Part One: The Reflection
It could be considered a small party — if by small, one meant a group of five, and if by party, one meant an eager crowd waiting to see the event. The EMH considered it a crowd or, perhaps more accurately, a gallery of people waiting to watch an operation. His operation. One B'Elanna was explaining to him in an attempt to talk him out of. That this operation was to take place in a holodeck instead of a sickbay wasn't lost on anyone — he wasn't human, and the risks of this were minimal, despite her hemming. Harry and Seven had said so, and even D'Tir had reluctantly confirmed.
B'Elanna's exasperation was clear, "You aren't paying attention."
The EMH scowled, "We've been going back and forth for over an hour. This isn't as sensitive as the mobile emitter embedded in the human me's skull, or letting me in the Delta Flyer to begin with. I've downloaded my own memories before. Just a couple of months ago, if you've already forgotten."
The reminder that he'd started as his former self's backup hung awkwardly in the air. Harry wince, and even Seven looked away, a firm set to her jaw. Only D'Tir and B'Elanna continued to attempt to make eye contact, and only the latter responded as if unfazed by his outburst.
"Did any of those memories involve you being decompiled?"
D'Tir looked as if she wanted to add more, but B'Elanna caught it and shook her head. The holographic's Doctor's scowl deepened. It was just like her, to treat him like a piece of technology and not like a person. How many times had he demanded basic quality of life updates from her in the past, only to see her roll her eyes at him.
He clenched his hands and raised his chin, "I want this."
Oh did he want it. A wealth of information about the planet he'd been studying since entering Briyali space, just within reach and technically his. Nothing had truly been lost on that planet, not the real Delta Flyer, not the real Captain, not the real him.
Something in Voyager's engineer gave, and she seemed to shrink an inch, "Fine."
The smile that took over his face was blinding.
B'Elanna held up a finger, "But…we're doing this my way."
"Which is?" The smile wasn't fading.
"In increments. You'll download and incorporate the memories in increments, and after each set I want you to tell me whether to continue or not."
As annoying as her reluctance to let him do this chafed, he nodded, "Fine. Deal."
"And the rest of you," B'Elanna directed this the other three in attendance, "keep your questions to a minimum between each set. I don't care how long you've been waiting to learn more about the Treveenian home world; it's my job to make sure this doesn't go south. I will have you removed from the holodeck."
Her dark, angry eyes seemed to land specifically on Seven. Although the two women had managed to set aside most of their past animosity, it appeared the engineer still expected the ex-drone to ignore commands for her own convenience.
"Yeah, I can do that," Harry offered first, intent on diffusing tension in the room. Yet, his windswept hair and the bags under his eyes gave away how eager he was to be here. Eager enough to forego the rest of his shore leave.
"I will comply," came Seven's reluctant chaser.
D'Tir simply nodded.
Of the three, B'Elanna seemed more willing to believe the Briyali engineer, and so she didn't give her the same withering glare she gave the other two.
"All right," she lifted her tablet and began typing in commands, "We'll start small. Just the first day. I've isolated the moments after the temporal duplication occurred. Some pieces might be missing, but it shouldn't be readily noticeable."
He knew the moment she issued the command to the computer. Memories filed to his program. Rather than append them to his memories as new experiences, his programming indexed them into a new memory branch dated just five days prior. The EMH realized then what B'Elanna had meant by the fact that he would relive these memories, but they would represent a past and future that had happened and yet hadn't. Not in this life anyway.
Once the indexing was complete, he experienced them. Simultaneously for him, 0.15 seconds passed in the holodeck and a single day came and went on the planet. The experience was not as disorienting to him as it would be to an organic, yet it did take him an additional 0.221 seconds to process that he had never left the holodeck.
"We had to eject the warp core before hitting the atmosphere," he explained, "the captain was injured, and I was worried about the damage to her lungs. We lost most of emergency rations. We didn't leave the shuttle."
Harry looked toward B'Elanna first for permission and then, when she didn't scowl, asked, "Were you alone?"
"Yes," he rechecked the memories, "the shuttle's sensors were damaged in the emergency landing. We had limited range. Nothing approached us."
"Were you aware of the presence of other Delta Flyer?"
