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You can take the boy out of the Borg--but can you take the Borg out with the boy?
Jump straight to the Analysis
And now, boys and girls, it's time for another thrilling episode of . . . Spuds in Spaaaace!
Twin taters from another world, skins red with the inner fire of JUSTICE, present their majesty to the screen as the heroic music rises. Resting high upon their crystal parallel pylons, these scalloped avengers keep their multitudinous eyes ever vigilant for Truth, Justice, and the Federation--
"Why potatoes?" Captain Janeway asks.
The orchestra peters out, its hopes of a spinoff mashed. The camera peels back to show the mess hall, converted into the First Annual Voyager Science Fair.
Behind the twin taters stand the twin tots of the Voyager Collective, Samneric. They look like your average kids getting their projects gawked at by adults at a science fair. Only they're a tad more drone-like.
It's like The Rock says. They know their role--and keep their mouths shut.
A twinkle is in Seven of Nine's eye as she explains the spuds. "When the project began, they wanted to clone Naomi. But I suggested they start with something smaller."
Wakka wakka. Janeway, Chakotay and Torres snicker.
Across the room, minding her own project, Naomi blushes. Ally McWildman apparently has a pair of admirers.
Oh, now there's a Top Ten list just waiting to happen. Smaller than Naomi Wildman . . . let's see. There's Harry Kim's chances of ever seeing a rank higher than Ensign, Tuvok's line count, Chakotay's chances of scoring with Janeway . . .
But why should I have all the fun? Have at it, boys and girls.
But while you're thinking . . .
Having a good-natured clone-joke chortle--I hear they were going to clone a monkey with four bottoms, but the folks at South Park objected--infringement of trademark, don't you know--the senior officers of Voyager move on to the next child's exhibit.
Mezoti, the young girl-Borg picked up in "Collective," stands proudly behind her science project.
"Quite a feat of engineering," Torres says. She looks impressed by the sight of transparent cube--inside which is a whole lotta glowing insects crawling through blue dirt.
"It's a Tairenian ant colony," Mezoti explains. "I infused the soil with a blue ion dye so it'd be easier to see the insects."
Sure enough, the bugs are glowing. If you listen very carefully, you can actually hear the insects. If you switch to the SAP, you'll be treated to the Universal Translator rendition of the clicks and screeches. "The ground! It glows! It burns! Ow! Ow!" One particularly defiant insect peers out at the huge, non-insectoid creatures and extends a single finger from a singed thoracic limb.
But I ain't translating that.
Janeway peers inside. "They're luminescent," she says, with that dreamy "ooh, preeety" voice we don't hear nearly often enough.
"The drones produce a fluorescent enzyme that's activated by the queen," Mezoti says proudly.
Janeway looks at Mezoti in mock horror. "Drones and queens?" (Don't forget cubes, my delectable Auburn One!) Janeway looks at Seven. "I thought we were trying to get these children away from the Borg."
Seven smirks. "The project was Mezoti's idea. I didn't want to discourage her individuality."
Mezoti shrugs. "I like bugs." The adults all get a good chuckle out of that.
"Well done," Janeway tells the young prodigy. But then she adds, "Let me know before you take up beekeeping."
We see more teeth than an Osmond Family Reunion; the crew is in an almost freakishly good mood.
Next stop: Naomi Wildman. She's not a former drone, but her best friend is, and she's holding her own like a pint-sized Willard Scott. She stands beside a large globe with unfamiliar terrain. Neelix also stands nearby, beaming at his goddaughter.
A tentative hand in the corner is raised. A certain review boy asks, "You know, this is a big day for Naomi. Where's Momma Wildman?" before Janeway's curt nod sends Security into action, chasing the troublemaker out of the room.
"What have we got here?" Commander Chakotay asks. He and Janeway stand shoulder to shoulder, looking down upon the world like red-shouldered Olympians.
"It's Katurus," Naomi says.
"Your father's planet," Torres observes.
"I've been learning all about it." Naomi smiles. She flicks a switch, and the globe is covered with a real-time holographic weather grid. Arrows show storms a'brewing, fluffy clouds, patches of rain, the occasional swarm of locusts and paparazzi . . . you know, the usual. Still, it's impressive.
"Naomi programmed the geophysical and atmospheric conditions," Seven explains.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but when I was Naomi's age I was making pies out of mud in the back yard. At the age I am now, I feel mighty if I can get my VCR to stop blinking 12:00. And Naomi's mastered planetary weather patterns at the age of . . . lemme think, when was "Deadlock"? . . . the age of four?
No wonder the twins want to clone her. Smart, pretty, hair longer than an average DELTA BLUES review . . .
Chakotay looks down and sees the weather patterns. "There's quite a storm in those mountains," he says.
"The Arpasian range is known for high winds and hail," Naomi declares confidently. All the grownups beam.
Janeway leans in close, showing all her teeth. "I'll remember to bring my coat." Naomi smiles happily.
On to the next kid.
Well, perhaps not a kid. Icheb is on the cusp of adulthood; taller than Janeway, almost as tall as Seven of Nine, and with brains to boot. He stands behind his project--a blinking Aztec-style pyramid.
What is it about basic geometric shapes this week? Cylinders, a cube, a sphere, and now a pyramid.
"Now, this looks impressive," Janeway says approvingly, though she has no idea what it is.
Icheb doesn't keep her waiting. "It's a high-resolution gravimetric sensor array."
The grown-ups stop smiling, and start gawking. "Ambitious," Torres says with a whistle.
"It'll augment our ability to scan for the neutrino flux associated with wormholes. It could help Voyager find a faster way home."
Janeway, wide-eyed, looks at Seven of Nine. "The engineering principles are sound," Seven confirms.
"I expected these projects to be interesting," Janeway says softly. "But this is truly exceptional."
"Thank you, Captain," says Icheb. "I am very interested in astrophysics."
"Well, you've obviously got a knack for it." Janeway smiles, and pats Icheb on the arm. "Well done." Seven beams at her protégé.
"How did you think of scanning for neutrinal fluctuations?" Torres asks.
"I've been studying Starfleet records."
Seven and Janeway walk over to the snack table under the Science Fair banner, leaving Chakotay and Torres to discuss the new technology with Icheb.
"He's a remarkable young man," Janeway says.
"He hopes to earn a permanent posting in Astrometrics one day," Seven says with a touch of pride.
Janeway gives Seven a compassionate look, then looks over at Icheb. "I'm afraid that won't be possible," she says softly.
Seven's eyes widen with surprise. "Captain, the boy has a unique talent--"
"It's not a question of merit," Janeway says, raising a hand. "We've made contact with his parents, and I've set a course for their planet."
Seven looks over as well. Icheb is still explaining his invention. "We already looked for variations in density. My scanner is calibrated to pick up changes in neutrinal trajectories."
"I hope it works," Chakotay says to Icheb.
Seven looks back at Janeway. Her voice catches. "That's good news."
* * *
Seven of Nine enters Astrometrics and finds Icheb working there. "You've exceeded your scheduled time here by one hour."
"I'm almost finished," Icheb says. He continues his efforts, and the big screen dances under his deft touch.
Seven looks anxious, and we know the reason why. "Your work will have to wait. There's . . . something we need to discuss."
Icheb walks up to the platform by the viewscreen. "Look at this." A wispy nebula is now visible, with shimmering bright spots visible within. The light reflects off the gleam in Icheb's eyes.
Seven sighs. This is going to be tougher than she thought.
"It's a star forming in the Orpisay nebula."
Seven's brows rise. "The Orpisay nebula is out of range of our sensors!" she says doubtfully.
"I increased the resolution of the long-range scanners," Icheb says simply.
That's two major inventions in the first ten minutes. Icheb's on a roll. "Impressive," Seven says, echoing B'Elanna's exclamation at the science fair.
Icheb gets a dreamy look. The nebula backlights him, underscoring the thrill of discovery of the former drone. "When I was on the Cube, I never thought about what was outside--pulsars, quasars, nebulas. But here, in this lab, I--I feel I can see the entire galaxy!"
Darn that kid. Seven's left speechless.
"What did you want to talk to me about? You said there was something we needed to discuss," Icheb says.
It takes Seven a moment to gather her wits. "Yes, that's correct." Well, maybe half of them. "It's time for you to regenerate."
For the moment, Icheb gets a reprieve. He isn't yet aware of his fate--already decided by Captain Janeway, and completely out of his hands.
