Today's Special

Darrel W. Beach

May, 1997
HTMLized May, 2001


This story takes place in the third season of Star Trek: Voyager, some time after the episode Distant Origin.

The following presentation is rated G.


     The galley of the starship Voyager appeared at first glance the very model of still and quiet.  The evening meal had come and gone, and in similar fashion so did the stalwart, if hapless crewmen that drove the Intrepid class vessel through the inky black of unknown space.  With the sterile white lights and the chairs tucked neatly under the dining tables, the room bore an uncanny resemblance to the austere spaces of Sickbay.  Had anyone actually been in the room, they would have marvelled at the absolute silence.  That is, until the calamitous explosion of clattering burst forth from the kitchen.
     Neelix chided himself for his carelessness, despite the cumbersome number of containers he carried in.  It was just an excuse to alleviate himself of frustration, garnered by the day's events.  Once again there were complaints about the quality of the food he'd prepared; many a tray had been left behind practically untouched or unceremoniously dumped into the reclamator unit.  He felt aggrieved in response to their rudeness and cruel humour about his abilities to cook.  Their problem was that their palates had grown too soft, unused to anything that didn't come from a replicator.  They reminded him too much of the neighbour's children he grew up with on Talax - the fussiest, most spoiled brats he ever knew.
     For a brief moment, Neelix contemplated hanging up his apron for good, and let them discover for themselves how much they needed his erstwhile contribution.  But Kes' image visited him like a spectre of conscience, speaking of how ashamed he should be for turning his back on those who had given them a reprieve in life.  In his heart, Neelix knew his conscience was right; Captain Janeway had been more than gracious in allowing them to stay, when he and the Ocampa girl would have otherwise most certainly ended up doddering through space like a pair of galactic vagabonds, scavenging a meagre and troubled existence.  No, he owed the captain too much to start behaving inconsiderate now.
     By a sudden flash of inspiration he thought of the perfect course of action.  A mere four days ago they had stopped by an uninhabited yet fertile planet to investigate Ensign Kim's long-range scans of trace dilithium deposits.  What they found was less than encouraging: the samples mined out were too unrefined to be of much use, even after running it through Lt. Torres' makeshift processor.  However, the stop did not prove to be altogether unproductive; they were able to farm out some useful metal ores, and Neelix managed to augment their food supply with a variety of new produce and roughage.  He hadn't planned on dipping into the new stock just yet, as he preferred to use up the older supplies before they spoiled, but at the moment he felt it necessary, so as to improve the crew's morale, to prepare a menu that everyone would truly appreciate.
     Taking a quick trip down to the cargo bay, Neelix sorted through the large selection of newly acquired foods to experiment with: swamp lettuce, valley tomatoes, spiny mushrooms, Polbog spring moss, mocret, wild stem-weeds, various tubers and roots.  He also gathered a garvola plant, a real bonus acquisition from the excursion.  Garvola was known to be one of the more sought after herbs in the quadrant, reputed for its unique bouquet and flavour.  If anything could turn the officers back into his favour, the garvola would be the vehicle.
     Thus it had come to be that Neelix trotted back from the cargo bay to the mess hall, clearly carrying too many containers to handle securely.  Picking up the fallen vessel and rebuffing the reflective metal surface, Neelix stacked it with the others and decided to call it an evening.  The sooner he retired, the quicker morning would arrive, and he was anxious to try out the many recipes that were spinning about in his head.

     By now the scene was familiar to those who wandered in for the morning course: a plethora of unknown dishes either sizzling in pans or simmering in pots, dispersing a cacophonous combination of aromas throughout the mess hall.  In the centre of it all was the bustling, bubbly Talaxian dispensing hot meals and pleasant conversation amid his ministrations in the kitchen.
     Neelix had been up and at work since four in the morning, nearly too anxious to have obtained any sleep during the night.  The nervous energy had been put to good use, however; in addition to preparing the breakfast menu, he busied himself by getting a head start on the new recipes.  A few strands of mocret, a few handfuls of spiny mushrooms and Sorbosian eel meat, a few other ingredients and some spices - the makings of an exotic Sorbosian gumbo.  He could toss up a salad using the lettuce, tomatoes, a few radishes and the spring moss.  The garvola herbs were being dried out under a filament and wouldn't be ready for use until lunch, but they would be the perfect seasoning for the salad dressing.  Today's lunch was going to blow them all away.
     Neelix was just about done mixing the garvola salad dressing when the first signs of the lunch crowd began to trickle into the mess hall.  The Sorbosian gumbo was simmering contentedly away on a hot plate, casting off a thick musky odour.  "Ah, Mr. Carey!  A pleasure to see you, as always!"
     "Hello, Neelix," the engineer replied politely.  He sniffed the air with interest.  "Something back there smells good; what's on the menu?"
     The chef grinned from ear to ear.  "I'm so glad you asked, Mr. Carey.  Come on back here and let me show you."
     Carey hesitated.  An invitation into Neelix's kitchen was a clear indication that something was up, but it would be rude to reject his request.
     Neelix led him over to the simmering pot.  "Oh, I think you're going to enjoy this, lieutenant.  I've prepared a few new dishes I'm confident that the crew will absolutely love, but just to be sure I was hoping you could try them out and give me your opinion on them."
     A spark of fear flashed in the lieutenant's eyes for a moment.  Fortunately, Neelix wasn't looking at him at the time; Carey managed to cover up the expression.  One always had to be wary when Neelix came up with something new.  He was getting better, mind you, but there was always a sense of dread when it came to being Neelix's culinary guinea pig.  Neelix held up a big spoon in front of him, pointing out the new entree.  "This is the Sorbosian gumbo, made with my choicest cuts of Sorbosian eel.  I think the spiny mushrooms and the mocret compliment the black tubers very well, and the spik basil and sea salt add a bit of character."
     Carey swirled the spoon around in the gumbo and scooped out a portion.  He wasn't sure quite what to make of it when he shoved the spoon into his mouth: the meat definitely had a woody flavour to it, but it was offset well by the other ingredients.  The tubers had a faintly sweet savour, and the seasonings added a bit of spice to the mix, but somehow it didn't seem quite right.  "It's not bad," he said at last.  "Maybe a little bland, though - I thought gumbos were supposed to be very spicy dishes."
     Neelix filed that note away for future reference and directed the engineer to the salad.  "Now you can't go wrong with a salad, as my mother used to say.  This salad is made up of fresh swamp lettuce, Polbog spring moss, and stem-weeds, garnished with diced valley tomatoes and radishes for texture.  And for dressing, a light solution made with garvola herbs, tessok egg yolks, Ollan brine water, and a few other secret ingredients."
     The engineer lifted the fork with trepidation.  However, he was shocked by the incredible burst of flavour that greeted his taste buds.  "This - this is unbelievable, Neelix!  I mean, it's absolutely wonderful!  I've never tasted anything quite like this before.  I can't quite put my finger on it, though."
     The Talaxian grinned mirthfully.  "Ah - that would probably be the garvola.  I feel very fortunate that we even managed to find some.  It's a herb widely known for it's unique and tantalizing savour, but it's not a common find in this sector.  Garvola plants are also an extremely valuable commodity in the trade markets, so we can use them for barter if we're in need for other supplies or materials."
     "I can see why," said a euphoric Lt. Carey, a slightly glassy look in his eyes.  "It seems to make the food come alive in my mouth - there's really no adequate way to describe what I'm experiencing."
     Neelix folded his arms over his chest in a fait accompli, the smile on his face growing broader by the moment.  It was the reaction he was anticipating since last night, and he fully expected it to be a precursor of things to come.  There would be only one thing left to do before the lunch rush hit: grabbing the jar of herbs, Neelix dispensed three heaping teaspoons into the big pot of gumbo, hoping that would be enough to really spice up the works.
     If it were possible, it could be said that his expectations were exceeded.  Every person that came in raved about lunch, and not one person complained about either the salad or the gumbo.

     "Neelix, this is incredible!  You've really outdone yourself!"
     "Why, thank you, B'Elanna."

     "This is really good, Neelix.  What did you say this was?"
     "It's Sorbosian gumbo.  Might I interest you in another helping, Mr. Kim?"

     "This has to be the best thing I've ever tasted!  Got any more?"

     "I'll say it again, Neelix: Unbelievable!"

     "Incredible, Neelix!  Simply incredible!"

     "For once, Neelix, I can't complain."
     "Coming from you, Tom, I'll take that as a real compliment."

     Probably for the first time since he became the ship's cook, there were no leftovers to be found.


