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Meanwhile, back in the Alpha Quadrant...
Jump straight to the Analysis
Our story begins in a breezy but messy apartment in downtown 24th-century San Francisco. There's just no mistaking the TransAmerica building. It's a beautiful sunny day, and the apartment's wall of windows gives us an expansive view of the city's skyline.
Someone knocks on a nearby door. A head pops into view, like a prairie dog when a coyote howls. His arms are filled with the detritus of a partially-cleaned living room--socks, a half-fluffed pillow.
The man, in his late thirties or early forties, with more forehead than B.F. Skinner, wears a nervous look. He stammers more than Puh-p-p-p-peeeyah--ppp-puh-Porky P-p-p-Pig.
But if you know Barclay like I know Barclay, it's one of the traits that makes him endearing.
"Just a minute...I'll...I'll be right there!" Reg Barclay calls, using his engineering skills to stuff old uniforms, cereal bowls and pet dander into nooks and crannies at record speed. Even so, he seems to hesitate before making it to the door--as though someone has hit pause in his internal VCR.
The knocking resumes. He wakes up. "I'm coming! I'm coming!" panicked but with time run out, Barclay heads to the door, still carrying a--some kind of cloth. Blanket, maybe, or throw rug. (My cable was out when I taped the episode, and the antenna-free recording looks a little like it was captured on sandpaper. I'll be flying blind from time to time. Just so you know.)
Anyway. Barclay opens the door--and suddenly the San Francisco skyline fades before a greater glory. Paradise reflects in her eyes. The Goddess of Empathy herself is paying Reg Barclay a house call!
"Deanna!" Barclay squeaks.
"Hello, Reg," Deanna Troi says warmly.
"I'm so glad you could make it. It's wonderful to see you!"
Reg is thrilled Deanna could make it. Well, who could blame him, really? He kinda zones out, caught up in the moment.
Five minutes later…
"Would it be all right if I came inside?" Deanna--still standing in the doorway--asks.
D'Oh! Looks like some things never change. Poor Reg. Don Juan, he ain't. But, once brought back to the here and now, he urges her inside. "Of course! Of course, come in! Is-is there something I can get you? Some um, some coffee? Tea? Uhhh…" Then he remembers. "Wait a minute, don't--don't tell me--chocolate ice cream!"
Deanna smiles. "You know me too well," she complains playfully. "But just one scoop; I'm watching my figure." She sweeps her hands over her figure to illustrate.
Barclay is properly horrified. "But whyyyyyy?! You--you look…lovely!" He's not kidding. I was always a Beverly Crusher man myself, but darned if Deanna doesn't look terrific; her Starfleet uniform suits her perfectly. Her long raven hair highlights her cheekbones and the perpetual twinkle in her obsidian eyes.
"You always knew how to flatter me," Deanna says. Barclay beams.
Then zones out again.
Once again, Deanna break the silence. "Would you like me to get it?" she asks, carefully, unsure what reaction she'll get.
"Get?...get what?" Reg asks, confused.
"The ice cream."
The thing about Reginald Barclay is, he's always got a lot on his mind--often more than he seems able to process. (Remember Seven of Nine last week? The modified regeneration alcove? Barclay once hard-wired himself into the Enterprise memory core.) He's an engineer's engineer--and a psychiatrist's full-time client.
Maybe that's why Counselor Troi is here.
But Deanna mentions ice cream, and that wakes Reg up. "Right--right! The ice cream! No, no, no, no...Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable," he rambles as he guides Deanna toward the mostly-tidy couch, then heads upstairs to fetch the ice cream.
Deanna looks around. Sees the empty bookshelves, the stacks of boxes, the big honkin' stereo and computer fully assembled and running. Nice to see the man's got his priorities straight.
"It's a nice place!" Deanna says. Thanks, Reg calls from upstairs as he orders the ice cream from the replicator.
"Did you just move in?" she asks.
"No, no. I've been here...uuuuuhhhh, ah, almost two years," Reg says, coming downstairs with the bowl. "I just haven't had a chance to...unpack." Snicker. I've been there. Heck, I am there--I've still got stuff in boxes from two moves ago. I might as well call 'em time capsules.
Reg hands the bowl to Deanna nervously.
"Is everything all right, Reg?" Deanna Troi is a trained counselor, and a half-Betazoid with amazing empathic powers. But Helen Keller could read Reg like a book at this moment.
"Of course--why, why wouldn't it be?" his mouth makes goldfish impressions. The vein on his forehead throbs. Thub-thub. Thub-thub. Steam rises from his tear ducts. He makes James Carville on Rivera Live look mellow.
"To be honest, you seem a little on edge."
"D-d-d-Do I? O-oh, It's just that a-a-a-I'm, I'm excited to see you." Barclay sits on the couch--which appears to swallow him whole. He shrinks before our very eyes. The couch seems to swallow him whole, drawing him in like a quantum singularity of anxiety.
"I'm excited to see you too. I think Geordi's a little disappointed I didn't invite him to come along."
Barclay's anxiety meter leaps upward. "I, yes, well, I, I was hoping to get, get together with him…too. Ah, before the Enterprise leaves orbit. But I, just wanted to spend, time, with you…first. That's all right, isn't it?"
"Of course it is!" Deanna assures him.
Poor Reg. He's painfully shy even on his better days. This clearly isn't one of his better days.
Deanna tries to change the subject--something he can be proud of, and thus speak clearly about. "I hear that you've been working on the Pathfinder project."
"Well, I, I was, uh...I'm not anymore." What happened? Deanna asks. "Oh, ah, nothing...really, just got to be a lot of, uh…pressure."
A newcomer helps change Barclay's mood--a criminally fluffy white cat hops up on the table and begins nibbling at the ice cream.
"Well, Hello!" Deanna says, amused.
"NEEEE-LIX!" Barclay scolds, lifting the cat into his waiting arms. "Oh, he's not used to company. It's not polite to eat our guest's food! If you're hungry, just say so!" He mothers the cat, petting it like his only friend in the universe.
Then he remembers he has company. "Deanna, uh…Neelix!" he laughs nervously, at a joke only he (and the audience) understands.
"Neelix. That's an unusual name," Deanna says. Her expression is odd--perhaps it's the vibe she picks up from Barclay at the mention of the name. Then she brightens. "Maybe we should introduce him to Data's cat Spot!"
Barclay, scratching the cat, laughs distractedly.
Deanna sighs. "I have a feeling you didn't ask me here to reminisce. Tell me what's wrong."
There's no hiding inner turmoil from an empath. Barclay shudders. His eyes squeeze shut. "I've…lost. Myself. Deanna."
"In Voyager." Reg opens his eyes, looks bleakly at Deanna Troi. His eyes are truly haunted. "I've become obsessed with Voyager."
Okay, hold the phone.
Boxes unpacked for years at a time.
Tongue-tied in the presence of pretty wimmen.
Ice cream on speed-dial.
Mr. Bigglesworth after too much Rogaine as a household pet.
All that, AND obsessed with Voyager.
If this episode is titled "Review Boy: the Unauthorized Biography," I'm calling my dang lawyer.
* * *
Now that the secret's out, Barclay appears to relax a bit. At least the stuttering subsides. Somewhat. "Here you are on shore leave and what do I do? I lure you into a counseling session," Reg says sadly.
"Don't worry about that," Deanna assures her favorite patient. "The important thing is, I'm here now--and I want to help." Reg thanks her sincerely. "Now...start at the beginning."
Barclay lets Neelix go, pointing him away from the ice cream. Then he rises, launching into a question only Dilbert could love. But his voice is as clear and stammer-free as we've heard it all night.
"Has it ever occurred to you that a tachyon beam directed at a Class B itinerant pulsar could produce enough gravimetric energy to create an artificial singularity?"
Say that three times fast, Commander Blooper Reel. Heck, say that once at normal speed…
Deanna stares blankly, jaw slack. "I…can't say it has…"
"It occurred to me!" Reg says excitedly. "But my supervisors thought it was an abuse of MIDAS."
"The Mutara Interdimensional Deep-space transponder Array."
"Reg, you're losing me." Sorry, Barclay says--and promptly loses his place.
"The beginning?" Deanna reminds him.
"The beginning--right! Well, I suppose it all started in the Holodeck." He laughs awkwardly. "Doesn't it always?"
Poor Deanna. I'm sure at least a year of training consists of nothing but learning not to roll your eyes--for moments just like this. But she does take a deep breath. It's always a roller-coaster thrillride where Howlin' Mad Murtaugh is concerned. "Go on…"
"Well...I...I was running a few simulations…."
[Step into the WayBack machine…]
We see Barclay in his native environment, a few days earlier--surrounded by state-of-the-art gadgets, doing something incredibly technical. Actually, the stuff looks kinda familiar--it looks like Voyager's bridge, in fact.
Barclay's voice is strong and confident--he's in his element. "Computer, boost the gain on Voyager's transceiver by 20 percent."
Transceiver gain is at maximum.
He hears mostly static. Nothing a Starfleet crew would pause to investigate. Barclay sighs. "Apply a narrowband filter to the signal processor."
