It's Paramount's playground. They own the characters, the ships, species, planets, quadrants, and the dialog, plots, etc. My summaries and reviews are for the purpose of entertainment, research, and analysis only. The reviews are full-spoiler, which means that it's about as close as you can get to seeing the episode, with near-complete and near-verbatim dialog from the episode itself. All that's missing are commercials and pictures--and sometimes, even the commercials get reviewed. If you want to be surprised when you see the episode, leave now. Otherwise--come on in, get comfortable, and enjoy the ride.
[Captioning sponsored by Paramount Television and United Paramount Network.]
Mama Kate spends some quality time with a problem child or three. Fun new uses for dark matter.
Jump straight to the Analysis
The episode begins with a sweet little slow zoom from Voyager's exterior. As the camera closes in on the ship, we can see into some of the windows--people congregating, working, relaxing, dining, and so on.
And above all the crewmen in the lower decks, we peer into the upper window of Captain Janeway's ready room. She is alone, with only her coffee mug for company. She stares out the window, deep in thought.
She puts on her business face when the door chimes. "Come in."
Chakotay enters with a PADD. "Seven of Nine's ship-wide efficiency analysis," he says, handing her the results.
Janeway smirks. "Did we get a passing grade?"
"Barely." Naturally. Janeway smiles, shakes her head. "She wants to present it to the senior staff."
Janeway takes a sip of coffee as she walks toward her desk. "Put her on the schedule."
"We'll be passing by a Class 'T' cluster in the next couple of days--gas giants, radiogenic sources. I'm not sure it's worth altering course."
Must be a slow week. The ship's not even moving at the moment. Janeway takes another sip. "At the very least we should send the Delta Flyer for a look. And let's get a full range of sensor scans as we get closer." She settles into her chair to give Seven's report her undivided attention.
Chakotay nods, then exits.
Here's where things get curious. It's a bit of a chain-of-command relay.
Janeway gives orders to her first officer. Chakotay returns to the bridge from the captain's ready room and passes the buck. "We'll go to a level three analysis of the cluster. Tom, get the Flyer ready and assemble an away team. Harry, start continuous scans."
Tom nods. Harry also gives a silent acknowledgement, and to assist his efforts, he calls down to Astrometrics. "Kim to Seven of Nine."
"Any chance you could increase radiogenic resolution in the long-range sensors?"
"The Captain wants to get a cleaner look at that cluster coming up off starboard," Harry finishes, as we hear his voice in Astrometrics.
"Acknowledged," Seven says. She grabs a fresh PADD, and with a few deft keystrokes transfers what she wants to it. She then summons over a pretty Bajoran with no visible rank insignia. "Take these specifications to Lieutenant Torres," Seven says.
"Right away," the woman says pleasantly. She heads for the door, walks through the corridors to the turbolift, and calls for Deck 11.
The lift complies, and a moment later she's on the right deck, resuming her walk to Engineering.
She finds Torres hard at work, and silently offers the PADD to the chief engineer.
Torres frowns. "What's our Borg Queen want now?" she asks, taking the PADD.
After a quick scan of the contents, Torres hands the PADD off to a handsome, smooth-skulled male. "We need to route at least another five terawatts to the sensor array," Torres says. He nods, and with PADD in hand he retraces the Bajoran's steps to the turbolift.
Only he's heading for Deck 15. This is as low as the turbolift goes. This is the deck that ensigns whisper about in hushed tones--the place where careers go to die.
The corridors look a little different. More dimly lit. Less tidy. There are fewer plates covering the wall circuitry. The floors are not so much carpeted as grilled, and more circuitry is visible underfoot.
The first guy our courier greets looks just like him. Maybe this is where Janeway keeps her clones, the ones who keep mass-producing shuttles.
Finally, the PADD's journey ends in a cramped corner of nowhere.
"Sorry to interrupt," the man says.
He speaks to a youngish guy with short hair, gold shoulders, and a PADD attached to a keyboard. He's either crouching or sitting, and his brow is furrowed. Whatever he's doing, he's completely absorbed.
He keeps typing, but he holds up two fingers briefly. "I'm about to disprove Schlezholt's theory of multiple big bangs." He looks up and smiles. "Of course, I had to demolish Wang's second postulate to do it."
If you remember M*A*S*H, imagine Charles Emerson Winchester III without the Boston accent. I dislike him already. Until the writers get around to naming him, I hereby designate him "Dick."
The courier holds out the PADD. "Power transfer requisition."
Dick gives him a pitying look. "You're standing in the way of cosmological history."
The courier isn't impressed; it's not hard to believe he's heard this more than once. "The cosmos is 16 billion years old. It can wait another few minutes."
Dick, irritated, grabs the PADD. It takes him less than a second to digest its contents, and it doesn't sit well. He slams the PADD down, stabs at a nearby keyboard for a few seconds, then hands the PADD back. "Schlezholt would thank you for the reprieve." The courier rolls his eyes and heads back to Engineering.
Dick gets back to his Schlezholt disproving. The camera pans out again, from Dick's face to open space, showing that even the poor saps on Deck 15 have windows sometimes--only this one is hardly in the glory zone. It's in the fleshy underbelly of the ship. We even see the place where they'd stick the hose if Voyager ever needed an enema, and Dick is right next door.
Lower decks, indeed.
Gee--From the Ready Room on Deck 1 to the Moody Room on Deck 15--from the Captain to Dick, took nearly three minutes and a chain of command of eight people.
Methinks the Seven of Nine Efficiency Analysis couldn't have come a moment too soon.
* * *
Captain's Log. Stardate 53753.2. Long range scans of the 'T' cluster have indicated a number of tantalizing anomalies. The away team should have a field day. Who knows? I may even join them myself.
It's ship's night. While one woman sleeps, another has a flashlight on under the covers, and she frantically pages someone named Billy.
"Billy...Billy, wake up!"
We see Billy in his own crew quarters. Unlike the officers, the enlisted folks apparently don't get their own rooms, and we see the sheets of the guy in the upper bunk in Billy's room. Billy looks like a tall skinny guy with short dark hair.
"What do you want?" Billy asks, slurring his words.
"I need help!"
Billy groans. "Good night."
"Billy! Don't you dare go back to sleep!"
Billy throws in the towel. "What's the problem?"
"I'm in trouble."
Billy whimpers; he's apparently quite familiar with this kind of trouble. "Go to sleep . . ."
We get a better look at the damsel in distress. The brunette hair is no longer in the Starfleet Power Bun--now it cascades over milky shoulders--but there's no mistaking the crinkled nose ridge of the Bajoran we saw in Astrometrics and Engineering during the teaser. Like most Bajoran women, she's jaw-droppingly attractive. "Help me first!"
Billy groans. "With what?"
We also see the PADDs the woman has under the covers. There are a lot of them. "This level three sensor analysis. I've got four hours of subspace infrared to interpret." We see the fear in her eyes.
Billy winces. "Long-range scans on that cluster up ahead?"
Billy falls back onto his pillow. "It's too complicated to do over the com. Either we meet in the mess hall or we wait until tomorrow."
Now the woman sighs. "I don't want to get dressed," she hisses, "and it can't wait until tomorrow!"
Billy rolls back over, his eyes already closing. "Your only optionsssssszzzz . . ."
"Wait" it is, I guess.
The conference room is not a happy place. Everyone in the room has a PADD.
"I've given Operations an efficiency rating of 76 out of a possible 100," Seven of Nine says imperially. It doesn't STINK, but . . .
"Not exactly flying colors," Harry grumbles.
"The crewmen you assigned to the night shift are frequently left with little to do once the ship's course has been locked in," Seven says to elaborate her score.
"The devil finds work for idle hands," Doc says lightly, playing off his Father Mulligan persona.
Seven glares at Doc. "Religious metaphors are irrelevant." Damn.
Seven looks again at Harry. "Perhaps you should consider assigning them additional tasks." Harry nods, accepting the suggestion.
Torres doesn't take her score nearly as well. The irritation in her voice is evident. "What's this I'm guilty of? 'Failure to utilize expertise'?"
