EMPATHOGEN
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Groggily, Kathryn Janeway opened her heavy eyes. Immediately, she sensed that she was lying down, on her back, her head supported by a soft pillow. To her surprise, she stared up into a grin unarguably incompatible with the face of Voyager's Emergency Medical Hologram.

"Look who's up!" he exclaimed.

Quizzically, Janeway raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

The grin quickly vanishing, the EMH opened a medical tricorder and began scanning his senior officer's skull. "I believe it was you, Captain, who instructed me on perfecting a bedside manner more appropriate to the emotional wellness of the crew."

Brushing a hand across her forehead, she touched a fine line of sweat and wiped it away. "Doctor, are you familiar with the Earth expression, 'don't give up your day job?'"

"Well, well, well," chided the Doctor. "I can see someone woke up on the wrong side of sickbay." Closing his tricorder, he added, "Welcome back to the living. One might only hope that your shore leave was more pleasant than your return to duty."

Lifting her head, Janeway tried to sit up.

"I would advise against that, Captain."

Suddenly, vertigo overtook her. The ceiling lighting spun like stars in a warp cascade, and, weakened, she dropped back onto the mattress. Moaning, she closed her eyes and asked, "What's happened to me, Doctor?"

"You collapsed, Captain."

It wasn't the Doctor who spoke. Janeway recognized B'Elanna Torres's voice. Chancing to open her eyes again, the Captain turned her head in the direction she approximated the statement had originated. B'Elanna stood nearby, her back against an active medical port, arms folded across her chest.

Behind the chief engineer, Janeway found every bed in sickbay occupied with a member of her crew.

Chakotay.

Ensign Arelldo.

Ensign Geiger.

Lieutenant Sontak.

And more.

Quickly, she counted fifteen, in all.

"Harry beamed you and Chakotay aboard using the duty transporters in Cargo Bay Two," B'Elanna explained. For the first time, Janeway discovered her engineer's face was bruised. B'Elanna's left eye was swollen, and the left side of her jaw was a dusty shade of crimson. "Your patterns materialized, and then the two of you ... collapsed. You were lucky we got you off the Maddox in time."

"Was the shuttle destroyed?"

"No," B'Elanna answered. "It's drifting, powerless, off the port side. Sensors indicate massive internal damage, but I'm sure the Maddox will see brighter days ahead."

"Lieutenant," Janeway asked, mustering the strength to lift an arm and point at her face. "What happened to you?"

Smirking, Torres nodded in the direction of the EMH. "Let's just say I had my weekly holodeck workout two days early ... AND not on the holodeck. Arelldo and Geiger came out worse for wear, if it's any consolation. I think the Doctor can fill you in on the particulars."

"Doctor?" the Captain pressed. "What's going on?"

He stood still before her. "Captain, I've completed a thorough examination," he began. "I've detected remarkably inhibited serotonergic activity in your brain."

"Serotonergic activity?" Janeway asked. Again, she tried to sit up, ever the optimist, but, once more, the room failed to stabilize on a single axis. Quickly, she lay back down. "Please explain."

"The brain - whether human, Klingon, Vulcan - is made up of millions of interconnected cells we call neurons. Messages travel along these cells, not unlike words passing from my mouth to your ear. However, like my mouth to your ear, these neurons aren't connected. There is a gap between them, more commonly referred to as a synapse."

"I'm not so old that I don't recall the standard physiology from my Academy days, Doctor," Janeway reminded, tiredly.

"Of course, Captain," the EMH agreed. "When a neural impulse reaches the end of one neuron, it has to leap the synapse to reach the next cell. This is achieved chemically. The originating neuron releases tiny amounts of a chemical called serotonin, a neurotransmitter, into the microscopic gap dividing the cells."

Placing his tricorder on the nearest med table, the EMH raised his hands and laced his fingers together, showing the end result to his senior officer. "The receiving neuron has many locations on its surface which act as ... well ... locks, I believe is the simplest analogy."

"Locks?" Janeway asked.

Unlacing his hands, he held up the forefinger on his right hand. "Door locks, Captain, for which the neurotransmitter is the key!" Using his left hand, he touched his forefinger and thumb together into the shape of a circle. Then, he placed the forefinger of his right hand through the hole. "You see, when enough serotonin has locked onto these receptors, the neural impulse is transmitted from one neuron to the next, and the process begins anew!

"Now," the doctor continued, separating his hands and holding up his right forefinger. "In order for the originating nerve to recover and to replenish its supply of serotonin, the body has an innate mechanism that releases the neurotransmitter from the receptors and allows it to be recaptured in the originating nerve." To demonstrate, he opened the forefinger and thumb on his left hand, fanning all of his fingers outward, and then he dropped the arm to his side. "However, the converse is happening to your crew. As I said, all serotonergic activity is being inhibited."

Reaching, the Doctor retrieved a PADD from the med table and tapped a few keys. "Based on an analysis of Mr. Kim's medical charts, and, comparing his records from an exam three months ago, I'd say that his serotonergic activity is down almost eighty-seven percent."