This seems to work. A message, static-corrupted but audible, comes through. "Voyager, come in. Come in, Voyager. Voyager, come in. This is Starfleet Command. Voyager, come in, Voyager."
"Good…Good, good," Barclay says. "Now, lower the filter band by .03 kilohertz."
"Reg, what are you doing?" Someone new enters the picture.
The change is instantaneous. In the presence of people, Barclay comes apart faster than an Evil Dead extra. "Oh. Uh, um, Pete. I-I-I was just, uh..."
Pete, also known as Commander Harkins, is a forty-something male, bald, commandingly stern but with a soft chewy center that will eventually express itself. He glares. "Yes, running another simulation. I can see that. What about the transmitter diagnostics?"
Barclay stares blankly, then recovers--badly. "Right. The diagnostics!"
"You have finished them, haven't you?" Pete asks. Uh…almost, Reg says. "Almost isn't good enough," Pete says sternly. "We've got Admiral Paris first thing in the morning."
Barclay reacts as if slapped. "Admiral Paris?"
Harkins is surprised. "Don't tell me you forgot!"
"Oh, no, of-of...Of course not! I-I-I just got the days mixed up!"
Oh, now, this is just too much. What am I, the TRUMAN Show? I'm having my apartment and my cubicle swept for bugs first thing in the morning…
But Barclay has latched onto the Admiral Paris thing. "Computer, end program." Voyager's bridge disappears, replaced by Holodeck scaffolding. "Now that I think about it, it's a good thing that Admiral Paris is coming tomorrow. We can brief the Admiral on my theory!"
The Commander leads the way into a larger lab, where a good dozen engineers work at various stations, slaving over myriad interesting but unexplained equipment. Pete examines each in turn, flitting from station to station like a hummingbird, observing everything but never stopping to comment. He runs, it would seem, a fairly smooth operation . . . almost.
"What theory?" Pete asks distractedly, checking a computer readout.
When Barclay gets going on technical matters, he's a completely different person. "I've been going over the interstellar phenomena forecasts from Deep Space Nine. They are predicting a, a Class 'B' itinerant pulsar will pass within four billion kilometers of the MIDAS array in three days."
"You think the pulsar might damage the array?" Pete asks, passing by an engineer kneeling over a massive dual-channel laser array that, if it had a handle and a trigger, Captain Janeway would kill to own.
"No, no. The shields will hold," Barclay says. "Actually, I was thinking we could use the pulsar to our own advantage."
"Suppose...Suppose we instructed the array to direct a tachyon beam at the pulsar. Theoretically, we could produce a gravimetric surge powerful enough to create an artificial wormhole. We could establish two-way communication with Voyager."
This gets Pete's attention--but not in a good way. "Reg, you're dreaming again!"
"No, I-I really believe this could work!" Reg says nervously. "Based on my simulations..."
"Reg, based on your last series of simulations we wasted six months trying to develop that transwarp probe!" (If you're wonder what that is, I'm selling schematics on eBay…)
Barclay starts stammering again, losing that much-needed focus on the engineering goal. "This... This is different. This..."
The commander gives Barclay a look of true compassion. As bosses go, he seems even nicer than Geordi LaForge was the first time we saw him with Barclay. "Reg...I really appreciate your imagination. It's what makes you such a valuable part of this team! But I'm not about to tell the Admiral that we've found a way for him to chat with his son because of some cockeyed theory that only exists up here." He raps Barclay on the side of the head a few times with his forefinger--you can practically hear the bonk-bonk noise with each poke. "Now, please, finish those diagnostics…."
Skillfully, Commander Pete has ended his tour at Barclay's station. Reg takes the hint. "Yes, sir," he says, and gets right to work. Satisfied, the commander heads for the nearby door.
Pete stops halfway into the corridor. "And, Reg, remember--while the Admiral's here, I do the talking." Now that sounded like an order.
Reg doesn't argue. "You do the talking. Understood."
But as the door closes behind his boss, Barclay's head falls into his waiting palms.
We hear Barclay's voiceover. "Pete was only trying to look out for me. But I was sure my plan would work. I just couldn't give it up."
Time passes . . .
Barclay is the only one left in the lab. Despite the lack of windows, we know it's far into the night. Pete enters the lab from upstairs, looks down at his brilliant but complex subordinate. "Burning the midnight oil?"
Barclay looks up. "I-I finished, uh, the diagnostics, sir."
"Yes. I know. I looked them over. Good job." The compliment is sincere. The work Barclay does is always outstanding. Pete comes down the stairs. He looks kindly at Barclay. "Well--why don't you call it a day?"
Barclay, though, isn't quite ready to leave. "I just, uh, have a few more things to take care of…."
Pete nods. He runs a team of Starfleet's finest engineers--he's no doubt used to this kind of behavior. But there's melancholy in his voice as he sees Barclay so wrapped up in his work at a time of day meant for other pursuits. "Well. See you tomorrow, then."
He seems ready to leave, then stops. "Oh. Reg, why don't, um...Why don't you drop by tonight when you're through here?"
Barclay's eyes go wide. "'Drop by'?" he squeaks.
Pete can see the terror in Reg's eyes, but presses on. "Come to the house. Have some coffee. Angie's sister is in from Boston. I, uh...I think she might like you."
Oh, man--poor Barclay darn near goes catatonic. His tongue swells to three times its normal size--in real time. And you thought the CGI in "Scorpion" was impressive. "I-I don't, I don't think I...Can, unh..." somehow he manages not to spill his lunch, but it appears to be a close call. "I'm spending the evening with, um...Neelix."
Pete winces; you poor guy. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Reg--but Neelix is your cat."
Barclay just sighs pathetically and continues the struggle to keep his bile down.
"Well, if you change your mind…." I give Pete points for trying. He genuinely seems to care for Reg. Barclay thanks him, and says he'll…try. Uh huh.
Sadly, Pete calls it a night, leaving Barclay alone.
"But I couldn't leave--not until I'd strengthened my case for accessing the MIDAS array," we hear Barclay tell Deanna, as the flashback-Barclay agonizes. "The meeting with Admiral Paris was only 14 hours away and I hadn't come up with anything! Poring over the data wasn't helping. I decided what I needed was a little...inspiration."
Then we see Barclay saunter over to a control panel. "Computer...Activate Hologrid mess hall scenario Barclay Eleven Gamma." The computer beeps--and Reg heads for the Holodeck.
Hey, it's Voyager! The mess hall. And the place is hopping. Harry is there, and Tom Paris, and B'Elanna and Chakotay, Tin Man and Scarecrow…
Whoa. Something's different. We haven't seen Chakotay and B'Elanna in leather since their Maquis days, way back in "Caretaker."
The whole room turns to greet him-- "REG!"
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got
Takin' a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Sometimes you'd like to get away…
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name [bum, bum-bum bah]
And they're always glad you came…
In this mess hall, Reg Barclay's a popular guy. And from the smile on his face and the strut in his stride, it's clear he knows it.
We rarely see Barclay this happy outside the Holodeck. And if you remember TNG's "Hollow Pursuits," this is not necessarily a good thing. Though it should be intriguing to watch--because Barclay is a transformed man in the universes of his own making.
"Hey, Reg!" Tom Paris yells across the room.
"Warning. The shark is circling," Chakotay says with a laugh.
"Let the games begin!" B'Elanna Torres says, chuckling. (Let me just say--B'Elanna looks stunning. But for you Paris/Torres fans, it looks like the RegCam pairs B'Elanna with Chakotay instead.)
"What'll it be, Reg?" Harry asks. The usual, Barclay says, striding to the bar. Harry laughs, and heads for the replicator, calling up the order: "One milk--warm." In a dirty glass, just to show he's tough. With a flourish, Ensign Kim presses the glass into Barclay's hand.
"Oh, thanks, Harry!" Reg says gratefully.
"Just trying to get on your good side so you'll go easy on me tonight!" Harry says, winking.
"Ah, you know what I always say--if you can't stand the heat..."
"Get out of the warp core," Harry finishes for him. The two share a laugh.
Chakotay and Torres sit side-by-side on the opposite end of a long table. Chakotay shuffles a deck of cards. "Sit down, Lieutenant, and give us mortals a chance to get even. That's an order." But the smiles all around show that this is just part of the pre-game chest-thumping that card games demand.
Barclay smiles grandly. "If you insist, Commander--but I think it's only fair to warn you I have no intention of letting my winning streak come to an end." The mood is jovial as Barclay, Paris and Kim take their seats at the table. "Now, where's um, Tuvok?" Reg asks.
B'Elanna smirks. "He said it's 'illogical to continue losing to a clearly superior player.'"
Barclay groans sarcastically. "Aw, that's too bad. I luuuuv to watch that Vulcan squirm!" Everyone laughs; Reg is the life of the party. Chakotay hands him the deck to deal the first round. "Now, you all know the rules. Deuces, one-eyed Jacks and suicide kings are wild. Five of a kind beats a straight flush every time." His eyes gleam.
"The man is ruthless!" Harry says as Barclay deals.
"He's a killer," Tom agrees, accepting his cards.