It's after hours. Janeway is in her quarters, reading a large hardcover of Irish poetry. Her jacket is off; she's wearing a gray long-sleeved turtleneck. She reclines in her reading chair, with her legs kicked up on a fluffy Ottoman. A comfy looking throw-blanket with frizzy edges covers her legs.
The door chimes. Janeway tries to ignore it.
Then chimes again. Janeway slaps the pages with her hand. "Come in," she says, closing her book.
Seven enters, looking pensive. "I'd like the data you've collected on Icheb's species to I can prepare him for reassimilation."
Janeway gives Seven a semi-patient smile. "Maybe we could refer to it as, 'getting reacquainted with his family.'"
"If you'd prefer," Seven responds tersely.
"I'll transfer the files down to Astrometrics," Janeway says. Seven thanks her, and turns to go.
"How'd he take the news?" Janeway asks. Seven stiffens and doesn't reply, but Janeway instantly reads the answer. "You haven't told him." No, Seven admits. "Why not?" the captain asks.
"It won't be easy for him to accept. He's adapted to life on Voyager."
"And you've adapted to having him here," Janeway observes.
"My feelings are irrelevant."
"Are they?" Mama Kate asks.
Again, Seven's silence is answer enough.
"Would you like me to tell him?" Janeway asks.
Seven gently shakes her head. "It's my responsibility . . . but I am, uncertain how to proceed."
The evolution in the relationship between Janeway and Seven shows well here. Janeway prompts Seven, without handing her the answer or making everything an order. "Well, you've already helped him make one difficult transition. How did you do that?"
Seven ponders. "By giving him the benefit of my own experiences. Encouraging him to be resilient in the face of obstacles."
Janeway smiles warmly. "Sounds like a good strategy."
The converation is remarkable for its ordinariness. It's the closest thing we've heard to off-duty girl talk from the captain since Kes left. It's nice to see.
Seven leaves, looking somewhat more firm in her resolve to break the news to Icheb.
Janeway smiles at her exiting protégé, then returns to her book with a happy sigh.
Whatever time it is, it's past Icheb's bedtime. The three other ex-drones are already regenerating. But Icheb is up, doing yet another bit of high-tech research, like he's bucking for Valedictorian at DeVry.
Seven enters and sees Icheb awake. It's clear she'd hoped he'd be asleep so she could postpone this until morning. But no time like the present. "Is your alcove malfunctioning?" she asks.
"I'm calculating neutrino trajectories."
"You need to regenerate."
Icheb stops what he's doing. "Very well." He heads for his alcove.
Seven stops him. He looks at her expectantly. After a brief inner battle, Seven spills it. "We've located your parents. Voyager is due to arrive at their planet tomorrow."
"Do I have to stay with them?" Icheb asks neutrally.
"They're your parents."
"I don't remember them."
"After my parents were assimilated I never saw them again," Seven says, apparently blocking out the sight of her father the drone in "Dark Frontier." "You're fortunate to have this chance." Seven doesn't sound convincing.
"What about the others?" Icheb looks over at the alcoves, where Mezoti and Samneric regenerate.
"We haven't been able to locate their families yet."
The odd thing about this is that the location of Mezoti's species is already well known. Voyager had been to her home planet just a few weeks before. Since that would mean backtracking, I suspect that means Janeway's decided to keep her.
As for the twins and the Borg infant, your guess is as good as mine.
"That's not what I mean. What will happen to them if I leave? They depend on me." Good for him; taking responsibility.
"They'll adapt." Mama Seven is here to take care of them.
Oh, yeah, like she's taking care of Icheb?
Icheb swallows hard. "I'll never see you again?" he asks.
Apparently the news just gets worse. Seven takes a deep breath and hands him a PADD. "I've been studying Brunali culture. It's very different from what you've become accustomed to on Voyager."
"In what way?"
"They're an agrarian society. Their technological resources are limited."
"Are they capable of space travel?" Icheb asks, starting to look nauseous.
"Yes. But most of their vessels were destroyed by the Borg."
The implications are sinking in with a vengeance now. "How will I continue my studies?" he asks, with an edge of accusation creeping into his voice. He's blaming the messenger a bit.
But the messenger is also blaming herself. Seven's voice is painfully soft. "I don't know."
Icheb is still getting used to his individuality, and emotions. But he knows when he's not happy, and he has a good way of showing it. He glares at Seven, sets the PADD down hard enough to cause an echo in the cargo bay, and marches to his alcove.
"Icheb!" Seven calls plaintively.
Icheb takes his place, offers Seven one last baleful look . . . and then turns his head 45 degrees as the regeneration mode activates.
Seven struggles to maintain her composure.
The next day, Voyager reaches sensor range of the Brunali homeworld. Like most class-M worlds, it looks pleasant enough from a distance.
But as the scans begin, a different picture unfolds.
"I'm detecting scattered enclaves on the northern continent--all with populations of fewer than 10,000," Harry Kim reports.
"Judging from the residual gamma radiation, it appears they've suffered numerous Borg attacks over the past decade," Tuvok adds.
Seven frowns as her own scans bear fruit. "That's not surprising. There's a Borg transwarp conduit less than a light-year away."
"Not exactly prime real estate," Tom Paris mutters.
Janeway has one of her more determined masks on. She could have asked for better, but she's not going to cut and run just yet. "Tuvok, run continuous scans for Borg activity. Tom, put us into synchronous orbit."
"Seven," Janeway says, looking over her shoulder. "You'd better get Icheb." Seven nods and exits.
Icheb is in Sickbay, sitting on a diagnostic bed while Doc runs a tricorder over him.
"According to these scans, you're in perfect health," Doc says.
Icheb considers this. "Then why does my stomach feel so--strange?"
Doc seems to understand. Dramatically, he runs another scan over the young man's stomach. "Oh, I should have known," he says, peering at the results. You've got butterflies in there."
Icheb is confused. "I never assimilated butterflies."
Doc answers with a soft reassurance. "It's an expression used to describe anxiety or apprehension--both of which are perfectly natural reactions for someone about to meet his long-lost parents," Doc says kindly. "If it's any comfort, I'm sure they're just as nervous about meeting you."
Icheb winces a little at the thought. "Parents are irrelevant."
"Really. Do you think Naomi's mother is irrelevant to her?"
Based on how rarely we get to see Samantha Wildman, one could be forgiven for saying Yes.
Icheb is practical. "I have Seven of Nine to assist me in my education. I have you to care for my medical needs." It takes a starship to raise a drone.
"Your parents can nurture you in ways this crew can't," Doc counters. "They can explain the Brunali culture." Which Icheb doesn't at this point care about. "Share their experiences with you." Like a decade of Borg invasions--that should help him sleep nights.
"You didn't have parents," Icheb points out.
"You adapted to serve a vital function about this vessel, forged relationships with its crew--all without the benefit of parents."
Doc finds himself on the defensive. "I had my programming to fall back on."
"And how would your programming respond if you were asked to live with strangers?"
Doc is saved from answering when Seven of Nine enters Sickbay. "Are you damaged?" she asks, concern in her expression.
"He's fine," Doc says. "I was just giving him a last-minute checkup."
Icheb looks plaintively at the Doctor. Doc puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. "The 'butterflies' will go away."
Moment of truth. Nowhere to go but planetside. Resigned to his fate, Icheb follows Seven to the door, and a reluctant reunion.
This little slice of Brunali looks like it's been sliced, diced, tenderized, sifted through, rode hard and put away dusty. The ruins of previous settlements, reminders of why the Borg would once have found this planet interesting, lie on the outskirts of what is now a fairly desolate canyon, as though a very substantial chunk of Brunali was airlifted somewhere else.
Inside the canyon, however, there is some greenery, and a small and humble but active settlement. It's a bright, bright, sunshiny day.
Janeway and Tuvok, Seven and Icheb, beam down at the edge of the settlement.
A man and a woman walk toward them; everyone else keeps their distance. Janeway leads the way toward the welcome, er, wagon.
"Hello. I'm Captain Janeway--"
The woman looks fondly at the one familiar face. "Icheb!"
The man, smiling less, examines the young man before him. "You've...Grown."
"He spent several months in a Borg maturation chamber," Seven explains.
The man and woman pointedly ignore Seven, and look at Janeway. Their unspoken question is clear: who the hell is this?
"This is Seven of Nine," Janeway says by way of introduction--as though she has a choice. Janeway can already sense the fur about to fly.