The EMH looked at Seven and shook his head, "It was like last time. We were completely unaware that they existed."
This sentence made D'Tir start in shock, "Last time?"
B'Elanna eyes remained on her engineering tablet as she spoke, an edge to her voice, "Voyager was duplicated approximately 40,000 lightyears from here. All hands on were lost on the duplicated ship."
"Except me," Harry threw in, with the type of amusement one gained by not wondering too deeply about the nature of his very existence, "and I still maintain that it was all of you who are the duplicates."
The Bryiali engineer shook her head, her long fire red hair swaying with the effort as she spoke in a mixture of awe and horror, "Your journey has been a strange one."
"An understatement," Seven declared.
B'Elanna ignored the exchange and raised her eyes to meet his, "Well?"
The Doctor nodded, "More."
His program churned through the next set of memories, indexing them as it did the first. Two weeks sat parallel to one another in his memories now. The first, those days he'd lived through once they'd retrieved his program from the spent Delta Flyer in orbit around the hidden Treveenian planet; the second, those he'd spent stuck in the temporal well on the planet itself. They did not merge into a cohesive unit, yet they existed equally within him, incongruous but real. It took him nearly a minute to adjust. Once he did, he knew his programming would accept additional memories without issuing the same sense of vertigo.
As the others waited for him to indicate he was ready to answer questions, the EMH revisited a single memory four times. Captain Janeway, weary and injured, sitting across from him with a solemnity that belied what her scanning of the atmosphere and local constellations had uncovered.
"We need to get a message beyond the temporal well. If Voyager hasn't traveled very far, we may get off this planet in four hundred days."
An acute wave of fear; she didn't have four hundred days.
"My estimates suggest it will take longer. A lot longer."
He came out of it, early autumn wind and fog replaced by the sterile squares of the holodeck, "The captain figured out the temporal offset within the week."
If there was pride in his voice, the others didn't respond to it.
"Did you know where you were?" Seven asked.
"Oh yes," the excitement of the knowledge coming back to him in an instant, replacing the lingering something that felt remarkably like dread in his subroutines.
"You are all remarkably clever," if that had come from anyone but D'Tir it might have seemed insincere; instead, it was statement of fact from someone who had been observing them for weeks.
B'Elanna was looking at him now, gauging his reaction to the memory load. Coming to a silent conclusion, she said to the others, "Go ahead and ask more questions. I want to give his memory processing time to adjust."
And so they did, Seven inputing his answers into a PADD she carried as Harry peppered him with question about the flora and fauna sensory readings and any minute evidence of the species that called the world home. The EMH was in the middle of giving a thorough description of the valley they had crashed in, from the longitudinal readings to the barometric pressure, when he thought of the sunsets.
Purple, gray and cold.
The captain, trying to chart the constellations, despite his insistence she settle down and rest.
"When will I ever have another opportunity to chart the stars from a temporal well?"
Harry cleared his throat.
The Doctor blinked; he'd met the ensign's last question with five seconds of silence.
"Could you repeat that, Mr. Kim?"
The sunrise crept across the brow of the cliff slowly, illuminating the dark green brush with peach light. It reminded Kathryn of the bald mountains that dotted the lands around lake superior, her father's favorite hiking landmarks in the northern American midwest. If she tried, she could pretend she was seated atop a boulder surrounded by carpet juniper, not a species of alien evergreen she couldn't even pronounce.
The group slowly emerged from their individual tents which had been arranged in a tight semi-circle atop the ocean cliff the previous night. Except for Harry, the seven who'd hiked through the evening to see the ocean surface at night had set up camp, more than content to sleep through the howling wind instead of making the twelve kilometer hike back.
Naomi was the third out. Tuvok had already been meditating when Kathryn crawled from her tent before dawn. She'd let her friend be as she collected the necessary equipment to brew a pot of coffee over a small flame. The Dahir had been more than happy to let their guests camp up here — the concept foreign but delightful to them — convinced the ecosystem would be just fine after the experience.
So, she'd let the fire boil the water and listened as the morning brew percolated. It was just about ready when the young girl skipped over and took a seat on her boulder.
"Mom says if I ask nicely you might let me try it?"