Barclay protests. "Now, come on, guys! You know it hurts me to see you lose!" Everyone laughs again.
Then Reg sobers. "After all--you are my best friends."
Uh oh. Lt. Broccoli is escaping from reality again. If Captain Janeway shows up in gossamer robes as the Goddess of Desire . . .
Well--far be it from me to complain.
We see Barclay later that night, in his own quarters, with the lights off. What sleep he gets is fitful at best. His cat Neelix is curled up asleep on his chest.
We also hear his voiceover. "I'd hoped that the poker game would help calm my nerves so that I could get a decent night's sleep before the briefing, but when I got home that night I couldn't keep my mind off Voyager. I needed to get back to the Holodeck."
Poor Neelix gets displaced as Barclay, unable to sleep, decides to burn a little more midnight oil.
Apparently the Doctor's reputation for massage magic has extended all the way to Earth. Because that's where Barclay goes--to Sickbay, for a little therapy with the People's Elbow.
Barclay groans as Doc pounds his back like a cheap cut of meat. "That feels so good!"
"Therapeutic massage can be an effective treatment for insomnia, Lieutenant--but we need to get to the cause of your sleeplessness if we're going to find a more permanent solution!" Doc scolds.
"It's just that--every time I close my eyes my mind starts to race."
"Can you be more specific?"
"Well, I worry about the project. Have I explored the problem from every angle, or is there something else I should be trying? Am I doing enough?"
The People's Elbow grinds into Barclay's shoulder blade like a mortar in a pestle, liquefying the tension in the brutalized muscles. "Hmm. Acute work-related anxiety. Perhaps I should speak to the Captain about reducing your schedule--"
Barclay laughs mirthlessly. "Oh, something tells me she's not going to be able to help."
Doc stops. "You are an invaluable member of this crew, Mr. Barclay!" Then back with the deep tissue work.
"Thank you, Doctor. It's--ow!--nice to be appreciated. Hmm. Ohh!"
Barclay passes Chakotay in the corridor. "Turning in, Reg?" he asks. Yes, sir, Barclay says pleasantly. Other crewmen greet him by name as he heads for a room. His room.
"For some reason, I never slept in my apartment as comfortably as I did in my holographic quarters. I suppose I felt--more at home on Voyager."
From Barclay's expression, it's true. He looks at peace--a rare sight. Barclay enters his quarters, which are Spartan--but where everything is put away, and manages to look more lived in. Reg walks contentedly to his bed and slips, smooth as silk, into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
Barclay arrives in Voyager's mess hall. "Good morning, everyone!"
Tom and Harry are here. "Morning, Reg!" Harry says.
"You're awfully chipper!" Tom says.
"Ah...Slept like a baby," Reg says, reaching for the coffeepot.
"Then maybe you've got the energy to whip up one of your famous cheese omelets!" Harry says. Tom's all for it--Oh, yeah. I'm starved.
"I'm sorry, guys," Reg says. "I have a very important briefing at 0900. Just have time for coffee." He lifts his mug.
"Uh, don't forget about tonight!" Harry says. Remind me, Reg says between sips. "You were supposed to teach me how to play velocity."
"No. No way," Tom says. "Reg and I have a hoverball game scheduled."
Barclay holds up a warning hand. "Don't fight! Plenty of me to go around." He appreciates the attention.
B'Elanna bursts in. "Reg! I'm sorry to bother you again, but I'm still having trouble with the warp core recalibration."
Barclay takes another sip of coffee. "No problem! I'll stop by Engineering and talk you through it." B'Elanna thanks him profusely and sprints back to her precious bairns.
Paris whistles. "Velocity, hoverball, warp core recalibrations? Reg, I don't know how you do it."
Barclay smirks. "Let you in on a little secret. There's two of me."
Truer words were never spoken. But Tom doesn’t get it--he stares blankly as Reg waggles his eyebrows, reveling in his private joke in the one place where he doesn't feel like the punchline.
But even fantasies have to be put on hold sometimes. This is just such an occasion. Admiral Paris is visiting the Pathfinder project--and in the lab, Barclay is just a silent, sullen face in the crowd. Commander's orders.
Here, it's Pete Harkins who gets to talk with Admiral Paris. He's a balding, silver-haired man with four stars on his collar, jowly but relatively fit, gruff but not unkind, grey-eyed (ha!), accompanied by a gaggle of subordinates.
Is this how you pictured Owen Paris, Rosie? Is this the fire-breathing, kitten-snacking ogre, the pistol-whipping destroyer of souls, the child abuser with the scalps of his offspring hanging from his belt? Is this the nightmare figure who haunts your P/T dreams?
'Cuz he looks fairly human to me. Admiral Necheyev could whup him.
After five years of hearing Tom's side…as Paul Harvey might say, it's time for…the rest of the story.
But first things first.
Harkins briefs the admiral, with multimedia illustrations. "The Delta Quadrant, sector 41751, grid 9. Voyager's doctor reported this as the ship's position when his program was briefly transferred to Starfleet two years ago. Assuming they're still on course for Earth we've been able to extrapolate a range of likely trajectories. Estimating an average warp speed of 6.2 and accounting for various astronomical obstacles...we can reasonably assume that Voyager is now in one of these three sectors."
Since they jumped thirty sectors just last week, and they've had several other huge jumps in the past two years, it's a good bet their distance guesses are way, way off. But their aim might still be pretty good--even though they're a lot closer than expected, if they're in the line of fire, Voyager might still be able to snag the message. There aren't that many shortest-distance-home trajectories.
Think football. Interceptions happen all the time. You go for a sixty yard pass, but it gets picked off thirty yards away by that high-jumping linebacker you never saw coming. If Voyager is anywhere within range of the trajectory…
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Can we contact them?" Admiral Paris asks.
Harkins fidgets anxiously. "As you know, we've been working with the Vulcans on the deployment of the MIDAS array." The screen in front of the admiral changes, and we get our first wire-frame glimpse of the array. "Though we're still in the testing phase we think it won't be long before we can use this technology to send signals at hyper-subspace speeds. A message that would normally take years to reach its destination could be received by Voyager in a matter of days."
Not bad. Not as ambitious as Barclay's idea, but not too bad. Days beats decades.
"Impressive," says Admiral Paris, though his disappointment is evident. "Will they be able to respond?"
Again, Harkins fidgets. He doesn't notice Barclay downstairs, stepping out of line and timidly waving his hand. "No, sir," Harkins admits. "But at least they'll know we're still looking for them. We'll send data on the hyper-subspace technology and hope they can eventually use it to return the call."
Barclay can no longer remain silent. He leaps into the admiral's line of sight. "Excuse me, Admiral Paris!" he says.
"Lieutenant Barclay!" Harkins growls, in a voice that makes it clear that rank might be temporary if he doesn't get back in line pronto.
"I'm sorry, Commander," Barclay stammers, then addresses Paris again. "It's just that there may be a way to establish, uh, two-way communication with Voyager."
"Now is not the time!" Harkins whispers sternly.
But Barclay has Admiral Paris' attention. "It's all right, Mr. Harkins. Let the man speak. I'm all ears, son."
Unfortunately, Barclay picks this moment to collapse into complete lingual meltdown. "Well, um...you see, there's a, uh, uh, Class…B…itinerant, uh, pulsar, uh, and...we-well, as you p-p-p-p-peeyiah-poughkipsie--probably know, suh-sir, uh, neu-eu-eu-eutrino emissions, uh... Oh."
Admiral Paris looks at Commander Harkins. Commander Harkins looks at Admiral Paris. And shrugs. You're the one who said he could talk, Admiral.
Barclay presses on. "What I mean to say is that with the array, we could open an artificial uh, uh... A... Sing... A sinnnnnnnnngggg-singularity."
"A wormhole?" Admiral Paris asks.
"Yes!" Barclay shouts, and claps nervously, as though Paris has just won a round of Pictionary. It could be so argued. "Yes, sir! We could use it as a conduit to-to…talk to…Voyager."
Admiral Paris smiles. "I can't give you high marks for clarity, Lieutenant--but you've certainly got my attention." He turns to Harkins. "Is there any merit to what he's saying?" he asks hopefully.
"Mr. Barclay has a tendency to get ahead of himself, sir. Unfortunately, what he's suggesting is beyond our abilities."
Barclay yelps. "But you haven't even--!"
"Mister Barclay!" Pete snaps.
Barclay, though, can't give up now. "I know that I haven't explained myself, uh, very well, but with all due respect, Sir, what do we have to lose by trying? I think we're forgetting that there are 150 people stranded in the Delta Quadrant!"
Uh oh. Admiral Paris glares down at Barclay. "I have a son on that ship, Lieutenant," Paris says, his voice soft but deadly. "I haven't forgotten that fact for a single moment."
"I'm sorry, sir," Barclay stammers. "I-I didn't, uh... I didn't mean to..."
"Take the rest of the day off, Reg," Commander Harkins says, his voice gravelly.
Barclay's eyes widen. "B-B-But--"
"That was not a suggestion."
Barclay throws a silent appealing to the admiral. But Paris averts his eyes. In a room filled with living, breathing colleagues, Barclay finds himself utterly alone.
