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Neelix tells scary stories to keep the kids' minds off a scarier reality.
Jump straight to the Analysis
The music is ominous as Voyager flies at sublight speed, destination unknown.
In the mess hall, Neelix turns the fire down low on his big cooking stove. Slowly, he leaves the kitchen. It must be closing time--the mess hall is deserted. Neelix looks around with an air of apprehension. Out of habit, he straightens one of the chairs. After that, there is nothing left to do. He walks over to the doors, then stops.
Well, one more thing. "Computer, deactivate mess hall lights." Darkness falls. With a sigh, Neelix walks toward the door, which slides open--
And he almost runs into a tall, imposing figure about to enter Sickbay. Neelix leaps backwards with a yelp, clutching his chest as his lung works overtime. "Oh! You scared me!"
"That wasn't my intention," Seven says to the odd little man
Neelix calms down. "No, of course not. I-I guess I'm just a little jumpy--especially after what happened the last time." He leans toward her and waggles his eyebrows.
"That's why I'm here," Seven says. Oh? Asks Neelix. Seven nods. "We'll be shutting down main power soon. The children's regeneration cycle will be interrupted. They'll require supervision."
"Well, I'm happy to help." He leans in close once more. "To tell you the truth, I'd be grateful for the distraction."
"The procedure could take several hours," Seven explains.
"How much do they know about what's happening?" Neelix asks. Whatever's happening, they're certainly being secretive about it.
"Nothing," Seven says, to Neelix's surprise. "The children have overactive imaginations; I don't want to alarm them unnecessarily."
"Then what if they start asking questions? I can't just lie to them."
Seven gives one of her enigmatic smiles. "You have considerable child-care experience. I'm sure you'll manage."
On the bridge, Janeway stands, like a mighty bonsai. What she lacks in height, she more than compensates for with grandeur. She stares at the forward viewscreen, and the massive nebula looming ahead. "That's close enough. Let our momentum carry us in."
"Cutting engines," Paris says, entering the commands. That complete, he dares a look at the churning polychromatic nebula. "Now, there's a creepy image. Reminds me of something out of Edgar Allan Poe."
"Looks like a vampire bat," Harry Kim suggests. "You can make out the wings, even the ears. What do you see, Tuvok?"
"Two Starfleet officers with juvenile imaginations." That's our Vulcan--Mr. Congeniality.
Paris snickers. "Come on, Tuvok! Haven't you ever looked up at the clouds and seen an animal?"
"I will never understand the human need to find imagery in something as innocuous as a cloud." Hey--you try meeting a deadline for the college poetry journal one of these days, logic boy. Sometimes, you just gotta grab at what moves you.
Janeway ignores the exchange. "Harry, are we ready?"
Kim gets right back to business. "Yes, ma'am."
"Then let's do it. All hands . . . initiate shutdown sequence."
The ominous music continues. And grows louder as the relative sound of the ship diminishes. One by one, panels dim. Lights go out. Soon the bridge is plunged into darkness. Then, like fireflies on a summer evening, small lanterns kick in.
The scene is repeated throughout the ship. Corridor lights die out, and walking crewmen turn on their wrist lights. In Sickbay, the Doctor oversees the shutdown of the lights before turning himself off. In Astrometrics, Seven of Nine supervises the descent into darkness.
And in Cargo Bay 2, the alcoves go from green to black as the energy flow ceases. Four former drones wake up, their eyes wide.
"Regeneration cycle incomplete," the computer says, before the lights go out.
The children look about with what could be interpreted as rising panic.
Then a single light goes on near a control panel. Neelix is here, lit with an unearthly glow. "Everything's all right. We've just had to shut down main power temporarily. Nothing to be concerned about."
Finally, in Engineering, we see the big lights go out, overseen by B'Elanna Torres. "Three, two, one--mark," Torres says. Control panels, overhead lights, even the warp core.
Back on the bridge, Harry Kim provides the update. "All decks report shutdown complete, Captain."
Janeway nods. "Janeway to Seven of Nine. We're ready."
Slowly but purposefully, Voyager drifts into the Nightmare Nebula.
* * *
The kids are agitated. "Why did they shut down main power?" they ask.
"It's simply a precaution," Neelix says. "We've entered a Class-J nebula and the Captain wants to make sure that we don't attract any, uh, residual E.M. radiation." It's clear from his voice that he's holding something back.
"Our shields provide sufficient protection against nebula discharge," Icheb points out.
"Is that so?" Neelix squeaks. He thinks fast. "Well, I'm afraid that gaseous anomalies were never really my specialty. Come on, gather round. I brought toys and stories and games and I thought that later we might even have a little sing-along."
The children gather, including the near-adult Icheb. But they're antsy.
"I should go to Astrometrics. Seven may need my help," Icheb says.
"I'm afraid that Astrometrics is shut down, too," Neelix says.
"If we're not analyzing the nebula, why did we enter it?" asks Mezoti.
Neelix is flustered. "Oh, that is a long and dull story and not nearly as interesting as 'Flotter Meets the Invincible Invertebrates--'"
"Is Voyager in danger?" Mezoti asks.
There are several creepy aspects of this scene. One, it's done in the dark, with only a single lantern for illumination. Second, that these kids, though kids, are also former drones, and display very little emotion. So their curiosity and apprehension is quite understated, more so than you'd expect. That gives them a real Village of the Damned quality that seems to be unnerving Neelix more than anyone.
"Mezoti, there's really no need to leap to those kinds of conclusions," Neelix scolds.
Like that's going to stop them.
"Maybe if you explained what's happening in more detail we wouldn't have to guess," Icheb says.
"This has something to do with Deck 12, doesn't it?" Mezoti asks.
"Well, what makes you say that?"
"Deck 12, section 42 is off limits to everyone but senior officers with a level-six security clearance," Icheb says.
"That's because it's haunted, isn't it?" Mezoti asks conversationally.
Neelix nearly jumps out of his suit. "Who told you that!?" Naomi, Mezoti says.
"She was just trying to frighten you," Icheb suggests.
"I'll have to have a talk with that girl," Neelix mutters.
"Is it true?" Azan asks.
"Does a ghost live there?" Rebi asks.
Neelix clucks his tongue. "You're really too old to believe in such silly things." Let me get this straight--they're too old for ghosts, but not too old for Flotter?
"If it's not a ghost, what is it?" Mezoti demands.
"We deserve an explanation," Icheb says.
Neelix begins to feel cornered. "I don't think that Seven would be too happy if you all started waking up with nightmares . . . "
"Tell us," pleads Rebi.