Kathryn laughed, the sound carried away with the wind. Naomi fumbled with her hat and blushed happily, "Can I?"
A peak over her shoulder told Kathryn and Samantha Wildman was up and about and fully in the know.
"A couple sips first, to see if you like it. It's an acquired taste."
Chakotay was next from the tents, basking in the morning sun and breeze briefly, before wandering over to their not-quite circle. He took a seat opposite them, right on the ground where the brush was thinnest, and fished around in his pack while Kathryn began pouring two tin mugs full coffee and a third a quarter full. Naomi took hers with a happy shimmy of her shoulders, and Chakotay his with a smile.
A moment later, he produced an array of local nuts and dried fruit deemed edible by their scans the day prior, and began pouring some out for each of them. No one spoke, as they enjoyed their breakfast in companionable silence, until Naomi slurped down her coffee and grinned.
"This is weird. I like it!"
Chakotay laughed over his mug, and Kathryn gave a wry smirk as she poured the youngest member of her crew a little more.
Samantha shuffled over, eyes sleepy, "Can I have the entire pot?"
Naomi giggled and offered her own mug to her mom. Sam smiled fondly down at her, and took the final spot on the boulder. Kathryn adjusted so that Naomi wouldn't be squished between them, before setting out to start another pot of coffee. By the time the water got going again, Jenny had come around, looking the most alert of all them.
"Anyone else planning on just beaming back to Voyager?"
Her lack of concern about looking lazy was refreshing. Chakotay lifted a hand from where it was resting on his knee, "I want to make sure Chell got what he needed."
"This one," Sam ran a hand through the crown of Naomi's hair, "needs a proper sonic shower and change of clothes."
Naomi stuck out her tongue.
Kathryn poured herself more coffee and set about brewing more for the growing crowd, "I could use the walk."
Both of his hands were fluttering around her as he followed her back into the shuttle — medical tricorder in one, nothing in the other. For the most part, the Captain seemed amused that he'd stood at the door for hours awaiting her return — by his exasperated mothering of her. If she sensed how he'd spent the evening imagining every way she could die out there, the Captain didn't show it.
"I was only gone for the night," she grumbled, very little actual annoyance in the sound, "I can handle myself that long at least."
"What if you'd been attacked?"
"By the local rabbit analog?" this time she nearly laughed.
He scowled, "Or you could have fallen. I wouldn't have been able to help you if you had. Were you just going to crawl back here on broken legs?"
The Captain rolled her eyes as she set down the bag of foraged berries and mushrooms and greens. Then, she sat and began to mix a small portion of her nearly dwindled rations into a pot of water he had kept warm, "Your hypotheticals could use improvement. The bluffs are kilometers away. What was I going to fall over, a twig?"
"The rabbit analogs burrow. You could have twisted your ankle."
"The horror," she drawled, before taking a drink of her breakfast.
Two months of memories, stretched into a future that wasn't a future. Humans wouldn't be able to comprehend how anyone could compress such a time into a mere hour and still conceptualize it as entire weeks of memories. If he were human, would the sudden influx of stress have caused a surge of cortisol and adrenaline? Would he look months of stress and worry — frustration and exhaustion — older? Would his cheeks have started to hollow out? Would his eyes have begun to sink behind dark shadows from the memory of long nights?
Surely if it had been the human him stuck on that planet watching his Captain begin to starve, he wouldn't have felt so impotent. Helpless to help. Stuck within the safety of the shuttlecraft, unable to her scour the valley for food.
The questions from Harry and Seven were coming slower now. It was becoming clear to all present that this had been less of an exploration and more of a slow perishing. That if there was something to be found, it would have to have found them first. Perhaps somewhere between month one and month two, his demeanor had shifted, curiosity giving way to a morbid compulsion to see what had come next.
"The Captain managed some exploration," he informed the others.
"Was she able to go far," Seven asked. Her demeanor, too, had shifted. Her brand of detached curiosity had become something more wary with each probing. Like a child growing fearful of what might rest in shadowed corners.
"No. These were day trips, mostly to catalog and forage."
Then, as if struck by a stray fondness, he admitted without prompting, "We settled on a name for the rabbit analogs."
Seven's brow raised.
Harry looked more supportive in his own interest, "Yeah?"