Desolately, Reg heads for the door.
Back to the present. Deanna and Reg chat in his living room in the waning daylight.
"How did you deal with your feelings afterwards?" Deanna asks.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
That's all the answer Deanna needs, but she continues anyway. "Well... Did you…talk to Commander Harkins after the meeting? Apologize?"
"Well... No," Reg admits. "I wanted to, uh, fine-tune my plan so, I-I just went right back to work."
Deanna betrays no reaction. "Be more specific. What exactly did you do?"
"Well, I...I needed someone to, uh...bounce ideas off of. Someone to help focus my thoughts."
"Sounds reasonable. I suppose you...consulted with some of your Pathfinder colleagues."
"Well!..." Barclay says, as though to agree--but then jumps off the couch and begins to pace. "Not exactly."
"You went back to the Holodeck, didn't you?" Deanna asks, somewhat disappointed.
"They're the only people that I can talk to!" Reg cries.
"They're not people," Deanna reminds him.
"I know!" he says, unconvincingly. "But they...they help me with my work."
Deanna sets her phaser on wake-up-and-smell-the-holographic-coffee, and fires point blank at his temple. "Poker? Massages? Sleeping in holographic quarters? Sounds more like escape than work."
"I can't concentrate if I'm not relaxed," Reg points out, not at all convincingly.
"Can't you relax with your friends?"
"'Friends'?" Reg asks, repeating the word as though his universal translator's on the fritz.
Deanna smiles patiently, affectionately, but her eyes are 100% B.S.-free. "Commander Harkins invited you to his home. You went to the Holodeck instead."
Reg gets a little defensive. "It's not what you're thinking, Deanna. This isn't a relapse of my holo-addiction."
Denial--check. "Okay. Tell me how the holograms helped you with your work."
"Well, I talked to them about my ideas. I worked out technical problems."
Seems reasonable. It's been done before--and quite effectively. Just ask Geordi. Or Captain Janeway.
"I need specifics here, people!" Reg Barclay roars.
He's standing in front of Voyager's senior staff. The gang's all here--all but Seven of Nine, and Neelix, whose names he might know, but whom he's never seen.
His images are a little out of date. Janeway's wearing her season-one bun o' steel. Torres' hairline and style is also pretty close to her season one look. Tom and Harry appear, more or less, as we'd expect--but with subtle differences that hark back to those pre-journey photos in their permanent files.
Janeway stands. She smiles encouragingly. Her voice has that season-one Captain Unflappable crispness. "Take us through it again, Mr. Barclay. One step at a time. Maybe it'll spark an idea."
Barclay obliges. He addresses the Voyager officers like George S. Patton. He pounds his fist into his palm for emphasis, the very picture of confidence. "We've got our itinerant pulsar. We've got our Interdimensional transponder array. How do we get our wormhole?"
He looks to B'Elanna Torres, who looks eager to help. "This one could keep us up all night."
Barclay paces over to Ensign Kim. "We know we can produce gravimetric energy, but! Can we do it at levels high enough to create the singularity?"
"We're talking about a massive subspace reaction," Harry says.
A light bulb turns on over Reg Barclay's head. "Maybe...that's the problem!" he says, the smile forming, his arms cast wide to accept the adoring looks of his friends.
"Reg?" Chakotay asks, not following.
You can hear the wheels spinning. "Maybe…we need to think smaller!"
"You're losing me," Tom Paris says.
Reg may well be losing everyone. When Barclay's on a roll, few can keep up with him--real or holographic. "And how much bandwidth do we really need? The average wormhole is huge--but if we compressed the datastream..."
Torres catches on. "We wouldn't need a conduit anywhere near as big!" she says excitedly.
Janeway beams. "What's your idea?" she asks, walking toward him.
Barclay steps closer to the captain. "A micro-wormhole."
Tuvok's eyebrow rises. "Impressive."
Janeway clearly approves. "You've outdone yourself this time, Reg."
Barclay drinks in the praise. "I'll still need, um...help with the details."
Janeway beams. "Put together a team. Use whatever resources you need."
Barclay has that same look, and makes that same satisfied sigh, we saw the Doctor give in "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy" in some of his more creative daydreams.
Only this time, though the setting might be a trick of light, the ideas formed--and their consequences--are very real indeed.
Voyager's engine room is a happy place with Barclay in it. He throws a koosh ball back and forth with Chakotay as he thinks aloud with the Commander and B'Elanna.
"A power ratio of approximately 60 terawatts should do the trick," he says, tossing the ball.
"You think that's enough?" Chakotay asks, tossing it back.
"Should be--" (lob) "--but, then, we have to compensate for--" (catch) "gravimetric interference."
"And how do we do that?" B'Elanna asks.
"I was thinking--what if we applied a narrowband filter to the transponder signal?" He asks, waving the ball around on his finger before tossing the ball back to Chakotay.
"Barclay strikes again!" Chakotay says, tossing the ball--
but it gets intercepted by Commander Pete. Whoa--irony. "What's going on here?"
Barclay's change in demeanor is immediate. "c-c-Commander..." he whispers.
Torres gives Harkins an odd look. "Who's your friend, Reg?"
Harkins smiles sadly. "Yes--aren't you going to introduce me?" Apparently not--Barclay deletes the characters, leaving himself and Harkins in an empty engine room. (Ah, symbolism.)
"I thought I told you to go home," Harkins says. No heat--only concern. This is Pete talking.
"I was, uh...working." The change in Barclay's voice is telling. It's an octave or so higher than it is when Barclay is in his holographic sanctuary. It's like wind whistling through a graveyard; all the life in Barclay's voice is gone.
"You call this work? You've created holograms of the Voyager crew!" He says this as though it's a bad thing. Maybe there are rules against it. If only rules of etiquette.
But if it were THAT bad, the holodeck computers should simply be programmed or hardwired to forbid the practice.
Then again, Barclay never met a computer he couldn't outprogram.
"Oh, it-it...It-it's not what you think. It's an interactive, uh, diagnostic program. I designed it to help me...Solve problems." And it does indeed seem to be effective for that.
"How long have you been in here?" Harkins asks. Since the briefing, Reg admits. Harkins is stunned. "The briefing ended ten hours ago!"
Barclay tries to steer the subject into the topic he most cares about--what he came here to solve. "I...I know that I embarrassed you in front of the admiral, and I am...I'm sorry. I wanted to refine my idea so that I could present you with a specific plan--and I've done that, Pete! You were right about the wormhole idea being too expansive. So, I've-I've scaled it back..."
But Pete isn't interested in that. Not as much as in Reg himself. "All the extra time you've been putting in...If I checked the holo-logs...Would I find you've been spending those hours in here?"
"Well, not…not all that time..." How much of it? Harkins presses. "Maybe, uh...20 or...30 hours a week."
Pete squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. Worse than he thought. "Don't you think that's a little--excessive?"
"Not if it helps us contact Voyager!" Barclay says, passion suddenly filling his voice.
Harkins struggles for the words he knows he must speak. "Before I brought you onto my team...I reviewed your file. You've struggled with holo-addiction before. From where I stand--" for the record, they're still standing in a holographic recreation of Voyager's engine room--"it looks like you've had a relapse."
Barclay is horrified. "I-I know it-it may look that way, but..."
"I think you need counseling," Pete says softly.
Gee, ya think?
"What I need is for you to pay attention to my ideas!" Reg says angrily.
"I should've been paying more attention to your behavior." Pete regards Barclay sadly. "I thought I was being a friend by giving you some leeway. I didn't realize how...involved you've become with Voyager."
"Is it really so wrong?" Barclay asks, finding his tongue with a passion that shocks Harkins. "Do you have any idea what it must be like for them to be stranded sixty thousand!!! light-years from home? Do you have any idea...How lonely that must be?"
It doesn't help his case. It digs him in deeper, most likely.
"I'm sorry, Reg...but until you get some help, you're off the project."
"You-you can't do that!"
"You've given me no choice. This hologrid and the lab are officially off-limits. Now, go home." Harkins' order is also a plea.
Barclay digs in. "I won't leave...Not until you've heard what I have to say."
Barclay stands his ground.
"Don't make me call security." Please.
* * *
Admiral Paris works in his office in the heart of Starfleet Command.
His intercom buzzes. "What is it, Nicole?"
"He's still here."
Paris groans, while scrolling through his desk-load of notes. "You told him I have a meeting scheduled at 1500?"
"Yes, sir. He won't go away."
Paris sighs, looks over at a picture on his desk--Tom, back when he was known as Nick Locarno. (Tom's combadge hangs over the wrong shoulder. But I won't tell if you won't.) "Send him in."
Barclay enters, carrying a PADD. "Admiral, uh, th-thank you for seeing me."
"You're frightening my secretary, Mr. Barclay," Paris says with gruff humor. "You have five minutes." Barclay is clearly nervous, and the Admiral tells him to take a seat.
"Uh, first...first, I-I want to apologize for speaking out of turn yesterday," Reg stammers. "It's only because I...I.…I care so much about Voyager."