"Please?" begs Azan.
Neelix gives in. "All right. Gather round. But I'm warning you--this is not a tale for the faint of heart."
"We're not faint of heart," Mezoti says.
"Our cardiopulmonary systems are reinforced," Icheb agrees.
"So don't leave anything out," says Mezoti.
Neelix sighs. "All right, but remember--I warned you."
Azan and Rebi look at each other uncertainly, but don't back out.
Neelix gets into a storytelling mood. "It all began several months ago, before you joined Voyager. We were exploring a dark nebula, just gathering deuterium. We had no idea what was in store for us. But, when the turbulence started getting rough we should have seen that as an omen . . . "
Flashback . . . Neelix's voiceover narrates as Voyager, in that never-before-mentioned adventure, flies through a nebula.
Inside the mess hall, the hanging utensils rattle like wind chimes, and Neelix--who insides are as jittery as the cutlery--does his best to steady them.
It's a busy time. The mess hall is nice and crowded, and Neelix has plenty to keep him occupied. Tellingly, he does his best to avoid looking toward the far wall where the windows are.
Tuvok enters as another little tremble makes walking tricky. Neelix works his way over. "How goes the particle collecting, Commander?"
"We've gotten enough deuterium to power the warp engines for another thousand light-years," Tuvok says. This works out to about a year of normal warp travel.
Excellent, Neelix observes, though his mind is elsewhere. Specifically, it's just beyond the windows, lost in the all-encompassing nebula, where he seems unwilling to look.
"Something wrong?" Tuvok asks.
Neelix leads Tuvok to a nearby table, careful to keep the Vulcan between himself and the window. "Now that you mention it, there is something that I feel compelled to share with you in my capacity as morale officer. The crew seem a little on edge."
"Oh?" Tuvok asks, looking around the mess hall at the universally casual attitudes of the crew. "They don't appear particularly anxious to me."
"Well, they're very good at hiding their fears. Starfleet training," Neelix says. "Um, I was wondering how soon we might be leaving this nebula. Knowing could help me assure them."
"Well, it's difficult to say. The Bussard collectors are running at maximum. But it's a slow process. We could be here for several more days."
"Days?" Neelix says, his voice cracking. He cradles his face in the palms of his hands.
"Mr. Neelix, are you certain it's not you who is on edge?"
Neelix gives up the pretense. "You know me too well, Mr. Vulcan."
"I can assure you, a J-Class nebula is no cause for alarm."
Neelix sighs. "I know it's illogical! But staring into this murky cloud for hours on end can be a little unsettling!"
Time for a Big Admission. "When I was a child an immense plasma drift passed through the Talaxian system. The stars and the moons were blotted out for months. From horizon to horizon, all you could see was this enormous, menacing cloud! And ever since then, I've found it a little disturbing to be in nebulas."
Tuvok thinks. "Perhaps the Captain might give you permission to install curtains."
Neelix is cheered by the thought. "That's an excellent idea! And I have just the right material--"
"Report!" Janeway says on the bridge as the ship rocks again.
"The nebula's beginning to destabilize," Harry Kim reports.
Janeway casts an impatient glare toward Ops. "Cause."
Harry checks. "I'm not sure. It could have something to do with the nadion emissions being produced by the Bussard collectors--"
Icheb yanks Neelix back to the present. "You're not remembering correctly."
"I beg your pardon?" Neelix asks.
"The Bussard collectors don't produce nadion emissions."
Gee--I guess Icheb's an Internet Fan as well. He likes the science in his stories to make sense. Imagine that . . .
"Well, the technical details don't matter," Neelix says. "What's important is that Voyager's presence was destabilizing the nebula. And the crew wasn't interested in taking any chances."
Story time . . .
"We've got 80% of the deuterium we wanted. Maybe we shouldn't push our luck," Chakotay suggests.
Janeway nods. "Agreed. Bridge to Engineering. We're suspending the deuterium intake." Torres acknowledges. Janeway turns to Helm. "Tom, take us out."
"Aye," says Tom. As his hands work the controls, we hear Neelix's voiceover. "In the fraction of a second before Tom could engage the engines, zap! We were hit." We see a large bolt of lightning from the bridge, and from the mess hall.
"What was it?" Mezoti asks.
"The ghost?" Rebi asks.
"Shh. Let him finish," Azan says.
"Whatever it was," Neelix continues, "it shook the ship hard."
"An E.M. discharge penetrated the hull--deck seven, section ten," Chakotay announces.
"Increasing power to structural integrity," Harry reports.
A tense moment follows. Then, they're out of the nebula. "We're clear," Tom Paris says, sighing.
"Damage," Janeway says.
Chakotay handles that report. "Power outages on three decks. Auxiliary subprocessors are off-line. No injuries reported."
Janeway nods. "Assign repair teams. Resume course."
We once again hear Neelix's voiceover. "We'd taken some minor damage, but for the most part, everything was fine...or so we thought."
"What none of us knew was that a mysterious stowaway had come aboard Voyager," Neelix explains to the kids.
And so we see, right at the junction of the saucer section and the drives, near the scruff of the neck, an electric discharge, clinging tenaciously to the hull.
* * *
The kids continue to pepper Neelix with questions.
"What kind of stowaway?" Mezoti asks.
"It was obviously a space-dwelling life-form," Icheb says.
"Yes," Neelix says, "but we didn't know that, not at that point."
"Was it non-corporeal?" Mezoti asks.
"In a manner of speaking--"
"Hostile?" Azan asks.
"Well, I'm getting to that--"
"Species 5973?" Rebi asks.
"Who are they?" Neelix asks, completely losing control of the conversion.
"The Borg encountered them in galactic cluster eight," Icheb explains. "They're multi-spectrum particle life-forms."
"No, that's not what this was--" Neelix says.
"Maybe it was an inter-phasic species," Mezoti says.
Neelix throws up his hands. "We can either debate comparative xenobiology or I can continue with the story." He looks at each of the children. "Now, it's up to you."
The kids look at each other. Icheb speaks for the group. "Continue the story."
Neelix smiles. "Somehow I thought you'd say that. Now, where was I? Oh! Ah, yes...life aboard Voyager would have been more or less back to normal if it weren't for a few strange malfunctions . . ."
Chakotay finds Janeway in her ready room. "I've got reports from repair teams. It looks like that E.M. discharge did more damage than we thought. Transporter room one is out of commission; half the sonic showers are off-line, and we temporarily lost artificial gravity on deck five."
"Any injuries?" the captain asks.
"Ensign Mulcahy bumped his head on the ceiling."