Stubbornly, Janeway ignored her dizziness, and she sat up at the medical station. "Doctor, am I to understand that the entire crew has been afflicted with some mass epidemic? Has what we've been feeling - be it fatigue, frustration, perhaps even attraction - been symptomatic of a greater medical issue?"

Curious, the EMH raised an eyebrow. "Attraction?"

Harshly dismissive, she narrowed her eyes at him. "Your answer, Doctor?"

Shrugging, the EMH returned the PADD to its resting place. "Captain, decreased serotonergic activity can produce a variety of psychological trauma. Depression. Anxiety. Panic disorder. Social phobia. Obsessive-compulsiveness. In extreme cases, it can produce bipolar disorder, manic depression, schizophrenia, and other related psychoses. In fact, dementia is not uncommon."

Janeway asked, "What's causing the reduced neural activity?"

"That is a very good question," the doctor answered. "As a matter of fact, I took the liberty of comparing both your and Lieutenant Torres's medical exams. While you and the engineer also post uniquely depleted serotonergic activity, it isn't near as severe as Harry Kim's. Quite frankly, he and Ms. Arelldo's levels tipped the scale."

"The EVA," B'Elanna announced.

"Lieutenant?" Janeway asked.

Stepping forward, the half-Klingon-half-human slapped her hands to her thighs in realization. "It makes perfect sense! Captain, if you study our long-range sensor logs, you'll see that we've been detecting the carrier waves of the energy released by the Rintellan Satellite Defense Grid for over three weeks now. Its signature is unlike anything we've encountered before. That isn't unique. However, we soon discovered that it possessed the ability to penetrate our shields. I'll wager, if I went to work on it, I'd find out that it penetrates Voyager's hull plating, to a lesser degree."

"But how does that account for Harry and Ishanti's advanced state of neurological decay?" Janeway asked.

"The EVA," B'Elanna repeated, snapping her fingers. "That must be it! Extra-Vehicular Activity. Remember? As part of his training, Harry commanded the crew that performed the last routine maintenance to the main sensor dish. Ishanti was part of his team."

Realization washed over Janeway like a cold sonic shower. "So was Jeremy Geiger."

"And Tom Paris," B'Elanna added.

"Computer," Janeway ordered, "locate Tom Paris."

After an automated ring, the computer replied, "Command functions have been restricted to bridge-only access."

"On whose authority?"

"Lieutenant Tom Paris," the computer answered.

On behalf of her shipmates, B'Elanna pleaded, "Captain, the crew is not itself. The satellite network projects its energy away from the planet at a magnitude we've never seen before. While Voyager's hull certainly didn't impede the effects of exposure to the alien energy wave, it acted as a kind of barrier to the full exposure. Likewise, while on the Rintellan surface and under the satellite net, everyone would be free of its influence. Little if any effect would be felt. However, outside of the ship, even with the advent of the shields, a crewmember would risk massive exposure. I discussed my theory with the doctor. We agreed that such a immediate and strong exposure could perhaps result in a blackout episode -"

"Like when I returned to the ship," Janeway offered.

B'Elanna continued, " - or perhaps even the advent of a low-level psychosis." The engineer stepped closer to her captain. "Rintella bids you fancy! My guess is that the Rintellan defense pulse effects Alpha Quadrant and Delta Quadrant brains differently."

Janeway pressed her hand to her forehead. She discovered she was still sweating. "On Rintella, Kes came and told me that she and Neelix had been feeling an unusually strong attraction to one another for the past couple of days. They must have been sensing the energy wave, and, true love notwithstanding, that's what they were responding to."

Denying the effects of her dizziness, Janeway sat up on the med table. "You said that the Voyager's hull inhibits this energy wave. Is there a means to modulate our shield frequency and achieve the same results?"

"Not that I've been able to try, Captain," B'Elanna admitted. "Theoretically, I suppose it's possible, but with the level of exposure we've been subject to, I think the results would be inconclusive."

"Captain," the doctor began, theorizing aloud, "I could modify a neural stimulator to motivate serotonergic activity, at least as long as it would take for us to recall our shipmates and get beyond this Rintellan satellite network. Or, we could contact this Ambassador Brall'tor everyone keeps talking about and ask him to disable the satellite pulses."

"That's not possible, Doctor," the Captain replied. "The Rintellan Satellite Network is the planet's only defense again the radiation waves emanating from nearby worlds decimated in war."

Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, the captain's comm badge ... crackled?

"Ensign Kim to ... Janeway ..."

"That's not transceiver wavelength," B'Elanna remarked. "It sounds ... it sounds more like old-fashioned Earth radio."

Janeway slapped her comm badge. "Janeway here."

"Captain, I'm afraid that ... ship ... compromised ... command lockouts are secured ... no longer under our control ..."

The comm badge hissed static, and Kathryn Janeway knew, for certain, that communications were disabled.

"Well, people," she said, hopping down off the bed, steadying herself with a firm grasp on the padding, "it looks like we have work to do."

Next Chapter
Return to Fan Fiction Return to the Databank