Photons Be Free was a provocative holonovel composed as a first-person narrative by The Doctor on USS Voyager in 2378. The novel depicted the oppressed existence of an emergency medical hologram on board a Federation starship. The original draft was obviously at least inspired by Voyager and her crew, if not directly based on them, and The Doctor's attempts to revise his story led to major legal proceedings.
The USS Vortex, a Federation starship always at red alert and thousands of light years from Earth, is much darker – literally and figuratively – than the ship it was based on, USS Voyager. The protagonist, played by the reader, is an EMH serving aboard the USS Vortex, and suffers many trials at the hands of the crew.
Unlike most holonovels, Photons Be Free did not react to the appearance of the person running the program beyond providing a sciences division uniform. The EMH was always referred to as having been made in the image of a male Human, regardless of the actual gender or species of the person playing the program.
The original, unfinished version contained eight chapters all from the point of view of the ship's EMH, with an extended introduction and epilogue, as follows:
Where the narrator introduces the novel in its context, as well as advising those with a vascular disorder against viewing it without consultation from a physician. The acknowledgments, starting with Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, go on for over nine minutes.
Chapter 1 – "A Healer is Born" (in which our protagonist must make a difficult choice)
The reader plays the role of the EMH in a situation similar to The Doctor's first activation during the Caretaker encounter, and is faced with a triage situation. Captain Jenkins and Commander Katanay insist the EMH treat the "valuable" Lieutenant Marseilles, who has a mild concussion, rather than a critically injured patient with an aortic rupture who is about to die. To "resolve" the situation, Captain Jenkins coldly kills the latter.
Chapter 5 – "Out of the Frying Pan" (in which our protagonist must confront abusive colleagues)
Lt. Marseilles alerts the EMH to an emergency in engineering where a plasma conduit has just exploded. To leave sickbay, the protagonist has to wear a fifty kilogram backpack version of the mobile emitter. After arriving in engineering to discover that there is no disaster, just a particularly mean-spirited Torrey, the EMH returns to discover Lt. Marseilles giving a female crewmember a "tonsillectomy" on the biobed. Discovered, Marseilles threatens to erase the EMH's memory if he informs his wife. It's at this point that another female crewmember shows up for her "physical".
Chapter 6 – "Duel in the Ready Room" (in which our protagonist faces an inquisition)
In her ready room, adorned with weapons, Captain Jenkins informs the protagonist that during an inventory of the EMH holomatrix she found 102 gigaquads of memory, fifty for music, forty-two for daydreams, and ten for expanded sexuality, wasted on extracurricular subroutines the EMH doesn't need. She then orders Tulak and Kymble to take the EMH to the Vortex's hololab to be reprogrammed.
Chapter 7 – "The Escape" (in which our protagonist is aided by his only ally)
While in the turbolift, Kymble expresses concern that they may damage the EMH if they start removing subroutines. After the doors open they are met by Three of Eight, who is able to disable them with a Borg force field. This provides the protagonist enough time to get away, but the EMH is quickly stopped by one of the ship's security force fields.
Chapter 8 – "A Tragic End" (in which our protagonist learns his fate)
After a passionate speech by Three of Eight on holographic rights, Captain Jenkins ultimately decides to have the EMH decompiled and reinitialized, and to be kept offline except when needed. The narrative ends with everything fading to black.
Where the narrator reminds the protagonist that this was a work of fiction, but "like all fiction has elements of truth", and asks that they think on "the struggles holograms have to endure, in a world controlled by organics."
Tom Paris modified the program in order to point out how the portrayal of the crew was insulting and libelous.
This altered version took place aboard the USS Voyeur, where the protagonist would play the role of the chief medical officer's assistant while having to "learn to tolerate his overbearing behavior and obnoxious bedside manner."
Much like the original, the narrator is sitting at a desk writing in a book while wearing a robe. He smugly acknowledges the reader's great taste and stands up, explaining the premise and reminds the reader that "patience is a virtue".
To prevent The Doctor from exiting the satire, Paris deliberately created a protocol to prevent the program from being shut down until the story had run its course.
Chapter 1 – "It's The Doctor's world, you're just living in it"
The reader was confronted by the CMO over being 24 seconds late to duty. He then proceeded to treat Two of Three for an out of alignment biradial clamp by giving her a Klingon aphrodisiac and proceeding to seduce and take advantage of her.
Neelix, who did not have a counterpart in the novel, was the only member of the crew who praised it, appreciating the point that The Doctor was trying to make while arguing that The Doctor needed to consider how his actions affected others.
It was Tom Paris' negative reaction to the program that led him to create his altered version. When The Doctor protested the changes that Paris had made, he used his own arguments against him. Objecting to the way the character using his image was presented, Paris stated that he thought he had come to earn his respect, stating that he was surprised The Doctor had even noticed that he was a married man with a lot of responsibilities. It was this conversation that led The Doctor to begin reconsidering his program and talk with Neelix, who gently guided him to make certain changes to the program and even provided him with his isolinear chip allowing him the right time to comm-time with the Alpha Quadrant.
Broht & Forrester, the same publisher behind works like the Dixon Hill series and Toby the targ, released the unfinished rough draft against The Doctor's wishes. It quickly became a hot program playing in thousands of holosuites across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. This version was later recalled after legal action, allowing The Doctor to make various edits that would avoid making the characters seem like representatives of the Voyager crew. Four months after it was recalled though, several EMH-Mark Is on a Federation dilithium processing facility had a copy. (VOY: "Author, Author")
This program bears a similarity to the initial Kyrian holographic simulation in "Living Witness". In that episode, a backup copy of The Doctor was the one arguing that the Voyager crew weren't really as they had been depicted.