"Ouch," the captain says sympathetically. Then she takes a sip of replicated coffee, and learns the true meaning of the word. "This is terrible!" She marches over to the replicator. "Computer, another cup of coffee, black!"
The coffee appears. But it arrives before the cup does. Vaguely cup-shaped as it materializes, as soon as gravity takes hold it splashes all over the place. The cup--empty, naturally--appears a moment later.
Janeway calls in a crewman just to have him shot. As Tuvok carts the body away, she remarks casually, "you can add replicators to your list." She leans in close to the replicator. "We're getting started on the wrong foot today, my friend."
"Captain?" Chakotay asks. He hasn't seen this behavior from her before.
"I'm sorry. I was talking to Voyager."
"It's nothing to be embarrassed about. I used to have long conversations with my Maquis ship," Chakotay says.
"Really? What did you two talk about?" Janeway purses her lips flirtatiously.
Chakotay plays it deadpan. "Oh, I can't tell you that. Captain-Starship confidentiality."
Janeway tilts her head ever so slightly. "Of course."
"If the Doctor heard us he'd probably recommend counseling."
"I won't tell if you won't."
Chakotay grins. "Deal."
Janeway looks out the window and notices a long strip of what could be a nebula. She walks toward the couch. "Commander, do you see that?"
"It's a meteoroid cluster. I doubt it's anything to worry about."
"I'd tend to agree...if it weren't the same one we passed an hour ago."
The captain and first officer are on the bridge an instant later. "Are you conducting a survey of meteoroids, Tom?" Janeway asks Paris, who has no idea what she's talking about. "Check your sensors. We're traveling in circles."
Tom checks his board. "Not according to my readings."
Chakotay frowns. "Tuvok, run level-four diagnostic on the navigational array."
Tuvok checks. "There is a malfunction in the subprocessors. It appears we're heading back the way we came."
"All stop. Reinitialize your sensors," Janeway orders.
Paris does so, then turns around with his back to the screen. "I'm telling you, we rely too much on 24th century technology, Captain. You give me a window and a sextant and I guarantee I'll get you where you want to go." While he speaks, the ship goes where it decides to all by itself. Tom's eyes go wide as he hears the whine of warp engines coming online, and whips back around to see the stars melt.
"We've jumped to warp six," Tuvok reports.
"Tom?" Janeway asks with an edge in her voice.
"Don't look at me." Paris works the control panel, to no avail.
"Shut down the warp engines!"
"I can't!" Paris says helplessly.
Chakotay looks back to Tactical. "Manual override."
Tuvok makes the attempt. "No response."
Janeway curses under her breath. "Bridge to Engineering."
But as soon as it started, the joyride ends. "I'm reading all stop," Tom says. Not that he had anything to do with that. Voyager seems to have a mind of its own at the moment.
Janeway hails Engineering again. "Lieutenant Torres, respond!"
Chakotay tries another approach. "Computer, locate B'Elanna Torres."
"Lieutenant Torres is in Engineering," the computer says. Then it answers questions not asked. "Ensign Trumari is on deck four, section 30. Commander Tuvok is on the bridge...Ensign Kenny is in the morgue…Carmen San Diego is--"
Uh oh. Now the ship is talking back. And you know that if these walls could talk, they'd have a bone or two to pick with Calamity Janeway.
Janeway looks not at all happy. "Find out what's going on. Harry, pull the speech processors if you have to, but shut that thing off!"
But the computer gets in a few last shorts. "I'll take you home again, Kathleen . . . Lieutenant Weiss is in--":
"Meanwhile, Commander Chakotay was headed for engineering...or so he thought," Neelix tells the kids.
We see Chakotay exit the turbolift, expecting to find B'Elanna. Instead, he finds the mess hall across the hall.
Does this remind anyone of the episode "Twisted" back in season 2?
Chakotay hops back in the turbolift. "Engineering!" he repeats. The door refuses to close.
"I bet you wouldn't try to pull this on the Captain," Chakotay grumbles to Voyager.
"Have it your way. I'll walk," Chakotay says, heading back out the door.
But then the doors close, trapping him inside--and the turbolift sinks like a rock.
"The turbo-lift started to fall faster and faster!" Neelix says. Then he adds, "Anybody hungry?"
"Neelix!" Mezoti shouts, outraged.
"Well, you haven't touched your snacks--"
"Snacks are irrelevant! Continue the story!"
"What happened to Commander Chakotay?" Icheb insists.
Neelix resumes. "The turbolift plunged 11 decks at high speed! The G-Forces pinned Commander Chakotay to the ceiling! He knew that at any minute he was going to come crashing down to the bottom of the turbolift, and there was nothing that he could do about it!"
The kids are riveted in place. The music swells.
"But then...The descent stabilizers reactivated."
Neelix is a cruel, cruel man. But the kids all let out a sigh of relief.
"The way B'Elanna tells it, Commander Chakotay was not very happy when he showed up in engineering that morning."
Chakotay stalks into Engineering and makes his way over to B'Elanna Torres. "If I didn't know better I'd say this ship was trying to kill me. Do you have any idea what's going on?"
"Well, I traced the problem to a series of gel-packs on deck 13. It looks like they were burned out by E.M. discharge from the nebula.
"And those gel-packs interface with all the affected systems," Chakotay says. Makes sense. It's easier to accept a ship falling apart than one with an attitude. This isn't Farscape or LEXX, after all. The gelpaks are bioneural--but as far as we know, they're not sentient.
"I'm on my way to do repairs now. Feel like giving me a hand?"
Chakotay nods. "Only if we stay out of the turbolifts." Torres gives him a look. "I'll tell you about it on the way."
Neelix narrates as the scene shifts to a corridor where Crewman Celes from "Good Shepherd" appears to be on the verge of repairing something. "While Chakotay and B'Elanna headed for deck 13, new problems were cropping up all over the ship."
But before Celes can start, Seven of Nine shows up, looking irritated. "Crewman Celes, step away from the control panel."
"Did I do something wrong?" asks the young woman, whose self-confidence seems always just one comment away from oblivion. She sprints away from the panel, giving Seven plenty of room to crouch in front of the panel to see what's wrong.
"You caused a power failure in Astrometrics."
"I did?" Celes asks. The accusation doesn't seem to surprise her--at first. Then reality sets in. "How?"
"That's what I'm attempting to find out." Seven uses her tricorder to scan the panel.
"I don't see how I could have--"
"I've located the problem. It appears you inadvertently overloaded a series of E.P.S. conduits while performing your diagnostic."
Celes blinks. "But I haven't even started the diagnostic."