     The officers left the mess hall feeling energized.  Everything around them appeared more vibrant and colourful.  Life was good; things were finally starting to turn for the better on this little lost vessel.  Gone were the territorial Kazon and the Vidiian forayers.  Behind them were the arrogant and pretentious Voth.  And now Neelix had produced a truly appreciable meal , which was something everybody had to know about.  Word about Neelix's lunch was passed on to every person encountered in the passageways between the mess hall and their destinations.  Work resumed with a new vigour.
     Tom Paris practically bounced in his seat for four solid hours, checking sensors, plotting course corrections with enthusiasm, and responding to orders in a bright cheerful manner.  His behaviour certainly was not lost on Captain Janeway.  She wondered what could have been responsible for the pilot's zealousness.
     Her opportunity to question him came at the end of the shift.  She followed him into the turbolift.  "Well, Mr. Paris, you've certainly been full of spit and vinegar this afternoon."  If she didn't know any better, she'd sworn that he was startled, as if he hadn't noticed her presence in the lift before now.
     "I suppose you could say that."  His hands fidgeted.  "I guess Neelix's lunch had plenty of vitamins in it today.  I felt quite invigorated by it."
     "Really?" Janeway remarked.  "I've heard a few others talk about it as well.  It must have been one heck of a lunch."
     Tom seemed to light up like a filament.  "Oh, you really missed something fantastic, captain!  I mean, this Sorbosian gumbo is like nothing you've ever had before.  I don't know how he did it, but Neelix finally came up with something good.  You have to try it."
     The captain was intrigued by the lieutenant's accolades; Tom Paris wasn't exactly the biggest fan of Neelix's cooking.  If he gave the Talaxian's food a good review, then it had to be really good.  She'd have to find out if Neelix had any leftover Sorbosian gumbo to sample.

     "I'm terribly sorry, captain, the gumbo was really popular this afternoon."  The Talaxian was insufferably apologetic over not anticipating this occurrence.  "However, I think you'd enjoy the Tyssic ghoti just as much.  If you'll allow me...."  He sliced off a corner and dipped it into a thin wine-coloured sauce, and handed the fork to Janeway.
     Her eyes widened with surprise as she processed the morsel.  "This is marvellous!"
     "The secret's in the Havian red sauce.  I substituted ground powdered garvola herb for the Cazzian dill.  I never thought the Cazzian dill was right for that sauce anyway."
     "Well, it looks like your intuition paid off, Neelix," she complimented, sopping up a bit of the sauce with a pinkie finger and licking it clean.  "It really is extraordinary."
     As the captain left the counter with her tray, B'Elanna Torres entered the room with Lt. Carey in tow.  B'Elanna appeared slightly edgy; Carey looked haggard.
     "I can't believe how hungry I am.  I wonder if Neelix has any of that gumbo left?" the half-Klingon questioned.
     Carey sniffed the air, catching the aroma of the Havian red sauce.  "Well, whatever he's cooking, it sure smells good.  Ah, for the love of God."  He pressed his hand up against his temple.
      She turned to face Carey.  "Carey, what's wrong?  You look terrible."
     "Ah, I've got a slight headache.  Probably just stress, trying too hard to figure out how to increase the efficiency of the shield generators with a minimal impact on power consumption.  I'll probably feel better once I get something to eat."
     She frowned with concern. "Well, perhaps you should visit the doctor later anyway."
     "I said I'll be fine." he argued, a bit more emphatically.
     The chief engineer started.  "Okay, fine, whatever."
     In the meantime, Captain Janeway decided to dine in the company of Tuvok.  It had been a while since she last visited with her good dear friend.  "Hello, Tuvok.  Mind if I join you?"
     Tuvok nodded and indicated a spot facing him.  "By all means, captain."
     "Thank you."  She made herself comfortable and spread out the dishes on her tray.  "So, Tuvok, what have you been up to lately?" "I have been engaged in many tasks.  Currently I am attempting to cross-pollinate Vulcan orchids with Fennellite fire-dancers, which is proving to be quite a challenge."
     "That's sounds fascinating.  I'd love to see them when you're done."
     "Certainly, captain.  I would be honoured to show them to you."
     Janeway savoured another morsel of the Tyssic ghoti.  "I still can't get over how wonderful this tastes.  Have you tried it yet, Tuvok?"
     "Indeed I have," the Vulcan answered.  "I must admit, the sensations it produces is rather remarkable."

     Thus was the scenario at many tables that evening; the dramatic change in opinion over Neelix's cooking was a hot topic of conversation as people summarily cleaned up every last scrap of food in the galley.  Everyone seemed to leave on an endorphin high, none more so than Neelix himself.  He trotted off to the airponics bay in phenomenally good spirits to gather more of the garvola plant.  With the herb as popular as it was, he had a lot of preparation ahead of him to make sure he didn't run out as quickly as he had today.
     However, unlike Neelix, a lot of people were having a great of difficulty getting a good night's sleep at 2200 hours.  In many a cabin people were suffering from restlessness and headaches - what you might expect when ingesting caffeine before going to bed.  When the next morning arrived, there were a lot of irritable, hungry crewmen stumbling their way to breakfast.
     "Harry," groaned Lt. Paris.  "I'd say 'good morning' but I'm having trouble finding what's good about it."
     "I know what you mean - you look about as good as I feel.  You have trouble getting to sleep too?"
     "Are you kidding?  I slept like a baby," he retorted. "Of course, you know how babies sleep - they wake up every two hours screaming."
     "You must not be feeling that bad after all, if you can still make jokes," the ensign shot back.
     The turbolift doors popped open and they piled in.  B'Elanna Torres was leaning against the wall, appearing in a similar condition to the rest of the passengers.
     "Gee, looks like we weren't the only ones to lose our fight with the sandman last night," Tom observed.
     "Shut up, Paris," she grumbled.  "I'm in no mood for your bantering.  My head hurts, I can't see clearly, and I feel like I'm going to die of hunger."
     Tom remained silent for the remainder of the trip and clutched his stomach.  Her remark made him contemplate how hollow he himself felt.  He never felt this hungry in the morning.
     As they poured out into the corridor on Deck 2 the morning aromas greeted them.  Just the smell of the food seemed to perk them up.  "Mmm, that smells good," Harry commented.
     There were a greater number of people in the mess hall than usual at this time of the morning, which was a bit unusual.  There was also a considerable line-up of people - Tom noted - looking in a familiar state of disrepair. It was enough to get his attention.
     "So, what have you got for us this morning, Neelix?" Torres asked when they reached the head of the line.
     "Just your traditional breakfast this morning, lieutenant: scrambled eggs, Pellian sausage and toast.  Enjoy!" the Talaxian cheered, handing her a plate.
     The three found a table after a moment of searching and sat down to eat.  Tom scooped up an amount of the eggs and popped it into his mouth.  His brows creased with uncertainty as he chewed; there was a certain bitterness that he thought he was familiar to him, but he couldn't place it.  At any rate, he was already feeling much better than he had a minute ago; his headache slowly ebbed away and he felt refreshed and alert.
     Harry noticed the quizzical expression.  "Something wrong with your breakfast, Tom?"  He sounded and looked stronger than before as well.
     "I don't know," he said after a moment's pause.  "Do your eggs taste kind of funny to you?"
     Ensign Kim gave him an odd look and tried another bite of the eggs.  "No, not really."
     "They seem okay to me," Torres added.  "You know, I think my headache's going away."
     Tom shrugged it off and continued eating, but the flavour still nagged at him.  When they had finished, he'd made up his mind.  "You two go on ahead, I have something to take care of first."  He broke off and strolled back up to the galley window, where Neelix was still serving breakfast.  "Hey, Neelix, exactly what kind of eggs did you use to make breakfast.  I thought they tasted familiar."
     "They should be familiar," he answered, slightly confounded by the question.  "They're Jibbalian eggs.  I use them all the time."
     Jibbalian eggs!  That's why they seemed so familiar Tom clued in.  But I usually can't eat them unless I smother them with ketchup, yet today I didn't use any condiments.  "If I may ask, Neelix, how did you make them today?"
     Neelix grinned sheepishly and delivered a surrendering gesture.  "Okay, you found me out.  I seasoned the eggs with some garvola.  Everyone seems to like it so much, I thought it wouldn't hurt.  I didn't hear anyone complaining about the eggs - until you, that is."
     Tom looked surprised.  "What?  Neelix - no, I'm not complaining.  I was just curious."  But now his suspicions were raised.  Could it be a coincidence, how Harry, B'Elanna and I all feel like hell one minute and the cat's meow the next after eating Neelix's breakfast?  I'd better keep watch on this.  Something just doesn't sit right in my gut, and it's more than the eggs.