The woman gives Seven an angry look. "That's a Borg designation, isn't it?"
Seven stares right back. The mother and the guardian size each other up, and neither seems all that impressed. "Like your son, I was liberated from the Collective."
"Seven has been instrumental in helping Icheb make his transition," Janeway offers helpfully.
The male warms up first--figures. "Then we're very grateful to you. I'm--" MORN!!!
Oops. Sorry. Wrong series. He's "Leucon, Icheb's father. And this is his mother, Yifay."
Yifay looks at her grown-up boy. "How are you?" she asks.
"Fine," says Icheb testily.
Yifay gingerly approaches her son. She notices the uppercase-gamma of a Borg implant lining the boy's nose and left eyebrow. "Do these hurt you?" She extends a hand.
Icheb backs away. "No." He looks at her like bipedal Ebola. It's a bad thing, to look at your mama like that. Yifay backs off, stung by her child's rejection. Seven watches the exchange, and gives Icheb a stern, but oddly satisfied look. She clearly shares Icheb's assessment.
Leucon gives a more manly welcome. "We're very happy to have you back with us." He waves his hand back at a trio of other Brunali. "Mala, Remi, Yivel."
An older man, a younger man, and a young woman look back. "Welcome home, Icheb," the boy (I'm guessing his name is Remi) calls out from a safe distance.
Icheb takes it all in, gives his new home an appraising look.
Then he looks at Mama Seven. "I would like to return to Voyager now."
The villagers are stunned. The parents are stricken. Janeway is embarrassed. Seven seems a bit relieved.
Say it loud, Cajun Man:
* * *
It's chilly in Voyager's conference room. Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway sit alone.
Seven's back is to us.
Janeway, we see glaring at Seven. Her elbow is on the armrest. Her right forefinger rubs at her temple. She chews all the remaining fingernails at once. The resulting noise is like something out of The Langoliers.
The two sit like statues until the door opens. A guard escorts Icheb's parents inside. Janeway and Seven rise, and Janeway's expression becomes cordial. "Thank you for coming."
The parents look around. "Where's Icheb?" Leucon (MORN!) demands.
"I thought it might be better if we talked ourselves first."
"What exactly is there to discuss?" Leucon (MORN!) asks, on his guard.
Janeway smiles warmly. "How to make this transition easier for your son. Please, sit down." She holds the nearer seat for Yifay.
Hesitantly, they do. Janeway and Seven join them at the table.
"It won't be easy for him to give up the luxuries of your ship," Yifay observes.
"It's more than a question of luxuries," Seven says, assuming the role of Icheb's advocate--an assumption that irritates Janeway. "Icheb has special medical needs."
"We have a physician in our settlement," says Leucon. (I promise, no more MORN jokes.)
"We should arrange for him to consult with our Doctor," Janeway, the apparent mediator, suggests. The parents don't object.
But Seven's just getting started. "He also requires daily regeneration."
"I'm sure you can adapt some of our technology to make that possible." Uh oh. Janeway's clipping her consonants, accentuating every syllable. Someone is perilously close to getting glared at.
"What about his educational requirements?" Seven demands, heedless of the danger sitting next to her.
"Our children go to school," Yifay says defensively.
"Will he be able to continue his studies in Astrometrics and spatial harmonics?"
"If Icheb has an aptitude for science," Leucon says, glaring hard at Seven himself, "I'm sure he'll find that we have a great deal to teach him."
"For example?" Seven asks. Janeway just about loses it, but bites her tongue and holds on a bit longer.
Leucon channels his irritation. "We've developed sophisticated techniques in agricultural genetics which allow us to grow crops in an inhospitable environment."
"Icheb has expressed no interest in agriculture."
Janeway's had all she can stand; she can't stands no more. "I'm sure, once he's been exposed to the subject, he'll find it quite challenging." She clips the words enough here to draw blood.
"There's still the issue of his safety," Seven continues, giving her own brand of assimilated skunk eye in the direction of Yifay, her challenger for the role of Icheb's mother figure.
Yifay bristles. "We're perfectly capable of protecting our son!"
Seven pounds her point home without mercy. "Your proximity to a Borg conduit makes you extremely vulnerable. I'm curious if you've ever considered relocating."
That's it. "Seven!" Janeway barks.
"No," Leucon says, holding up a hand. "It's all right, Captain." He glares at Seven. "This planet is our home. We will never leave it. We will defend it against the Borg--or anyone else who threatens us."
Them's fightin' words--but Seven could dump Leucon like a malfunctioning warp core without difficulty. Yifay's a different story, but even that catfight would likely go to the one in the catsuit.
Seven sticks to her current weapon of choice--naked scorn. "Your courage is admirable but unrealistic."
The amazing thing is that Janeway waited this long to take action. "Wait for me in my ready room!" she whispers.
We haven't seen an evil triple-whammy Glare-O-Doom™ like this in a long time. She stands. She whispers her order, but the psi-factor is off the scale. "NOW."
Seven doesn't argue--she sees the guard by the door begin to twitch. The Force is strong with Janeway today. Seven rises, and leaves.
Janeway returns to her guests, all sugar and sunshine. "I apologize for her behavior. She and Icheb have grown very close but it's no excuse for rudeness."
"We'd like to see our son, now," says Leucon.
"Please be patient," Janeway urges. "If we rush things, your next encounter with him may not go any better than the last."
She offers a comforting, motherly smile. "Stay aboard Voyager for a while. It'll give Icheb a chance to get to know you in an environment that's familiar to him. I'll have Neelix do everything he can to make you comfortable while you're here."
Yifay considers this, then nods. She looks at Leucon, who also nods, slowly.
Like they've got a choice.
Seven is waiting patiently in Janeway's ready room when the captain arrives.
Janeway's got her butt-whuppin' boots on, and she's walking the walk before the door even closes. "Your attitude is making a difficult situation worse."
"I was simply attempting to insure Icheb's well-being," Seven says.
"By insulting his parents?!"
"Those issues needed to be discussed."
"You could've done it with a little more tact," says the Miss Congeniality of the Delta Quadrant.
"Perhaps," says Seven. "But that doesn't alter the fact that those individuals may not be suitable guardians."
Janeway is horrified. "Those individuals are his mother and father!"
Seven glares right back. "Which is no guarantee that they'll be able to care for him. He's far more likely to flourish if he remains on Voyager."
"That is not an option, Seven," Janeway says.
"Are you ordering him off the ship?" Seven's getting good at this, you gotta admit.
"That's not what I said--"
"So that he can be assimilated again?" (Foreshadowing . . .)
"What makes you so sure that's going to happen?"
"They shouldn't remain on that planet."
"It's their home." Home has a special meaning for the earth-born Janeway.
"It's not worth protecting." Seven isn't impressed by the emotional attachments to barren clumps of rock.
"Who are you to decide that?" Janeway asks icily. (Someone who learned from the best, my auburn queen.)
"Anyone who values their own goals over the safety of their children is irresponsible," Seven declares. (More foreshadowing . . .)
Janeway leans over the railing and looks down at Seven. "Are we talking about Icheb's parents? Or yours?" It's a low blow, but Janeway fights to win.
Seven barely hesitates. "Both!"
It's always fascinating to see that moment where an argument pivots and becomes something else. A crucial truth comes out, and Janeway, struck momentarily speechless, is suddenly done being angry, is through with arguing. It's suddenly less about Icheb than it is about Seven--and when it comes to Seven of Nine, Janeway is the surrogate and highly-protective mama.
Janeway steps down from her perch. "It's not like you to admit to something like that," she says softly.
"It would be naive for me to claim objectivity in this case. But I'm not prepared to return Icheb to parents who may be as careless as my own."
"I know what it's like to feel protective towards someone you've helped through a difficult period," Janeway says, stating the obvious about as obviously as one can imagine. But all the heat is gone; Janeway is more like we saw her with Seven in her quarters in the previous act.
"But Icheb is an individual now," Janeway continues. "You have to give him a chance to form his own opinions."
Seven follows up. "If I do...and he decides to remain on Voyager...?"
Janeway shrugs, and smiles. "Then it'll be my problem."
Icheb, back in Cargo Bay 2, returns to his research. Only this time, the other Voyager Kids are awake, and playing, in the same room. Naomi Wildman quietly plays kadis-kot with Samneric. Mezoti noisily rides a scooter around the cargo bay, peppering Icheb with questions.