Seven hits the controls on the display terminal, and up pops a picture of "Crewman Mortimer Harren..." Seven says. Hey, it's Dick From Deck Fifteen! (Oh, man--Mortimer? No wonder he's such a freak.) "He has five advanced degrees in theoretical cosmology, but you've assigned him to the...(she checks her report) plasma relay room. His talents could be put to better use."
So why is a guy with multiple advanced degrees only a crewman? For that matter, why is he in Starfleet at all?
Janeway has her own questions. "B'Elanna?"
"Believe me, I've tried!" B'Elanna says. "When I give him more responsibility he doesn't do the work. Harren wants to be down on deck 15. It gives him more time to re-postulate the origins of the universe." The irony in her tone draws a smirk from Harry.
Seven moves on to the next department. "As you can see, security is functioning at near-perfect efficiency." Tuvok preens. "However, Commander, if you arrange the phasers in the weapons lockers so that the smaller rifles were in front they could be more easily removed in the event of an emergency."
Tuvok suppresses the laugh. "I'll look into it." Hello, Miss Thing--in case of emergency, you want the BIG guns in front. Nobody, and I mean nobody, puts Betsy on the back shelf on Janeway's starship.
Moving on. Seven pulls up another picture from the ship's roster. "Crewman William Telfer." Hey, it's--
"Billy," Doc says. "He certainly ruined my score . . . " Really? Billy looked pretty normal to me--
"He visits the Sickbay almost once a week complaining of illness," Seven explains. "Invariably, you examine him and find nothing wrong."
Doc sighs. "Mr. Telfer is a hypochondriac. I'd treat him for it, but he's afraid of medication."
"Have you tried counseling?" the captain asks.
"He's afraid of that, too," Doc says. "All I can do is scan him and offer him reassurance."
"Wasting your time and medical resources," Seven concludes. Well, when they get back to Earth, Seven's a lock for a managerial slot at the HMO of her choosing . . .
Harry reads ahead. "What about Astrometrics? Looks like you could use some improvement yourself, Seven." A ha!
Seven winces. "You are correct, unfortunately." Up goes another picture. "Tal Celes--sensor analyst, grade three. Her work must be constantly double-checked. She should be removed from Astrometrics and reassigned elsewhere--perhaps to Engineering." Ouch.
"Forget it," Torres says. "I've got my own problems to fix, remember?"
All in all, it's not what I'd call a distressing report. But Janeway seems somber. "That will be all, Seven. Thank you. Dismissed."
The officers file out, but Chakotay lingers. "Captain?"
"They've never been on an away mission," Janeway says, surprise in her voice. "Mortimer Harren...William Telfer, Tal Celes--none of them."
"They get off the ship whenever we have general leave," Chakotay says.
"I mean a working away mission."
Chakotay has a ready explanation. "Harren never volunteers. Celes can't get past the proficiency requirements. And Telfer always seems to get a note from his Doctor." Well, at least one of them has been paying attention to such things.
"Something's got to be done about this," Janeway mutters.
"What can we do?" Chakotay asks, throwing up his hands. "There are always a few who don't make it past their first year on a Starship. Normally, they're reassigned--but in our case, maybe we should relieve them of duty and let them pursue their own interests. It certainly wouldn't hurt general efficiency."
"They aren't drones, Chakotay. We can't just deactivate them." The captain thinks. "Is the Delta Flyer ready?"
"Flight-checked with provisions for a 72-hour away mission." Chakotay notices that Janeway has The Look. "What have you got in mind, Captain?"
Janeway holds up the PADD. "Three people have slipped through the cracks on my ship. That makes it my problem."
Billy and Celes (for those not fully familiar with Bajoran names, Tal is her surname, Celes her given name) talk tech over breakfast. Poor Celes is doing her best, but she's still clearly struggling.
"The analytical aspects of the subspace infrared algorithm are fourfold," Billy explains.
"Unfortunately, I have a threefold brain," Celes sighs.
Billy laughs. The two are sitting on the same couch; Celes leans back, Billy hovers over her. Their relationship beyond friendship is undefined, but there's no hint of overt romantic chemistry between them. "You just have to break it down. Think of it as four smaller algorithms."
Celes promises to try. "Okay. What's the sequence?"
Janeway, who entered a few seconds before, can guess--and she interrupts. "Zero-G Is Fun."
The two crewmen go wide-eyed and fly to their feet, standing at stiff attention.
"As you were," Janeway says pleasantly. Nerviously, the two sit back in the couch. Janeway takes a seat on the low table a foot or so away, facing them.
Janeway explains for the audience. "Zeta particle derivation, Gamma wave frequency, Ion distribution, Flow rate of positrons. Z.G.I.F.--Zero-G Is Fun. That's how you remember the sequence." Ah--the acronym method. An oldie, but a goodie.
"Thank you, Captain," Celes squeaks. "I'll try."
"Good," says Janeway. "Because where we're headed, you're going to need it." She hands PADDs to Celes and Billy, who are stunned speechless--and motionless. "I'll be briefing you this afternoon in Astrometrics. We'll leave first thing in the morning."
Janeway heads out--she's got one more PADD to deliver. Poor Billy and Celes are as stiff as statues.
Satisfied, Janeway enters the turbolift. "Deck 15."
The camera zooms in momentarily on the PADD. It's an interesting parallel device; in the teaser we saw couriers whose names we never heard acting as the conduits between people we do know, and who know the lower decks intimately. Now we have the orders being delivered personally by the captain who gave them--a clear deviation from the norm.
We already saw how the captain's presence traumatized Billy and Celes. Let's see how Deck 15 treats her. Shall we?
Janeway's first impression on stepping into the lowest of Voyager's decks is this: I haven't been to this deck often enough.
Her second, after wandering the narrow corridors for a few seconds, is this: I'm lost on my own ship. Imagine that.
Fortunately, the bald-headed courier from the teaser enters the scene. He's the prince of the deck, one suspects. He comes to crisp attention: "Captain on the deck!"
We see one female in the background, way out of focus. But we see her jump.
Janeway smiles and walks over to the man. "At ease." He relaxes a bit, but then continues to stand erect.
"Junction room 16?" Janeway whispers.
He smiles, but not too much. He nods toward the jumpy woman. "Over there, Captain."
"Of course," the captain smiles. She starts to leave, then corrects herself. How often does she visit this deck, anyway? Time to apply the lessons of the Efficiency Analysis, and make sure everyone is aware that she is aware of them. "Crewman Mitchell," she asks, "how have you been?"
You don't know how much it pleases me when someone with dialog is given a name.
Mitchell is surprised. He stays at attention, but he turns his head toward her. "Uh, never better, ma'am. Yourself?"
Janeway makes an odd sort of "I'm thinking" face, the scrunched up sorta boo-boo face that in this context is downright adorable. "Not bad," Janeway says at last, and smiles. "Not bad at all."
The pleasantries duly exchanged, Janeway proceeds with her away mission. She reaches the claustrophobic junction. And pauses.
"Uh, to the left, ma'am," Crewman Mitchell offers helpfully.
"Thank you," Janeway says, giving the crewman a conspiratorial wink. Our secret, right?
Janeway finally reaches her destination. She takes her time--the next time she comes to Deck 15, she will not need a native guide.
She finds Mortimer Harren in the darkness, his chin resting on his curled up fists, lost in the contents of a PADD. Or hating his life.
"Crewman Harren," Janeway says.
Harren doesn't bother to get up. "Captain Janeway...are you lost?" No fear. Good; Billy and Celes are not likely to be stimulating conversationalists on the away mission.
Janeway is a bit surprised by his response, after all the jumping she's seen today. She even finds it a bit refreshing. "I was, for a minute," she admits with a grin.
She hands Harren the PADD. "I'll be briefing you this afternoon."
Harren reads it over. "Well, there's been a mistake."
Uh oh. "Excuse me?" Janeway's voice drops an octave. The boy is in trouble.
"You have me assigned to an away mission. I have my duties here--I prefer not to leave my post."
Like you have a choice, Mortimer. You're a mantis, not a scrivener!
Okay, that was obscure. (This week's reading assignment: "Bartleby the Scrivener," by Herman Melville. Then watch Space Ghost Coast to Coast on Cartoon Network. Wait for Zorak to say, "I would prefer not to.")