"Then what were you doing?"
"Nothing. I just got here."
Seven touches a couple of controls. The lights in the corridor begin to flicker, surprising both of them. "I know that wasn't my fault," Celes says.
Torres and Chakotay pop open another panel, revealing a trio of translucent blue gelpaks. We haven't seen many during Voyager's run--but these look relatively healthy.
"These gel-packs aren't burned out," Chakotay says.
"There's not trace of any E.M. discharge." Torres is surprised.
"Could it have dissipated this quickly?"
"No . . . it moved!"
Chakotay looks at the engineer. "Moved?"
"The discharge seems to be traveling through the bio-neural circuitry...jumping from system to system."
"Can you isolate it?" Chakotay asks.
Torres takes a moment to trace the discharge. "It's in a series of gel-packs that interface with the environmental controls outside cargo bay two." Cargo Bay Two? Isn't that where--
"Let's try to get there before it jumps again," Chakotay says.
"By then," Neelix says, "Seven of Nine was in cargo bay two to run diagnostics but, because the com system was down they couldn't warn her, and she had no idea that something was in the room with her." We see Seven working, oblivious to the electric thread snaking around the systems behind her.
"Here?" Azan gulps.
"In this cargo bay?" Rebi squeaks.
"Then what happened?" Mezoti demands.
"The creature was clinging to the circuits and bulkheads--using them to move about the room. It was getting closer and closer . . ."
Seven finally notices when one of the vents starts spewing a pinkish-purple cloud of gas. "Seven of Nine to the bridge. Bridge, acknowledge."
"But, of course, there was no answer."
"Why didn't she re-modulate her neural transceiver send a message that way?" Icheb asks.
"Well, that's an interesting question. You'll have to ask her."
"Stop interrupting!" Mezoti scolds Icheb, then looks at Neelix with her child's command to continue.
Neelix complies. "Seven tried to get out but she was trapped."
Seven of Nine calmly tries to exit the cargo bay, but the doors don't open. Nebular gas is getting thicker now, and the electricity surging through it is growing.
Seven goes over to a corner, lifts up a floor panel, and throws a manual switch--the doors unseal, and part enough for her to make her way into the corridor. She makes a left.
But Seven runs into a force field.
She goes the other way--and runs into another. Even in the corridor, she's trapped--and the nebular gases are getting thicker.
Seven coughs, and passes out. The electric snake works its way over her, lingering on her nicely conductive facial implants. The sizzle leaves some question about how hurt she really is.
* * *
The scene returns to the present, and the little campfire in cargo bay two
"What happened to Seven?" Azan asks.
"The entity must have infiltrated her cybernetic systems and turned her against the rest of the crew," Mezoti suggests. (Hmmm. Gotta write that one down . . .)
"It most certainly did not!" Neelix says. "You're letting your imagination run away with you."
Then the light goes out.
"What happened?" Rebi asks.
"Why did the light go out?" Azan asks.
"It's all right," Neelix assures them. "I just have to replace the power cell. It'll only take a moment. Nothing to be frightened about."
"I'm not frightened," Mezoti says. "But Azan is."
"I am not!"
Neelix gets the battery replaced. "There!" HE turns the lights on. The first thing the kids see is Neelix in a bad light. They scream.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." The kids relax a little. "And now--where was I? Oh, yes. Seven was trapped by the force fields. But fortunately for her, help was on the way . . ."
Chakotay and Torres run to cargo bay two, and see Seven in dire straits. "Computer: deactivate this force field!" Chakotay says.
The computer ignores him. "We'll have to cut power to the field generators," he tells Torres.
Torres tries, but has no better luck. "The computer's not accepting my command codes."
Chakotay reprograms it the old fashioned way--with a phaser. A few seconds on High and the system is a lot more cooperative. "The force field's down," Torres says, running over to help Seven.
"Let's get her to Sickbay," Chakotay says.
"Now, most of us were just going about our business, oblivious to what was happening--but that was about to change . . ."
Neelix's voiceover leads us back to the mess hall, where flickering lights and other random weirdness has everyone in the dining area as spooked as Neelix has been all along.
Harry Kim, who has been eating alone, and is therefore the ranking officer in the room, tries to hail Engineering.
Neelix tries to hail the bridge.
As panic begins to grow, Harry takes command. "I want everyone to report to their stations until we figure out what's going on!" Nobody objects--everyone starts filing out of the mess hall.
Neelix approaches Kim. "Uh, Ensign, maybe I should come with you. The Captain might need me."
Harry would rather not have to deal with the skittish Talaxian right now. "This is your post. You may be needed here."
"Oh, of course." Neelix stays behind. "If you need anything, anything at all, you know where to find me." He looks scared out of his mind. The camera pulls back to show the lone Neelix surrounded by furniture that casts ghostly shadows in the flickering overhead lights, and the licking flames of his cookstove. (though why, if the environmental controls were going wacky, THEY HAD AN OPEN FLAME IN AN ENCLOSED SPACE SUCKING OUT ALL THE OXYGEN, I'll never know.)
"So there I was. The only thing I could do was wait... Alone..."
The lights go out.
"In the dark."
Neelix gulps. The fire is his only companion. "Oh...Uh..."
"Voyager was dead in space. System after system was failing, including the environmental controls. Ensign Paris told me it was hotter than a Tarkanian desert on the bridge."
Surprisingly, nobody's taken their jacket off. Though some have their sleeves rolled up and the jacket zippers down.
Tom Paris kneels next to Tuvok, who is as coolly unflappable as ever. "Don't you ever sweat?" Tom asks, wiping away a quart from his brow.
"Not unless the temperature reaches 350 degrees Kelvin, with a humidity factor at approximately--"
"Forget I asked."
Meanwhile, Janeway is bent over a control panel, fiddling with her combadge while she whispers sweet nothings to her ship. "I'll make you a deal, Voyager. The next M-Class planetoid we find, we'll set down and I'll give you a nice maintenance overhaul. What do you say?"
The computer chirps happily. Such is the power of redheads, but even Janeway is a bit taken aback by it. But not for long--she isn't going to waste the gift. "Tom, check the con."
Paris walks over, and hears the welcome sound of the systems powering up. He chuckles. "I don't know what you did, Captain, but I've got helm control back." He takes his seat.
Janeway leans in close to the panel. "Thanks, my friend," she whispers.
"I'm going to try to get thrusters and impulse engines back on-line," Tom says.
Janeway notices a trouble sign. "Tom, I'm reading an E.M. surge in your console. Get away from there!" She runs toward the helm.