Rather than the Science Fair, where the kids were displayed like prize livestock, here they can just be themselves.
It's nice to see that Seven's "fun" schedule has become less structured.
"Is your mother pretty?" Mezoti asks. "What are they like?" It's not the urgent pestering of a child, but more the disinterested inquisitiveness of your average tabloid television interviewer.
"I'm busy," Icheb says, doing his best to ignore her.
"I never met my father," Naomi says sadly.
"I don't remember ours," Azan (the Sam of Samneric) says.
"Neither do I," says eric.
"Are you going to stay with them?" Naomi asks.
Icheb starts making la-la-la-I'm-not-listening noises.
Mezoti continues to pester. "If you leave, who's going to help us with our science projects?" she asks in that Barbara Walters, "if you wewe a twee what kind of twee would you be?" way.
Icheb gives them all a big bad glare. "If you don't stop asking questions I'm going to put all of you in a cargo container and transport you back to the Borg."
Mezoti makes a face, completely non-intimidated. Icheb's eyes twinkle, and the edges of his mouth twitch upward.
Too bad the merriment doesn't last. The moment Seven of Nine enters the bay, Icheb shuts down like Data deactivating his emotion chip.
"Come with me," Seven says commandingly.
A pause. "Where?"
"To dinner with your parents." Poor Seven; she looks as unhappy to be giving the order as Icheb is to receive it.
Icheb isn't interested. "I'm working."
Seven curses Janeway's name under her breath, then plays the dutiful soldier. "You can continue your work after the meal."
Icheb whirls on Seven. "I don't have anything to talk about with them."
"Then it will be a very quiet evening." Well, at least he hasn't been ordered to enjoy it.
"I'm not going," Icheb declares, testing the waters.
"Your attendance is not optional."
The other kids watch the exchange in silent dread. When their turn comes, when their families are found, will they be treated the same way?
Seven exits the cargo bay and stands in the hallway, waiting for Icheb to follow.
With a grim look at the other kids, Icheb follows, looking like Dead Man Walking.
Neelix has allowed an interloper into his kitchen. Yifay has been whipping up some good old-fashioned Brunali comfort food. Neelix helps bring the plates to the table, while Leucon waits patiently for his family's first meal together in a long time.
Seven of Nine and Icheb enter. Both look grim.
Icheb looks plaintively at Seven. Seven gives Icheb a sad but determined look. "Enjoy your meal." She then steps away, leaving Icheb alone in the center of the room.
"Come, sit down," Yifay says softly.
"I prefer to stand." The muscles in Icheb's jaw are rippling.
She tries again. "Mr. Neelix let me use his galley to prepare some poma."
"I'm not hungry."
Swing and a miss.
"It was your favorite food when you were little--"
"I'm not little anymore." No kidding; the boy is almost as tall as Shaq.
"No," Yifay agrees mournfully. "No, you're not."
Call it a foul ball.
Leucon gives his son a plaintive look. "Your mother worked hard on that meal. Couldn't you at least try it?"
Icheb looks back at Seven, who gives a curt nod, betraying little emotion. Nervously, he approaches the table, and takes a seat across from his mother.
Leucon takes the first bite, of something vegetable. Icheb starts with the poma, which looks a bit like a puff pastry with a fruity filling. He takes a bite of the good stuff.
His eyes go wide.
He reaches for another bite, and though he puts his head down to betray as little as possible, there's no disguising the smile.
Especially not from Mom. Yifay rests her elbow on the table and her head in her palm, and gets misty-eyed.
Leucon smiles. "Good. Isn't it?"
Single to right field. The game isn't won just yet, but the first brick in the wall has come down. Icheb has his first true happy link with Brunali--the taste of poma.
Neelix stands next to Seven. "Nice to see the family back together again isn't it?"
Seven looks at the scene.
"When you were little, you would only eat the insides, and all these would be empty," Yifay tells her son."
"I don't remember that," says Icheb.
Seven's response is silent but blunt. She walks out of the room.
* * *
We get a different view of the Brunali homeworld. The old skyline is visible, and it's even more clear that what the Brunali are now is a far cry from their previous heights of civilization. One suspects that before the Borg got here, this was a planet Icheb might have been happy to call home.
Circumstances have changed. Now, we see a pipe pouring brown sludge into a brackish river. But even in these humble new beginnings, the Brunali are proving their resilience. Leucon walks his son through the encampment, proudly displaying the industry and determination of their people.
"The Borg didn't leave us much to work with," Leucon says as they walk through a greenhouse. Other Brunali work diligently, and the fruits of their labors are ample--vegetables, fruits, grains, flowering plants. "But we didn't need much, just a little ingenuity. Everything you see, we built with our own hands--our homes, cultivation bays--"
"What's this?" Icheb asks, heading straight for the most high-tech equipment in the area.
"A genetic re-sequencer. We use it to alter the DNA of certain plants to conform with environmental conditions." Sounds like a handy, multipurpose device . . .
Oopsie. Forget I said anything.
"You built this as well?"
"We adapted parts from damaged vessels. Nothing's been wasted." They resume their walk.
"Efficient," Icheb says guardedly.
Leucon smiles sadly. "Efficiency's one attribute we share with the Borg. In our case, it's a necessity."
They leave the main area and head into the rocky edge of the community. Those on the outskirts do their part by picking up and carting off rubble, clearing the way for future expansion. "I know our settlement seems . . . primitive...Compared to Voyager but I promise you, that will change."
"What about space travel?" Icheb asks.
Single-minded, isn't he? Leucon takes it in stride. "Someday...we'll have ships that rival Voyager. But we need the dedication of young people like you to help us."
From a distance, one of the boys calls out. "Icheb! How are you?"
Icheb answers in kind. "Well! Thank you!"
"Maybe later you can join us up on the field for a game of pala!"
Icheb looks at his father and shrugs. "I don't remember how to play!" Icheb shouts back.
The boy laughs. "It will come back to you!"
Leucon smiles up at his son. "You used to be quite an athlete." He places hand on Icheb's shoulder. "You can make a difference here, Icheb."
"I don't know anything about agriculture...Or genetics."
Leucon gives him an encouraging smile. "It won't take you long to learn. Not with a mind like yours."
Seven of Nine beams down and makes a beeline for Icheb. "It's time to return to Voyager."
"I am staying here tonight," Icheb says.
Seven is surprised, and a little hurt. "They don't have a regeneration unit."
"We're going to have to install one eventually," Leucon says, ever the optimist. "Might as well do it now."
"As far as I'm aware he hasn't decided to remain here yet," Seven says, ever the cynic.
"He has asked to stay tonight," Leucon says. Icheb gives Seven a look she knows well enough--this is his decision, and he's not planning to back down. It's only one night.
Seven relents. "Return with me to the ship," she tells Leucon. "We'll prepare a regeneration unit."
In Cargo Bay Two, Seven shows Leucon the Borg in a Box Dreamkit. "I've adapted this neural transceiver to interface with the portable regenerator. It has enough power to complete one full cycle."
"We'll have to devise a way of recharging it," Leucon says, putting the generator into a travel bin.
"If Icheb decides to stay," Seven reminds him.
Leucon decides to take a different approach this time. A soft answer turneth away wrath. "My wife and I appreciate everything you've done for our son. It's obvious you care about him."
That, they can agree on. "He's a unique individual," Seven says.
"Yes, he is. To get him back is..." He gets an odd look on his face, surprisingly melancholy. "Well...a miracle."
"How was he taken?"
A painful memory, but Leucon indulges her. "Since the Borg first attacked us we've taken great pains to hide whatever new technology we develop."
Seven nods. "So the passing cubes won't be attracted to your planet."
"Unfortunately, we haven't always been successful. One morning, about four years ago...Icheb heard me talking about a new fertilization array we'd constructed in the lower field. He wanted to see it. I told him I'd take him the next day."
Leucon sighs. "But he was impatient, the way boys can be. I never even realized he'd wandered off when the alarm sounded." He leans against something for support. "It turns out the Borg were just as interested in our new technology as Icheb was. They took him...assimilated everyone in the area."
A cloud passes over his face. "If only I'd kept a closer eye on him--"
"Icheb . . . has a mind of his own," Seven reminds him.
"But still...it's hard not to blame myself." (Foresha--)
"Your parents must've felt the same way when they lost you," Leucon says."
It's Seven's turn to wince. "My parents were with me when the Borg attacked."