  He could feel the hum of electricity across the surface of his skin, that fuzzy warm feeling tickling at the edges of his awareness.  Somehow he managed to keep it from overtaking him completely, concentrating his efforts on his vigil of the rest of the bridge crew.  One thing was for certain, though: he didn't like what he was seeing, not one bit.
     Throughout the course of the morning, it was evident that a large majority of the bridge was behaving abnormally.  The captain, when she wasn't pacing around the bridge pestering the other officers, sat in her chair wringing her hands constantly or chatted up the quality of Neelix's meals in her hushed conversations with Chakotay.  Harry, like many other officers on the bridge, fussed at his station with even more enthusiasm than normal, seemingly oblivious to other things around him.  It was harder to tell if Chakotay and Tuvok were affected or if their normally calm collected behaviours suppressed the overt mannerisms - the only sign that might indicate that Tuvok was affected was the facial tick that he occasionally observed.
     Everything reminded him of the Addies back at the penal colony - or rather, it was the stories he remembered most more than anything, as he hadn't actually become closely acquainted with them.  Addies were inmates who had become dependent on stimulant drugs to remain physically functional.  Their dependencies became crucial to the point that they would commit crimes to satisfy their cravings.  They would be sent to the minimal security penal colonies to be treated, but the stories were that the inmates never fully overcame the effects of their habits, by no fault of the rehabilitation staff; even with current medical technology, some drug dependencies still couldn't be completely eradicated.  Addies would slink around the compound exhibiting trace withdrawal symptoms such as muscle tremors, gauntness and loss of appetite, or inflamed nasal passages.  He could recall a time during lunch when he sat by some scrawny guy who kept rubbing his nose and snuffling constantly.  While at the time he thought the guy just didn't know how to use a handkerchief, it might have possible that he was an Addie.
     It was quite possible that the crew was being affected by this garvola as some kind of stimulant.  He didn't have any advanced medical training to make that discernment, but he was aware that some plants and herbs could be used for medicinal purposes.  It stood to reason that if synthetic drugs administered incorrectly could cause deleterious reactions in patients, these plants could produce similar reactions.  Sometime between 1100 and 1130 hours Tom began to notice a decline in mood on the bridge.  People became more subdued in behaviour - less cheerful, sluggish, tired and stressed.  He also became aware of his own emotional state dropping, along with the reoccurrence of physiological symptoms: headaches, blurred vision, jittery hands.  It couldn't be just a coincidence - and it was definitely something of which the captain should be made aware.  "Captain, request permission to speak to you in private."
     "Hm?  Oh, certainly, lieutenant.  You have the bridge, commander," she replied sullenly, escorting the pilot to her stateroom.  He could see how her stiff professional manner had already been eroded; it made him worry about every member on board and the situation they were all faced with.
     Janeway slid lazily into the chair behind her desk.  "Okay, Tom, what did you want to talk to me about?"
     "Captain, I've noticed some odd behaviour from some of the other officers, including most of the bridge staff.  Since the start of my shift, people have gone from acting animated and obsessive to ill and defunct in a matter of hours.  I'm concerned that Neelix's cooking may be involved in some way to these behaviours."
     "I find that hard to believe, lieutenant," she countered.  "We've been eating Neelix's concoctions for almost three years now and we haven't had any seriously adverse reactions to it."
     "Sorry, I didn't mean it quite that way, captain.  It's only been occurring in the last day or two, since Neelix started putting garvola into everything he makes."
     Janeway continued to fight his reasoning.  "Even if I did consider that a possibility, we check all of our food supplies to make sure they're safe to eat.  Our scans would tell us if anything we collect is poisonous or harmful to our systems."
     "Well, maybe our scans weren't specific enough to identify the problem or we simply aren't scanning for the right things.  All I know is that people are acting strange, including myself and you, captain."
     "Me?" she sounded genuinely surprised.
     Tom leaned further into the desk.  "Captain, I saw how wired you were earlier this morning, and now you look like you could use a nap or a couple of aspirin."
     Janeway smiled crookedly at the controller.  "I look tired, Mr. Paris, because I stayed up all last night to catch up on my paperwork.  I admit I shouldn't neglect that part of my duties as a Starfleet captain so frequently, even if I do detest it.  To keep myself awake I had Neelix brew up some extra-strong coffee, which would probably then explain why I was so wired this morning.  What you think you're perceiving as a problem is probably just a coincidence."
     Tom had to insist.  "But, captain, it's not -"
     "Tom, as far as I'm concerned this discussion is closed.  I thank you for sharing your opinion but I really think you're looking for trouble that doesn't exist.  I am well aware of the tenuous relationship you have with Neelix regarding his cooking ability - believe me, you're not the only one.  But he has improved over the last several months.  It's time you adjusted to it because, frankly, we might have live with it for a long time yet.  Now, since we're on the subject of food, I think it's about time for lunch - I'm really hungry all of a sudden."
     The growling in the pit of his stomach made Tom aware of how hungry he was as well.  Somehow, though, he didn't have much of an appetite.


     The mess hall was starting to get crowded.  Tom guessed that if Neelix was using garvola in all of his cooking, chances were fairly good the entire crew had been subjected to its side-effects.  Between the increasing pressure of his headache and the fierce rumblings of his stomach, it was becoming more difficult to concentrate on a plan to remove the garvola from Neelix's repertoire as his body fought to obtain the herb.  The fragrances coming from Neelix's kitchen were in his opinion sickening, yet strangely compelling.  He couldn't be sure what the Talaxian had made but he surmised that the garvola was the reason why he was salivating.
     "Neelix, what is that smell?" he choked out when he got close enough to the head of the line.  He could see a gray sludgy mass burping noisily on the heating element.  "You don't expect me to eat that, do you? I feel bad enough already."
     The cook eyed the lieutenant testily.  "For your information, Mr. Paris, that Golgoth broth was prepared for that very reason.  There have been a number of people coming in today complaining of illnesses of one kind or another.  My broth is chock full of nutritional and remedial needs; I suppose you could call my version of your chicken soup."
     Tom couldn't picture that oil-coloured goo being anything close to chicken soup.  He also didn't want to take the chance that the cook had added the herb to the broth - it certainly wouldn't be helping many people if he had.  "Thanks anyway, Neelix, but I think I'll pass.  Come to think of it, I'm haven't got much of an appetite right now," he lied.  "Have you got any fruit or something simple I could munch on?"
     "Well, I suppose I could toss up another swamp salad for you.  I still have some of that salad dressing left over -"
     "Dressing won't be necessary, Neelix," Tom cut him short.
     "Oh," he quipped with surprise.  "Are you sure?  The salad won't have much character without the dressing."
     "A plain salad will be just fine."
     Neelix shrugged and fetched out the containers to prepare the salad.  Tom breathed a quiet sigh of relief, knowing he'd just made a narrow escape.
     He ate his lunch quietly, ignoring the odd looks from Harry, B'Elanna and the others.  The salad seemed incredibly bland to his palette, but he wasn't sure if that was another side-effect of the garvola.  His body wasn't appreciating being denied its needs; his stomach groaned and churned in an unsettling manner.  Tom thought more than once as he chewed on the leafy greens that he would become ill.  Three quarters of the way through his hands began to shake so much he could barely lift the fork to his mouth safely.
     "Tom, are you feeling all right?," a suddenly worried Ensign Kim asked.  "You just turned white as a sheet."
     "I've felt better," he quipped, feeling his stomach turn somersaults.
     "Come on, let's get him to Sickbay," Torres instructed.  "If he's coming down with something, I sure don't want to catch it."  Tom refrained from making a comment for fear of making an unpleasant mess on the floor.