Paris looks pained at that. "Yes. Commander Harkins has informed me about your attachment to the crew. I understand you've been spending time with a holographic re-creation of my son, among others. Frankly, I find that rather disturbing."
Barclay withers. "Well, I understand h-how you could see it that way but, uh--" Then he regains his composure. Focus on the goal, Reg! "That does not negate the fact that I have a plan for communicating with Voyager."
"Commander Harkins doesn't seem to think your plan is viable." But Paris clearly has some hope that he might be mistaken. Otherwise, Barclay would never have made it inside.
"I have--refined the idea. I've simplified it. All I'm asking for is a chance to try. And if I'm right, it could mean a chance to talk to Tom."
Admiral Paris steals another look at the photo of Tom--wearing his Starfleet uniform and a serious look--which holds a place of honor on his desk.
But back to the matter at hand. The four-star admiral stares down his nose at the pasty Lieutenant. "In my opinion, Commander Harkins removed you from the project with good cause, and that's his prerogative." Paris says something next that Janeway would approve of, but which Tom probably wouldn't. "I won't let my personal feelings interfere with Starfleet procedure."
Barclay accepts this. "I...I've broken protocol and I should be punished. But the crew of the Voyager shouldn't be--and neither...neither should you." Barclay extends the PADD. "I just need access to the lab for one more day. After that, if I...eeeh...Uh, if I'm wrong I'll resign my commission."
The voice doesn't reflect it, but the look in his eyes does--there's conviction in Barclay's words. He means it. He's putting his career on the line.
"I'll order a review of your findings," Paris promises. "If it's concluded your ideas are valid, I'll instruct Commander Harkins to pursue it."
Barclay hugs the PADD to his chest. "But... I'm the one who knows--"
"That's the best I can do, Mr. Barclay. Good day." There's no mistaking the dismissal.
Reluctantly, Barclay leaves the PADD on the admiral's desk and leaves, his eyes cast floorward.
"So the meeting went well!" Deanna says.
Reg gets angry. "No, no, no! It didn't, not at all!"
"The Admiral said he'd review your findings," Deanna points out.
"Don't you see?!" Reg rages. "He was just trying to get rid of me! Just like Harkins!"
"Try to relax," Deanna urges softly.
For a moment, he does. "Now you understand why I need your help."
Thanks to the way he put it, Deanna can easily answer truthfully, "Yes, I do."
But perhaps not in the way Reg realizes. He breathes a sigh of relief. "You--you have to call the Admiral in your official capacity as a Starfleet Counselor and tell him that I am psychologically fit to return to work."
Deanna answers truthfully again--but it's not so easy this time. She hesitates before speaking. "I can't do that."
Barclay explodes. "Why?!?!? Not?!?"
"Look at yourself!" Deanna says, urgently but with her famous compassion in full swing. "You're experiencing acute anxiety, sleeplessness. Paranoia!" He's sweating gravy, too--don't forget the gravy. And his eyes look like the pressure building behind them will shoot those puppies out like mortar rounds.
Barclay reacts as though he's just been splashed with liquid nitrogen. This was not what he'd expected to hear from his old friend. Not at all.
Deanna's eyes fill with her fabled empathy. "You did what you could. Now it's time to let Starfleet worry about Voyager. We need to take care of you."
Barclay, though, dissolves into a full-throated, gesticulating rant. "There! Is! Nothing! Wrong! With me!!"
Deanna absorbs the bellows, the calm in the midst of the storm. "You said yourself--you've become obsessed with Voyager."
"What if I have?" Reg asks bleakly. "If an--obsession helps me to do my job better, it's a sacrifice I am willing to make. A little…instability in exchange for contact with a stranded starship! Isn't Voyager more important than my psychological condition?!?" Reg stands over Deanna, towering over her, leaning in close and jabbing with his finger to drive his point home. A familiar refrain--the needs of the many, and all that. Heroic self-sacrifice. Spock in the Mutara Nebula. His life--his choice.
But Deanna towers right back, without leaving her seat. She stares deep into Reg Barclay's eyes. "Voyager is important! But so are you!"
Barclay staggers over to the couch. He pounds his fist into his palm. "That ship..."
He falls into the cushion. He squeezes his eyes closed; his lip trembles. He pounds his fist onto his knee. "That crew..."
He slumps into the couch. His hands are almost too weak to move. His voice falls to a whisper. "They're all I have." As he said in the teaser--he's lost himself. Nestled in the very nurturing bosom of the Federation, Barclay is as emotionally distant as the crew of Voyager is. Home is where the heart is--and Barclay's, clearly, is not here.
Deanna moves over to the couch, sits next to him. "Tell me why that is," she says softly, taking his hand.
"Ever... Ever since I-I left the Enterprise, things haven't...Haven't been the same. It's as if...I lost my family." His voice is a sob.
"So you created a new family on the Holodeck. Only they're not real."
"But I didn't know how else...how else to cope."
"Do you remember when you first came aboard the Enterprise? You had trouble fitting in, didn't you?" Barclay nods sadly. "But after a while you started to make friends. You can learn to do the same thing here on Earth."
"Oh, I...I don't know how."
"We'll work on it--together."
Barclay stammers out a protest. "You're scheduled to depart tomorrow!"
Deanna smiles. "I've decided to ask Captain Picard for a temporary leave of absence...To spend some time with an old friend."
Reg melts. "Oh, Deanna, you...you-you don't have to do that."
Deanna gives him a defiant look. She smacks him on the shoulder playfully. "Try and stop me!" she says, her black eyes twinkling.
It's exactly the right thing to say. They never left the room, but there's little question that in this moment, Deanna talks Reg Barclay off the ledge.
It's night. Neelix sleeps peacefully atop Barclay's chest.
But Barclay isn't so lucky. Once more, he disturbs the cat's slumber when he rises from his bed. "I'm sorry, Neelix. I have to leave." Neelix offers a protesting mrowrl. "No, no, you can't talk me out of it..."
Barclay arrives at his lab and tries to get through the door, but the computer requires authorization.
"Barclay alpha one-seven gamma," he says.
Access denied. That code has been de-authorized.
Reg panics for about two seconds. Then he focuses on the task. He pulls off the access panel, does a little on-the-spot hacking, and tries again.
BOOP. Access authorized.
Dang he's good.
The door opens. Barclay slides on through, and heads for the main control terminal.
"Computer: Interface with the MIDAS array."
The computer complies without hesitation.
You know, I think Janeway would love to have this guy in her crew . . .
* * *
The Barclay we see here has no trouble talking. His only companion--the computer. "Activate the control matrix." We see MIDAS power up. It's quite an impressive sight. Matrix activated.
"Full power to the graviton emitters!" We see the results on screen. Emitters powering. You gotta love computers.
"Scan the area surrounding the array for a Class-B itinerant pulsar." The computer beeps, then responds: A pulsar has been detected at coordinates 227 by 41 mark 6. "Good, good! Direct a 60 terawatt tachyon beam toward the pulsar."
BOOP. Tachyon beam initiated.
"How long until levels are sufficient to produce a gravimetric surge of five million teradynes?"
Approximately 17 minutes.
The waiting begins.
The waiting ends.
"Computer, is there a micro-wormhole present at coordinates 343 by 27?"
"I knew it!" Barclay cries, then returns to business. "Adjust the phase alignment to direct the wormhole's trajectory to Delta Quadrant, Grid nine, Sector 41751."
"Open Starfleet Emergency Channel and transmit toward the singularity."
Moment of truth. Now what? What do you say to the object of your obsession?
Well--here goes nothing.
"Starfleet Command to U.S.S. Voyager. Come in, Voyager. Voyager--do you hear me? This is Lieutenant Reginald Barclay--"
"Step away from the controls." Pete Harkins is here. And he's brought friends. Beefy, well-armed friends with no necks.
"Pete! I...I've sent a message."
"Stand down, Mr. Barclay."
Reg puts his hands up in surrender. He begins to walk toward his Commander. "All right. You win. Computer..."
Then he veers toward the door to the Holodeck. His voice is steady and sure. "Transfer controls to hologrid program Barclay Pi-Three--and restrict access!" Barclay sprints through the doors.
The security guards follow.
"Stop him!" Harkins orders. Then adds, reluctantly, "Stun him if you have to."
Voyager may be thousands of light years away, but it's also right here in downtown San Francisco. And Reginald Barclay, who's been living on the holographic ship, has a clear home court advantage.
Easily evading the security guards, Barclay runs into Tuvok in the corridors. "Tuvok! Did you see those two men?" I did not, Tuvok says. "They look like Starfleet security, but they're not!" Intruders? Tuvok asks. "They're after me! I need your help!"
Tuvok runs with it. "Tuvok to all hands. Intruder alert. Computer, locate any unauthorized personnel aboard Voyager."
Two unidentified humans, deck four, section eight.
"Isolate them with force fields," Tuvok commands.
The two guards get caught in a corner between two force fields. Nowhere to run. One of them, frustrated, taps his combadge.
"Security to Commander Harkins. We've been isolated by the force fields. Can you shut down the program?"
"I'm working on it," Pete says. His fingers dance on the control panel.