"I can't imagine what that must've been like for them, watching their daughter being assimilated...Helpless to defend her--"
Seven changes the subject. "It's important that Icheb regenerate for six uninterrupted hours."
"He may resist. He doesn't like to waste time. I have had to contend with his lack of patience as well."
Leucon laughs softly. The two seem to have come to some sort of an understanding. Much of that original tension has dissipated.
Icheb sits on the landing of his parents' house. His parents sit on either side. Mom has her arm around him, touching his arm parentally.
It's night. Leucon points out the stars--the same ones Icheb called Just Passing Through as a drone, then came to love as an individual. Now, the son of a country farmer, he sits on a porch and watches them twinkle.
While traveling among the stars must surely be a wonder, looking up from solid ground at the stars above has a charm all its own.
Leucon demonstrates. He points skyward. "Over there is a star called Kelsin Three. And to the west is the Orlitus Cluster. There, just above it, when you connect those six stars they form what we call the Great Horn."
Icheb smiles. "I see it!"
"You inherited your love of the stars from your father," Yifay says.
"Being on that Starship you've learned much more about astronomy than I have," Leucon says. "Our little window can't compare to Voyager's Astrometrics lab."
"No," Icheb admits. "But it's nice."
"You see?" Mom says. "We have everything we need, right here: A warm fire, good food that we grow ourselves, and people who love us."
"Icheb has people on Voyager who love him, too," Leucon points out.
"You've grown attached to the crew on that ship haven't you?" Mom asks.
"They've provided for me, given me opportunities."
"They're good people--people who've experienced hardship themselves," says Leucon. "Seven of Nine told me about your science project. She said it might prove very useful."
Icheb lights up. "It's designed to detect wormholes."
"How will that benefit them?"
"It may help them find a way back to Earth."
Mom joins in. "Why is that so important to them?"
"It's their home."
Leucon gets a grin on his face. "Interesting, isn't it?"
"What?" asks Icheb.
"With all their technology, with all their opportunity to explore the galaxy . . . the thing they want most . . . is to get home."
The parents and the child continue to peer up at the stars.
The next day, Icheb finds Seven working in Astrometrics. He looks chipper. "Good morning."
Seven continues her work, pointedly refusing to look at him. We haven't seen it often, but we have seen it enough to know that when she's like this, she's hurting. "Did you regenerate successfully?" She asks softly.
"Yes, and I slept...under the stars. You should try it."
"You weren't in class this morning. The others missed you."
"I was helping my father. There is something we need to discuss."
Seven stops working and turns to Icheb. "What is it?" Then she knows the answer. "You've decided to stay with them."
"Yes." It's hard for Icheb to say, but his mind is set.
"This is my home. I have a responsibility to help them rebuild it."
Seven nods. Emotion fills her voice. "I'll inform the Captain."
"Thank you," Icheb says.
Seven takes a deep breath. "I'm sure you'll want to say good-bye to the other children." She exits before her emotions betray her further.
Icheb enters the transporter room. For a guy who's only been an individual for a few weeks, he's got a heck of a load of stuff. He seems barely able to shoulder the bag he's carrying.
Seven of Nine carries another satchel. Janeway, being the captain, carries only the weight of absolute power. That's burden enough.
Seven hands the satchel to Icheb. "Inside you'll find PADDs containing data on a variety of subjects that will allow you to continue your studies. I've also included a high-resolution telescope." Her voice catches. "It's a poor substitute for Astrometrics sensors."
"I will use it every day," Icheb promises.
"Good-bye, Icheb, and good luck," says Janeway with a motherly smile.
"Thank you, Captain. I hope you find a way home." Janeway gets all teary-eyed; the boy knows just the right thing to say.
Icheb, on the platform, says a silent goodbye to Seven, who returns the look. Janeway allows them the moment together, then nods to the transporter officer to beam the boy home.
Seven stares at the empty platform. Then, squaring her shoulders, she leaves the transporter room.
Janeway watches her go, but lets her suffer in her own way.
Like mama, like daughter.
* * *
It's a bit quieter in Cargo Bay Two. No more Icheb means no more burning the midnight oil, so everyone can regenerate in peace. Answering an earlier question, we see Seven regenerating as well.
But for Mezoti, the silence is deafening.
At first, she just fidgets. Then her eyes wink open before she attempts to resume her downtime. Finally, sighing, she abandons the effort.
"Warning. Regeneration cycle incomplete." Mezoti ignores the computer and walks over to the sleeping Seven.
With a few tugs on the elder drone's wrist, Seven awakens. "What is it?"
"I can't regenerate."
Seven sighs, and steps out of the alcove.
"Warning: Regeneration cycle incomplete." The computer sounds a bit irritated, but again its warnings go unheeded.
"Explain," Seven asks.
"I miss Icheb."
Seven offers a helpless shrug. Her tone is gentle. "So do I...but we'll adapt. Now return to your alcove."
"If you find my parents, will I have to go with them?" That's our Mezoti--always asking the hard questions.
Seven has no ready answer, because the case of Icheb made it plain that Seven's opinion when it comes to the ultimate fate of The Children doesn't matter for squat as far as the captain is concerned. But she can't just come out and say that. "We'll discuss that when and if the time comes."
"I hope you don't find them," Mezoti says earnestly.
We see Seven's silent agreement. "Regenerate," she urges.
Mezoti returns to her alcove, but doesn't lock into sleep mode just yet. "Seven?" Yes? Seven says. "What if the Borg try to assimilate Icheb again?"
"His people lack resources," Seven says, trying to look on the bright side. "The Borg have little reason to return to their planet."
"But what if Icheb's on a ship?"
This surprises Seven. "Unlikely."
"He was on a ship last time." Wha-wha-WHAT?!?
Seven's eyes widen. That isn't what Papa Morn said. "You're mistaken. He was on the surface when he was assimilated."
Mezoti's deadpan, drone-like delivery adds to the chill that shoots down Seven of Nine's spine. "No. He wasn't. A class-one transport was detected in grid 649...one life-form...species: Brunali."
Mezoti gets in the last word. The alcove takes her in its high-tech arms, and Mezoti's eyes close.
Seven, though, is now wide awake.
Leucon, you got some 'splainin' to do . . .
Astrometrics has been converted into the Unimatrix One Learning Annex. Seven of Nine has pulled up the personnel records of the Borg, which provide the details of the assimilation of young Icheb of Brunali. He looks to have been about eleven or twelve at the time he was picked up. A few months in the maturation chamber, and he looks closer to seventeen.
There is other information showing on the other panels of the big screen. Seven looks not at all happy with what she's reading.
The door opens. Janeway swaggers in, carrying a coffee mug the size of a wading pool. Her hair is slightly mussed, her uniform thrown on.
And her voice has that wee-hours growl that Delta Quadrantites have come to fear more than death itself. "This better be important."
Janeway finds something sufficiently flat to hop onto. She crosses her legs, leans back, and begins to guzzle her wicked brew. "Sorry, I don't read Borg," she drawls with a surly yawn. "You'll have to translate."
Seven complies. As she does, Janeway rubs her temples. "This is tactical data from the cube where we found the children. It says that Icheb was alone aboard an unarmed transport vessel when the Borg took him."
"Oh," says Janeway irritably. "Why are you telling me this at 0300 hours?" She takes another gulp.
"Icheb's father told me the boy was assimilated on the planet's surface."
Janeway is tired. She doesn't want to hear this. To her credit, she doesn't dismiss Seven out of hand; she listens, and considers, but doesn't say Yea or Nay simply to get some more shuteye. "Is it possible you misunderstood?"
"No. He was very specific."
"That cube was disabled by a deadly pathogen. It suffered extensive damage. Isn't it possible these records were corrupted?"
"Perhaps," Seven concedes. "But. I found another inconsistency in Leucon's story. He told me Icheb was assimilated four years ago but further analysis indicates the Borg attacked three times during the last decade." She brings up the Brunali homeworld. Three areas are highlighted, with dates of each attack. "Nine years ago, six years ago, and again last year."
Janeway is a bit more awake, but still surly. (You know what they say. Surly to bed, surly to rise . . .) "All right. Let's assume your information is accurate. What does it prove?"
Seven states what she sees as the obvious conclusion. "His father was lying."
"Why would he do that?"
"I'm not certain," she admits. "But we have an obligation to find out."
The captain goes on her guard. "What are you proposing?"
