A Vicious Circle
(An Internal Monologue of The Doctor)

By Biku

Author's notes: This takes place after the end of episode "Latent Image", when The Doctor is still debating the ramifacations of his actions eighteen long months ago.

A choice can be a simple thing to make. Weigh the alternatives. Analyse the differences and their relevances to the question at hand. Sometimes there is a simple answer. Other times there are more variables to compute. But it is an equation. All equations have answers.

Choice 1, subtacting probability z, adding remote chance y2, will lead to outcome x.

1 - z + y = x.

Choice 2, when probablity z is considered, subtracting remote chance y will lead to outcome x.

2 + z - y = x.

That is how a computer sees it. How a program views it. Variables, computed and analysed.

But what is x? Is x a numeral? A number? It is for a computer. It is something that does not even exist, it is an outcome: something that has not occured, and may never occur. That's what x is for a computer.

For a person, it can be any thing at all.

The Doctor snapped out of his thought to look over the room at Captain Janeway. She was reading quietly, barely moving save to flip a page.

He stared at her, wondering how she could stand it. Day in, day out. No subroutine telling her what was right, and what was wrong. No calculator in her brain filling in the list of probable outcomes. He would go insane in her condition. He was going insane.

You're a program; you cannot be insane.

Who was it who said that we all are more than the sum of our parts?

He wished it could be a simple equation, for him. One right answer, one wrong. Only the right answer would bear success; no good would come of the wrong answer. No silver lining. No bright side.

Right or wrong.

What was right or wrong? They were not logical; they followed no sequence. They had no pattern, no series. They were codes, of honour and of "common sense". He had codes, too. Lots of them. Many, many codes. All saying what should and should not be done. Not will not and will be, but should. Should. Ensign Jetal should be alive.

She should not be dead.

But she was not. She was no longer a "shall" or "should". She was. Sematics.

"But aren't semantics codes?" he said out loud. Janeway looked over at him. "Language is so imperfect," he continued, clutching the sides of the chair tightly. "So imperfect. Can't tell what you really mean. So much is left to context."

"Doctor?" she asked, confused. She laid the book down on the floor, marking her page with the ribbon bookmark.

The Doctor shook with impotent fury. "Why is it so confusing? So limited? We should be like the Borg, understanding all at once, everyone at the same time. If Paris could read my thoughts, they would both be enjoying the future tense right now. Both in the present. Not one in the past."

"I'm not following," Janeway said slowly. He waved her silent, and slowly, with great concentration, relaxed his grip.

If "right" and "wrong" were simple concepts, they did not stay that way under close scrutiny. There were grades. There were decisions that were more right than others. Or they could be both, at the same time.

Like the triage. If Ensign Jetal had not died, and the Doctor had tried to save both, Harry Kim would be dead as well. There would be no "silver lining". No bright spot. But what if...

What if...

What if he'd understood the problem on the shuttle, sooner rather than later?

What if he had tried to talk Paris through it?

What if Paris failed?

What if he failed?

What if he was wrong?

He replayed the scenes over and over again, his fingers digging into the soft apholstry of the chair. He acted soundly. Logically. If he was forced to make the same decision again--he faltered for a moment, unsure, but he knew deep inside that he would make the same decision again, and again.

Perhaps he was doing it again and again.

He remembered the time on Voyager where the ship had been replicated completely, except for the antimatter. Both captains were the same, and ready to make the same decision indepentant of their very different situations.

What if there were other parallel worlds? What if, in each one, he made the same choice? Ensign Jetal would die. Again. And again. And again.

"I'm killing her over and over again!" he wailed. Janeway looked up, startled, and he leapt to his feet, pacing.

"Causalty, cause and effect--parallel universes--I kill her again and again! I would always make that decision, I would always let her die!"

"Doctor, we've been through this--" Janeway stopped, catching herself. She nodded. "Continue."

"Yes," he said feverishly. "It will continue. And continue and continue, over and over. A loop."

"I know," she muttered, sleepily. This was her second day of watch. There had been a brief few hours when she had left, to take a nap and a shower; she had been running a temperature. But she had returned, claiming complete recovery, and The Doctor envied her ability to lie. As well as her ability to convince herself of something and be done with it.

Be done with it, not have it be a loop. An infinite number of actions, being repeated and repeated.

He started to shake, balling his hands into fists. He couldn't control his mind, any more, he realised. It was in a loop of its own, spinning over and over. His original programming was fighting with his evolved state. He had no idea who was going to win. He did know that his psyche was the battle ground and it was beginning to resemble a no-man's land.

He took a calming, holographic breath, and tried to relax. Tried to stop the whirlwind of incoherent mental messages and images from impeding his higher functions. He was a--

A what? He was a computer program. He was designed to handle situations such as the one that had arisen aboard the shuttlecraft. He had done his duty, and tried to save both crewmen, but one did not make it. And that was his fault. His fault, his fault.

What else could he have done? At the time, there was only the one solution: triage. Pick one, any one, and save that one.

Save one. Not both. One. Half. Fifty percent. Point five. The ratio was always the same.

Replaying it over, more options sprang to mind. Most were ludicrous. If he had tried those, he would have lost both. But he should have thought about it.

Should have. Did not.

He closed his eyes, trying to think of something else, something to drown out the "should haves". But it was trying to block a tidal wave with a piece of paper, a leaf from Janeway's book. How could he think of something else when Ensign Jetal's ghost screamed out for justice! He should have done something! Something...but what?

He had often heard the expression: "More questions than answers." But now he felt as though he had more answers than questions. More outcomes than incidents. There had been one choice, and one outcome, it had seemed, when it was happening. But hindsight is the great revealer. Now there was an endless array of options. Options and should haves. Should haves led to did nots. Did nots led to...

Led to...

Regret? Guilt? Shame?

Insanity?

The doors to the holodeck slid open with a sigh, and Commander Chakotay stepped in. Janeway, startled by the sudden sound, looked up from her book.

"I thought you might be in here," he said, kindly. "I don't think five hours is enough sleep. Get some rest."

"I rested," Janeway retorted.

The Doctor watched them silently. He saw Chakotay glance in his direction.

"I'll take over," the Commander said. "It's my shift."

Janeway sighed, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. From the look on Chakotay's face, she must have realised she wasn't going to win this one. "Very well."

She stood up, and looked towards The Doctor. "Will you be all right?"

He nodded.

The doors slid behind her, and he and Chakotay eyed each other.

What if it were Chakotay and Kim in that situation? he thought. I chose my friend; that's how I chose. What if it were two friends? Would I leave it to chance?

Chakotay leaned back in the chair, looking concerned, unaware his fate was being psuedo-decided by random chance.

Flip a coin? Would that be the deciding factor in Chakotay's life? A coin toss? Why not, everything else seemed so random in the universe, The Doctor thought.

But maybe that wasn't true. A coin, when flipped enough times, landed equally, fifty-fifty, on either side. Always. Probability. Perhaps, in the great scheme of the universe, everything evened out as well. Perhaps, by chosing Kim to live, he had enabled several other people to be saved, there by "cancelling" out the debt of Ensign Jetal's death. If she was a debt, a negative, a hole that had to be filled.

Probability. Computers could figure out probability. Very well, in fact.

It was only a simple calculation, after all. And what was a choice but a calculation?

Weigh the alternatives. Analyse the differences and their relevances to the question at hand. Sometimes there is a simple answer. Other times there are more variables to compute. But it is an equation. All equations have answers...

The End