BZZZ! Access denied. Hologrid controls have been encrypted.
Harkins sighs. "Harkins to security. I need reinforcements."
Barclay sprints to a command station in Engineering. "Computer, redirect the wormhole's trajectory to Delta Quadrant, grid 11, sector 64238--and retransmit the message."
Trajectory established. Transmitting.
B'Elanna appears. "A wormhole? What's going on?"
"I'm just trying to help some friends," Reg says. No time for the holograms--he's reaching out to the real McCoy this time. "Is there a response?"
Negative. Two down--one to go.
"Redirect the wormhole's trajectory!" Barclay shouts at the computer.
B'Elanna sees two security guards approaching. "Reg!" she shouts to warn him.
"You'll have to come with me, sir," one of the guards says.
"I'll cover for you," B'Elanna promises. She breaks out her own phaser, and fires point-blank at the guards' chests while Reg sprints away.
But it's holographic phaser fire, and apparently the Safeties are on. The guards just smirk at the harmless the beam of light. They draw their own phasers, and run past the amazed Torres like she isn't even there.
Which, to them, she isn't.
Which is to Barclay's advantage.
Barclay climbs through the Jefferies tubes. "Computer, seal Jefferies tube door J53!" So let it be spoken; so let it be done. The doors slam shut beneath him.
Harkins is still trying to override the Holodeck. "Computer, cut all power to the hologrid."
Bzzt! Unable to comply. Main power controls have been encrypted.
"Very clever, Reg," Pete mutters under his breath.
"Security to Commander Harkins. We've lost him, sir."
Pete's jaw sets. "I've got an idea. I'm coming in."
Harkins arrives in Engineering and makes a beeline for the warp core controls.
Torres is on him like white on rice. "I know you! You're Reg's friend. You've got something to do with what's going on here, don't you?"
Harkins ignores her. "Computer, disengage primary coolant system."
Torres' eyes go wide. "Are you crazy? That will cause a warp core breach!"
Harkins looks at her. "Exactly."
His weapon isn't holographic. B'Elanna disappears mid-lunge in a flurry of free photons.
Barclay arrives on the bridge. He runs toward Harry's station at Ops.
"Mr. Barclay, I want an explanation for what's going on aboard my ship!" Janeway says sharply.
"I'm looking after Voyager's best interests, Captain," Barclay says. "You're going to have to trust me on that."
Their eyes meet. Janeway nods. "You've never given me any reason to doubt you before."
Barclay nods gratefully. "Computer, redirect the wormhole's trajectory to Delta Quadrant, grid ten, sector 3658, and retransmit the message."
Trajectory established. Transmitting.
"Who are you trying to contact, Reg?" Harry asks.
The computer beeps unexpectedly. Warning. Warp core breach in 45 seconds.
Janeway's eyes go wide. "Bridge to Engineering. Report!"
Harkins arrives on the bridge just then, with armed backup. "Shut down the program, Reg." They advance toward Ops.
Janeway is having none of that. "Janeway to security. Intruders on the bridge."
"Computer, establish a force field around the science station!" Barclay orders--and it's done.
Warning. Warp core breach in 30 seconds.
"Harry, get down to Engineering. Seal that breach," Janeway orders. Harry complies.
Harkins ignores everything and everyone but Barclay. "Force fields aren't going to help you, Reg. It's over."
Barclay gives Harkins a lost look. "But this is my last chance."
Warp core breach in 20 seconds.
Janeway is paying more attention to the warp core breach. "Captain to all hands. Abandon ship." She glares at the intruders--and at Barclay.
Warp core breach in ten seconds.
"One way or another, this program's going to end," Pete says. The expression on his face is clear--the commander really wishes it hadn't come to this.
Barclay looks at Janeway sadly. "Good-bye, Captain."
Janeway looks surprised--just before she disappears.
First the people. Then the furniture. Then the ship itself.
Soon, there's nothing but the inactive Holodeck scaffolding, two security officers, and two colleagues on opposite sides of an idea.
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the warp core.
Looks like Barclay's dealt his last hand in the mess hall. But he had a heck of a run.
Deuces, one-eyed Jacks and suicide Kings are wild. Five of a kind beats a straight flush every time…
Reg shrugs helplessly. He did everything he could. He gambled . . . and lost.
Meanwhile, back in the Delta Quadrant . . .
Seven of Nine is in her home away from the cargo bay--Astrometrics. Hard at work, as always.
Neelix enters. "I'm ready for my lesson!"
We know it's the real Voyager--Barclay doesn't know either of them by sight.
Seven winces. "I've concluded that teaching you to sing is an inefficient use of my time." Having heard Neelix sing, I wholeheartedly concur.
Neelix, though, is crushed. "But I...I've been...I've been practicing!"
"In your case, practice is irrelevant. Your vocal chords are incapable of producing basic diatonic tones. Not to mention your rhythmic shortcomings." Snicker. Tactless, but true.
Neelix whimpers. "I sound so good in the sonic shower..."
"Perhaps you should confine your efforts to that location." Man--Barbarella of Borg is in a seriously grumpy mood today, ain't she?
The computer beeps. Saved by the bell . . . Seven leaps on the problem, calling up the signal, putting it on the big screen.
We don't see what she sees. But we do see the look on her face, and the speed with which she smacks her combadge. "Astrometrics to the bridge--"
On the bridge, we see Janeway with her Season Six hair and relaxed attitude. Next to her, we see Chakotay in his Starfleet uniform. Just so there's no question where we are.
"Go ahead, Seven," Janeway says, looking almost bored.
"I've detected what appears to be a micro-wormhole at coordinates 194.6 by 35."
Bye-bye boredom. "A micro-wormhole?" Janeway asks, instantly alert.
Does that make it a Kim-class phenomenon? (see "Eye of the Needle").
"I believe a message is being transmitted through it," Seven says. She does some more analysis. "On a--Starfleet emergency channel!" she says, stunned.
The crew on the bridge is speechless.
Good time to cut to commercial.
* * *
Voyager's bridge is buzzing with anticipation at the unexpected news.
"Let's hear it, Harry," Janeway says.
Harry has never responded faster to an order.
It's scratchy. It's muddled. It's distorted. But by golly, it's there. "Starfleet Command to USS Voyager. Come in, Voyager."
Janeway thinks furiously. "Try applying a narrowband filter to the signal processor," she orders. Harry complies.
The effect is dramatic. "Do you hear me? This is Lieutenant Reginald Barclay." Still distorted, but the words are now distinct. You can even hear the urgency in Barclay's voice.
But the signal cuts. "That's it. Whoever this Barclay is, he stopped transmitting," Harry says.
Tuvok runs a scan on the signal's source. "The micro-wormhole is collapsing at a rate of 0.2 percent per second," he says.
Janeway's eyes light up like a signal flare. "That doesn't give us much time."
"To do what?" Chakotay asks.
Janeway sprints over to Ops; Harry gives her all the room she needs.
"To send a message back through--and hope Mr. Barclay is listening," Janeway says.
Not to worry you or anything--but her eyes presently bear a striking resemblance to Barclay's…
Barclay and Harkins enter the lab, followed by the Security guards. Barclay offers no resistance; he is a defeated man.
"It should have worked! I don't understand why it didn't," he says bleakly.
They are joined in the lab soon after by Admiral Paris and his retinue. The bearish man is grinning. "There you are!" Paris tells Harkins. "I reviewed Mr. Barclay's plan. I think it's worth an attempt."
Harkins and Barclay share a sorrowful look. "He's already tried, sir--without your authorization," Harkins says. "It didn't work."
The Admiral's smile fades. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says.
"So am I, sir," Barclay says, truly sorrowful. "I appreciate your confidence in me, but I...I don't deserve it."
"What would you like me to do with him, Admiral?" Harkins asks. "He broke into the lab, accessed the MIDAS array, resisted arrest."
Yeah, but Harkins shot B'Elanna and blew up Voyager. That should count for something.
Admiral Paris frowns. His voice is gravelly as he addresses Lt. (for now) Barclay. "You've put me in a difficult position, son. I was hoping that we'd be able to..."
Saved by the bell . . .
A crewman checks the display. "We're receiving a transmission!"
Every eye goes wide. "From where?" Paris asks anxiously.
The crewman checks the readout. "Coordinates 343.6 by 27."
Harkins looks sharply at Barclay.
Reg practically leaps out of his skin. "The wormhole!"
The message is distorted, but Admiral Paris for one has no trouble recognizing the voice of his former student and subordinate. "Starfleet Command, come in--"
"Voyager!" Paris blurts.
Nothing succeeds like success. Harkins looks at Barclay. "Reg, give me a hand clearing up the signal."
Barclay looks to Admiral Paris for approval--it's his call. Paris nods sharply--what are you waiting for?!? Reg nods gratefully, then barks his first order. "Lower the filter band by 0.3 kilohertz!" he shouts as he runs to the com station.
The second time the message comes through, there's no doubt. "This is Captain Kathryn Janeway. Do you read me?"
Harkins smiles at Barclay. "I think she's talking to you…"
This is Barclay's moment. But where to begin?