     "Doctor, we have a patient here for you," B'Elanna announced as the trio entered Sickbay.
     "How fortunate for me, then," he remarked caustically.  "Please tell me it's not just a headache.  I've already had fifty-four officers come in today complaining of headaches.  My talents as an expert physician are being severely under-utilized."
     "See for yourself," she grunted, ignoring the hologram's grousing and hoisting the pilot onto a biobed.  "Let us know if you find anything we should be worried about."  She strutted out of the medical bay to return to duty, dragging a reluctant Harry Kim with her.
     Tom was laid out on the biobed, his hands still twitching involuntarily.  His face was paste-white and moist with perspiration.  The Doctor began a routine scan, analysing the incoming data on his medical tricorder.  Unfortunately, the information he was receiving was incongruous; there was no indication of viral infection and his white blood cell count was normal, yet he was definitely exhibiting signs of illness.
     "Mr. Paris, could you tell me what symptoms you're experiencing at the moment?"
     "Queasy stomach...headache...hands shaking...can't see clearly...feel weak, tired," he panted out.
  Kes returned from lunch to continue her role as medical assistant.  "Hello, Doctor," she announced placidly.  "I'll be running those sequencer tests you asked for."
     "If you don't mind, I'd like you to assist me with Mr. Paris first," he replied, motioning her to the biobed.
     She finally noticed the lieutenant lying there.  "What happened?  Is he okay?"
     "Frankly, I don't have sufficient information to answer either of those questions."
     Their discussion was abruptly halted by the snarling of Tom's stomach.  "Uh...I don't mean to break up the party...but could one of you...get me to the head...before I do something we'll all regret?"
     Kes calmly rushed him to the lavatory where he could expel the partially digested remains of his lunch.  It was a horrible experience; Tom's entire upper body trembled as he leaned over the bowl.  He hadn't even had hangovers this bad.  Once spent, he shakily got to his feet, freshened himself up at the sink and shuffled back to the biobed, Kes guiding him at his side.  The Doctor performed another scan for safe measure.
     "This is quite unusual," the hologram uttered.  "Mr. Paris appears to be suffering from Angosian flu, but there's no sign of the virus in his system.  However, I am detecting an imbalance of neurochemicals in the thalamic and hypothalamic regions of his brain."
     "If there's something interfering with the normal functions of those areas, that certainly would account for the symptoms of Angosian flu." Kes diagnosed.
     "Yes, my thoughts exactly.  Unfortunately, there's no indication of what's causing that imbalance."
     Tom moaned feebly.  " hungry...need food...."
     "What?  Fifteen minutes ago you were complaining of an upset stomach," The Doctor argued.
     "I'll take care of him, Doctor," Kes placated, smiling.  The hologram had been making great strides in his efforts to be regarded as an equal member of the crew, but he still had difficulty with the subtleties and nuances of human behaviour.  "Tom, would you like me to get something for you from Neelix's kitchen?  He might still have some leftovers from lunch."
     The lieutenant suddenly became agitated. "No!  No garvola..."
     Both observers exchanged a look of alarm.  "Kes, what do you know of this garvola?"
     "It's a herb plant we harvested a couple of weeks ago, but Neelix only started using it in his cooking the other day.  He thought the crew would appreciate a new change, and everyone does seem to enjoy it.  I think it's added a new dimension to his recipes."
     The hologram cocked an interested eyebrow at her comment.  "You've ingested it as well?"
     "I doubt there isn't anyone left on the ship who hasn't, except you."  She seemed to realize a little too late what she had said.  "I'm sorry, Doctor, I didn't mean to say it that way."
     "Don't worry, Kes," he assured her.  "After all, I'm just a hologram; I don't require nutritional supplements.  However," he added, pointing to the patient, "I'm afraid that Mr. Paris does.  Please prepare a hypospray to include an appetite suppressant as well.  After that, I'd like to run a scan on you as well to see if we can isolate this garvola."
     Kes moved to prepare the hypospray.  "But I feel fine, Doctor."
     "If you've recently consumed any of Mr. Neelix's tainted dishes there's a possibility I can identify it and how it reacts with the digestive process.  Besides, we don't know exactly how this herb influences a person when ingested - it may simply substitute itself with the neurotransmitters without altering overt behaviour.  You may feel fine, but when the garvola wears off you may feel as Mr. Paris does now."
     "I hadn't thought of that," she admitted.
     "Don't fault yourself; we can't all be incredibly gifted doctors," the hologram reasoned, training his tricorder on the Ocampan.  "Sickbay to Neelix."
     "Neelix here.  What can I do for you?"  The Talaxian's voice sounded harried and distracted.
     "Mr. Neelix, I require an item from your menu that contains garvola.  Please prepare a sample and deliver it to Sickbay at your earliest convenience."

     On the bridge, Captain Janeway noticed the feeling of hunger slowly rising in the pit of her stomach.  Considering lunch was only two hours ago, the sensation puzzled her - after all, she thought she had eaten a fairly hearty meal.  Well, I don't suppose it would hurt to get a snack.  "Commander, you have the bridge."  She strode to the turbolift with a slight smirk creasing her profile.  There were times when she really enjoyed having the captain's prerogative.
     Ensign Kim fought hard to keep his concentration at Ops.  For the last half hour he attempted to ignore the pangs of hunger, much as he did the entire hour before lunch this afternoon.  He so badly wanted to trek down to the mess hall for a nosh, but he couldn't leave his station without a legitimate reason.  Briefly he thought about going to Sickbay to get something for his headache, but after hearing the gripes of The Doctor he didn't want to upset him further.  Still, he could just say he needed to go to Sickbay - would it really hurt anyone if he didn't actually go?  "Sir, permission to leave the bridge to go to Sickbay."
     "Nothing too serious I hope," Chakotay prodded.
     "No, sir, just a headache, but I sure could use something for it."
     Chakotay considered the request for a moment.  A headache wasn't exactly the direst of emergencies, but business was a little slow on the bridge for the time being.  "All right, go ahead, Mr. Kim, but be quick about it."
     "Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir," the ensign chattered, breaking for the turbolift.  Maybe Tom was right after all; a little white lie, placed at the appropriate times, were absolutely harmless to all parties involved.
     Tuvok was aware of the empty feeling in his stomach as well, but he stayed his post.  It was illogical to be experiencing such a condition: he had fulfilled his nutritional requirements for the afternoon and he had more than adequately satiated his hunger as well.
     Neelix was growing befuddled over the peculiar activity passing through the mess hall that afternoon.  The lunch crowd had been steady and heavy for nearly two hours.  The entire menu had been cleaned out after ninety minutes, leaving him to scramble to find a replacement menu.  Ultimately he was forced to make up another swamp lettuce salad, using up the remainder of the garvola salad dressing in the process.  The awaiting diners were enervated but nonetheless cranky about having to wait in line for longer than was necessary for a mere salad, particularly when there was the one portion the Doctor had requested sitting out in plain sight - a request that was bizarre in itself, since he was sure that holograms didn't eat real food.  Protests over who should be entitled to the reserved meal ensued.  In the end, the disgruntled diners grudgingly accepted his profoundest apologies at being unable to provide a timely meal.
     He barely had time to clean up the galley before officers began drifting in for a mid-afternoon snack.  That was unusual in itself, as they rarely bothered to do so before despite his encouragement at the onset of his tenure on Voyager.  Almost everyone who came in seemed rather uncomfortable, casting furtive glances about the room to check that no one there would recognize the fact that they weren't working.  Only Captain Janeway was forthright enough in her inquiries, but it only stood to reason that by being the highest ranked authority on the ship, she didn't have to explain her actions to anyone.
     Even more unusual was the nature of the snacks they requested.  It didn't matter what he found for them as long as it had garvola in it.  They didn't outright say it, of course - it was usually hidden by remarks like "there's something missing" or "it doesn't taste quite right" - but ultimately it always led to the herb.  He figured that the crew would eventually seek for a new experience now that they had been saturated with garvola, but obviously he had made an error in judgement.  His biggest concern now was the supply situation: the heavy use of the herb was depleting the stock more rapidly than he had anticipated.  At the current rate of consumption the garvola plants would be completely exhausted in less than three weeks.


