torres and Paris all nodded, and followed Chakotay out of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~He woke up with a splitting headache. He was alive, and definitely not in his cabin. That meant that the whole ship knew what he had done. And I failed at that, too.

"Good morning, Ensign." The Doctor was annoyingly cheerful. "I'm sure your head aches right now." Kim managed a nod.

"That's to be expected. Unfortunately, I can't give you anything for the pain. You still have too much Lethanos and its antagonist in your system. You built up a remarkable tolerance, Mr. Kim. Most people would still be asleep with the amount still in your blood. Sleep is probably the best thing for you now. We'll talk about this later."

Despite the splitting headache, Harry managed to drift off again.

"Failure!"

"Are you the son we waited for so long?"

"Harry, my love, my intended...I'm waiting for you."

"Mr. Kim, I expected more from you."

"Harry, stay away from my engines."

"Hey, Harry. What where you thinking?"

"Addict!"

"Failure!"

The words and voices echoed through his dreams, the faces jeered or looked disappointed. His parents, his fiancee, his friends, his captain - all of them finally knew who and what he was - a failure unworthy of their love or respect. And when he rose out of them to consciousness, it was only to realize that he'd have to face most of these people in real life. If only he had more darkness, or, better yet, a phaser.

"Hi, Harry. How's the head?" There was Tom sitting next to him, a big - and real-looking - smile on his face.

Harry concentrated a bit. "It's okay. It hurts a little, but nothing like this morning."

"Good. Doc said that would happen. You missed lunch. Thanks to you , lunch is pretty decent. I replicated your favorites."

Kim managed to sit up in bed while Paris fetched the food. It may have been replicated food, but it all tasted like ashes in his mouth. Finally, he just pushed it away.

"Buddy, you have to eat."

"Why?"

"Why?!" Paris' heart nearly stopped. Harry was so casual about it.

"I'm not hungry."

"If you don't eat, you won't get better. We all want you better."

"Who's we? The Captain would never let me on the bridge again - and if she would, Tuvok wouldn't let her. I'm a drug addict. So, now I'm dead weight." Tom, please, go away.

"Darkness isn't physically addictive. Doctors use it all the time."

"I wasn't having surgery last night."

"I don't know what the hell you were doing last night." Good. Now I got Tom mad at me. Maybe he'd be so mad he'd go away.

"No? You don't know?"

"You were scaring us all to death, that's what you were doing. What were you thinking?"

"I was trying not to think at all."

"Permanently."

Just then, a small fury entered Sickbay.

"Harry Kim, how dare you do such a thing!"

"Hi, B'Elanna."

"Don't 'hi' me, Starfleet. If you are Starfleet, if you aren't some alien who took over Harry's body. The Harry Kim I know wouldn't use drugs. Wouldn't try to kill himself. Wouldn't lie to us." With every phrase, Torres moved closer to the biobed. Now she was leaning on the bed itself.

"When did I lie?"

"All this time, pretending you were all right, keeping this secret. We could have helped you, but you wouldn't let us. How dare you!" She was so angry, she was growling. "I was starting to really care for you, Harry. I could talk to you, and I could trust you. Harry never lies. Harry accepts everyone as they are. Harry called me beautiful."

"You are."

"I can't believe you any more. Oh, Harry! Damn." She turned away.

"I will not have this noise in my sickbay, Lt. Torres." The Doctor appeared.

"My apologies, Doctor."

"Nor will outbursts like this help Mr. Kim."

She nodded, sheepishly.

"Mr. Paris, I suggest you take Lt. Torres out of sickbay. Ensign Kim needs his rest."

"Yes, Doc. I'll see you later, Harry."

"I'm not going."

"Yes, you are, B'Elanna. You can kill Harry tomorrow. Or kiss him, or something."

"Pig." She let him lead her out of sickbay.

The Doctor glanced at the tray. "I see you didn't eat much, Ensign."

"I'm not hungry."

"Interesting. Now, why would that be? Neither drug in your system has loss of appetite as a side-effect."

"That's not why. When do I get out of here? The headache is gone and I feel fine."

"That depends on you, Ensign. Until we feel comfortable about you, you will stay right here."

Kim had expected this. They couldn't trust him to be on his own now. He was almost relieved that a phaser was out of his reach for awhile. B'Elanna's outburst did surprise him. Why was she so angry? I didn't hurt her. I'd never hurt her, or Tom, or anyone else.