Tongue, don't fail me now…
Might as well start with the introductions--odd as it may seem to be so formal with people he's been "living" with the past two years. "Captain…"
"This is Lieutenant Reginald Barclay at Starfleet Command."
Janeway shares a wondering look with Ensign Kim. Then she speaks, emotion filling her voice. "It's good to hear your voice, Lieutenant. We've been waiting a long time for this moment."
The lab is silent as a tomb. Nobody wants to break this spell. Only Barclay, the wizard who made it possible against all odds, dares--and he wills the wormhole to stay open as long as possible. As focused as the micro-wormhole, there is no hesitation in his voice. No stammering. Nothing but resolve. "The feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, the micro-wormhole is collapsing. We have only a few moments."
"Understood," Janeway says. "We are transmitting our ship's logs, crew reports and navigational records to you now." She nods at Tuvok, who nods his acknowledgment. Other crew are already busy at work pumping all possible data through the puny pipeline to paradise.
Stop me before I alliterate again . . .
"Acknowledged. And we're sending you data on some new hyper-subspace technology."
"We're hoping, eventually, to use it to keep in regular contact," Barclay says, "and we're including some--
"--recommended modifications for your com system."
"We'll implement them as soon as possible," Janeway vows, beginning to blink to stem the tide rising within her.
Barclay's work is almost done. He looks over to Harkins, and to the man standing behind him. "There's someone else here who would also like to say something." He locks eyes with Admiral Paris.
Paris' eyes go wide--he hadn't expected this moment to come this soon. But there's no time like the present. "This is Admiral Paris."
Tom Paris, manning the helm, looks up sharply. His mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
This isn't something he's been looking forward to.
But Janeway is glad to hear the voice of her old mentor. "Hello, sir."
"How are your people holding up?"
Tom is practically frozen in place at the helm. Janeway walks up behind him, places a comforting hand on his shoulder. Kneads the rock-solid knot of tension from his neck. "Very well. They're an exemplary crew--your son included." Even if he is a whale-huggin' hippie who's one pip lighter than he was a year ago…
Admiral Paris' eyes well with tears. What more could a father could ask for? "Tell him...tell him I miss him. And I'm proud of him."
Tom is still catatonic.
Janeway smiles. "He heard you, Admiral," she says proudly.
This also speaks volumes to the Admiral about the status of Paris the Younger. The elder man beams.
Of course, just wait until he reads the status reports. And--just maybe--a certain prison-penned letter.
But hey--that was a year ago. Water under the bridge. Right now, Ensign Paris is getting a neck rub from Captain Mom while precious open channel time is devoted to him.
If there's any jealousy, I suspect they'll get over it. If Admiral Dad wanted to talk to his son that badly, everybody on board wins.
Barclay breaks the silence to report the bad news. "The wormhole is collapsing."
Admiral Paris nods curtly. His voice is gruff to beat down the sob. "I want you all to know we're doing everything we can to bring you home."
Chakotay sits in stunned silence. He's not the only one. Tom still has that just-stared-at-Medusa expression, which he'll probably have for days.
Doc may have to break out the People's Elbow again…
Janeway blinks furiously to hold back her own emotions. "We appreciate it, sir. Keep a docking bay open for us!"
"We hope to..."
The signal ends. "That's it," Barclay says sadly. "They're gone."
Pete Harkins beams. "You did it, Reg!" He shakes his head apologetically. "I'm sorry I doubted you."
Nothing succeeds like success. Fail, and you're a holo-addicted loser. Succeed, and you're a visionary who prevailed against impossible odds.
But Barclay looks a little like Tom did. Appropriate, since Admiral Paris has been calling him "son" all night. He squeezes his eyes shut, and his head hangs low.
Paris can't help but notice. "Why the long face, Mr. Barclay?"
"Because...Because it's over, sir." The eternal question: now what?
After that demonstration of swashbuckling, I suspect he'd make a fantastic Dread Pirate Roberts…
Admiral Paris smiles gently. Reassuringly. Proudly. "No, Lieutenant. I'd say that Project Voyager is just beginning...thanks to you."
Voyager's crew will take advantage of any excuse to throw a party. Neelix has 'em trained that way.
But in the past five years, they've never had better cause. Not only did they establish two-way communications with home, they got some new tech to explore--and they know exactly who's in their corner back home.
And they didn't have to make any new enemies or blow anything up in order to do it.
Neelix pours the champagne.
"Anyone know this Barclay?" Torres asks. Nobody does.
I guess Doc doesn't remember "Projections." Granted, that was several program crashes and upgrades ago. (For those playing the home game, Barclay is one of the engineers who designed the original EMH.) But he has been doing his research--and shares it with the room, patient confidentiality protocols be damned. "I took the liberty of reviewing his personnel file," Doc says conversationally. "He's had a rather colorful career--not to mention an unusual medical history!" For an EMH, this is a GOOD thing--makes Barclay more interesting. (Boy, does it ever.) "He's recovered from a variety of maladies, including transporter phobia and holo-addiction." And turned into a spider (and devolved the entire crew of the Enterprise). Don't forget the spider.
Janeway frowns at the doctor, but it doesn't spoil her mood. "Well, whatever his problems, he certainly came through for us!"
"Starfleet should give him a promotion." If they only knew . . . but perhaps it's best they don't. After seeing the Holodeck version of Voyager, it's poetic justice that Barclay should be regarded on the faraway ship as the brightest star in Starfleet Command.
Seven of Nine arrives with a PADD in hand. "I've finished analyzing the data Mr. Barclay sent. The hyper-subspace technology is promising. I believe we can look forward to future communications with Earth."
Neelix beams, as he fills the last of the champagne flutes. "Well, that calls for a toast!"
Janeway smiles. "Care to do the honors, Tom?"
All eyes turn to the Delta Quadrant's favorite son. Paris seems to have found his tongue. Almost. "To...my dad. It's nice to know he's still there." It's an odd toast--it seems he still has a good bit of thinking left to do.
Then Tom smiles. "And to the newest honorary member of the Voyager crew--Reginald Barclay, whoever you are." He raises his glass high.
Hear! Hear! Every glass is lifted in toast.
Janeway beams. "To Mr. Barclay," she says.
If only he could be here to see this. The clothing and hairstyles may be a bit different, but the prevailing opinion is not--Reg Barclay is the most popular guy on board.
He's certainly earned his place.
But the glass Barclay raises is joined by Deanna Troi's.
Night has fallen in San Francisco. The cityscape at night is a sight to behold. But it pales in comparison to the glow in Deanna Troi's eyes.
"Congratulations," Deanna says.
Barclay grows self-conscious. "Well, I'm not...not sure I deserve congratulations."
"Why not?!" Deanna protests. "It's quite an accomplishment!" Dang right, bucko.
"I couldn't have done it without your help."
"What did Commander Harkins have to say about it?" Troi's eyes dance.
"Well, I think...I think he was pleased."
Is there any doubt? The guy pulled off a miracle here--
"Why wouldn't he be? You're quite a catch," Deanna says, waggling her eyebrows at him.
Ummm…now I'm confused. They're talking about Pathfinder, right?
"Well, not everyone would want a sister-in-law to date someone with my history," Reg says with a confidence betrayed by the slight continental accent--that undercurrent of swagger we usually see from him only on the Holodeck. His eyes dance.
"It's a new era," Deanna reminds him, lifting her glass, toasting the age. Then she scoots closer. "So--tell me all about the lucky lady. I want details." Her eyebrows waggle.
Barclay smiles; he knows what's coming. And he plays it for all it's worth. "Well…her name is…Hope." He raises his glass high, takes a sip.
Deanna stares at him for a long moment. "You're kidding."
Barclay beams. "No--and--"
Neelix hops up on his chest, startling him. Barclay laughs merrily. "And--and--" he titters. "She loves cats."
Deanna smiles. They laugh together. They drink together. Neelix gets nuzzled to within an inch of his nine lives.
Voyager is important--and Lt. Barclay went above and beyond the call to see to their needs.
But thanks to Deanna, and others on Earth, Reg Barclay has left the Delta Quadrant--and found his way home.
If you weren't a fan of TNG, if the names Reginald Barclay or Deanna Troi have no meaning for you, and you're wondering what all the fuss is about, this episode might be somewhat confusing. Because in many ways, it's a TNG/Voyager crossover episode--with the emphasis on TNG.
If you're of the opinion that a Voyager episode should feature the Voyager crew--the real crew, not sludge-molded replicants, not holographic fantasy-spawned versions--but the real McCoy, and feature them prominently, with guest stars--no matter who they are--not allowed to eclipse the regulars…then this episode might not be for you.
If you feel that this episode is an official equivalent of a Shatner SNL sketch--and you HATED that sketch!-- with Reg Barclay acting as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the stereotypical Internet-addicted get-a-lifer, and a sign of the naked contempt the Powers That Be obviously have for the fans who pay their goldang salaries!!!…this episode is probably not for you.
If you can only accept an Admiral Paris who gives Satan a run for his evil money and grinds fuzzy bunnies into breakfast sausage and is 100% responsible for everything bad that ever happened to Our Tommy, this episode may have left you spitting nails for daring to suggest otherwise.