"That we return to the planet, demand an explanation.
Janeway emits a heavy sigh. "Those people have been through enough. Do we really need to interrogate them?"
"We have a responsibility to ensure Icheb's safety," Seven insists.
"He chose to stay with his parents," Janeway reminds her.
"Maybe he didn't have all the information!" Seven's intensity level rises.
So does Janeway's. "Just because they weren't completely candid with you doesn't mean they're unfit parents. At some point, you have to let go."
Hello, Kettle? Pot here. I just gotta say it . . . Daaaamn, you're dark. <click>
Seven takes a deep breath. "I know what you're thinking--that I'm having emotional difficulty accepting my separation from Icheb...and you're correct."
"But, if there's a possibility he's in danger--even a remote one--I have to do whatever I can to protect him."
Seven gives Janeway her most earnest, sincere look. "If I don't, I'll be no better than my own parents."
Speaking of parents, Icheb's are home alone. The boy himself is no doubt out with his friends, playing polo or pala or poma or poodoo or whatever is cool on Brunali these days.
The subject, naturally, is Icheb.
The issue, however, may be a surprise.
"Couldn't we at least wait a few days?" The lying father pleads.
"What would that accomplish?" the doting mother demands.
"He's just getting settled."
"The longer we wait the harder it'll be for everyone. You know that."
"Why do it at all? There's nothing compelling us to go through with it."
"It's what he was born for."
"Hasn't he been through enough? Why not give him a chance at an ordinary life?"
Apparently there comes a time in every ill-fated Brunali's life when the boy becomes a man . . . and a new Amway distributorship is born.
"He's not an ordinary child," Yifay points out.
"No--but he can help us in other ways. He's bright. He's hardworking . . . "
"Leucon . . . his return was a gift. We can't waste it!" Her voice shakes with emotion.
They must be real close to that Double Diamond status.
"I don't want to lose him a second time!" Leucon shouts. The pain in his eyes is evident.
"To survive, we all have to make sacrifices. You taught me that." Survival. Sacrifices. Lies about how Icheb was taken by the Borg. Something unpleasant is underfoot.
Leucon leans heavily against a chair. Whatever this is about, they certainly gave no notice of it to Janeway or Seven. And we can only suspect it cannot be good for Icheb.
Speak of the devil. Icheb comes in through the door. "We won three games. In a row."
Yifay, still seated, does not look at her son. "Sit down, Icheb. We need to talk."
Icheb sits. Leucon moves to a corner of the room, not eager to be involved in this particular discussion.
"You know that you're very important to us." She sounds less like a mom and more like a boss speaking to an employee about to downsized.
"Yes," says Icheb, not following.
Yifay gets up and heads for a cabinet by the wall. "What you don't know . . . is why."
"What do you mean?" asks Icheb, confused.
Yifay pulls out a hypospray like thing and holds it up. Her eyes, though pained, also show a clear determination that Icheb instinctively knows means trouble. "What is that?"
"If you relax, it won't hurt you." Mom advances on her son.
"Father..." Icheb calls out, though remains seated. For a drone, he's a bit slow on the uptake.
"You'd better hold him," Mom says.
Leucon is reluctant, but obeys. He grabs his seated son and exposes his neck.
"What are you doing to me? No!" Apparently the Borg Power that Seven possesses didn't rub off on Icheb--he's quickly and easily subdued while his mother plunges the hypospray into his throat.
With a weak gasp, Icheb slumps into sleep.
"Prepare the launch."
Uh oh. Mezoti wasn't kidding.
Icheb may be getting that return to space even sooner than he'd hoped.
* * *
Finally. Voyager has come back to Brunali.
Janeway is in a dark mood. "Hail them," she says, in the same way the Queen of Hearts used to say, "off with their heads."
Leucon picks up the phone. "We didn't expect to see you again, Captain." Nor, his body language screams, did they want to.
Janeway's eyes bore into the screen. "We'd like to ask you a few questions if you don't mind."
Yifay appears on screen. "Questions?"
"Regarding Icheb and the circumstances of his assimilation," Seven pipes up.
Leucon's eyes widen instinctively, then narrow deliberately. "We've already discussed that."
"The story you told me was inconsistent with our data," Seven counters.
Yifay's eyes flash. "We don't owe you any explanations."
Janeway plays it cool. "In that case, I'd like to talk to Icheb."
Guilty looks are shared on the other end of the line. "He's not here."
Seven gets worried. "Where is he?"
Yifay glares. "That's not your concern!"
Yeah, right. Only Janeway decides what is and is not her concern, and now she's concerned. She tells Harry and Tuvok to scan for lifesigns. A moment later, Harry shakes his head, and Tuvok reports. "He is not in the settlement."
Seven, remembering Mezoti's words, is looking elsewhere. "I'm detecting a Brunali transport vessel--distance: Nine million kilometers." She looks up urgently. "It's heading for the coordinates of the transwarp conduit."
Chakotay looks at the data, and is surprised. "According to these readings that ship is traveling at warp 9.8." Which can't possibly be right.
"It only looks that way," Tom Paris says. "It's been designed to emit a false warp signature--strong enough to penetrate subspace."
Seven groks the implications immediately. "They're using it as bait to attract the Borg."
Game, set and match. Seven was right; Janeway will likely never tell her so, but at the moment there are more pressing matters. Janeway glares at the screen. "Icheb's on that vessel, isn't he?"
Yifay is defiant. "He's fighting for his people."
"Alone?" Seven asks incredulously. "On an unarmed transport?"
Leucon is also defiant, though he has some lingering guilt as well. "We don't have particle weapons or powerful Starships at our disposal. We're forced to use the only resource we have."
"Your children?" Seven asks.
"No. Our genetic expertise," says Yifay.
This time Janeway figures it out first. "Icheb's not bait. He's a weapon! The first Cube that captured him was infected by a pathogen." (head to "Collective" for that part of the story). "Icheb was the carrier, wasn't he?"
The two don't bother to deny it. "Every time we try to rebuild--begin to make progress!--the Borg come and take it away from us," Leucon says bitterly.
That's all the captain needs to hear. The two might be patriotic Brunali, but they're unfit parents. This looks like a job for Mama Kate. It takes a Starship to raise a child.
"Tom, set a course for that transport vessel--full impulse."
Leucon and Yifay are horrified. "You have no right to interfere!" Leucon says.
"We're trying to save our civilization!" Yifay says.
"By taking away Icheb's future," Seven slaps back at them.
"If we don't stop the Borg...the Brunali have no future," Yifay says.
Leucon tries one last gambit--self preservation. "Captain, a Borg ship will emerge from that conduit at any moment. You'll be destroyed."
But he doesn't know Janeway very well. She eats Borg for breakfast. She uses nanoprobes for toothpaste. She once lassoed two cubes flying in close formation and wind-surfed across two systems.
Janeway offers a feral grin. "We'll take our chances." The two Brunali do a double-take. "End transmission."
Janeway lives for moments like this. She takes her seat, which begins to hum with anticipation. "Redhead alert. Battle stations."
The crew straps in. It's gonna be a wild ride.
It's amazing how fast you can travel 9 million kilometers these days.
"We're coming within range, Captain," Paris reports.
"I'm picking up Icheb's life-signs. Bio-scans indicate he's unconscious," Harry adds.
Chakotay orders a transport to Sickbay, but Seven says there's too much interference.
"It's the conduit," Tuvok says. "By my estimate, a Borg vessel will emerge in less than 40 seconds."
That'll be close. "Transfer auxiliary power to the transporters," Janeway says.
"I still can't establish a lock, not at this distance," Seven says.
"30 seconds," Tuvok says.
Janeway orders Paris to close the distance. Yes, ma'am, Tom says.
We see Voyager tailing the Brunali vessel, as a bright light appears from nowhere.
"The conduit's opening," Tuvok says. "20 seconds." Janeway looks at Seven, who still can't get a lock--they're too far away.
"You heard her, Tom," Janeway says.
Tom complies, but not without comment. "When that Borg ship comes through I'm going to have a hell of a time getting away from it."
"One problem at a time," Janeway says.
'Ten seconds... Nine... Eight..."
"I've got a lock," says Seven as Tuvok continues the countdown. "Transport in progress."
"He's in Sickbay," Seven reports.
"Three, two, one..."