     The Doctor's sour expression spoke volumes about his success.  "As far as I can tell, you're not being affected in any way.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet determined the reason why not, or why it seems to affected Mr. Paris.  I hope to know more once Mr. Neelix arrives with our analysis sample."
     As if on cue, the Talaxian trudged his way into the infirmary with less than his usual vibrancy.  In his hands bore the main entree of that afternoon's meal.  "Sorry I couldn't get here sooner, but it seemed like every time I tried to leave someone else would come in looking for something to nibble on."
     "I'm sure it must have been a nice change of pace for you," the hologram replied indifferently as he snatched the food from Neelix's grasp.  He immediately set it down on the med-table and activated the scanners.
     "Oh dear, what happened to Lieutenant Paris?" he queried, noticing Tom's prone form.  Tom appeared to be sleeping, albeit fitfully.
     "Tom is ill, Neelix," Kes soothed her friend.  "The Doctor and I are trying to find out if the garvola is what's making him sick."
     "The - the garvola?" the astounded Talaxian stammered.
     "That's correct, Mr. Neelix," the Doctor interceded.  "It is quite possible that this herb you're using to supplement the crew's diet is responsible for Mr. Paris' neurophysiological imbalance.  I trust that you too have consumed the garvola?"
     "Well, it would be hard not to.  Being the ship's cook means I have to personally test all my recipes to ensure the crew will get the maximum satisfaction of each one."
     "In that case, I'll have to scan you to see if you're being affected by it."
     Neelix looked anxiously at the man lying semi-unconscious on the biobed.  "I wouldn't have it any other way, Doctor."
     The Doctor pointed his tricorder at the Talaxian and ran yet another scan.  For a second time, however, the preliminary results were negative.  "Well, whatever it is, it appears that neither you nor Kes are subject to its effects.  I'll have to perform some microcellular analyses on all three sets of data to get a better understanding of why Mr. Paris has been susceptible to its influence.  That sample of garvola should also prove useful in determining its reaction to the human body.  However, until I can isolate the nature of the garvola's effects and synthesize a counteragent, it might be best to continue your duties as normal, Mr. Neelix.  I am not prepared to deal with a sudden epidemic just yet."
     Neelix thought the hologram's suggestion was ill-planned.  "But if the garvola is making the rest of the crew sick, then I'll just be making them sicker.  Are you sure that's a wise thing to do, Doctor?"
     "To be honest, Mr. Neelix, I don't know.  Being a medical facilitator requires having to make a lot of difficult choices, yet sometimes it is necessary to take risks to achieve the desired results.  At least by catering to their current needs the crew will not become negatively affected like Mr. Paris - and it might give me enough time to find a cure."
     The explanation just didn't sit right with Neelix for some reason; it was kind of like stepping on a person's toes to distract them from the pain in their arm.  Unfortunately, he had absolutely no experience in medicine, so he had to accept that The Doctor's plan would be the correct course of action.  "I guess I'd better make a trip to the cargo bay to get some more garvola, then."  He made his exit quietly, pondering the fate of the crew if the Doctor couldn't find a cure before the supplies ran out.
     The Doctor, however, totally focused on the task at hand.  "Kes, run a decomposition scan on the specimen and match all items with the food supplies currently in storage.  Then I want you to set up a simulation model showing a time-lapse reaction of garvola on a human body.  Do you think you can handle that?"  The question was not patronizing.
     "Yes, I believe so, Doctor," Kes reassured the medical program.  An impish smile played on her lips.  If only the rest of the crew could see as she did how caring and concerned the computer-generated entity could be.
  "Good.  I'll be busy with the microcellular analyses if you require any assistance."

     Lt. Paris wasn't sure if he was awake or dreaming.  His head was swimming.  His senses seemed to be scrambled: he could see smells, taste sounds, hear colours and textures.  He tried to walk around the room (whatever room it was) but his legs were numb.  He reached out to feel his surroundings but couldn't seem to get a firm grasp of anything; however, he was aware of the intermittent tingling sensations along the length of his forearms and legs.  He felt almost as if he were spinning helplessly in a strange void.  His mouth was dry, yet he had no thirst; his brain cried out for sustenance, yet he had no hunger.
     Kes was entering the parameters for the computer model when she heard the buzz and hum of a forcefield.  She looked up and around her shoulder to see Tom lying awake on the biobed, his arms and legs bouncing about as they were repelled by the energy field.  "Doctor?"
     "Hm?"  He looked away from his work, first at Kes, then at where she was looking.  "Oh.  Pay no mind to him, Kes.  The analysis on Mr. Paris' neurochemical imbalance suggested the possibility of hallucinations and involuntary muscle contractions, so I activated a restraining field around the bed so we wouldn't cause injury to himself.  How are you coming with the simulation model?"
     "It's almost ready, Doctor."
     "Excellent.  We'll start on it as soon as I'm done here."
     "Have you been able to find anything yet, Doctor?"
     "Nothing significant, however I have managed to identify a few variations in body chemistry that are common to both Ocampa and Talaxians but not shared with Humans.  It's possible that one or a combination of these variations provides a sort of immunity for you and Mr. Neelix that Mr. Paris doesn't have.  Unfortunately, it's still a matter of speculation at this point."

     It was nearing the end of the alpha shift and everyone looked to be on edge.  Captain Janeway couldn't believe that after making a recess to the galley in mid-afternoon that she could so ravenously hungry again.  Just thinking of tonight's entree adorned with the succulent flavour of garvola made her salivate.  It didn't matter that she had a pounding headache or that she couldn't focus her vision clearly.
     Elsewhere on the bridge it was a similar story.  Harry Kim appeared to be suffering from a state of shock, with shaking limbs and a sheen of sweat covering his face.  The officers operating the Conn and Science stations also appeared jittery.  Tuvok seemed to be making a concerted effort not to exhibit the unsteadiness he felt in his extremities but one could see the increased tension in his facial muscles.  Only Chakotay seemed to be in control of himself.  There was one commonality between them all however: an intense craving for garvola-laden food.  When the shift ended it was all anyone could do from not rushing headlong to the turbolifts.
     Neelix was very uncomfortable with the situation as soon as the first officers scrambled into the mess hall to get in line.  Not one of them was looking too well, yet they pushed their way to make it to the head of the line.  Only given roughly two hours to prepare dinner, Neelix had to resort to one of less popular but traditional main courses, so it was worrisome to see the crewmen compliment him on how wonderful it smelled.
     The situation grew worse only minutes after the first few were served.  They complained that it wasn't strong enough.
     At the captain's table, this issue was also being discussed.
     "Is it just me, or does this vegetable stew taste bland to you too?" Janeway quizzed, discontentedly sampling her dinner.
     "I admit, it is milder than what Mr. Neelix has prepared of late," the Vulcan replied.  "Nonetheless, it is satisfactory on a nutritional standpoint."
     "I don't see anything wrong with it," the first officer answered.
     "Well I definitely think it needs something more.  Excuse me, gentlemen."  The captain got up and walked back to Neelix's counter, where a complaint line had formed.
     "There's no flavour to it.  I thought you said there was garvola in it." she heard one of the engineering staff gripe.
     Neelix almost panicked.  He had already doubled the amount of garvola he normally used in his recipes.  At this rate the supply of the herb would be used up in less than a week.  As he doled out extra teaspoons of the herb to his angry patrons, he prayed the Doctor could find the cure, and fast.


     People left the mess hall happy and refreshed, having no idea of the mounting problems they all faced.  The crews now on duty bustled off to work with anticipation and purpose, while the others made plans to visit the holodecks or elsewhere to burn off the raw energy coursing through their bloodstream.
     "You know, it's strange," Janeway commented.  "I was really beat at the end of my shift, but now I feel like I could run a few laps around the ship.  I should probably try harder not to skip meals so often."
     Commander Chakotay grinned.  "I know what you mean.  I guess there really is no substitute for getting a person going than a good home-cooked meal."
     The captain chuckled.  "I guess not.  I was thinking of commandeering one of the holodecks to take those laps.  Care to join me, Commander?"
     "Well, it has been a while since I last did any running, but I'd love to join you."
     "What about you, Tuvok?  Are you up for a little exercise?"
     "I appreciate the invitation, captain, but I have already made other plans for the evening."
     She could read from his expression that it was a personal matter.  "I understand.  Good night, lieutenant."
     The Vulcan officer nodded an unspoken note of gratitude.  "Until tomorrow, captain.  Commander."  They watched as he departed down the corridor.
     "Well, commander, shall we go?"
     "Lead on, captain."