But it's too late. A blue lightning bolt leaps up from the panel and grabs Tom full on the face, melting his flesh like bacon on a hot griddle. He goes down screaming.
Janeway reaches him first. "Bridge to Sickbay, medical emergency!" But communications are down. "Can we transport him?"
"Transporters are off-line," Tuvok says.
"Why am I not surprised?"
Then it goes from bad to worse. An alarm blares, and the vents begin to hiss. "Now what?"
"Warning: Oxygen depletion in progress," the computer responds.
"Breathable air is being sucked out of the bridge," Tuvok reports.
"Reroute emergency power to environmental control!" Janeway says, before launching into a coughing fit.
Tuvok tries. 'No effect."
"Everyone out of here now!" Janeway orders. A crewman helps her carry the wounded Paris to the turbolift.
"In Sickbay, the Doctor had his hands full, too--"
Sickbay is filled, but not to overflowing, with injured crewmen, some with charred skin, others coughing from taking a lung full of nebula.
The Doctor is treating Seven of Nine. "You're fortunate. Another few moments and you'd have been asphyxiated." Torres and Chakotay stand on the other side of the bed.
Seven of Nine leaps out of bed. "Where do you think you're going?" Doc demands.
"Lieutenant Torres needs help with the repairs."
Well, Doc can always get another patient, and Janeway arrives with one. "Doctor!" Tom is limping in, his face bubbling, his voice nothing but a series of anguished grunts.
Torres rushes over as Janeway helps Tom onto the table. "What happened?" she demands.
The Doctor scans him. "An E.M. surge--Seven had a similar experience."
"The environmental system converted cargo bay two into a micro-nebula," Seven explains.
"When Gibson and McMinn tried to vent the gas from deck seven they were struck by a discharge, too," Chakotay tells the captain.
This is Starfleet--weird is part of the job.
Janeway looks at Chakotay. "Are we thinking the same thing?" she asks.
"It could be an intelligence at work here," he agrees.
"Some kind of electromagnetic life-form that's using the environmental controls to make the ship more hospitable for itself," Torres suggests.
"And attacking anyone who tries to stop it," Janeway says.
The Doctor begins to flicker. "My matrix is destabilizing!"
"Transfer his program to the mobile emitter. Quickly!" They copy him just in time.
"Warning: Power failure," the computer says. The lights go out.
Janeway mutters under her breath. "Let's get the injured out of here."
"Deck by deck, section by section, the crew was losing control of Voyager. People were scattered throughout the ship with no idea what was happening!"
We see Harry Kim working his way slowly through the black corridors, which every second or so would flash with a very dull and bloody shade of red. The flashlight on his wrist is indispensable.
But as he makes his way through the darkness, looking for anything and everything, he is unprepared for what comes next--and smacks him full-on in the gut.
Fortunately, Crewman Celes is a wispy creature who is no match for the hulking Harry. "What did you do that for?" Harry demands, more surprised than hurt.
Celes is instantly apologetic when she realizes that Harry isn't the bogeyman. "Ensign, I'm so sorry! I-I thought... I thought you were a Hirogen, or a Borg--"
"And what gave you that idea?"
"It's dark. Your shadow!"
Harry shakes his head. It's not often he gets to be the calm one. "Trust me, there are no aliens roaming the corridors."
"You mean we haven't been boarded?" Celes asks dubiously.
"It's just a power failure," Harry assures her.
Celes' eyes widen. "Isn't that what they sometimes do? Cut the power?"
"What who sometimes does?" Harry emphasizes the what and who separately.
"Hostile aliens! They might be trying to infiltrate the ship!"
Do you get the feeling they're doing a clearinghouse on script submissions this week? It's like a K-Tel record . . . sampling all the ideas you could ever think of, just to dismiss them. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"How long has it been since you've run into anyone else?" Harry asks, changing the subject.
"I don't know, four or five hours. I-I tried Sickbay, but it was deserted. Decks three and four are empty. I was on my way to the bridge. You're the first person I've seen."
"Well, there's no one on the bridge either."
"You see?! Then maybe I was right! Maybe the reason we can't find anyone is because they've all been assimila--"
"Slow! Down!" It's like yelling at a puppy, but it has to be done. Poor crewman Celes looks ready to jump out of her skin. "There was an environmental failure on the bridge. That's why it's been evacuated. I don't know what happened in Sickbay or on decks three and four but I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation."
Celes shakes her head angrily--there has to be a sinister explanation for all this.
"Ah! Ah!" Harry says, holding up a finger, stopping her protests before they can form. "No one's been assimilated!" Right. That's next week.
"Then where are they?!"
"They've probably set up a temporary command post--most likely, in engineering. That's where I'm going."
"Can I come with you?"
Harry takes pity on her. "Of course." They begin walking to Engineering.
"Do you think we could stop by a weapons locker on the way?"
Harry's look says it all. Ain't no way he's letting her hold something with a trigger.
"I still had no idea what was going on. I'd been waiting in the mess hall for more than four hours in the dark cut off from the rest of the crew."
The mess hall is very spooky in the dark. The fire is sill raging; whatever he's been cooking, it's gotta be done by now. As for the air in the room, I'm surprised any is left.
Neelix hears noises. "Is somebody there?" The rumbling continues; he looks around nervously.
He heads over to the door; the sounds appear to be coming from the corridor. "Hello?" He peers out the windows. Then, mustering his courage, he steps outside.
The turbolift doors are slamming open and shut, the rhythm pounding out a bass riff while the blood-red Alert lights add to the surreality of the scene.
"Is somebody out there? Tom, if that's you, this isn't funny." Neelix makes his way to the lift, but still sees nobody.
Then when he turns around to go back to the mess hall, he sees a tall figure wearing a strange mask.
Neelix screams. "Stay away!"
"Calm yourself, Mr. Neelix," Tuvok says.
Neelix catches his breath. "You really shouldn't sneak up on people like that. I could have shot you!"
"Your restraint is commendable."
Neelix gets a better look at the mask. "Is there a problem with the air supply?"
"An alien life-form has seized control of Voyager's primary systems. It's flooded numerous sections with poisonous gas."
This is not good news. "Are you saying that this alien life-form is trying to kill us?"
"Its intentions aren't clear. However, we should evacuate."
"The Captain has established a secure command post in engineering."
Off they go. Arm in arm.
Cut to the present. The kids are on the edge of their seats.
"Were you scared?" Mezoti asks.
"Well, considering that engineering was eight decks down and the only way to get there was to crawl through pitch-black Jefferies tubes...It's fair to say that I was never more frightened in my life.