Yeah, I know. My synapses scare me too sometimes. Some thoughts simply should never be connected.
"Ensign Culhane will cover for you," Janeway says. "The preflight schedule is all there."
"If this is charity, Captain, I don't want it."
Oy. This guy's asking for it, isn't he?
Janeway advances. "I didn't ask you what you want. I'm taking the Delta Flyer on an astronomical survey mission and your expertise is needed."
Harren snorts. "What do you know about my expertise?"
"As much as I need to," Janeway says, smiling enigmatically.
"Well, then--you might be interested to know that I'm about to disprove Schlezholt's theory of multiple big bangs."
Janeway beams. This is almost too easy. Hands go to hips. "Really? Wang's second postulate has more lives than a cat, doesn't it? Once you think you've eliminated it--bam, it pops up again. I'll give you a hand, if you'd like . . . when the away mission is over."
Janeway returns to the upper deck where she truly belongs. Mortimer Harren returns to his chin-on-fist brooding.
Damnation--so much for the Schlezholt Gambit. He'll never be able to use it as an excuse again. Janeway will see to that.
Well, buck up, little camper. There's always Fermat's Last Theorem.
Or that whole Popularity of Pauly Shore conundrum.
* * *
Every once in a while, Astrometrics manages to surprise even a certain review boy. The near three-dimensional close-up of space just past Janeway's shoulder is breathtaking.
"Once we reach the cluster we'll drop out of warp and maintain one-quarter impulse on the sweep through the protostars," Janeway explains to the assembled crewmen. Seven of Nine is here as well. "I'll be piloting the Delta Flyer. Celes, you're going to run an ongoing sensor analysis providing data for your colleagues..."
"Mr. Harren, you'll be looking at subspace particle decay for anything new we might learn about star formation..."
"And, Mr. Telfer--your job will be to look for signs of life. A long shot in this environment but if it's out there, I'm sure you'll find it."
Three less enthusiastic crewmen cannot be imagined.
Janeway notices, but presses on. It's her idea, and she's determined to see it through. "You'll have the rest of the evening to familiarize yourselves with the mission."
Billy Telfer speaks up. "Excuse me, Captain. If we find a planet, we're not planning on exploring the surface, are we?"
Harren snorts derisively. "That's a stellar nursery. Any planets will be gas giants."
"They may have <gulp> moons."
Billy has heard the stories. Poor chump from the lower decks gets invited on an away mission with the Olympians on Deck One. The big guys stick together, and send the new kid to the river to fill up the canteens. Next thing you know, it's "alas, poor crewman Johnson, we hardly knew ye . . ."
Janeway smiles warmly. "Don't worry. We'll run a complete scan for pathogens before we set foot anywhere. And the Delta Flyer is fully equipped to deal with medical emergencies. We'll be fine. Shuttle Bay One, 0600 hours... Dismissed.
The crewmen file out. Seven of Nine looks at the captain like she's been smoking her coffee. "Celes is unreliable. Her sensor analyses will be full of errors. You could be putting your lives at risk."
"Don't worry, Seven, I'll check her work."
"This mission could be better served with a more experienced crew," Seven says, stating the obvious.
Or at least split them up-why send out all three at once? Imagine how Janeway and Seven of Nine could double-team Mortimer Harren on matters of pure theory; Janeway isn't the least bit intimidated, and Seven of Nine would have him for lunch.
Or thrill to the spectacle of Harry Kim falling in love with Tal Celes, while Tom Paris laughs.
As for Billy Telfer, a few days in a shuttle enduring Neelix's Talaxian homeopathy could scare him straight for life.
"No...not this mission," Janeway says. "Ever hear the tale of the Good Shepherd? If even one sheep strayed into the wilderness the shepherd left the safety of the flock and went after it."
First: it's a parable. But I guess they're skittish about mentioning the B word.
Second: Janeway as Christ figure? I'm frightened.
Seven looks at Janeway the way she usually does--like the captain is nuts. "So, you're intending to rescue them?"
"In a manner of speaking. Maybe all it will take will be some personal attention from their Captain, maybe something more--but I won't abandon a member of this crew. No matter what their problems might be."
The way she says it, the way she looks at Seven, makes the point clear. If Mama Kate can rehabilitate a Borg Drone into a productive member of society, she should be able to handle three simple crewmen. Seven smiles slightly and nods with new understanding.
Janeway leaves--and Seven rolls her eyes. The rule on board might be Janeway or the Highway, but the captain rarely does things the easy way.
The mess hall is a bit tense at the Paris / Torres table. Tom keeps looking over at Crewman Harren, looking at Torres, giving her the "for shame!" look, and then looking back over at Harren.
For her part, Torres is not amused. She's the one who's had to deal with Harren the past six years.
Neelix sits down at the table, obstructing Tom's view. He tries to look past Neelix, but finally gives up, and speaks up. "Poor guy...rotting away down on Deck 15, counting the years till we get out of this godforsaken quadrant. It's a shame he doesn't have a superior officer who cares."
Ooh, ouch. Torres' eyes flare. "It's not my job to make everybody who works for me happy. Some people just don't want to fit in."
Neelix looks at Tom, taking B'Elanna's side. "I'll bet you haven't said two words to him," he says by way of challenge.
"Two words, exactly. We collided in the corridor during a Borg attack. I said, 'excuse me.'" He takes a sip of his beverage. "Since we were at Red Alert and about to be destroyed I think it was very considerate of me." Snicker.
Torres gets a wicked grin. "Well, Mr. Considerate, why don't you go over there right now and offer him some encouragement? His first away mission--I'm sure he could use it." Tom accepts the challenge. Torres' evil grin widens. She knows Tom--and she knows Harren.
Tom walks over, but Harren ignores him, caught up in his PADD as usual. So he speaks up. "Brushing up on the Delta Flyer specs?" he asks conversationally.
Mortimer withers him with a glance. "I'm not a mechanic." Zing!
Paris rocks back on his feet, takes a steadying breath, and takes a seat. "Oh. Then, what are you doing?"
Harren considers his response--then slides the PADD over for Tom to examine. Tom gingerly picks it up--and sees a screen filled with mathematical symbols.
"Very interesting," Tom says.
Harren closes in for the kill. He smiles. "What do you find most interesting about it?"
Paris hands back the PADD, a bit put out. "Your creative use of the minus sign."
Harren revels in his superiority. "I see you have an, uh, appreciation for multivariate analysis. Maybe you missed your calling. It's a shame. I imagine it gets tedious up at the helm."
"I enjoy the view," Tom snaps, running (okay, walking) back to B'Elanna.
Whoa. I've seen bull riders at the rodeo last longer.
"Well?" B'Elanna asks.
"I invited him over to watch our television set tonight," Tom says, reaching for his cup. "You don't mind, do you?"
His eyes are haunted.
Another parallel scene. This time it's Billy doing the late-night communicator wakeup call, and Celes who's doing her best to get him off the line.
"Celes...Celes...Respond. Celes, respond!"
Celes, though too groggy to open her eyes, eventually manages to slap her hand on the combadge by her bed, chirping the line open. "You're not sick," she mumbles.
"Yes, I am!"
"No, you're not."
The scene shifts to Billy's room.
"Really...I am!" We see Billy running a medical tricorder over himself. We can see the sweat on his hands.
"We have to sleep."
"I can't go on this mission," Billy says.
"Yes, you can."
"No, I can't."
Now that's comedy.
"Bye," Celes mutters, and raises her hand.
THWACK . We see the hand come down, and the call end.
Billy looks like his world just ended.
Moments later, Billy is in Sickbay. Yet again.
"See?" Billy demands as Doc completes his scans.
"It's a fever!"
"Your temperature is 0.2 degrees above normal."
"A typical deviation, easily prompted by emotional stress."
"Or a multiphasic prion."
Billy is a bit of a freak, isn't he?
Doc rolls his eyes. "You have not been infected by a prion."
Billy begins to tremble as he describes the prion attack. "They attach themselves to the mitochondrial walls..."
"I've already scanned you!" Doc says, irritated.
"You can barely see them!"
"They aren't there."
"If they migrate to my cell membranes while I'm on the away mission they could rupture and I--"
The Doctor groks the source of the problem, and sets Billy straight. "I am not giving you a medical excuse...not this time."