"Get us out of here," Janeway says. "Maximum--"
But the ships get caught in a green beam, their surest proof that the Borg have them. The empty Brunali vessel, and the decidedly non-empty Federation vessel, are both pulled toward the open maw of the Borg sphere.
"Target their tractor beam generator," Janeway says.
"Fire." Voyager fires.
"No effect," says Tuvok.
We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
"Perhaps not," says Seven. "There is a way to get a weapon through their shields."
Janeway perks up. "I'm listening."
"Transport a photon torpedo to the Brunali vessel. Set it to detonate soon as it's inside the sphere."
"That will occur in approximately 20 seconds," Tuvok says. "However, Voyager will be inside less than three seconds later. "
"Tom, full reverse thrusters," Janeway orders. "It might buy us a couple more seconds. Do it." Tom nods, and does it.
"Transport complete," Seven says a moment later. "Detonation in ten, nine..."
The Sphere almost has them. The red beam we saw in Collective, the notice that you are well and truly screwed, has just come on. The Brunali ship is already inside.
Tom begins to turn the ship sideways.
"...Five... Four..." Seven counts.
"Tom, go to warp on my mark," Janeway says.
"All hands, brace for impact!" Chakotay yells.
"Now, Mr. Paris!"
Voyager begins to turn away. The first explosion singes the outer hull, but doesn't cause too much damage.
Then there's a bigger BOOM. Voyager kicks into warp just before the Borg debris hits the fan.
"The Borg vessel has taken heavy damage. They are not pursuing," Tuvok says.
Janeway sighs. Once more into the breach . . . once more they get out more or less intact.
The smoking, sparking bridge is just par for the course.
Icheb is unconscious in Sickbay. Doc runs a scanner over him.
No butterflies still. But a few other wee beasties have reasserted themselves.
Janeway and Seven are here. "Are you saying his parents reinfected him?" Janeway asks incredulously.
"No. They merely sedated him," Doc says.
"I don't understand," says Seven.
"He was genetically engineered to produce the pathogen...from birth."
Oh, so that's the deal. Good thing they told us. Eventually.
"Bred to kill Borg," Janeway says, marveling. Perhaps bummed she didn't think of it.
"Is he in danger?" Seven asks.
"I can suppress the pathogen," Doc assures them. "He'll be fine...physically."
Janeway looks at Seven. "He's going to need help coming to terms with what's happened."
"Use your maternal instincts. They worked before."
Wow. A compliment to Mama Seven from Granny Kate. You don't see those every day.
Seven finds Icheb in Astrometrics. Guess he's fallen back into old habits. Good sign.
However, instead of stars and nebulae, Icheb is studying genetics.
Guess the Brunali rubbed off on him a little after all.
"I thought you were studying spatial harmonics."
"My parents suggested I might have an aptitude for genetics as well."
"I see." She walks over and stands beside him. "What have you learned?"
"This is the genome of a typical Brunali male...and this is my DNA. They're nearly identical--but do you notice the differences in the third, 13th and 17th chromosomes?"
Seven knew this moment would come eventually. He's a smart boy. "Yes."
"My parents made microgenetic alterations so I would produce the pathogen." He seems awfully quiet about this realization, that his parents bred him to be Bubonic of Borg. "Quite ingenious."
"It's also barbaric," Seven counters.
Icheb, though, is Brunali enough to defend his parents' actions. "They were trying to defend themselves...their way of life...preserve their species." Apparently he doesn't mind the idea of stepping into the batter's box and Taking One for the Team.
"I know how difficult it is to acknowledge your parents' faults," Seven says. "But what they did was wrong. You don't have to forgive them."
Icheb considers that irrelevant. "Do you think they will ever forgive me?"
"I could have destroyed that sphere. I failed them."
"You would have been reassimilated!"
"I know, but . . ."
A long pause ensues.
"But what?" Seven asks.
Icheb shrugs. "Maybe it was my destiny."
"Maybe," Seven allows. It's not the destiny she would choose for him. So she tries to put a new spin on things. "In the future, you may choose to fight the Borg. But you'll do it in your own way. You're an individual. And you have the right to determine your own destiny."
Icheb considers this.
"It's time to regenerate."
"And if I prefer to continue studying?" Icheb asks.
Seven smiles slightly. "It's your decision." Her boy done growed all up.
Icheb keeps studying. Seven, proudly, leaves him be.
Ironically, we're pretty much back where we started.
Only with a lot more water under the bridge.
I can't be the only person who noticed the similarities between "Child's Play" and the Elian Gonzales situation.
If there's no way to agree on the details, this much is indisputable--when it comes to the fate of The Children, people have very strong opinions. Generally, everyone wants what's in the best interest of the child, but there is a wide variance of opinion on what course of action will accomplish that--and at least some of that will be based on their own experience.
The comparison is, of course, inexact. And I don't want to turn this review into a bully pulpit for a highly divisive issue, or argue the finer points ad nauseum. I'll only say this--I am about as pro-family as people get, but I consider April 22, 2000 a bleak and terrible day in American history.
That said, on with the review.
The title, "Child's Play," can be viewed from several angles.
The Borg kids and Naomi were seen a few times in this episode. Showing off at a science fair to the amusement of the grownups. Playing freely in Cargo Bay Two without parental supervision. Icheb later enjoyed some more Child's Play on Brunali, a game called pala that we never got to see, but we know he enjoyed it.
Kids being kids, in other words. Free to be who they want to be, too young to have to worry about grown-up issues. As we saw on the oft-beleaguered Voyager and the much-besieged Brunali homeworld, kids can still find the time to play. They adapt to their role.
Icheb, though, is no longer quite a kid. He's on the verge of gruphood. He's got the mind of a well-developed prodigy, whose inventions could well speed Voyager's journey home--or could help breathe new life into the planet of his birth. This child's play is knowledge--a voracious appetite for learning and applying those lessons. It could well be a trait he picked up from the Borg; it's something he shares with Seven of Nine. In any case, he's got it.
In a free society, he'd be allowed to choose his destiny. Voyager, though, is NOT a free society--it's a rigidly structured society--benevolent at times though it may be--and Janeway is its fearless leader. They have protocols to follow. They have ranks and duty rosters. Everyone knows their role, and most keep their mouths shut. Orders are followed, generally, without hesitation.
Kids and Starships are, at best, an uneasy mix. Kids are not used to following orders, for one thing, especially if they don't want to. Adults have been through enough, given sufficient training, to know that it doesn't matter what they want.
The Borg are not the bad guys this week.
We know what the Borg are. A force of nature, like a hurricane. The ultimate consumer society--the galaxy is their CostCo. "Hey, look species 6497. We don't have one of those. Let's bag 'em." They don't create; they can only confiscate and adapt.
Every drone is a sob story; we are who they were, and they are what we could be if we're not careful.
We've seen various means employed in an attempt to fight back the Borg. In most cases, viruses were deployed by offering a sacrificial lamb to be assimilated by the Collective. It's a matter of using the Borg's survival instincts against them. If it's an adult that goes of his own free will and choice, that's one thing. But sending someone unwillingly--or unwittingly--is questionable.
Particularly when it is a child. We learn that Icheb was conceived with designer DNA, his very existence created with one purpose in mind--to gift-wrap him and drop him on the Collective's doorstop, where his genes would prove devastating to his abductors.
Did Icheb's parents love him? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But that didn't stop them from using him as a Trojan horse for his killer DNA.
We can sympathize with the Brunali. The Borg are not warm and fuzzy. We saw the devastation they raged across Icheb's home planet, saw the hints of what this society had once been in the wrecked distance and saw the humble state to which they had been reduced. We can sympathize with their desperation. Even the great humanitarian Jean Luc Picard said that killing drones would "be doing them a favor." Seven of Nine might not go that far, but she's become an effective Borg Fighter in her own right.
The point here is, the Borg are nasty business, and some people will go to great lengths to be rid of them. There are very few Janeways in the galaxy, who seem to relish the thought of going head-to-head with the Collective.
But as I've said many times, with all due affection--Janeway is just plain nuts sometimes. It's a trait that most of the Heroes of Myth tend to share.
Just a bit more backdrop.
Logic tends to fail when the subject of Family comes up. Because it's a very personal issue, and nobody's family is the same.
The two principal characters in this story, aside from Icheb, are Janeway and Seven of Nine. Both are daughters of the Federation. Janeway's a Starfleet brat whose big regret was that her dad didn't like to bring his work home with him and was gone a lot, so she joined Starfleet in part so she could spend more time with him. Seven of Nine was raised by drone-hugging rebels who took her with them everywhere they went--including harm's way, which ultimately cost them their individuality.