Close up on Mezoti's eyes.
Cue the scary music.
* * *
"You shouldn't have allowed yourself to be afraid," Icheb says.
"Is that so?" Neelix asks, amused.
"Fear distracts people from accomplishing their goals."
"Well, that's true, I suppose. On the other hand, fear can sometimes be very healthy!"
"Explain," Mezoti says.
"Well, it keeps you alert, keeps you from putting yourself in unnecessary danger--"
"I was afraid once," Mezoti says.
"You've been afraid many times," Icheb teases.
"Icheb!" Neelix scolds. He turns to Mezoti. "Do you want to tell us about it?"
"It was when we were first disconnected from the hive mind, before Seven rescued us. I couldn't hear anyone else's thoughts anymore. I felt . . . alone."
Neelix gives her a compassionate smile. "I can understand why that was frightening. When you're scared, it helps to have someone to talk to, doesn't it?"
Mezoti thinks. "Yes."
"Of course, in my case, the only one person I had to talk to was Commander Tuvok."
In the Jefferies tube, we see Tuvok and Neelix.
"I tried passing the time with a little conversation but, as you've probably noticed, he's not exactly what you'd call chatty . . ."
"I'll bet Starfleet has specific procedures to deal with these kinds of situations," Neelix says as they climb. "You know, something like Protocol 1-0-0-5. 'In the event your Starship is invaded by a hostile electromagnetic life form' . . . What do you suppose that, uh, that protocol might be, exactly?"
Tuvok tries to ignore him. As if. "Rest assured, this crew is doing everything possible to regain control of the ship."
"You're right. I'm just being silly."
"Of course, the crew of the Salvoxia probably thought they were going to regain control of their ship, too. Did I ever tell you about the Salvoxia?"
Tuvok rolls his eyes. "If I say Yes, will it prevent you from telling the story?"
"It was a Talaxian freighter. Horrible tragedy. Happened nearly a century ago. After suffering a cascade failure it began to lose life-support generators, one by one. Pretty soon, there wasn't enough air left to sustain the entire crew--so they began to draw lots. Can you imagine? Draw the short straw and you suffocate? Anyway, the air continued to diminish, and they kept drawing lots. The crew got smaller and smaller as they waited for someone to rescue them. But no one ever came. The Salvoxia drifted through space for the next 80 years, until somebody finally found her. Makes me short of breath just to think about it."
While Neelix occupies himself with scary stories, Tuvok tries to get work done, like clearing a path between sections. Some doors have to be opened the hard way. "Perhaps you should occupy your mind with pleasant thoughts before you hyperventilate."
"Right. Pleasant thoughts. Pleasant thoughts."
Back to the cargo bay. Mezoti, yet again, has something to add. "What did the bodies like?"
"I beg your pardon?" Neelix asks.
"After 80 years--were they decomposed?"
Icheb joins in. "They may have been preserved by the vacuum of space."
Neelix shakes his head sadly. "I shouldn't have told you that story. It's too gruesome."
"I wonder what the crew of the Salvoxia did for food after their emergency rations were gone," Icheb says.
Mezoti gets an evil glimmer in her eye. "Maybe they ate each other--"
"All right! That's enough!" Neelix says. No stranger to bad meals, that's too much even for him. "Now, where was I? We'd made it more than halfway to engineering when we ran into an obstacle . . ."
Tuvok gets the next junction opened--but he finds the other side filling with nebular gas.
"Commander!" Neelix squeaks.
They manage to get the doors closed.
"What do we do now?"
"If I can access the environmental controls I may be able to vent the gas," Tuvok says. Though he should know by now that the gas won't take kindly to that.
"Is there another way around?"
"It would take several hours to reach engineering by an alternate route. There is no guarantee we'd find a clear path."
Neelix begins to hyperventilate again. "Pleasant thoughts . . . Pleasant thoughts . . ."
"While we were in the Jefferies tubes, a good number of the crew had gathered in engineering," Neelix's voiceover says.
The scene shifts to Engineering, where Chakotay enters carrying a PADD. "97 crewmen have been accounted for. They're in secured locations throughout the ship."
"And Neelix?" Harry Kim asks.
"No one's seen him."
"I shouldn't have ordered him to stay in the mess hall," Harry says, his guilt growing.
"You were following procedure," Janeway reminds him.
Torres calls over. "Captain. Bad news. The life-form's infiltrated the main computer matrix."
"As long as it remained in the gel-packs there was a chance to contain it," Seven says.
"But we can't purge it from the main computer without crashing the few systems we have left," Torres concludes.
["Things were looking grim--but the Captain was about to make a breakthrough that would change everything!"]
"Captain Janeway. Captain Janeway. Captain Janeway is in main engineering." The computer repeats the captain's name.
Janeway looks at Harry. "Sorry, Captain. I know it's irritating; I'll try to shut it down."
Janeway thinks, though, and holds up a hand. "Hold on a minute." She looks up at the ceiling. "This is Captain Janeway. Respond."
"Authorization code required."
"Janeway pi alpha."
Harry gives Janeway an odd look. "Captain?"
"It's only a hunch...but I think this life-form may be trying to communicate."
"Sounds like a com system malfunction to me," Torres says.
"I'm not so sure," Janeway says. "The life-form's been moving from system to system. If it's intelligent, it may be learning how to use those systems in some rudimentary way." She looks skyward again. "Are you attempting to communicate?"
"Unable to comply," says the computer.
"Even if it understands what you're saying it may not know how to respond," Chakotay points out.
This gives Janeway an idea. "B'Elanna, can you call up the com system's syntax subroutines?"
Janeway addresses the ship again. "We're attempting to make it easier for you to speak to us. Try to access the database at engineering station 3-1."
"Database accessed." The static has cleared.
It looks like Janeway and her ship can really start chatting now.
"Why have you come aboard our ship?"
"Captain Janeway, report to Astrometrics."
"Why do you want me to go there?"
"Captain Janeway, report to Astrometrics."
"I guess I'll find out soon enough," Janeway says wryly.
"Captain, Astrometrics is flooded with nebular gas," Harry warns.
The computer chirps. "Astrometrics life support has been restored."
"It could be some kind of trap," Chakotay says. "This life-form, whatever it is, has already injured at least 11 crewmen."
Janeway gives Chakotay one of those determined looks of hers. "I can try to establish a dialogue or I can let it take over my ship. Seven, you're with me."
["While Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine headed to Astrometrics Tuvok was trying to ease my fears by guiding me through a meditation."]
Tuvok plays the role of mentor. Neelix, the student.
"Concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing. Envision your lungs filled with light." (envision a second lung while you're at it.) "Follow it back in time to a moment when you felt no fear...A moment of happiness...serenity."
Neelix does. "My birthday dinner."
Now we take it to another level. Neelix is telling the kids about the time in the past when Tuvok told Neelix to describe a time in the past when he was really happy. So we have voiceovers within voiceovers, flashbacks within flashbacks.
Talk about scary . . . Try playing the home game this week without notes.
Neelix 2 describes what Neelix 3 experiences, as the scene shifts to the birthday party. "I was surrounded by all my friends. They'd gotten together to cook me dinner. They prepared all my favorites-- steamed chadre kab, terra nut soufflé...I felt loved...Appreciated...Safe."
It's all in slow motion. Janeway leaves the kitchen with a covered dome of food, which she proudly displays to the whole crew and to the guest of honor in the center. The applause would be deafening if the dream sequence wasn't on Mute. With a flourish, Janeway sets the platter before Neelix 3, who lifts the lid, and--
A nebular cloud is there--a demonic face rises, teeth bared, to tear out the Talaxian's throat.
In the corridor, Neelix 2 screams, distracting Tuvok from his work.
In the cargo bay, Mezoti has a question for Neelix 1.
"Captain Janeway served you nebular gas?" No, my dear, the gas came after the meal. Those terra nuts wreak hell on the old duodenum . . .
"No, of course not!" Neelix says, laughing. "It was just my imagination playing tricks on me during the meditation. My head was too full of scary images for me to relax. The Captain, on the other hand, seemed to be getting things under control--"
Janeway and Seven enter Astrometrics. It appears to have been a rough trip; their masks are on, and Janeway is breathing heavily when they finally get the chance to remove them when the door to Astrometrics closes.
"Review of navigational logs in progress," the computer says.
"Are you searching for something?" Janeway asks. Affirmative, says the computer. Then the big screen lights up with a familiar sight. "The nebula..."
The computer chirps. "Manual helm control enabled."
Janeway is surprised. "You're returning control of the ship." Affirmative. "You want me to take you back to the nebula." Affirmative. Janeway lets out a heavy sigh. "Well, why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
Seven doesn't like it. "Returning to the nebula is too dangerous. We'd risk invasion by other life-forms."
"I'm beginning to think this was all an accident--not an invasion."
"Think about it. The E.M. surge didn't hit us until our Bussard collectors destabilized the nebula, and then what happened?"
Seven thinks. "The ship began experiencing random malfunctions."
"I'm not so sure they were random. Navigational sensors were fooling us into heading back toward the nebula and then, when Tom tried to resume course, he was attacked. This life-form isn't trying to hurt us--It's trying to get home."
Janeway addresses the computer. "Can you give us access to the bridge?"
"Life support on the bridge has been restored. Level-ten authorization required."
Seven's brow rises. "Level ten . . ."
Janeway's look is grim. "Captain's eyes only. It wants me to go alone."
["The Captain and the life-form had begun to establish a rapport--but the relationship was fragile."]
On the bridge, Janeway steers the way back to the nebula.
But she doesn't like what she sees. "Is the viewscreen functioning normally?"
Janeway looks out at the black-and-white contrast of the stars. "I'm sorry to tell you this...but your nebula is gone." No pink in sight.
"The gasses must have continued to dissipate after we left."
In other words, the life form is now homeless.
Only it's got a firm grip on Voyager at the moment. And it makes use of it.
"Warning: Life-support failure on all decks. Abandon ship. Abandon..."
"--Ship. Abandon ship," Neelix repeats in a hollow whisper.
"The creature was that angry?" Mezoti asks.
"Its home had been destroyed," Icheb reminds her.
"The life-form wanted Voyager for itself," Neelix says melodramatically. "And it was going to kill anyone who remained on board."
Scary music time again.
Time also for a Kodak moment, a Wal-Mart commercial, and plugs for pizza, web domain hosting, the local news, Chameleon 3, and more local news about how your doctor, organic food, oxygen and pretty much everything else may be trying to kill you.
* * *
"Janeway's only chance of saving her crew was to try to reason with the creature," Neelix tells the children.
On the bridge, Janeway argues with the computer. Who knew Voyager could be as stubborn as its captain?
Well, with the voice of Lwaxana Troi, I suppose we could expect no less.
"Listen to me; I can still help you!"
"There are other nebulas! I'll find you one!"
"Unable to comply."
"I'd be able to comply if you gave me access to Astrometrics!"
The air begins to leave the bridge. "Warning; oxygen depletion in progress."
"Give me back helm control!" Janeway pleads, heading for Tom's station.
"Warning; helm circuits are overloading." The computer activates the BOOM switch, and the helm ignites, knocking Janeway back a few steps. "Abandon ship."
"At least give me access to the comm so I can warn my crew!"
"Unable to comply."
Man. That is one seriously pissed-off starship. I wonder if it's been talking to Kes . . .
["As the captain was facing one of her worst fears--losing her ship--I was with Tuvok and about to face one of mine . . ."]
While Tuvok tries to reroute the plasma gases, he gets the same face full of plasma that gave Tom Paris the pizza face earlier. Down he goes, with bubbling green scars.
Neelix pulls himself out of his panic to help his friend. "Tuvok! Lie still. I'll try to--"
He looks down the Jefferies tube. Plasma gases are filling the compartment. He sees a face in it, like a specter of doom . . .
"Mr. Neelix - proceed without me," Tuvok whispers.
"I'm not leaving you here!"
"I am injured. Logic dictates that you take the mask and proceed to Engineering."
"I don't care what logic dictates! This isn't the Salvoxia--we're not drawing lots!" He tries to pull Tuvok off the floor.
Tuvok protests. "I am giving you an order!"
"And I'm disobeying it!" Neelix growls. "You're coming with me if I have to drag you by your pointy little ears!"
Neelix stares with horror at the advancing cloud. He sees the face with its teeth bared, coming closer.
["I had no choice. I had to control my fear. And not let my imagination get the better of me."]
"Pleasant thoughts . . . pleasant thoughts . . . " Neelix whispers, squeezing his eyes shut.
When he opens them again, the cloud is just a cloud. He takes a hit off the oxygen mask, then passes it to Tuvok. The two press forward.
["While we made our way to engineering, Captain Janeway tried to make the creature reconsider what it was doing."]
Janeway wends her way through the blood-red corridors, arguing with Voyager the whole way.
"You're going to kill everyone on this ship. Do you understand what that means."
"To deprive of life--extinguish."
"Yes. And if you extinguish us, you'll be extinguishing yourself. You need this crew."