"Try to get some sleep. You shouldn't even have a medical tricorder." He takes it away from the hapless crewman, and sighs.
Doc moderates his tone a little as he walks Billy Telfer--who, we now see, came to Sickbay in his underwear--back to the door. "Believe me...you'll be so caught up in the excitement of exploration there won't be time for worrying about infections, mitochondrial or otherwise." Doc warms to the subject, gesturing expansively. "There's nothing like an away mission to remind a person of why we're out here."
Billy isn't the least bit comforted by that thought.
Delta Flyer's mission has begun. Three misfits and a captain venture into parts unknown.
We see Janeway in the drivers seat. We don't often get this angle--we can see the anachronistic Captain Proton controls that Tom Paris added just to give the shuttle a personal touch.
"I'm going to one-quarter impulse."
"Should I start the sensor sweeps?" Celes asks.
"We don't want to miss anything," Janeway says. Celes takes the hint.
The ship rumbles a bit. "Engine status?" Janeway asks Harren.
"Within parameters. That wasn't us," Harren says.
"Anything on sensors?" Janeway asks Celes.
"0.005 fluctuation in the spatial continuum," Celes says a moment later. "It looks like simple background noise."
Janeway walks over and verifies the results. Celes can't help but notice. "I agree," the captain says.
The communicator chirps, and Billy's voice calls in. "Anybody for lunch?"
"Are you volunteering, William?" Janeway asks with a smile.
"I'll help," Celes offers. "What would you like, Captain?"
Janeway looks back to see what Harren would like. "Mortimer?"
Harren winces. "Even my mother didn't call me that."
"Well, then, Mr. Harren, are you hungry?"
"No." Then, a little too late, "Thank you."
"I'll have the pasta soup. It should be listed under Neelix 6-5-1."
"Maybe I'll try that, too," Celes says.
Janeway smiles. "I'm sure you'll like it."
"I'm sure I will. Thanks for the suggestion." Janeway smiles at her, then returns to her work.
After an uncomfortable pause, Celes takes the hint. "I better get back there."
The aft section of the Delta Flyer admits Celes. "Neelix 6-5-1... Two servings," she says glumly.
"Neelix 6-5-1...Two servings," Billy repeats into the replicator as Celes drops heavily onto a chair. "What's wrong?"
"The Captain checks every single thing I do."
Billy takes the two bowls of soup, and hands one to Celes. "Oh...That's just standard procedure."
"Then, why isn't it standard procedure for you or Harren?"
"Maybe she's giving you special attention."
"Yeah, because she knows I need it," Celes mopes. "I wish I could go back to Voyager."
"Me, too." He smiles. "There's always the escape pods."
This seems to cheer Celes up; we see her teeth as she laughs. "Can you imagine?"
Billy joins in with a giggle of his own. For a moment, all is well with the galaxy.
Janeway is stuck in the forward section with Mr. Congeniality.
"I understand you grew up on Vico Five. No wonder you became a cosmologist," Janeway says.
"Wildest sky in the alpha quadrant," Harren agrees.
"So they say. I've never been there."
Harren decides to mess with the Captain a little. "Do you really believe that childhood environment is more important than genetically driven behavior patterns?"
"Just making conversation," Janeway says.
"Conversation filled with unspoken assumptions, which I don't agree with. I'm a product of my nucleic acids. Where and how I was raised are beside the point. So, if you're trying to understand me better, questions about my home planet are irrelevant."
"All righty, then. How's your 13th chromosome? Missing a couple of base pairs in gene 178?"
BWAHAHAHAHA!!!! Oh, man, DNA humor. Cracks me up every time.
No, I have no idea what it means, either. But from this conversation, I'm guessing that Gene 178 on the 13th chromosome is where your tact is stored.
Harren bristles a little--he gets DNA humor, and knows he's just been spanked. "I signed on to Voyager because I needed a year of hands-on experience. It was a requirement for getting into the Institute of Cosmology on Orion One. If we hadn't gotten lost in the Delta Quadrant I'd be there right now."
Oh, cry me a river, Mortimer.
"Sorry to have delayed your career plans. But all of us have had our lives interrupted. That's the nature of space exploration. It's unpredictable."
"Which is why I don't like space exploration. Stumbling from star to star like a, a drunken insect careening toward a light source is not my idea of a dignified existence. Pure theory is all that concerns me."
"Well, I'm not trying to change that," Janeway says. "I'm simply trying to get every member of my crew working to their full capacity. That includes you, Mr. Harren."
"You don't feel responsible, Captain!" Harren is amused. "For having three misfits aboard your ship? Well, if there's anything I can do to help relieve your guilt...please let me know."
Janeway grits her teeth. "I'll keep that in mind." If she had doubted Torres' reasons for sticking Harren in Deck 15 in the first place, those doubts are gone now.
Harren basks in the momentary victory. "Maybe I will join my colleagues for lunch. All this exploration has given me an appetite."
He exits, and Janeway squeezes her eyes shut. This is gonna be a loooooong trip.
Or not. The computer beeps, and Janeway checks it out. "Computer, identify the source of that spatial fluctuation."
Then there's an earth-shattering kaboom. A large chunk of the Flyer's hull is shorn off--the "74". Snicker.
"Red alert! Aft section, report! Report!"
* * *
Delta Flyer is dark. Janeway is just coming to.
Celes leads the way from the aft section. "Captain, are you all right?"
Janeway ignores the question--she has more pressing concerns. "We need to get propulsion back online and figure out what hit us. What's out there?"
Celes takes her station, and does her best. "I don't know--but whatever it was, it tore a plating section off the outer hull."
"90% of our antimatter's been neutralized. The reaction's cold," Harren reports.
"So much for warp drive," Billy adds unnecessarily. He's starting to panic.
"I'm bringing the impulse engines online but they've been damaged," Harren says. A moment later the lights go up, dimly. "We'll be able to do one-eighth impulse, no more."
"That should get us to the rendezvous point with Voyager in about ten years," Billy says. "Think they'll wait for us?"
Janeway ignores him. "Is the subspace transmitter online?" Billy nods, and she has him open a channel. "Voyager, this is the Delta Flyer. We've been hit by an unknown phenomenon and taken heavy damage. We require immediate assistance. Repeat: we require immediate assistance."
Janeway leaves her chair. "Transmit that continuously on all subspace frequencies," she tells Billy as she walks to Celes' station. "Anything on active scans?" Not yet, Celes says.
"It was a dark-matter proto-comet," Harren says.
Janeway's eyes light up. "I read a paper on that phenomenon once."
Harren smirks. "Written by me."
Janeway returns the smile. "Well, enlighten us, Mr. Harren."
He is only too happy to. "I hypothesized that a tertiary product of stellar consolidation would be a comet-like assemblage of dark matter. It would be attracted to any source of antimatter and neutralize it upon contact."
Billy pipes up. "So, one of these things detected the antimatter in our warp core?"
Harren snorts. "The term 'detected' suggests a consciousness. This is a mindless astrophysical phenomenon, nothing more." He looks at the captain. "We should eject our remaining antimatter or we could suffer another impact."
"I can't do that--not on the basis of an unproven hypothesis," Janeway says.
Harren is surprised, and irritated. "The forces involved are nontrivial. If we're hit again we could lose our entire outer hull."
"Eject the warp core and we lose any hope of getting warp drive back," Janeway counters. "I need more evidence--and right now, sensors aren't talking."
"Maybe they are talking, but somebody doesn't know how to listen to them." Celes winces.
Janeway's voice is cold steel. "You're out of line, crewman."
"This isn't the time to be worried about her feelings, Captain. We're in trouble."
To her credit, Celes has been working even as her competence is publicly ridiculed. And she finds something. "Captain, that hull plate--it's less than 10 kilometers away. Impact from a dark-matter body might have left a quantum signature in the alloys."
Janeway smiles at her. "That's the evidence we're looking for. Do we have transporters?"
"Yes, I've locked onto the plate," Billy says.
Janeway nods. "Beam it directly to the aft section. Celes, you're with me. Continue the repairs," she tells Harren.