However. If you're a fan of Star Trek--not one show, but the whole Roddenberry/Berman 24th century. If you're a fan of story--the whole story, not just some microscopic, balkanized corner of it. If the overall saga of Voyager as a faraway ship making its way home against incredible odds has any resonance for you. If your horizons are wide enough to allow for stories that have Voyager and its crew at the heart, even if the screen is populated with complete strangers…then this is an episode that deserves a place of honor on your top shelf.
I know where I stand.
A little history.
When Reg Barclay first appeared on TNG, it was a revelation. People made a big deal of how Geordi LaForge was the first "handicapped" Starfleet officer for wearing that VISOR. But on the sterile, too-perfect Enterprise, Barclay was the first guy who showed that you didn't need to be perfect to be included. He had an addiction, he had darn-near debilitating social anxieties, and he had a name that even the mythically diplomatic Captain Picard couldn't help but make fun of. Barclay was Rain Man on a ship loaded with Olympians. To compensate, he escaped into an imaginary world where he was everything he couldn't be in real life, and the Olympians were knocked down a peg or two.
Except for Deanna Troi, of course.
If you couldn't relate to this guy…consider yourself fortunate. As for me, he was the first TNG character I ever really warmed up to.
Eventually, Barclay made friends. And he pulled some miracles out of his hat a few times by thinking way, WAY outside the box.
Apparently Barclay left the Enterprise a couple of times. Once, on temporary assignment to help design the EMH with Lewis Zimmerman ("Projections"). And once again, just after First Contact, to join the Pathfinder project.
From what we see of Commander Harkin, I'd say that on the whole, Barclay lucked out. He saw Barclay's potential, and gave him room to do what he does best--think outside the box. At least once, they went with one of his "crackpot" theories--which one day might work out. Sometimes it just takes time before technology can catch up with theory.
Just look at some of the things theorized in 1966 as being centuries-future technology--and how quickly and completely reality put that ambitious vision to shame. On the other hand, it took centuries to bring some of da Vinci's concepts to the factory floor. It took Edison hundreds of attempts before he found a functional filament for his electric light bulb.
To quote Heather Jarman in her review of "Alice":
"I've been reading a book called The Edison Trait about a quirky segment of highly intelligent, non-conforming personalities. Granted, it’s a parenting book…Edison Trait individuals derive their labels from the prolific American inventor Thomas Edison, a man whose successes came after a lifetime of failing to conform to societal expectations and norms….Not all Edison Trait individuals are as successful as [Bill] Gates. Because of their failure to walk in step with conventionally gifted individuals…Edison Trait individuals often end up struggling with low self-esteem, fighting addictive behaviors to satisfy their craving for stimulus and rebelling against all expectations."
In a fitting irony, Heather used this to describe Tom Paris. It also fits Reginald Barclay--who found himself confronting Admiral Paris, who was hoping to contact Tom Paris. Both do incredibly well, in their element. But take them out of their comfort zone, even a little, and they tend to freak out. Tom Paris is far more socially adjusted than Barclay, but we nevertheless see some of this in him. In Barclay, it's impossible to miss.
It's interesting to see Barclay as the choice. In a way, he's perfect. He's got a history of holo-addiction, so there's some continuity. He's appeared on this series before, to establish his connection to Voyager--it had the first working EMH. When the Doctor returned from the Delta Quadrant, with abilities far beyond his original programming, Barclay couldn't help but be intrigued--and, eventually, obsessed.
The addition of Deanna Troi to the mix also makes perfect sense, and I think she's well used. She has a connection with Barclay--she helped him through many an anxiety. And it was nice to get a bit of a TNG update between movies.
I know some will complain that "the real crew" was barely shown at all this week. My response--so what? I watch for the overall saga. Sometimes, things happen external to Voyager that nonetheless impacts them directly. The impact on Voyager this week was staggering--they made their first live two-way contact with home, got a serious shot in the arm for morale, picked up some new technology, added a new wrinkle to a major character's development (Tom's relationship with his father), and so on. But it was a gift--all they had to do was keep their ears open, receive the bounty, and react (party). We simply didn't need to see much from them this week; it would have been an inefficient use of screen time.
The drama was in the mighty effort it took to get there. Call it Voyager's Apollo 13--we got to see the engineering heroics at Mission Control. Barclay fit the square peg in the round hole.
There was no reset button. There was a major milestone, and it counted.
We weren't "cheated" with any false pretenses--we always knew we were viewing a holographic crew. We got a lot of not-real crew in Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, and I didn't hear much complaining there. When done well, I'm all for it--and I thought it was done well. It moved the plot forward. Every scene told us something critical--about Barclay, whose week this was.
I'm prejudiced--I'm an ardent fan of Dwight Schultz. But I thought this was a terrific Voyager episode. I also consider it a terrific piece of the Trek canon, period.
I heard a complaint about the episode, that it's an intentional slap in the face of fandom.
I have a theory. Some of you may not like it.
If you were offended, then you probably DO need to get a life. Because you're taking this stuff way, way too seriously.
Could "Pathfinder" be interpreted as a commentary on those who are "obsessed" with Voyager, who rewrite the characters in their fanfic to suit their tastes, who do all they can to avoid the messy inconvenience of reality? I suppose. I didn't see it that way. I did see a lot of myself in Barclay, but not in a way that caused offense. I see a lot that's noble and valuable in Barclay. Also, a lot that's fragile. He reminds me of my own vulnerabilities, escapist tendencies, loneliness, shyness, anxieties.
I found this episode comforting. The story was powerfully written, the characters powerfully portrayed. There's a little bit of Barclay in all of us. And a lot in some of us.
Like I said, this is a Voyager episode, and a TNG episode. The Voyager episode was an action-adventure. Barclay battles the odds to establish contact with the distant vessel. An engineering challenge. The needs of the many. But the TNG aspect focused on the needs of the one. Barclay indeed contacted Voyager--but he didn't lose himself in the process. He did gamble, and Lady Luck smiled on his efforts. He could have lost big, but TNG is big on happy endings.
For me the payoff scene was the epilogue--Barclay breaking out of his shell, talking about meeting "Hope." Where he'd taken a risk, not for Voyager's sake, but for his own. For some, this might seem no big deal. But for others, that giant leap for selfkind may be every bit as terrifying as it was for Barclay.
His obsession with Voyager as the focus of his life, in that final scene, was part of his past. He'd found something else to fill the void, and taken the first tentative steps of building new friendships on Earth, with Deanna Troi's help. He'll continue to work on Project Voyager. But now he'll have something to leave work for besides his pet.
That's the message behind "pathfinder." Barclay helped Starfleet find a path to Voyager. But Deanna helped Barclay find a path to well-being.
BOTH messages are integral to Star Trek. Sometimes Space is the Undiscovered Country. But sometimes--more often than you might realize, in fact--that undiscovered country lies within ourselves. The ultimate voyage is of self-discovery. Of facing and overcoming our imperfections. You don't have to be 60,000 light years away from home to do that--you can do it in your own living room.
As for Paris and his dad--I know there's a lot of fanfic out there that portrays Admiral Paris in a very unflattering light. This episode doesn't lend a lot of credence to that theory, and I'm glad. But I don't expect the stories to change much in tone. It took them a long while to give us this view of the elder Paris, and those who have invested a lot of time and effort in writing him their way can be excused for being internally consistent.
Nitpicks? I have none worth mentioning. I thought the logic basically held together. We didn't hear any comments about his EMH work, but it's not a critical point. The misplaced combadge on the Paris portrait was the only really glaring one for me.
The distance theory--Starfleet was looking 60,000 light years out for Voyager, when they're more like 30,000 light years away, so how could the wormhole possibly have succeeded--I have my idea, and it works for me. I'm not a scientist, so my theory may not hold any water, but as a couch potato looking for entertainment, it wasn't an issue for me at all. I was too busy watching Reg Barclay suffer, and recover.
Obsession is a common Trek theme. A TOS episode even bore that title. Captain Kirk was constantly obsessing over something--a woman, an evil godlike being, a malfunctioning computer, a plasma-sucking cloud monster, more women. Picard obsessed over the Borg. Dukat obsessed over his proper place in the cosmos. Janeway obsesses about getting home. Chakotay obsessed about retrieving the Mars orbiter--the parallels between "Pathfinder" and "One Small Step" are inescapable.
We all obsess over something, sooner or later. Politics, religion, word processors, television shows, sports, celebrity, wealth, power, mind-altering chemicals--or one or more of the Seven Deadly Sins. When we veer near the precipice, we often need someone to either talk us down, or extend a hand if we're hanging on over the ledge by a straining root or branch.
Sometimes, all we have is hope. It's fitting that when Barclay finally took the chance and stepped out of the holodeck and into Pete's home, Hope is what he found.
In a nutshell, I live for episodes like this. Kudos all around. Terrific performances, particularly from the guest cast. I hope we see them again.
I gave "One Small Step" five stars. I can do no less here.
Next week: a repeat of the Jason Alexander vehicle, "Think Tank."