"The technology you're using needs to be maintained. Who do you think is going to do that when we're gone? Voyager's secondary systems have already begun to fail. In a few weeks primary systems will start to go offline."
A pause. "Unable to confirm."
"Access the internal sensors. Run a ship-wide diagnostic. See for yourself!"
Janeway snorts with frustration.
["The captain's rapport with the creature seemed to be breaking down, and she couldn't afford to wait any longer."]
Janeway enters Engineering, and doesn't stop moving. "I need everyone's attention. We're abandoning ship; get to the escape pods!"
"We may not be able to eject the pods," Torres says, matching her stride.
"We'll push them out if we have to!"
On the way out the door, the crew runs into Neelix, who is dragging Tuvok. "He needs medical attention!" Neelix says.
"He'll have to wait; we're abandoning ship!" Harry Kim says, helping Neelix with the Vulcan.
["The entire crew had to evacuate. The Delta Flyer and the shuttles were launched, followed by all but one of the escape pods . . . "]
Chakotay and Janeway work their way through the corridor. "That's everyone but the captain and first officer," Chakotay says.
"After you," Janeway says, gesturing the way to the escape pod. Chakotay nods, then goes first. Janeway takes a last look around, then takes a step toward the door.
The door slams shut before she can.
Janeway screams at the ceiling. "I did what you asked; we're abandoning ship! What more do you want?"
"Diagnostic completed. Secondary systems are offline. Primary systems are at 32 percent. Estimated time to failure: 6 days 13 hours. Captain Janeway, report to engineering."
Well, it's not like Janeway didn't invite the thing to run the diagnostic. But she's in a surly mood. "Like hell I will!" She makes a deliberate move away from engineering.
And runs smack into a force field.
"I won't be your prisoner! You'll have to kill me!"
The area, now an enclosed space thanks to the force fields, begins to fill with nebular gases. Janeway starts coughing.
Be careful what you wish for . . .
"Captain Janeway report to Engineering."
"Not until you restore life support and give me back control of my ship!"
"Unable to comply." The gas is about chest level now.
Janeway's voice lowers a couple of octaves. "Then we'll die here together! (cough) I'm guessing (cough) I've got about two more minutes (cough) and then you're on your (cough) own!"
"Captain Janeway report to Engineering."
"I told you! (hacking cough) The only way I'm helping is if you (gasp, gag) return control of my (oop, ack) ship!"
The kids are about to fall off the edge of their seats. Neelix has their undivided attention.
"It looked like the creature was calling the captain's bluff. She was down to her last breath. But at the last moment…"
The room clears. The gases get sucked back through the vents. The lights go on. Janeway coughs up a storm, but the coughs get stronger as she gets oxygen in her lungs.
"Access to all systems has been restored."
One again, the captain wins the battle of wills.
"It took almost two days for the crew to return to the ship," Neelix tells the kids. "Eventually, an artificial environment was created in an isolated section of deck 12. The creature has been living there ever since."
Mezoti looks at Icheb. "I told you there was a monster on deck 12."
"Haven't you been listening?" Icheb says. "It's not a monster; it's an alien life form."
The children jump high when something goes Bump. "What was that?" Icheb asks.
"Maybe it's the alien life form coming to get us," Mezoti teases.
Neelix gives her a disapproving look. "Haven't you learned anything about letting your imagination get the best of you?"
With exquisite timing, the lights come on. Suddenly, the cargo bay isn't such a scary place anymore.
Neelix smiles. "There. That little jolt was probably nothing more than our friend leaving the ship to go to a new home that the captain found for her. Time to regenerate." He shoos the kids toward their alcoves.
They comply. But they stop before stepping up. "What if the life form didn't leave?" Azan asks.
"What if it wants revenge?" Rebi asks.
"What if I told you I made up the whole thing?" Neelix asks.
The kids are stunned.
Mezoti is the first to speak. "Naomi told me you always exaggerate," she grouses.
"I knew the story wasn't true," Icheb insists. "The moment you said the Bussard collectors produced nadion emissions."
Neelix smiles. "I should have known better than to try fooling the four of you. All right; in you go."
The four step up, turn around, and lock in for the night.
"Pleasant dreams," Neelix says to his young charges.
Neelix reaches the bridge, where the usual suspects are at their posts.
"How are the children?" Chakotay asks.
"Tucked into their alcoves, safe and sound."
"I hope they weren't frightened," Mama Kate says.
"Oh, why would they be frightened, Captain?"
"They were in the dark for three hours," Janeway notes.
"Oh, no, not to worry! I told them a story to pass the time."
"Let me guess," says Paris. "Mother Goose?"
Neelix is scandalized. "Certainly not! Some of those fairy tales can be frightening! Ogres and child-eating monsters." He turns to Janeway. "Speaking of which, is everything…okay?"
Janeway smiles. "We're just taking some final readings before we resume course. Show him, Harry."
Ensign Kim works the controls, and the forward viewscreen changes to show a vast nebula, now churning with a familiar spectrum of colors.
"Well!" Neelix says proudly. "I hope it lives happily ever after."
I have to be honest. This one didn't do much for me.
Since the actual events surrounding the entity on Deck Twelve are unknown, Neelix's retelling of it--in language and description suitable for children--is naturally suspect. We can take the most basic facts as accurate--they picked it up in one nebula, and dropped it off in another--but the rest is subject to doubt as actual events, and must be taken instead as fiction within fiction.
The problem is, I just wasn't very interested in the story Neelix had to tell.
The interruptions by the children were occasionally interesting. Mezoti, in particular, strikes me as a fun--if infuriating--kid to tell a scary story to; she challenges, she gets carried away with her imagination, she's into the gory details. Azan and Rebi, the twins, were fairly gullible, and easily agitated. Icheb as the skeptic seemed a bit out of place--too old for scary stories, but in other ways on the same level of adolescence as Mezoti. Their banter was at times fun to listen to. And Neelix's narration wasn't bad.
The rest of it--eh. A moment here and there I sorta liked. Celes smacking Harry Kim. The nebular demon face. The computer, using stock phrases, arguing with Janeway. The opening scene when all the lights went out.
The rest pretty much bored me. There wasn't much in the way of suspense
In the right mood, I might have really liked an episode like this, so perhaps that's my problem. But the better episodes put the audience in the right kind of mood, and in that respect, it was a disappointment.
Call it 2.5 stars. The extra half star for "Snacks are irrelevant!" I love that line.
Next week: In the season-ender, Seven of Nine joins the Borg Maquis. Vive le resistance!