Janeway and Celes run tricorders over the shorn hull. "No sign of burns. Or plasma residue," Janeway says. "It seems to have been sheared off. Download this into the main computer."
Celes does so. But she has something on her mind, and she expresses it. "Captain, I'm sorry."
"I thought that spatial fluctuation we ran into was background noise, just...noise."
Janeway shrugs. "I saw the same sensor readings you did, and came to the same conclusion. You don't have to doubt yourself all the time."
Celes smiles sadly. "Yes, I do. And you should, too. You're right to always be looking over my shoulder."
Janeway sees it's time for a Mama Kate moment. "We all make mistakes, even me."
"Every day? Every time you report for duty?"
Oh, pipe down, you Janeway haters. I can hear you screaming "damn straight, she does!" at your screens. Janeway can be nuts sometimes, but she's not THAT bad.
"On Voyager it doesn't matter because nothing I do is that critical," Celes says. "Seven doesn't trust me with anything important. The crew is protected from my mistakes by the people around me, but...out here I could get us killed."
"You went through Starfleet training courses," Janeway reminds her.
"I had to cram for every exam."
"At the Academy, I was infamous for my all-nighters," Janeway says with a grin.
"Every night? Because that's what it took. That's the only way I made it through. Not to mention the sympathy votes--the conflict on Bajor worked in my favor. The Federation was so eager to have Bajorans in Starfleet that my instructors gave me the benefit of the doubt."
Celes gives Janeway a measuring look. "So did you, when you accepted my application."
Janeway surprises her with a rare compliment. "You showed evidence of unconventional thinking, and I liked that. Not everybody would have thought to retrieve that hull plating."
Celes seems uncomfortable with the kind words. "Well, just don't trust me with the analysis. I guarantee I'll get it wrong."
"Well, with that attitude, I'm sure you will," Janeway says, smiling.
"This has nothing to do with attitude, Captain." Celes takes a deep breath. "You and I are wired differently. To you, this is nothing but data. To me, it...it's a monster with, with fangs and claws."
We can see the haunted look in the Bajoran's eyes. "In my nightmares, I am chased by algorithms. My brain just wasn't built to understand this."
Janeway is sympathetic. "We can find you another post on Voyager."
"There isn't another post on Voyager, not for me." She smiles bravely, but her eyes are moist. "Unless you need a waitress in the mess hall."
Janeway sighs with sympathy; the poor girl is in dire need of some confidence. "You know, there's more to duty than the ability to manipulate algorithms. Everybody on Voyager has showed a courage far beyond what I could have expected. So have you."
Celes asks a loaded question. "If we were still in the Alpha Quadrant, would that be enough to keep me on board?"
Janeway thinks. "I can't answer that," she says at last.
Celes understands. "I don't deserve to be on your ship, Captain. And I'm not really a part of Voyager. I just live there."
Meanwhile, there's a bit of a bonding moment between Mortimer Harren and Billy Telfer. The two are working on the repairs to Delta Flyer.
"Pressure's increasing," Harren says. "The E.P.S. relays are fused. Cut the plasma flow."
Billy is too busy running a tricorder over himself to notice.
"Cut the plasma--" Harren repeats, but not in time--a small explosion of sparks jolts them both.
Well, maybe call it a fusing moment.
Harren is livid. "I could have been killed! What's wrong with you?"
"Everything," Billy wails. Ba dum boom.
"If you want something to fantasize about, try imagining how it'll feel if our hull is breached and we die of vacuum exposure." Billy's got a vivid enough imagination to launch into an instant panic attack. "Our blood will vaporize and our cell membranes will rupture. Surely you know the symptoms better than I do."
Billy shudders. "Let's not talk about it, all right?"
Harren rants in that condescending way of his. "Nothing disagrees with me more than having to put theories into practical use. But there's no choice." Yeah--darn that practical application of knowledge, that pesky proof of concept. Would that we all had the luxury of sitting around just thinking about stuff.
"So pay attention to what we're doing here," Harren finishes. "You can check yourself into Sickbay when we get back." Zzzzinnnnng!
"And you can go back to Deck 15."
Nice comeback, Billy--surprisingly, this draws a reaction from Harren, before he manages to raise shields again. "That's right, where I don't have to rely on you or your intellectually deficient friend."
"At least I have a friend." Again, Billy draws blood, and they both know it.
Billy softens his tone. "Don't you ever get lonely down there?"
Harren tries to brush it off. "In the company of my own thoughts? Never." He's not convincing.
"I don't believe that," Billy says. "Spend some time with us when we get back. You might enjoy yourself."
Harren seems to consider this. But then, the old habits assert themselves. "A hypothesis that would require testing. I'm a theoretician, remember?"
Theory without testing. Hypothesis without risk. Nothing ventured--nothing gained.
Captain's Log: Delta Flyer. Stardate, 53764.3. We've been running on minimal power for six hours. Still no response to our distress call and no answers from the computer on what hit us. For now, it looks like we're on our own.
"Our scans of the hull fragment were inconclusive. We found some displaced positrons that could indicate a dark-matter impact," Janeway explains to the three misfits.
"But could have been caused by something else?" Billy asks.
"Proof enough," Harren says.
Janeway shakes her head. "Not enough for me. Not enough to jettison the remaining antimatter." She pulls up an image on a nearby screen. "There's a gas giant only a few hours from our current position. 'T' class, surrounded by orbital rings--including one that's radiogenic. We could use those particles to reinitialize our warp reaction."
Billy seems to calm down a little. "With ten percent of our antimatter left we'd only be able to make warp two--but it would be enough to get us back on the road."
Janeway smiles at Billy's newfound optimism. "Set a course."
A sensor begins to beep--it's the one labeled, "the other shoe just dropped." The captain and crew jump to action.
"Another spatial fluctuation," Celes reports.
"Can you localize it?" Janeway asks.
"It's somewhere within the distance of 10,000 kilometers." The ship rumbles a bit. "Another one--closer, about 7,000 kilometers."
"It's being drawn toward our antimatter," Harren says. "Eject the core."
It's close to a command. Janeway ignores it and offers a command of her own to Billy. "Open a channel. All hailing frequencies. 'This is Captain Janeway of the Federation vessel Delta Flyer. We are on a mission of peaceful exploration. Please identify yourself.'"
A moment passes. "No response," Billy says.
"Of course not. It's a natural phenomenon," Harren says archly. "Captain, we only have a few seconds."
Janeway isn't finished yet. "I'm firing a photon torpedo. There's enough antimatter in the detonation chamber to draw that proto-comet, if that's what it is."
"The torpedo's away," Billy reports. "Distance: 1,000 kilometers. 1,500."
"No spatial disruptions," Celes reports.
But then there's another rumble--and with it, some unidentifiable noises. "Find the source of that sound!" Janeway orders.
Billy Telfer gets right on it . . . and seems to have some success.
That's the good news.
"Oh, no . . . " Billy whispers, just before he disappears into thin air, shimmering away in a red-tinged cloud.
Harren, who runs a scan, freaks out a little. "That's not possible." Dang theoreticians.
"Where is he?" Janeway demands.
Celes scans. "I can't locate his bio-signature."
Janeway runs her own scans. "He's not out there. He's not in space, not in subspace. It doesn't make sense!"
Well, we can't have that, now, can we?
Just as Billy left, he returns. Only he's not looking so good. "Inside . . . me . . ." he groans, then passes out. His neck lolls to one side, and we see--just under the skin--something crawling around.
For the guy always looking for something wrong with him, it's a safe bet that his tombstone will read, "See, I told you . . . "
How soon that might be inscribed, though, remains to be seen.
* * *
Janeway leads the way to the aft section, where the medical facilities are. They place Billy on the diagnostic bed and begin running scans.
"Activate the transporter," Janeway orders. "Try to get a lock on whatever's inside him."
"Tricorder isn't picking up anything," Celes says bleakly.
"But I can feel it!" Billy says. His breathing is shallow and rapid. Something is definitely writhing under his uniform.
"I-I can't get a lock!" Celes says. "It's like something is there, but it's not there."
"Oh, it's there," Billy says, gasping as the whatever-it-is continues to explore his innards.
Janeway tracks the thing's progress. "Unfortunately, I have to agree."