     "Well, it seems my original hypothesis was correct."
     Kes looked up at the Doctor's remark.  With her current assignments completed and nothing else left to do, she had maintained a vigil at Tom's bedside, trying to comfort him when he was awake, monitoring his condition when he slept and administering additional hyposprays when required.  It pained her to see such a dear friend suffering needlessly.  "What have you found, Doctor?"
     He beckoned her over to his terminal.  "On a hunch I decided to run additional analyses on the medical information on other life-forms native to the Delta Quadrant, based on previous medical reports and transporter logs.  It appears that all species known to us so far all have a particular enzyme that effectively blocks the absorption of garvola into the bloodstream.  Also, this enzyme is not present in Humans, Vulcans, Bajorans, and the other races of people on board.  My results just might be clear evidence of evolutionary environmental adaptation.  This would make a fascinating paper."
     "Would it possible to produce a synthetic enzyme to inoculate the crew?" she asked in an attempt to steer the conversation back on track.
     "It should be possible," the hologram replied uncertainly. "However, even if it is possible, it won't counteract the garvola already ingested - it will only prevent people from absorbing more of it.  What we need to do is find an agent that will bring their neurochemicals back into equilibrium.  I'm not even sure if we can do that."
     "I have faith in you to find a cure, Doctor.  You've proven yourself before to have the ability of finding solutions to difficult problems, and you can do it again."
     The young Ocampa's words bolstered his confidence.  "Let's see what we can uncover with the simulation, shall we?"
     Kes smiled.  "Right away, Doctor.  Computer, access simulation model Gamma Three Zero and display on this terminal."
     A wire-frame schematic of a humanoid body appeared on the computer terminal.  The Doctor immediately took over.
     "Computer, based on the mass amount of garvola extracted from biological sample 7431-Alpha, display a record of physiological reactions on the simulation model across an eighteen hour period, in thirty minute intervals.  Limit to central nervous system and brain activity only."
     "Working."  The computer silently churned through the numbers and equations.  Several minutes later the results spewed out on the display.  The Doctor carefully scrutinized the long list of data generated, scrolling down page after page of information.
     "Using the standard humanoid biological template as a baseline, extrapolate curves from the collected data representing neurotransmitter levels.  Tag set time-data points with possible observable physiological reactions."
     "Working."  Again, after several minutes of number crunching the display flickered.  Several graphs were drawn showing irregularly shaped, damped sinusoidal curves, each graph representing a different neurotransmitter.  At various points throughout each graph were labelled points.
     "Ah, this is interesting," the Doctor commented.  "Computer, narrow display parameters to graphs with significant deviation from baseline, minimum 15% deviation."  Several of the graphs disappeared.  The remaining graphs expanded to fill the unoccupied space.  "So far this appear to follow what we are seeing with Lieutenant Paris; the absorbed garvola is altering the production of acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.  The subject first experiences feelings of euphoria and heightened sensitivity and awareness.  However, when the garvola starts to dissipate, here," he said, pointing to an intersection marker, "the subject experiences withdrawal symptoms - fatigue, irrationality and increased appetite.  Fortunately, the subject appears to make a complete recovery with prolonged absence to the herb."
     "All that, based on one exposure," Kes pointed out with fascination and concern.  "What happens if the subject ingests more of the garvola?"
     "We'll soon find out," the hologram answered.  "Computer, reset simulation to time zero, then repeat previous test for a sixty hour period.  Chart physiological reactions to garvola ingested repeatedly at eight hour intervals.  Display curves according to current parameters."
     "Working.  Requested computations will take twenty minutes to complete."
     Kes took the opportunity to check up on Tom's condition and to grab a bit of dinner.  The Doctor moved to another terminal to begin work on a remedy.  When Kes returned he was back at the simulation model studying the results of the test.  He looked even more solemn than normal.  "What did you find, Doctor?"
     "Bad news, I'm afraid," he replied, not bothering to turn his attention away from the screen.  "It seems that Mr. Neelix has unintentionally subjected the crew to an addictive substance.  The new graphs show that the subject's body builds up a tolerance to the garvola; each time the subject ingests the herb, its effects are less potent and diminish more rapidly.  To maintain the strength and duration of their emotional 'high' the subject will increase the amount of garvola ingested, which the garvola accomplishes by triggering an intense hunger sensation the subject is compelled to satiate.  Unfortunately, increased dosage leads to more severe withdrawal symptoms once the body's tolerance adjusts, which the subject counters by increasing the dosage, which leads to more severe withdrawals, and so on.  The cycle continues until the brain literally burns itself out, killing the subject."
     "That's terrible," exclaimed the shocked assistant.
     "That's not the half of it," the hologram continued.  "According to these graphs the subject's tolerance increases exponentially with the amount of garvola consumed.  If the rate of consumption continues according to the simulation, the entire crew will be dead within the next forty-eight hours.  I'm afraid there's only one thing we can do to help them."  He punched his commbadge.  "Sickbay to Neelix."
     "Neelix here."
     "Mr. Neelix, it is imperative that you dispose of all garvola supplies immediately."
     "Understood, Doctor.  Neelix out."  Neelix closed the channel, an immense feeling of relief washing over him.  He had already gone back to the cargo bay to get more of the garvola.  Now it was simply taking the entire supply back to the galley.  He had been considering the issue of getting rid of it all evening; the only idea that would have the highest rate of success and the least chance of raising suspicions was to incinerate the plants in the oven.  The fire safeties had been disengaged in his kitchen - it was just a matter of cranking up the plasma flow.

     Chakotay found himself waking up in the middle of the night from stomach cramps.  It was unusual for something like this to happen, normally being such a sound sleeper.  Perhaps he was coming down with a virus, the only question being how he contracted it.  He felt his forehead to find a temperature but couldn't tell.  Shakily he sat up and checked the chronometer.  It was 0217.
     He certainly didn't feel ill; if anything, he was just really hungry.  Yet somehow that bothered him - he did know of alien viruses that caused even more bizarre symptoms.  A trip to Sickbay would probably be a wise precaution.  He slipped on a robe and staggered out of his room.  He squinted and rubbed his eyes as he walked to the turbolift; he couldn't tell if his fuzzy vision was a result of the brighter light of the corridor or his lingering sleepiness.
     Stepping out onto Deck 2, Chakotay headed straight for Sickbay.  However, as he approached the mess hall his pace slowly dwindled to a stop.  It was hard to say why he stopped - he seemed to be hooked by something in the air.  It took him a moment to register the bouquet of scorched garvola.  His stomach rumbled as if indicating it recognized the smell also and reminding him how hungry he felt.  He couldn't see the harm of taking a quick peek into the galley's pantry before reporting to Sickbay, so he entered.
     The garvola perfume was definitely heavier in the galley, mixed with the burnt smell.  Chakotay coughed reflexively at first but quickly adapted to the particulate atmosphere.  He searched through the countertops and storage spaces looking for something to stave his hunger, but anything he found didn't appeal to him.  After a five minute search he gave up - and oddly enough he didn't feel quite as hungry as before.  He left the galley and resumed his trip to Sickbay.
     All he saw when he entered was Lt. Paris asleep on one the biobeds, and he remembered hearing about Tom's near collapse in the mess hall that afternoon.  By the looks of it, though, he wasn't as sick as the claims made him out to be.  "Computer, activate the emergency medical hologram."
     The EMH shimmered into existence.  "Commander, what brings you here at such an unusual hour?"
     "I was woken up by my stomach - for some strange reason I had this incredible urge to get something to eat.  It's possible I might be infected with some sort of virus."
     The Doctor trained his tricorder on the first officer as if uninterested by the conjecture.  "I wouldn't get your hopes up, Commander."  His eyes widened with surprise as he read the information from the tricorder.  "I'm showing traces of garvola in your bloodstream!"
     If he hadn't been rattled by his earlier remark, Chakotay was now totally stumped by this last remark.  "I, uh, suppose so.  I just stopped by the mess hall before coming here.  I was looking for something to eat but I couldn't find anything."
  The expression of shock and panic on the Doctor's face made Chakotay think he might have a heart attack, if holograms had the capacity to have heart attacks.  "You found garvola in the mess hall?"
     "Actually, no, I couldn't find a trace of it, but the air was pretty heavily scented with it." Chakotay explained.  The Doctor relaxed visibly.  "If I may be so bold, Doctor, what is going on here?"
     "I suppose you have a right to know," he relented.  "With thanks to Lieutenant Paris, I discovered that the crew has become physiologically addicted to the garvola Mr. Neelix has been serving you."
     Chakotay couldn't believe what he was hearing.  "What?"
     The Doctor sighed.  "Come, Commander, sit down.  This is going to take some explaining."


     Tom awoke feeling much more himself, except for the incredible aching in the pit of his stomach and the awful, gluey film lining his mouth.
     "Ah, you're awake.  Feeling better, Mr. Paris?"  The Doctor sounded almost cheerful.
     "Bleaugh, maybe with a glass of water I would," he answered, his voice still rough-edged.
  Out of nowhere Kes appeared with a glass.  The Doctor ran his tricorder over the lieutenant.  "Well, the good news is that you appear to have made a complete recovery."
     "Yeah? What's the bad news?"
     "You get to help us look after 147 soon-to-be garvola addicts suffering withdrawals ten times worse than what you experienced."
     Startled, Tom propped himself up on the bed.  "Garvola addicts?"
     "Yes, Tom - addicts," Kes explained.  "We found out that the crew is experiencing a physiological dependency on the herb.  If it hadn't been for you the ship would be facing a major crisis right now."
     The memory of the Addie he encountered in prison flashed through his mind again.  Shaking it off, he sat up and saw Commander Chakotay lying on a biobed across the room.  "Hey, what's he doing here?"
     "Commander Chakotay activated my program earlier this morning concerned for his health, so it was necessary to inform him of the situation.  He agreed to stay here to overcome the withdrawal symptoms as you did.  Fortunately he should make a quick recovery, enough that he can assist us as well."
     "Great, we could use all the help we can get.  So, when does rush hour begin?"