Suddenly bashful, the EMH admitted with a shrug, "chiprabbit."
The huff of quickly stifled laughter came from B'Elanna.
"Efficient," said Seven, clearly approving, as she keyed the information into the PADD she carried.
In the scant few hours the group had occupied the holodeck, D'Tir and B'Elanna had been able to create holographic reconstructions of the crash site, including the surrounding tall grass and trees. The 'rabbits' in question were included. Although markably similar to the Sciuridae family of mammals on Earth, it had the elongated hind legs of the Leporidae. Harry's informal classification of 'cute' had been begrudgingly seconded by B'Elanna. Seven had refused to humor that with anything more than a question of its nutritional content.
"It's a shame to kill them," the captain said, as she handed him the snare that held two of the small creatures.
The design of the catch was as humane as they could come up with, resulting in a quick and painless death. He was a doctor, after all, and the programming surrounding his harm-response was called even if the life form wasn't sentient. Through an absurd amount of abstraction, he'd been able to create a workaround so that he could help her construct the things.
The Doctor took the chiprabbits from her, frowning at the look of them no longer alive and alert and active. The moment passed as he forced himself into thinking of all the ways he could dress them so their nutritional value was maximized. They agreed it was best he do this part, as his hands would always remain steady, and his medical programming would keep his cuts clean and sure.
"Nothing will go to waste."
"What was that?" B'Elanna asked, eyes darting up from the console.
"Nothing," he said, an expression of concern crossed his face as the others looked away, "nothing?"
The camping group had dwindled down to three, leaving only the captain, Tuvok and the Doctor to hike back to civilization. Fortunately, the gear had been beamed to Voyager with the rest of the party, leaving the three with only their individual packs to haul. Tuvok took the lead and had quickly outpaced them only a half an hour into the return trip. Kathryn, partially concerned for his hiking skills and partially happy for the cheerful company, kept the Doctor's slow pace.
The sun was still low in the sky, and the wind had quieted to a throw thrum, so when (three kilometers in) Kathryn lost her footing on a loose patch of gravel, her startled cry was loud enough to scare several nearby roosting birds into flight. The Doctor steadied her before she could take a truly spectacular tumble down the steep terrain, but not before she heard (felt) the telltale popping of her ankle as it rolled.
"Easy, don't try walking on it."
The Doctor's grip was tight on her elbow as he helped her keep her balance and the weight off her foot. They looked around and spotted a boulder large enough for her to sit on, and then she engaged in a series of unflattering hops on her good foot while he kept her from falling. When she was finally situated on the rock and gingerly easing the hiking book off her injured foot, the Doctor slung his pack off his shoulders and began digging through it.
He pulled the medical regenerator from it with a small flourish. An amused if not self-deprecating glint was in his eyes when his gaze found hers, "I packed this expecting I'd need to use it on myself, not you."
Kathryn laughed, before wincing and adjusting her position on the small boulder to allow him to kneel down beside her. His touch was warm and gentle when he took hold of her lower calf and propped it up on his knee.
As he carefully folded the fabric of her hiking pants away from her ankle, she watched the lines of his face. The severity of his expressions had faded considerably over the past weeks, slowly replaced with his typical cheer while off duty. At times, she'd caught him reluctantly laughing at something Harry or Tom said while in the mess. It would be easy to mistake him for his old, holographic self if not for the thin sheen of sweat on his brow or the telltale organic heat and humidity where his firm grasp curled around her lower leg.
His fingers probed the sprain. Already, the skin was bruised and swelling now that had been freed from the compression of her hiking boot.
"You really did a number," he murmured, focusing on where to run the regenerator.
"We needed the break anyway," she quipped, watching as the muscle and ligaments beneath her skin began to heal.
Without pain relievers, the reduction of bruising and inflammation was accompanied by a burning itch. Although he couldn't see her grimace, he definitely noticed the contraction of her calf muscles as her toes curled. The hand holding her leg in place gave her shin an absent pat.
It was the truth. Within moments, the pain receded, leaving only the healing itch. A minute more an even that was gone, only a shadow of a tickle remaining along the nerve endings.
"Good as new!" he practically chirped, efficiently slipping the regenerator back in his pack before smoothing her pant leg back in place.