Harren is shaken--less because of Billy's travails than the apparent implications for his theories. "Obviously, whatever hit us was no proto-comet. I was wrong." He's not used to being wrong.
Janeway goes easy on him. "Maybe you weren't, not entirely. Sensors can't scan it and transporters can't lock on to it. Maybe this is some kind of dark-matter life-form."
Harren is horrified by the suggestion. "It's impossible. Molecules that complex would collapse under their own weight. They could never support life."
Janeway nods toward Billy. "It might be time to revise your theory."
Janeway then asks Billy, "Where did they take you?"
Billy's hyperventilating, in obvious pain. "I don't know. It was dark. God, I could feel breathing all around me."
"Did anyone try to communicate with you?" Janeway asks.
"I . . . couldn't see. I tried to say something but . . . there wasn't enough air. I tried to move, but something was . . . pressing down on me." Billy's pain spikes, and he begs for drugs. "The hypospray . . . tetrovaline. It will . . . put me out!"
Janeway tries to calm him with words instead. "If I sedate you, it could lower your immune response; you need to stay conscious. Do you understand?"
Billy is too busy screaming to acknowledge her.
Celes runs over to her friend. "Billy, if it wanted to kill you it would have done it by now. It never would have sent you back here. Maybe it was trying to scan you or something."
Billy goes for a little hyperventilating gallows humor. "If it wanted . . . to get to know me better . . . it should have just . . . asked me out . . . for a drink!" A fresh round of moaning begins.
Janeway tells Celes to keep an eye on Billy; she activates a containment field around the suffering crewman, and gestures for Harren to follow her back to the fore.
Janeway takes the pilot's seat. "I'm setting a course for those rings. Shunt as much power as you can to the impulse engines."
Harren follows instructions, but that doesn't stop him from grumbling aloud. "We never should have left Voyager."
Janeway's irritation is evident. "I've got news for you, Crewman. Voyager isn't exactly a safe haven. We've been chased across the quadrant by far worse than whatever's out there--the Vidiians, Species 8472, the Borg--but I guess if somebody's hiding down on Deck 15 they might not be aware of it."
"I wasn't meant to be an explorer."
"And I wasn't meant to guide a ship across an unknown quadrant."
Harren snorts. "Then we're both victims of circumstance."
Janeway, though, indulges in a little bit of reverie. "Oh, I've seen things I've never imagined. Grown closer to people than I ever thought possible. I wouldn't call myself a victim, and I wouldn't trade the last six years for anything."
Harren smiles, and not kindly. "Then you've been deluded by the inexhaustible human capacity to avoid the truth. You're the one hiding, not me."
Janeway just shakes head, and mentally calculates whether Harren would fit in the Flyer's torpedo tube. A brief moment of silence ensues.
"I've got you three more percentage points of impulse," Harren says a moment later.
"I'll take it. Setting a course."
Once the course is set, Janeway tries again. "Isn't there any part of you that feels a bond with the rest of us? When we escape from the Borg or discover a new type of star, don't you feel some pride of accomplishment? When you're in the mess hall--alone at your table in the corner--don't you see the friendships around you and wish, even for a microsecond, you were part of them?"
A pause. "You don't know me at all."
"No, but I'd like to. That was the whole point of this mission." Janeway sighs sadly. "But I guess it hasn't worked out like I'd planned."
A system beeps. "Incoming transmission," Harren says.
Janeway perks up. "Source?"
Harren moves over to Celes' station. "The Starfleet frequency. Must be Voyager."
The message begins to play. It's garbled, and echoes like crazy, but it's more or less recognizable. "Voyager, this is the Delta Flyer. We've been hit by an unknown phenomenon and taken heavy damage. We require immediate assistance. Repeat: we require immediate assistance."
Harren groans. "Subspace echo."
"Maybe not," Janeway says. "There's a 0.005 deviation in the carrier wave."
Harren is surprised. "That's the same degree of spatial fluctuation left by our pursuers. They're sending our distress signal back to us!"
"Modified," Janeway confirms. "They might be trying to communicate."
"They're taunting us," says Harren, who is growing more agitated.
"Not necessarily. Try to adjust the universal translator--"
Then another plot complication. Celes enters, with Billy. "Captain! He went right through the force field," Celes warns.
Janeway jumps up. "Billy, what are you doing?"
Billy lurches forward, slowly. "It's activating my motor neurons. I can't make it stop. I'm sorry, Captain. You've got to stop it!"
Janeway does--she reaches for a phaser, sets it on stun, and drops Billy with a shot to the chest.
Janeway shoots him. Billy collapses with a grunt. Celes is at his side instantly; "It's okay. Billy, it's okay. It's okay."
But Billy isn't okay. We can see the thing crawling up his throat from the inside. "It's in here!"
And then it's not in there. It bursts through his neck--a pink centipede-like thing, which waves around a bit before jumping onto his shoulder and leaping onto a control panel as Billy screams in agony.
The creature, which could be either an alien millipede or a spinal column--whatever it is, it doesn't seem to have a face--writhes on the control panel, which begins to glow.
"It's tapping into our systems!" Harren yells, severely spooked.
"Wait! It may be trying to communicate," Janeway says, holding Harren back.
The glowing increases, and then sparks begin to fly. Either the creature is doing something destructive on purpose, or it learned its piloting skills from Commander Chakotay.
Harren assumes the worst. "It's into our environmental controls. We've got to stop it!" He reaches for a phaser.
Janeway orders him to hold his fire.
He doesn't. For a pure-theory geekboy, Harren's got deadly aim. The alien sizzles out of existence.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Janeway yells, grabbing Harren's phaser and spiking it on the floor.
"It was trying to kill us. We were at risk!"
"I gave you a direct order!"
"What if you were wrong?" Harren, it would seem, is REALLY not clear on this whole chain of command stuff. But Harren's wild eyes do make it clear that he's past the edge of panic.
"I could hear its thoughts!" Billy says. Interestingly, having an alien burst through his neck doesn't seem to have left much of a scar.
Cool stuff, that dark matter . . . it's got more uses than flubber.
"Explain," Janeway says.
"When it left me... I could hear what it was thinking. 'Do not belong.' That's what it said--'Do not belong.'"
"We don't belong here," Harren wails.
"Or it didn't belong in the Delta Flyer," Celes counters.
Too bad the alien didn't know English; it could have etched NO KILL I in the floor.
Hey, it worked for the Horta.
"Maybe that's why it was tapping into the environmental controls. It was trying to survive in a place it didn't belong," Janeway suggests.
"That's speculation!" Harren says, unwilling to let go of his self-defense theory.
"Based on direct observation. You murdered an alien being and destroyed any chance we had to make first contact."
Speaking of First Contact . . . BOOM
Everyone takes their stations. "We just lost another section of hull," Celes reports.
"How far are we from the gas giant?" Janeway asks.
"I'm taking the Flyer into the radiogenic ring," Janeway says. "With any luck, they won't follow."
"We can't survive in there for more than a few minutes," Celes points out.
"That should be enough to reinitialize the warp core." Janeway's look, which she doesn't share, isn't nearly so confident.
Of course, the reflective surface of the Flyer's windows gives the crewman all the look they need.
Voyager reaches the rings of a large Saturn-like planet. It looks pretty cool from a distance.
* * *
The closeup is even cooler. You can't see the rings--but it looks like a traffic jam of asteroids. The Delta Flyer is like a motorcycle cop weaving between slow-moving cars on Bedrock Highway One.
"Start continuous transport of radiogenic particles directly into the reaction chamber," Janeway says. "When it's approaching critical mass, let me know. Watch for any sign of pursuit." She leaves her chair and checks on Billy. "How are you doing?"
Billy is oddly calm. Almost relieved. "I always had this alarm in my head. Sort of an internal Red Alert. It's like a-a warning system. It would tell me I was sick or dying...something. Mitochondrial prions, food poisoning, a head cold." He laughs softly. "It was always there."
Janeway smiles. "And now it's not?"
"It's gone." He laughs again. "I don't understand."
"Maybe I do. When I was a girl, I was afraid of the ocean. I liked to swim, but a--in a pool or a pond where I knew exactly what was beneath me. But in the open water with no way to know what was down there it scared me to death. It wasn't until my first year at the Academy, after I went through Zero-G training in the Coral Sea, that I finally got over it."