     Neelix stared out at the huge line-up stretching out past the mess hall entrance.  It was a pretty ugly sight.  Everyone looked like they had picked a fight with a shuttlecraft and lost, and their tempers seemed to match their appearance.  People bumped and jostled to get a better position in line, then started pushing and shoving each other as tempers flared.  Several fist fights were narrowly avoided.  It didn't help that most of them had shown up for breakfast ten minutes early, each hoping to get a jump on the competition.
     He wasn't looking forward to their reactions when they discovered the garvola was all gone.  He had prepared his famous Jibbalian seven-spice omelette, but if what the Doctor said was true, his shipmates would care less if he had used seven spices or seven hundred - what they really wanted was garvola.  He began sweating bullets as he watched the first few patrons dig in.  The reaction was almost identical.
     Lt. Carey's face screwed up in disgust as he chewed before he grabbed his napkin and spit them out.  Infuriated, he grabbed his tray and stalked back to the counter, followed closely from behind by the other diners.  "Neelix, this is utter garbage."
     "Hey, back of the line, buddy," cussed one the officers waiting to be served.
     "But it's the same seven-spice omelette I always make," the Talaxian placated.
     "Well, obviously you need to change your recipe.  Why don't you put some of that garvola in it?"
     "I - I can't," Neelix withered.  "I'm all out.  Our entire supply was used up.  I'm sorry."
     Everyone within earshot of the remark turned white.  "What - what do you mean you're out?  That's not possible."
     "I assure you it is possible, Mr. Carey.  There's not a speck of garvola remaining."
     "No, it can't be true," he cried desperately.  "You just want to keep it all to yourself."
     Neelix grew excited as the engineer and several others started making their way into the kitchen.  "No, I swear to you, we are all out of garvola.  I wouldn't lie to you!"  His words went unheeded as the crewmen began ransacking the galley.
     Carey was visibly upset when he couldn't find Neelix's stash; his hands were shaking even harder as he grabbed the Talaxian by the collar.  "Where'd you hide it, Neelix?  Tell me!"
     "Lieutenant Carey!  What on earth are you doing?"
     Carey froze at the admonishing tone of the captain's voice, then just as suddenly he released his grip on the Talaxian and stood at attention.  "Captain, this isn't what it seems."
     "Really?  Unless you were assisting Neelix in straightening his shirt, I suggest you tell me exactly what it was you were doing."
     "Well, you see, captain, Neelix claims that he's completely run out of garvola."
     Janeway looked alarmed.  "That can't be right.  Neelix, you assured me that we stocked up on enough garvola to last us at least six weeks.  What happened?"
     Neelix shrugged helplessly.  "I miscalculated?"
     Janeway was about as convinced of the lie as Neelix himself was.  "I think we should take a trip to the cargo bay, what do you think, Neelix?"
     "You're just wasting your time, Captain.  You won't find anything there."
     Janeway suddenly smiled sweetly.  "Neelix, where are you keeping the garvola?"
     "I'm sorry, captain.  As I've already explained, it's all gone."
     The sweet smile disappeared.  "Neelix, I don't want to have to do this, but if you won't tell me where you're storing the garvola voluntarily I'll have to resort to other measures to get you to talk.  Now, where are you keeping the garvola."
     Neelix only shook his head sadly at the captain.
     "Fine," she bit off, angered by his response.  "Let's see how you like Vulcan mind-melds.  Lieutenant Tuvok, please report to the mess hall at once."  She waited for his acknowledgement, but was rewarded only with silence.  She tapped her commbadge.  "Janeway to Tuvok, please respond."  When he failed to answer, she grew irritated.  "Computer, locate Lieutenant Tuvok."
     "Lieutenant Tuvok is in his quarters," the computer blandly replied.
     "Come on, Neelix; we're going to make a house call," she stated, seizing the Talaxian by the cuff of his jacket.  First she would get the information she needed, then she would reprimand the chief security officer for his negligent behaviour.  He'd have to be dying to justify ignoring her, even more so now that her headache was getting worse.
  Reaching the entrance to Tuvok's quarters, the captain angrily slapped at the door panel.  When the doors did not open she used her command code to override the door lock.  This time the doors offered no resistance.  She roughly shoved Neelix through the open doorway and followed him in.
     The room was unoccupied, leaving Janeway with two possible scenarios.  "Computer, did Lieutenant Tuvok leave his quarters since I last asked for his location?"
     The remaining option made Janeway even more irritable - the computer's response meant that the Vulcan was most likely still in his bed chamber.  The thought of her chief security officer still asleep made her head pound so hard her eyes lost focus.  With a full head of steam she tramped into his bedroom.  "Lieutenant, you'd better have a good explanation for -"
     The unmoving form on the bed greeted her with peaceful silence.  Unfortunately it only bolstered her anger, the captain now convinced that the Vulcan was sleeping on the job.  "Mr. Tuvok!"  Her shout bounced off of the bulkhead but the Vulcan didn't even stir.  She walked up to his bedside and tried to shake him awake.  "Mr. Tuvok, wake up."  There was still no response.
     The captain was no longer upset: she was afraid.  "Tuvok?" She pressed her fingers up against his carotid artery to check his pulse but she couldn't find any.  The true horror of what was before her slowly surfaced in her consciousness.  "Oh my god.  He's dead."  Her legs buckled and she collapsed to the floor.  She blacked out before she was even aware of it.

     For the next four days Voyager hung dead in space - Commander Chakotay thought it best to shut down the ship's main power and propulsion systems to minimize power consumption.  It also seemed prudent considering that there was no one able to run the ship at the time either.  Shortly after the captain's black out the rest of the crew began to succumb to the effects of withdrawal.  Within the span of two hours every single officer still affected by the garvola was physically incapacitated.
     An internal sensor sweep easily located the stricken crewmen.  Most of them were assembled in the mess hall or along a passage headed for the food storage cargo bay; of the rest, many were localized in the main duty areas like the bridge.  The Vulcan officers, however, were found unconscious in their own quarters.  The Doctor hypothesized that the Vulcans had either consciously or unconsciously realized the poisonous effects of the herb and had taken self-corrective actions to counter them.  Subsequent tricorder scans confirmed his hypothesis and predicted their return to health in the following forty-eight to seventy-two hours.
     While The Doctor replicated an appropriate quantity of sedative to administer to the afflicted crewmen, the holodecks were programmed to recreate medical infirmaries large enough to accommodate them.  It would be a close measure trying to fit nearly fifty people per holodeck, but the Doctor could easily visit each area without worrying about his mobile holographic emitter.  It would also be easier to keep the crew from hurting themselves.  Chakotay, Paris, Neelix and Kes then spent the next several hours manually transporting the addicts to the infirmaries.
     It wound up being a very rough four days for everyone involved.  Chakotay had some experience as a medical technician - he occasionally found himself in emergency medical situations as a member of the Maquis - but he felt overwhelmed by the current circumstances.  Tom struggled with his emotions and his past as he looked after his sick shipmates.  Neelix constantly agonized over the whole ordeal, feeling completely responsible for nearly killing the whole crew even though he couldn't have anticipated it.  Kes empathized with the stricken crew as her Ocampa heritage dictated and with the others as well, sensing how difficult it was for each of them.  The Doctor, being the busiest of all, demonstrated an intense strength and determination to work the crew back into health.  And then there were the patients themselves.
     The four crewmen were not prepared for what they witnessed.  The recovering addicts experienced an assortment of symptoms: severe stomach and muscle cramps, convulsions, pains in limb joints, headaches, pupil dilation, high fever, intense hallucinations, delirium tremens, and paranoia.  It would have been possible to relieve many of the symptoms if the population had been fairly small, but with 147 people there was just too much demand on the raw stock material.  The most they could afford were the nutrition supplements and appetite suppressants.  It was a decision the Doctor found very difficult to accept.  It was a difficult decision for all of them when they heard the screams of fear and the sobs of pain.