"What would I have to do to make you 'feel comfortable', Doc?"

"Talk to someone. We all very much want to know why you tried to kill yourself."

"And why I took darkness?"

"How did you manage to procure Lethanos?"

"I used the replicator. I learned a long time ago how to get it to give me what I wanted without leaving a record. I only used my own rations, though. I guess I'm not using the replicator for a long time, either."

"No, Ensign."

Kim could get around that, too. But maybe he wouldn't have to, or want to. But he couldn't talk to anyone. Who'd believe me, anyway?

"When you feel like talking, Mr. Kim, I'll be glad to help. In fact, I believe you have a ship full of people worried about you - any of whom you can call upon." Oh, no. I didn't need this. Why didn't they just leave me alone?

"Perhaps later, Doc."

"I'll be here. I'm always here. Eat your lunch." The Doctor strolled into his office.

"You really should eat, Harry."

"Kes? I didn't notice you."

She smiled. "I'm not surprised. The Doctor is right, you know."

"I'm not hungry. What are you doing?"

Kes looked like she was going to press the issue, then shook her head.

"I'm taking inventory. The Doctor wants to take advantage of the increase in replicator rations to bolster our medical supplies. We need to know what's needed most urgently."

"Can I help? I feel fine and I don't want to just lie here waiting for my court-martial." Maybe, if they won't let me on the bridge again, I could train as an orderly or a nurse or something. Just so long as they didn't lock me up like Suder.

"Court-martial, Mr. Kim? What court-martial?" Captain Janeway strode into the room. Kim sat up in bed.

"Captain. Ma'am. Aren't you going to try me?"

"What crime?"

"Illegal chemical use."

"Then I'd have to court-martial everyone who ever sampled some of the output of the still."

"Umm. I did that, too."

"Vile stuff, wasn't it?" Janeway had a huge grin on her face.

"Oh." Is she letting me off the hook? Why?

"They aren't heating it right. Now, when I ..." She sighed. "Ensign Kim, so far as I know, your use of Lethanos has not affected your on-duty performance."

"I hope not, Captain. It's not something I could take before going on duty anyway."

"But that does not mean that you will be permitted to return to the bridge. Until we know what caused this attempt, you will be confined to sickbay and your use of the replicator will be restricted." Maybe I should train to be a nurse. I'm not leaving sickbay anyway.

"Yes, ma'am."

She touched his shoulder. "Harry, I need you on the bridge. Let us in."

"I'm sorry, captain. I didn't mean to fail you."

"I know, Harry. I'll back, and we'll find out what's going on." She was called back to the bridge and left, to Harry's relief.

"Kes? Can I help?"

"This is a one-person job, Harry. But there is no reason why you should stay in bed. Would you like me to send for your clothes and perhaps your clarinet?"

"Thank you."

"Kes to Neelix."

"Neelix here."

"Are you busy?"

"I have nothing whatsoever to do. Everyone will be replicating their meals until we build up more stores or we run out of energy again. I'm bored."

"Would you mind doing a favor for Harry Kim?"

"Of course! What does he need?

"Clothing and his musical instrument from his cabin."

Harry tapped his chest - no communicator. He grinned sheepishly.

"Kes, tell him that Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres know my access code if my door is locked." She relayed the information.

"Kes? Is it true about the replicators?"

"Yes. Thanks to you" Harry shook his head, but she was recording supplies and didn't see. "we have enough replicator energy for that - and you know that stores have been very low recently. All that vegetable stew." Kim sat silent for a moment or two.

"May I use the computer for awhile? I need to look at something."

"Of course. I'll be doing this for hours."

By the time Neelix came bustling in, his arms loaded with clothing, clarinet and music stand, Kim was deeply engrossed in whatever he was doing.

"Harry? I have your things."

Kim was distracted, but some things are reflexes. "Thank you, Neelix. I really appreciate this." Neelix! He could be a tremendous help.

"Neelix, could you stick around? I need your input for this."

"Mr. Kim, I will be glad to help. Anything at all that I could do would be wonderful. Just say the word. Ask me anything."

"Good! I need to know how much energy you expand per individual meal. Can you do that?"

For an answer, Neelix picked a padd and began to input data. "How do you want it?"

"I need to know preparation, service and clean-up - both time and energy expenditures. I also need to know if you ever prepare dishes using replicated ingredients, and the expenditures from that. These should be 50% or more by mass replicated ingredients."