Janeway beams at her born-again crewman. "I think you just came up from your first deep dive."
One problem solved--another returns. "They're in pursuit," Celes reports. Janeway returns to the helm.
Delta Flyer gets chased by what sounds like a flock of seagulls. You can't actually see anything in pursuit, but you can see all the rocks in the planetary rings getting pushed aside--like the wind, you can't see it, but you can see the effect it has.
Very, very cool scene, by the way. Them CGI boys and girls really know how to make eye candy.
"Three minutes, 20 seconds to intercept," Celes says.
"We'll need twice that to reinitialize warp reaction," says Harren, who now seems as agitated as he used to be unflappable.
Janeway makes a decision. "Get into the escape pods."
"Captain!" Celes protests.
"Plot a course away from the planet," Janeway orders. "I'm going to fire a phaser volley and hopefully set off a chain reaction of the radiogenic particles. It might be enough to disable our friends."
"You'll be disabled, too!" Billy points out.
"Not if I go to full thrusters and keep in front of the shock wave." (Are we to believe that the escape pods can outrun the shockwave?) "If I don't make it, head for the L-class moon in the next system. You could survive there for weeks if you have to--enough time for Voyager to pick up your distress signal. Now get moving."
Billy, Harren and Celes all stand--but then Celes stands her ground. "No. You'll have a better chance if we're with you."
Janeway, unused to being argued with, repeats her command. "Go!"
"We might not have contributed much on Voyager, but what we do here matters. We're the crew here, and the crew does not abandon its Captain." Celes sits down, and it's clear she has no plans to move.
Janeway looks at Billy, who, after a moment's hesitation, looks at Celes--and takes his seat.
"All right, it's your choice," Janeway tells Harren.
Harren can feel the peer pressure, but he makes his decision. "Then I'll be going alone."
Janeway nods. "Good luck." Off Harren goes.
"Charge phaser banks. Stand by to divert all power to thrusters," Janeway orders.
"Escape pod one is occupied and ready, Captain," says Celes.
"Launch pod one," Janeway says.
"Escape pod away," Billy says.
"How close are our pursuers?"
"65 seconds to intercept," Celes says.
"Stand by to fire," Janeway says.
But then . . . "Captain! The escape pod is altering course. It's heading for the aliens."
Janeway swears under her breath. "Janeway to Harren. What are you doing?"
"If they have to deal with me it should give you a few more seconds to get away. That's my theory, anyway."
"Resume your escape course now!" Janeway says furiously.
"It's too late for that."
"You made a mistake, Harren. Don't make another one!"
"I'm done hiding, Captain. A few seconds of exposure to real life...Maybe I'll understand what I've been missing."
Billy looks surprised. "He closed the channel."
"Get a transporter lock on that pod!" Janeway orders.
"I can't. We're out of range," Celes says.
"More power to the thrusters."
We see the escape pod floating toward the angry wave heading its way.
"We're still not close enough."
"Thrusters at maximum," Billy says.
We see the Delta Flyer buzz past the wake of the incoming invisible threat. The escape pod shimmers out of existence--for some reason they grabbed the whole pod, rather than just Mortimer Harren. The Flyer then banks hard and speeds away.
"Got him!" Celes says.
"Fire!" Janeway commands.
Twin beams lash out at a large hunk of rock. It glows, then explodes.
Then the entire area lights up.
"Shock wave approaching!" Celes says. "Contact in four...Three...Two...One."
Janeway's eyes flit back and forth.
"More or less," Celes says apologetically.
The ship lights up, and Janeway loses consciousness.
When the light dims, Janeway finds herself back on Voyager, in Sickbay. Chakotay hovers over her.
Janeway tries to sit up, but gets dizzy. "My crew!"
"Easy," Chakotay says, helping her back down. "They're sleeping. No serious injuries. Everyone's all right." Janeway looks for herself--sees Tal Celes, Billy Telfer, Mortimer Harren. All asleep, but all alive.
"Though you gave us a good scare for a while," Chakotay says. "We received your distress call. We found the Flyer drifting above a gas giant. You were all unconscious."
Janeway asks about anything else they might have found. No, Chakotay says. Janeway, whose mission includes seeking out new life, is saddened by this news--but she's the one who blew them up.
"What happened?" Chakotay asks softly.
"The good shepherd went after some lost sheep--and ran into a wolf."
Chakotay smiles. "Did she find them?"
Janeway considers her answer, and smiles. "I think she did."
First, I'm shocked that Voyager would stoop to such shameless ratings-grab shenanigans as giving screen time to a *gasp!* Rock and Roller like Tom Morello. I mean, what has Trek come to? Crossovers between the technological paradise of perfected Roddenberrian humanity with a guitarist froma band called "Rage Against the Machine"? Horrors! Lock the doors, people, the revolution is coming . . .
Yes, I'm kidding. The only thing that really bothers me is how out of step with modern music I am. I'm old enough to remember how cool it was to see Stingin DUNE and David Bowie in Labrinth, back when they were on the musical cutting edge, I was in my prime, and most of you whippersnappers weren't even goldang born--now they're winning Grammies for elevator music, and I'm mourning the loss of my coolness.
But enough about that--I've got an episode to review.
"Good Shepherd" is a story that works better than it probably should. The science is goofy, the premise forced, the charactersa bit two-dimensional, and the ending abrupt enough to send me to my physical therapist for whiplash treatment. But it's also a more-or-less amiable hour of TV with some amusing moments,snappy comebacks,eye-popping special effects, andsurprisingly sympathetic performances.
The title comes from the parable of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 sheep who aren't lost to find (and save) the one who is. In this case, there are three "lost" sheep on a ship of 150, whose loss is uncovered in an amusing "efficiency audit" scene by Seven of Nine. The scene plays to Seven's strengths and weaknesses as a character; obsessed with efficiency and perfection, Seven is the ideal independent auditor to point out exactly what's working on board, and what isn't. The reactions of the senior staff--Torres' irritation, Tuvok's eyebrow-waggling, Harry's inevitable table-turning on Seven's own imperfections--also help the scene work. It's not a knee-slapper, but it's a strong, amusing scene.
The opening scene also works well--zooming in from space to focus on Janeway, then tracing the path of one of her orders all the way to Deck 15, introducing some of the guest characters along the way, then zooming out from that bottom-rung character back into space. If ever there was a show-don't-tell scene of classic bureaucratic inefficiency, this is it. Ironic that in times of crisis, almost all the action is centered on the bridge or Engineering, and nearly every command is executed instantly.
So. In five years plus, three crewmen are falling through the cracks. (We can only assume that all the other misfits, such as those who were put through boot camp in "Learning Curve") have buckled under and got with the program over the years--or conveniently died.) We're only given a limited view of them--how they're mucking up efficiency. We learn that Tal Celes works her tail off, but has a massive confidence problem and turns in marginal-at-best results. Billy Telfer's big problem seems to have nothing to do with his job performance; he's just a hypochondriac. Mortimer Harren's great sin is not living up to his potential; he prefers to avoid people and take the easiest jobs that nobody else wants so he can focus on his interests. His name came up not because he wasn't doing his job well, but because he wasn't being assigned more substantial work.
Are they "lost"? The captain may think so. Certainly Tal Celes was in dire need of some encouragement, though her competency issues were very real. Working for someone like Seven of Nine was enough to spook Harry Kim; Janeway would probably be wise to assign the poor Celes to someone a bit more understanding. Billy Telfer's big problem had a rather extreme resolution--let his worst nightmares come true, and then some--but that was a matter of luck as much as anything. As for Harren, I think he just needed to get his ego smacked around a little, which this episode certainly accomplished.
The encouraging thing about this episode is that, while each crewman's problem is fairly one-dimensional, the characters are played with more nuance than that. We seeTal's shortcomings--but we also see her efforts to catch up. She's giving her all to do her job--and since she's working for Seven, you know it's a thankless assignment--even though it means working well past bedtime, and tackling the "monster" head on day after day. That requires a courage as great as staring down the Borg. We see Billy when he's running tricorders over himself and begging the doctor for mercy--but we also see him working with Celes, patiently explaining the scientific concepts she's struggling with, and we see his use of humor to deal with his anxieties and to help put his friend at ease. Here are two young people who are giving it their all, even though few if anyone bothers to notice.