Janeway has warm and fuzzy feelings about Family. Seven blames her parents for their foolishness, and for dragging her along. Both are, in their way, correct--we know good families and bad families. Some have only happy childhood memories; others are still living with the trauma of growing up. Jerry Springer's guest list is packed with families I'm glad I didn't grow up in. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
So when the subject comes up--we've rescued a kid, now what?--Janeway and Seven have very different priorities. Janeway likes her parents, so she believes that returning the kids to their parents is a good thing to do. Seven figures any parents who let their kids get assimilated already have at least one strike against them--they didn't do their job and protect the kid the first time, so why should they be given another chance?
It comes down to benefit of the doubt. Janeway gives it to the parents until they prove unworthy of it. Seven is more skeptical; she figures you're not worthy until you prove otherwise.
The language the women use on each other is instructive. Seven refers to the return of Icheb to his parents as "re-assimilation," a term loaded with subtext. It implies compulsion, a lack of choice. But Janeway just takes it as a given that a kid belongs with the parents, that any such reunion must by nature be a joyous one. As it turns out, Seven was correct--Icheb wasn't interested, at least at first, so the first meeting was very unpleasant, and he had to be dragged into contact with his parents.
Eventually, he did warm up to them, and despite Seven's concerns, he chose to return home. So it looked like Janeway was right after all.
But the clues were there. Evasive, defensive, and shellshocked parents. Inconsistent data. Seven's warnings about proximity to a Borg transwarp corridor. The genetic manipulation machine that the astute immediately picked up on as a plot point from "Collective." When Mezoti threw the final variable into place, it turned out Seven was right after all--the best interests of the child were not served by keeping him with the Brunali, because the Brunali were sending him right back into the arms of the Borg.
And Janeway--who offers trust easily but reacts violently to betrayal--sided with Seven once the parents' true purposes were known.
The final irony is this. Everyone was so busy deciding Icheb's future for him, that when all the facts are known, when Icheb learns the full truth about who he is, he may well have done what his parents wanted, of his own free will. Or is it? The child's mind has been pulled like taffy lately, played with so often--by parents, by Borg, by Voyager, by the parents again--that we wonder if he's really speaking for himself, or simply parroting whichever voice in his head is shouting the loudest.
In his case, only time will tell.
Icheb was a mirror this week. Everyone who saw him, saw what they wanted to see. Although the various adults could agree on much, there were significant differences.
Leucon and Yifay saw The Hope of Brunali. This trumped whatever feelings they may have had for him as their child. Leucon wanted to keep him around, but in the end his wife convinced him to sacrifice his son one more time.
Janeway saw The Children. That's she wanted to do what was in the best interest of the child, but as the science fair made quite clear, Icheb is not really a child anymore; he's old enough to stay up past his bedtime, burn the midnight oil, contribute greatly to the ship and crew--just like folks such as Neelix and Kes and Seven. Whether Mezoti and/or the twins and/or the infant will be well-served by reuniting with their parents, is likely the subject of future episodes. Mezoti has already made her feelings clear--she prefers Voyager. But unless his parents do something to her like Icheb's did to him, it's doubtful she'll have any more choice than Icheb did.
Seven saw herself. Her reactions were as emotional as logical; she produced facts by the wagonload to reinforce the emotional point that her Mama and Papa didn't do their job and keep her safe, and neither did Icheb's. Their assimilation is proof enough of that.
The more interesting dynamic this week is Janeway/Seven.
Seven was dragged kicking and screaming (literally) back to individuality. Janeway basically suspended Seven's free will until she had enough experience to decide for herself whether she wanted to be an individual or a drone.
To a large extent, Janeway has given Seven back that free will. In "Child's Play," Janeway does decide Icheb's fate for him, but she gives Seven the choice of how--even whether--to be the one to break the news to him. Though they argue over Icheb's fate and how to treat his parents, Janeway does listen to her perspective (eventually).
Many of Janeway's directives were as simple as asking questions and offering advice. There are very few people on board whom Janeway bothers arguing with; she'll either make it an order, relieve them of duty, or toss them in the brig. Seven's got a special status; she's not part of the chain of command, she's one of Janeway's Special Projects, and she's got an intellect and a will that rivals the captain's own. Janeway might not like Seven's opinion a lot of the time, but she does need it--just as every captain needs SOMEONE to play that role. (Whether you'd prefer this be Chakotay or Tuvok or someone else, I won't debate. I'm just saying she needs her own version of Spock/McCoy.)
You see, in scenes like the late-night visit to Janeway's quarters, that the two are getting more cordial, and trusting each other more. You see that trust even in the argument in the captain's ready room, when Janeway plays the emotion card and Seven deftly acknowledges it, completely throwing Janeway off guard and instantly turning a heated conversation into something more reasoned, because the emotions of the issue are given their due.
We see Seven seeking advice, and Janeway offering it. We also see Janeway offering it in a way that underscores the progress Seven has made, reinforcing the good decisions by saying "keep trusting your instincts; they're on the right track."
There were some interesting sociopolitical issues as well, but I don't want to go into them in great detail. Did Janeway have the right to rescue Icheb? I didn't have a problem with it. They had guardianship over him for a while, and Seven of Nine certainly cared more about keeping him than his parents did. I'd say they had every right to step in and save the boy.
Is there a prime directive issue here? Did they have a right to interfere in an internal brunali matter? They're only trying to protect their home, after all.
But Janeway keeps an eye out for The Children. And the Brunali can always make more Trojan horses. If they can't, because nobody else is callous enough to have a sacrificial child, then that might answer the question as well.
I can't say I was wildly impressed with the guest cast in "Child's Play," though it wasn't uniformly dreadful. It just wasn't great.
Mark A. Sheppard as Leucon, though, was pretty good. After seven years playing Morn on DS9, it's nice to see him get the opportunity to deliver some lines. He comes off as somewhat sympathetic; whatever his original decision, here's a guy who seems thrilled to have a second chance with his child, and who gives him up reluctantly.
Manu's Icheb was also pretty good in a complex performance. His delivery bugs me a little, but that may be because ex-drones are expected to sound a little stilted, especially at first. Considering the trauma of assimilation, the equal trauma of dissimilation, etc., it's perhaps to be expected. Hugh had the same kind of inflection. But in terms of the eyes and facial expressions, he fares a bit better.
Janeway and Seven shone. They had some terrific moments together, in moments quiet and loud. We saw and felt what Seven was going through as Icheb's advocate with the adults, and as the adult's Enforcer to Icheb. Her concern for her charges is evident, and I enjoyed watching Jeri Ryan's performance here, just as I enjoyed Mulgrew's in her interactions with Seven.
The special effects in the final act were darned impressive, and effective in building tension. You knew that Voyager wouldn't be assimilated, so they didn't drag the scene out--they made it short, intense, and sweet. One photon torpedo didn't wipe out the whole sphere, which seemed realistic.
I got a long letter from someone blasting the science in the science fair, as well as other parts of the episode. This letter, and others, prompted the most recent poll, which I also mentioned briefly in the review of "Good Shepherd."
As with most Trek issues, fans are sharply divided. Some folks are vehement that they should be as accurate as possible when it comes to showing science elements. Others are just as vehement that it doesn't matter, as long as the story is good or the characters are well drawn. Others only care when THEY notice, which they say isn't all that often.
I tend to fall into the "oh, puhleeze" category. The only time I really care is when the science is SO implausible and SO obvious and SO critical to the story that I can only groan, "oh, puhleeze." Whenever the story hinges on "reversing the polarity" I feel like shooting the screen. The rest of the time, I'm happy enough either pointing it out, reveling in my ability to nitpick. It's like icing on the cake.
It usually comes down to the overall likeability of the story. If I enjoy an episode, I'm more forgiving. If I don't, I can find plenty of reasons why not to, and bad science is fair game.
But I don't watch principally for the science. Those who do, more power to you. But don't expect me to be there with you every time. All it takes is a couple of good character moments or a cool special effects scene to win me over. What can I say? I'm easy.
All in all, this was a decent episode. A few minor complaints about the guest acting, we got to see Morn Unmasked, and there's some complex and conflicting ethical issues...call it three stars.
Next week: Janeway spends some quality time with some bottom feeders of the Voyager food chain.