Neelix hummed to himself as he called up and organized the data requested. Kim was too engrossed in his work to notice. After a while, the doctor wandered into the room.

"I see you found a way to keep yourself occupied, ensign."

"What? Excuse me, Doc. Yes. I think I'm on to something."

"Not your lunch, I see." Kim glanced at the cold, congealed food.

"I think I'll wait for dinner. I haven't been hungry lately." Even before stores ran low, he hadn't wanted to eat much.

"Hmmm." The doctor wandered out again.

"Mr. Kim?"

"Yes, Neelix?"

"Why did you do it?" Only Neelix would be so blunt. Kim didn't know if he was happy or relieved.

"Which?"

"Both, I guess. It's very hard to think of you as using drugs of any kind. Among Tlaxians, most people who use drugs are those who can't really cope any other way."

"That's pretty close to how we are. I guess I couldn't cope."

"Couldn't cope with what?"

"Things." Myself. Just myself.

"You always seem in control. Look at this - last night you were ready to...leave us, and now you are doing all this work on your own."

"That's different. Number crunching is easy. You can usually catch and correct mistakes." Usually.

"When did you start using it?"

"When I was in high school, I had some trouble sleeping. My family doctor prescribed Lethanos. It helped." That first time. I didn't have to think about being the son my parents deserved. I didn't have to think about getting into the Academy or into Juilliard. I didn't have to wonder what career would make my parents' happiest - they certainly wouldn't tell me, so I had to guess. I didn't have to worry about perfect grades or perfect performances or extra curriculars. I could just be.

"Did you become dependent on it?"

"No. It's not that kind of drug. Most of the time I could sleep by myself. I found I liked the feeling it gave before sending me to sleep. You know - not needing to think at all. It's very peaceful, like meditation." Like you know what meditation is, Harry. You never could let yourself go.

"Did you tell your parents that you were using it recreationally?"

"No. That would have hurt them. I couldn't do that." Mom and Dad. I miss you so much. I know how much you wanted me and how long you waited for me. You would have been happy if I'd been ordinary, but I had to be more for you. You deserved a perfect son even if you didn't look for one. I was the only child you could have, so I had to be the best. "I miss them a lot. Everyone misses their family."

"Except Mr. Paris."

"Poor Tom. No one deserves what he went through." And my problems are so trivial next to that - so how could I complain? Poor Harry. Pursued by the demons of perfection.

"Did you use it in the Academy?"

"Sometimes." Once a week if I could get it. Sometimes more. "It was hardest after a survival trial or something, when we had to live off of field rations. Something about them made it difficult for me to sleep." Well, that's true enough.

Kim noticed Kes listening. That was okay. Kes was always nice.

"That doesn't seem so bad. After all, you did graduate first in your class."

"I worked for that, but it was still lucky. My parents were so proud of me. So was Libby." Oh, Libby! Why couldn't I stay faithful to you? I let you down so badly. I really wanted to spend my life with you, but I can't. There's Tom and there's B'Elanna. Especially B'Elanna. I don't deserve...don't go there.

"Mr. Kim, I don't think Voyager would manage without you."

"Voyager would be just fine without me. Look what happened yesterday."

"You were a hero yesterday. You were calm and brave and kept everything together."

"People nearly died because of me. I'll never forget that as long as I live." He clutched his head. "It's been like this for weeks. I can't eat. I'm not hungry. And I can't sleep well. I tried to ration the darkness, so I wouldn't run out, but I've built up this tolerance. Things were okay for a few days, but last night, I knew I'd need it. I had only a few doses left. And I couldn't take myself anymore, so I figured I'd finish it off and me off and then I wouldn't have to worry any more." Kes picked that moment to disappear into The Doctor's office.

"Neelix, check my figures. I think I've come up with something."

The Doctor and Kes walked back into the room.

"Mr. Kim, do you mind if I take some blood?"

"Sure thing, Doc. Go right ahead."

The Doctor began to analyze the blood, and compare it to tricorder records. Meanwhile, Neelix went over the data.

"This is going to make life much easier, Harry! Everything seems to check. May I tell the captain?"

The Doctor looked up. "Better yet, Mr. Neelix. Why don't you ask the captain to join us in sickbay? I also have something to tell her." Neelix immediately jumped to his feet and bustled out the door.

"Now that he's gone, I want to tell you something, Mr. Kim."

"Yes, Doc?"