     Captain Janeway gradually awoke, not familiar with the room she found herself in.  She hadn't really been sure of anything, only that she had been through hell a hundred times over for God knows how long.  She'd had horrible nightmares: of the Vidiians capturing her crew and subjecting them to unspeakable experiments despite her efforts to fight and escape; of watching helplessly as Cyssperia destroyed her ship one piece at a time; of drifting through a soundless void; of watching idly as her friends around her withered and died, and many others.  The light stung her eyes and she blinked hard, trying to focus.
     She tried to sit up and noticed right away how weak she felt, but with another effort she managed to get up.  Her surroundings resembled a large medical chamber with several occupied beds, those occupants she recognized as members of her crew.  The room's architecture definitely resembled the Federation style, so she was unsure if they had been abducted.  She tried to speak but couldn't manage more than a coughing fit.  This caught the attention of someone at the other side of the room.
     It was Commander Chakotay.  Immediately he reached for his commbadge and signalled someone.  A few seconds later the Doctor appeared at her side.
     "Captain, I'm glad to see you're finally awake.  Please lie down and don't try to talk yet."  He looked over at Chakotay.  "Commander, please bring the captain some water to drink."  The Doctor grabbed a tricorder and passed it over the Captain while they waited for the water.  "By the looks of it, captain, you've completely recovered.  Congratulations."
     The first officer arrived with the water.  Janeway took the glass and took a few cautious sips.  Once her throat felt normal she attempted to speak.  "What happened?" she croaked.
     "It's a very long story," the commander replied.  "But to give you the short version, the crew literally got hooked on Neelix's garvola.  If it hadn't been for Lieutenant Paris we might not be talking right now."
     "I look forward to hearing the long version, commander."
     "Captain, you're free to leave at any time," the Doctor instructed.  "Please try to keep your activity light for the next few days, get plenty of rest and maintain a regular diet three times a day.  I suggest you go directly to the mess hall; I understand Mr. Neelix has prepared a get-well meal."
     "Thank you, Doctor."  With the commander's help she got up and stretched her legs while he explained in full exactly what occurred.  She felt foolish for not heeding Lt. Paris' warning before, now that they had fully realized the terrible consequences of the garvola.  The herb had clouded her judgement but she still felt responsible for not taking full precautions, and for that she owed him an apology.

     Tom rushed about Holodeck 1 to greet his patients as they woke up from their long rest.  It was such a rewarding feeling to see them recovered, knowing he had done his part to save them.  Miraculously the scans showed a 100% recovery; there would be no outward signs of their addiction, as if they had never been introduced to garvola only a week ago.
     "Mr. Paris, I need a word with you."  Seeing the captain walking in with her usual sense of purpose and confidence was a welcome sight.
     "Captain, I'm glad to see you're feeling better."  He wanted to give her a warm reassuring hug but knew she wouldn't approve of such behaviour.
     "The feeling is definitely mutual," she replied smiling.  "Tom, I want to apologize for not listening to you when you tried to warn me about the garvola.  I know I wasn't myself at the time, but I still had the responsibility of protecting my crew, whether I thought there's a risk or not.  I'm sorry."
     He was at a loss for words.  "Uh, thank you, captain."
     "Mr. Paris, you are needed over here."
     The familiar deep voice made Janeway's hair stand on end.  It couldn't be him, could it?


     Glancing around the lieutenant, Captain Janeway saw the Vulcan security officer standing over a groggy Ensign Kim.  "Tuvok."
     The Vulcan, upon hearing his name, looked straight at her.  "Captain."
     She walked over to him, a wide-eyed expression on her face.  "How can this be?  Tuvok, I - I thought you were dead."
     "An illogical assumption, captain: I did not ingest a large enough quantity of garvola to cause death."
     "But I saw you, Tuvok.  I couldn't find a pulse."
     "Mr. Neelix informed me of what transpired five days ago when you attempted to confront me in my quarters.  When I discovered I was ill I put myself into a hypnotic state to fight off the garvola sickness, resulting in a slowing down of my autonomic functions.  Even despite your garvola-induced condition, your perceptions could have led you to believe that I was deceased."
     She stood there before him in silence.  Of course, she knew and understood Vulcan physiology and the process of the healing trance.  Why hadn't she thought of that when she was in Tuvok's quarters?  "Well, I'm glad it was just a figment of my imagination.  I don't know how I'd get by without your counsel."  Her stomach growled, breaking up the intimacy of the moment.  Janeway turned red with embarrassment.
     "Perhaps you should visit the mess hall, captain," the Vulcan politely suggested.
     "Perhaps I will.  Thank you, Lieutenant."  She slunk out of the holodeck, still embarrassed.
     A subdued silence filled the mess hall when Janeway entered, obviously a result of the crew's uncertainty to what had happened, still trying to sort everything out.  Janeway quietly paced over to Neelix, who busied himself behind a long table spread with several fruit juices and bowls filled with Jell-O and applesauce.
     "Captain!  It's so good to see you up and about again!" cheered the Talaxian.  Everyone in the room turned their attention to them - seeing the captain was like drawing from a well of confidence.
     "It's good to see you too, Neelix.  I hope you haven't been too hard on yourself through all of this.  From what I understand, there was no way you could have known how it would have affected us."
      The Talaxian squirmed uncomfortably.  "Well, I've been trying not to let it get to me, captain.  It hasn't been easy."
     "It's going to be an adjustment for all of us, but we'll find a way to deal with it.  Now, where is this get-well meal the Doctor mentioned?"
     "You're standing in front of it, actually.  The Doctor specifically stated that it will take your digestive systems a little while to right themselves and so to make a few selections that will be easier on your stomachs.  Lieutenant Paris helped me with the menu," he remarked, picking up a green mass.  "Lime Jell-O, captain?"

	Captain's log, supplemental:  After five days adrift, the Voyager 
has resumed her course back home.  Most of the crew is still shaken by the 
recent garvola incident but operations are slowly returning to normal.  The 
Doctor has already filed an official medical report on this incident 
outlining the exact nature of the herb plant and its effects on the crew, 
but as commanding officer I feel obligated to comment on the social impact 
the garvola has had.
	The ramifications concerning the consumption of garvola are at the 
least very disturbing.  While under its influence, I allowed my impaired 
judgement to sway my decision to address the concerns brought to me by 
Lieutenant Paris.  If left unchecked the consequences for my crew would 
have been fatal.  In this regard I cannot dispute the decision of our chief 
medical officer to not inform me of his solution to the problem, as I 
probably would not have permitted him to continue in my impaired state.  As 
such, I have made note in the service records of Lieutenant Paris, Mr. 
Neelix and the Emergency Medical Holographic program for exemplary 
performance under adverse conditions.

     The captain discontinued the log and sat back in her chair, angrily reflecting upon her words and the decisions that had resulted in this crisis.  She was angry at herself for not recognizing Tuvok's healing trance, for not considering that he could have been in trouble when she first tried to contact him in the mess hall, for even dismissing Lt. Paris' explanation of a potential threat to her vessel and crew that very first day.  She had failed in her responsibilities as commanding officer of Voyager to protect her ship from harm.
     Or had she?  She stopped and really thought about it for a moment.  As a starship captain, one strives to impress the values of loyalty, duty, dedication and teamwork upon her subordinate officers.  To put the security of the ship and the lives of your fellow crewmates before your own life is a goal sought by all captains.  So shouldn't the actions by Tom Paris, Neelix, and the Doctor be a sufficient demonstration of this?  They protected the ship from harm when the captain was physically and mentally incapable of doing so.  Perhaps she shouldn't be so hard on herself after all.

     Tom strolled into the mess hall in good spirits.  "Hi, Neelix."
     "Good afternoon, Lieutenant," Neelix chirped from behind the kitchen counter.  "Isn't it a most wonderful day today?"
     "Well, we haven't been faced with any life-threatening situations yet, so I suppose I'd have to agree with you," Tom returned.  "What about you, Neelix; how are you holding up?"
     "Oh, I'm getting by just fine now," he chatted.  "Kes has really been helping me through this, bless her kind heart.  Plus I've been working on some new recipes to get myself going again, only this time I've checked with the Doctor to make sure all of the ingredients are safe.  Would it be all right if I asked you for an unbiased opinion?"
     "I, uh -"  Uh-oh.  I need to find an excuse, fast.  Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Harry walking into the mess hall and right toward him.  "Normally I'd love to, Neelix, but I just came in for a quick bite.  Harry and I have pressing matters to attend to," he lied, raising his voice so Harry would hear.  He hoped the ensign would catch on.  "Isn't that right, Harry?"
     "What?  I'm came here to eat lunch, Tom."  So much for that.  The pilot wanted to strangle him right then.
     "Good for you, Mr. Kim; there's nothing so important that you can't enjoy a hot, home-made meal.  Now I can get your opinion, too.  Don't worry, Mr. Paris, it won't take up too much of your time."
     Harry just then realized what his friend was trying to communicate.  All he could do was smile lamely as Tom glared coldly at him while walking into the galley.
     "Don't be afraid to give me your honest evaluation," the Talaxian issued as he handed each of them a big serving spoon filled with a thick greenish sauce speckled with orange and yellow flecks.
     Tentatively Tom raised the spoon to his mouth and sampled.  The only thought that occurred to him was that the garvola must have dulled his taste buds.  That had to be it - it was the only explanation he wanted to accept.

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