Mortimer Harren, on the other hand, has chosen to cope by isolating himself. He's a brilliant guy, and can intimidate just about everyone with his superior looks and cutting questions. But that smugness is a shield that doesn't hold up under the constant buffeting he finds in the Delta Flyer. He holds his own for the most part, but as his theory smacks into the wall of practicality, he realizes he's not nearly as secure as he's tried to convince himself. Jay Underwood's performance here is impressive--he plays the complexities of his character subtly, but convincingly. You can see his barriers chipped away, a bit at a time, and his growing fear as he is forced further out of his comfort zone. We see why he prefers Deck 15--he's not just disdainful of putting his theories into practice--he's scared to death of the unknown when the unknown is staring him in the face. Theoretical unknowns are "Safe". Unknowns that burst through the necks of crewmates are something else entirely. He was in control as long as everything fit his theories, but as soon as something he couldn't explain away confronted him, he was as paranoid as Billy.
I do wonder about Harren. With a name like Mortimer--a name sure to ensure a few butt-kickings in grade school, even in the 24th-century--he probably grew up with more than his share of hang-ups. "Even my mother didn't call me that." What DID she call him? I'd have loved to hear his nickname. Plus, that whole genetics vs. environment thing isn't really explored, which is a shame. It did lead to a genetic insult from Janeway that I didn't even come close to understanding--I'm sure someone will enlighten me if they know.
And I had to laugh when Billy got the message from the "dark matter" alien. "Do not belong." Yeesh--it sure picked the right away team for that line. Maybe it was just smart enough to realize what it had crawled under the skin of, and was eager to get away from these losers.
Not that I'm calling them losers, mind you. That alien seemed a bit on the pompous side.
Janeway/Mulgrew works well with these guest characters. With Tal, she is compassionate. With Harren, she employs her own rapier wit and cutting insight and smug superiority. With Billy, she shares one of her own private experiences (which, I should point out, contradicts portions of Jeri Taylor's MOSAIC as concerns Janeway's pre-Academy relationship with deep water). It's interesting to watch Janeway's efforts to reach each crewman, and her response to setbacks.
The other crew interactions also work well. Everyone in the "Efficiency Analysis" scene is effective, conveying the humor of the scene. The two scenes with Janeway and Chakotay continue to show the kind of on-screen chemistry that keeps J/C hopes alive, Fair Haven be damned. And Torres lovers no doubt enjoyed the snide way she referred to Seven as "the Borg Queen."
And though I'm sure some will complain about Janeway (1) not knowing everything about everyone on board her ship--that's Chakotay's responsibility as First Officer, and I was pleasantly surprised that they showed he was on the ball with this, aware of the "lost" crewmen and their difficulties, but cutting them some slack until Seven's report forced a decision on the senior staff, and (2) that she got lost on her own ship. Heck, I've been lost in my own house, and it's not that big.
Besides, Deck 15 was scary; I half-expected her to run into a minotaur.
There is a natural question, of course--why take all three misfits out at once? Yes, for the story's sake, it saves time. But in real life, more individualized attention would seem to make far more sense. Venturing into the unknown is always a risk, even ona"safe" mission; things happen in space. Sending the captain out with all three of the ship's most dysfunctional crewmen at once strikes me as an unnecessary risk.
Then again, Janeway and unnecessary risk often go hand in hand. Harren's comments back to Janeway do have some resonance; Janeway's a bit of a misfit herself. She never does things the easy way.
But I still wonder how Harren would have reacted to, say, Seven of Nine, or Tuvok. How Billy would have gotten on with the gross-out king of the kitchen, Neelix--or with Tom Paris or Harry Kim, two walking/limping monuments to the dangers of space travel. (I can just imagine the wide-eyed Telfer listening to Tom and Harry trade horror stories about how they've been folded, spindled and mutilated over the years.) Or poor Celes--though confidence is one of her big problems, and her "unconventional thinking" is hinted at and exploiteda little, I'd like to think she'd end up with an idea of where on board she might be able to serve with some job satisfaction. Maybe she'd be good with children--and I suspect the Borg kids could teach her as much as she could teach them.
What we were given worked okay, though the ending was far too abrupt--how much had each of the three REALLY changed, if at all? Celes gained the confidence to say "I'm not leaving," a bit of loyal insubordination, a sign that at least on the Delta Flyer, she belongs. But her job performance is still far from perfect (in theamusing "three...two...one...more or less" scene). Billy's phobias seem to be gone, thanks to a bit of alien outrage, but we don't know for certain that he's "cured". As for Harren, going kamikaze against the dark matter whatzits isn't exactly a positive breakthrough. I wasn't sure if he was trying to be noble, or if he was using nobility as an excuse for one last defiant act of self-centered isolationism. "Screw you guys, I prefer oblivion."
But it does give Janeway one more literal opportunity to "leave the ninety and nine" and go after the one sheep who's determined to get lost. Harren is the most lost of them all--he was venturing into some pretty dangerous territory by disregarding orders, char-broiling aliens (was it murder? Janeway calls it that, but I think Catherine Bell could probably get him acquitted or plea-bargained down a notch or two on the evidence), and endangering his crewmates.
Harren may have the toughest time of all in the aftermath of this away mission. Celes comes away with a bit more confidence, Billy with his phobias possibly put to rest. But Harren had his entire world turned inside-out, and his confidence and complacency have taken some massive hits. Who knows what the long run may hold--but in the short term, Janeway didn't do him any favors.
As for the whole dark matter stuff...
Someone sent me a message trying to explain her thoughts on the whole thing. Now, I'm not as dense as I sometimes let on--I'll post my SAT or IQ scores if you really need proof--but I got so lost reading the message that I spent an hour weeping into a bowl of chocolate-sprinkled consolation.
I can only speak for myself. I figure if I happen to notice a science gaffe, it must be obvious to the majority of viewers. But I tend to break it down into categories--those I miss completely, those I suspect are wrong but don't care about, those I know are wrong but don't care about, and those I know are wrong but do care about. I'm fairly easy; the only time I can remember being actively disgusted with the science was in "Demon." And most of the time I'm too busy paying attention to the drama to notice the science.
Here, the weird science concerns "dark matter." We've seen it before--but here we don't see it. Go figure. What struck me about it was that Harren thought he knew all about it, but then it surprised him, and that freaked him out. To me, that's thepart that really mattered. It also made for some impressive visual sequences. The parts that confused me--how does this stuff selectively shred the hull, suck out the antimatter, kidnap and probe and implant Billy and send him back from nowhere with endodermic telepathic body-controlling parasites, and knock rocks away like a Sci Fi Network commercial--were things I noticed but didn't care that much about. they could have chalked it up to gremlins, and I'd still have been paying attention to how the crewmen and Janeway reacted.
But perhaps that's just me.
That's it, really. I don't have anything particularly profound to say about this week's episode. I found it a fun hour overall, with some snappy dialog, strong and generally sympathetic performances, some beautiful visuals, and good humor. This isn't "Lower Decks," but it's not meant to be.
Well, okay, I do have a few other comments.
First, Billy in particular looked FAR too young to have been on board as long as he has been. We're going on six years; Billy is, what, 22? Maybe he just films young, but he looks young enough to get carded on shore leave.
Second, though we know what officers go through--several years at the Academy--what do crewmen go through to get their uniforms? A few weeks? Months?
Third, how in the world did Harren come on board as a mere crewman with "several advanced degrees"? At the very least, he should have been made a warrant officer like Chief O'Brien. Harren's position also brings up the question of how Federation society works--why did he require some time in space before taking a position where he really wanted to be? Is Trek more like Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS than we've been led to believe? Is service in Starfleet a prerequisite to citizenship, or to certain privileges or positions?
I don't know--I'm simply asking.
Anyway. I had a good time, and that's worth at least three stars. So call it (* * * 1/2).
Next week: Rerun of "Barge of the Dead." We'll be in
reruns until around mid-April, when the final push to the end of the season