"You've felt badly since we had to rely on our ever-diminishing stores, correct?"

"I guess."

"You also mentioned that field rations affect your ability to sleep."

"Yes."

"Kes, if you would?" The Occampa administered an injection.

"Wow. What was in there?" Kim felt like a burden was lightened just a little.

"Micoseritonase. It's an enzyme most human bodies manufacture themselves in extremely tiny amounts."

"Most?"

"You don't, Mr. Kim. To make matters worse, you seem to need slightly more than most humans. Normally, you get enough from your food, but that hasn't been the case for the last few weeks. All we need to do is keep track of your blood chemistry and you should feel fine. I expect you in here at least once a month - more often if stores are running low and we can't use replicators."

"So, I'll be fine from now on?"

"I believe I just said that."

"What does micoseritonase do?"

"It helps regulate sleep and appetite. It also may help someone cope in a crisis by not letting other chemicals get out of hand."

"That sounds familiar." Coping. Maybe now I can cope with my demons.

"I thought it might."

For the second time that day, Captain Janeway strode into sickbay, Neelix bouncing behind her.

"Well, what's going on?"

The Doctor spoke first. He explained to the captain about Kim's chemical imbalance and how he could deal with it. Janeway was visibly relieved.

"Doctor, is Harry fit for duty?"

"Medically speaking, yes."

"Good. I expect you to be manning Ops tomorrow, ensign."

"Yes, ma'am!" Kim didn't even try to suppress his grin.

"Now, what is it that you and Neelix want to show me?"

"This." Kim called his data to the screen.

Janeway looked closely. Her eyes widened.

"You see, captain, if we replicate sufficient quantities of a limited number of foods as if we were cooking from stores, we would still save a huge amount of energy as compared to replicating individual meals. If we have a menu of three main dishes for each meal, people would still have a choice but we will not be draining ourselves so quickly. If we choose to replicate raw materials, we will save a little more."

"Yes. I see that. And, later, when we build up supplies again, we can still combine that with replicated materials and have greater choice and variety without the energy loss. Meanwhile, while we would have to reduce the individual replicator rations, we could still keep them high enough that crew members could still have some choice."

"Exactly, captain."

"Brilliant, Harry."

"Thank you. I could not have done it without Neelix."

"Thank you, Mr. Neelix."

"I'm back in business again. That's reward enough."

"Now then..."

"Yes, Harry?"

"I"m hungry. Could someone please replicate a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for me?"

"Why don't you do it yourself?"

"Captain? I thought..."

"According to the Doctor, you needed Lethanos to counteract the effects of a chemical imbalance. That's been solved. You no longer need to be restricted in your replicator use."

She went to the computer and authorized the change. On the bridge, Tuvok noted that with some surprise, but knew the captain would have a good reason. He would still monitor Mister Kim's replicator usage for the next few days.

Two weeks later, the mess hall was a much happier place. The crew was satisfied with their choices, no matter how limited they were. It hummed with contentment. Janeway was pleased to see Kim laughing and joking with his friends again - and even more please to see the extra attention he was giving B'Elanna, while Tom looked on like a benevolent big brother. It was such a relief to have Harry back to his old self. And it was such a simple thing - just a minor chemical imbalance. Thank goodness we can find those things out nowadays, she thought while sipping her coffee.

The Doctor, reviewing his records, was also quite pleased. It took a very little detective work, but he could carve another metaphorical success notch in his tricorder. He still keenly felt the loss of a ship's counselor, and thought once again of programming himself with psychological training, but that would take time he didn't have. He was glad it wasn't necessary this time.

Tuvok heard a beep at his station. Mister Kim was using his replicator rations again. He checked, but it was only a new reed for his instrument. Mister Kim's replicator use was entirely consonant with his normal usage and needs. It had been two weeks, but he would continue monitoring for a while longer.

That night, Kim went home alone to his cabin. Things were warming up with B'Elanna, but he was in no rush, and he needed to be alone anyway.

The last two weeks had been good. He'd been able to sleep and mistakes didn't throw him so badly. Everyone was convinced his problems were over, so no one was pestering him to talk or anything. No one was probing beneath his surface, where his demons still lurked and whispered.

A small dark vial materialized in Kim's replicator. Tuvok was probably monitoring him, but that didn't faze Harry. He held it a few minutes before wrapping it in a silk shirt and hiding it in his dresser drawer.



Copyright 1997 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates

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