"What would I do without you," while her tone was wry, Kathryn saw him register the fondness in it when his pleased smile became bashful.
"I have no doubt you would have crawled down this trail if you had to. Not," he released her leg and passed her her sock then boot, "before stubbornly walking half of it."
They took a few minutes to rest then, each nibbling on some of the nuts and dried fruit Chakotay left with them. The Doctor seemed to favor the cherry and pistachio analogs, pushing what amount to raisons in her direction. Kathryn took them, a quirk to her fine brow.
A thought struck her then, and she leaned more into her role of his friend than his captain, "Do you have a favorite food now?"
He registered the question with some amount of shock, and then becomes charmingly shy, "Cheesecake."
Something in his tone suggested there was more of a story behind that one word than 'I tried it last week and loved it'. She could pry, but there was embarrassment in the way he admitted it; instead, she took on a teasing tone.
"Can't let it get out that one of the ship's doctor's favorite food isn't broccoli?"
He returned the volley with an impish smile and a, "What's your favorite food?" Before popping a small handful of tree nuts in his mouth.
"That's easy: coffee."
He coughed, swallowed, "That…" and then shook his head, "is not food."
She patted his shoulder and began to stand, putting experimental weight on her newly healed foot. The ligaments were tight but pliant, and she felt no lingering pain from the injury.
"Come on. If you can keep up with me on the rest of this hike, I'll brew you a cup of coffee so good it'll put any slice of cheesecake to shame."
"Give me the rest of the year."
"I do not recommend it."
That was D'Tir, who had taken B'Elanna's place in the last hour, as the ship's engineer left to spend what time she could with family while they were still in orbit.
Three years. That's how long the shuttle had spent on the hidden planet. Two of those years his other self had been active. It was unlikely the captain had survived beyond the first. The EMH didn't know what would be worse. Allowing the engineers to allow the truth of it all to trickle in month by month, like one of those centuries-old serialized broadcasts Paris enjoyed watching in his off hours? Or to force his programming to process it all as quickly as possible?
The captain, his captain, was alive below enjoying shore leave. Would dragging out the death of the other diminish that comfort? Or would it allow him to lean on it more easily?
The EMH looked around at the others. Harry and Seven were busy working through the other damaged records from the Delta Flyer. They came and went from the holodeck as they needed, stopping only to check if he had more information about the planet. When he was clear that they were deep in conversation and unlikely to hear him, he spoke tersely with the Briyali.
"She died. I..H-he died. Do you think pausing to let you monitor my reactions will make it any easier?"
She looked caught out and uncertain of what to say.
Part of him felt badly then because D'Tir had become a friend to him. Something in her species' culture allowed her to see him as more than an object, more than a thing to study. He was a person to her. From the very moment she had met him, he had been real. Just another alien species, just one she was in a unique position to help. As a friend, she would worry that he would be taking on hurt to satiate his curiosity. Perhaps that had been the case at first, but this was beyond curiosity now.
Who would remember them if not him?
"I'm sorry," he said.
D'Tir shook her head, a mannerism she had picked up from the human's she had spent so much time with, "No, you are right. I have worried, and it has made me cautious. I was the one who asked Lieutenant Torres to practice restraint. The more you take on of his memories, the more he becomes you. Do you understand?"
How could he not understand; he was the one living it.
"He was me, before he wasn't."
A contemplative look crossed her sharp, smooth features. A moment later, her dark eyes flicked over to the direction of their oblivious companions.
"Your Harry Kim died?"
The question startled him, "He is our Harry."
"Yet your Harry also died?"
Old memories came back, of the brief span of time where he had thought Harry Kim gone for good. The casualty of space. Had he mourned him? Had he mourned the Naomi he could not save? Had he mourned that other Voyager? The him who had ceased to be when it exploded?
He had in his own way.
"Yes, he also died."
"Like your captain? Like you?"
He nodded, unable to respond any other way.
D'Tir thought a moment longer, likely marveling at the strange journey this crew had been on, and then give him a single, firm nod.
"I will do this for you."
"The rest of the year?
Her dark eyes seemed fathomless, as she tried to read something in his expression, "The rest of his life."