DELTA BLUES @ Reviewboy.com - Jim Reviews...

"Homestead"

[Disclaimer]

Paramount pretty much owns everything you're about to read. It's their dialog, their characters, their franchise. For whatever reason, they've chosen to left me alone, and I thank them for it.

This is all meant in good fun, as though I were reciting the episode to you around the water cooler at work. You'll find the closest thing online to watching the actual episode, though I do sometimes take liberties when I think it will help the narrative. Any errors in fact or interpretation are my responsibility alone.

[Captioning sponsored by Paramount Television and United Paramount Network.]

[Summary]

How the heck did all these Talaxians get half way across the galaxy? And why is that cute one giving puppy-eyes to Neelix...?

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music.

It's a holiday, after all.

Whoa, hold on Chester. What holiday, you ask? You'll see soon enough, I promise. There's a time and place for everything. But for now--

Shake it! (Unh!) Don't break it! (Unh!) Took your mama nine months to make it! (Unh!)

Yes, it's party time again in the Voyager mess hall. This time, they've even got a mid-20th-century jukebox, bubbling neon rainbow and all, playing a chipper set of generic 1950s guitar rock guaranteed to make you shake your moneymaker, or your money back.

And snacks! Oh, sweet-Kahless-in-a-gagh-bucket, have they got snacks! Good old-fashioned second-millennium Earth food, before the Health Nazis turned everything to replicated organic vitamin-enhanced soy sludge and called it an improvement. As though anything could improve upon the arm-numbing goodness of a six-cheese triple cardio-burger.

Mmmmm....Meat. Ooh yeah. Whip me up a frothy mug of that.

But I digress.

The crew has gathered, the music is loud and sock-hop perfect, and Neelix is passing around plates stacked high with (mmmmm....) snacks.

B'Elanna, in full bloom of pregnancy, is attacking the platter like a swarm of locusts. "Now these are delicious!" she raves, to Neelix's delight.

"Um, leave some for the rest of us," Harry begs.

"Hey, I'm eating for two!" Torres growls and marks her territory (um, ewww), and Harry wisely retreats.

Neelix's rounds lead him next to Tom Paris, who grabs a handful of the gooey treats. "Great party, Neelix!"

"Everybody seems to be enjoying it," Neelix gushes.

Tom leans in conspiratorially. "Except for Doc." He nods toward the counter. Neelix rushes to intercept.

That's right. The Doctor, ever vigilant, is running a medical tricorder over the snack trays.

"Those are for eating, not scanning!" Neelix protests, grabbing the platters away.

Doc is incensed by his findings. "What exactly are they?" he demands.

"Cheese pierogis. Zefram Cochrane's favorite," Neelix says proudly. He dives back into the crowd to spread the wealth.

Doc isn't through. "They have absolutely no nutritional value!" he shouts, following closely.

"This is a party, Doctor!" Neelix yaps back. "Sometimes you have to forget about nutrition." Now that's my kinda caterer. Bring forth the Cheesy Poofs!

Doc soldiers on. "You could at least include a vitamin supplement when you replicate!"

Neelix is horrified. "Replicate?" he squeaks. "I made them myself!"

Neelix spies a beaming Janeway, standing by Naomi Wildman, gesturing to him to approach. She throws an arm around her furry morale officer. "You two have outdone yourselves," the captain raves. "I've never seen First Contact Day celebrated quite like this."

Janeway leans down. "When I was your age," she tells Naomi, "all it meant was a day off from school."

Naomi beams. "Neelix and I thought we should make it more fun."

Naomi, it must be said, looks very grown up these days. The kiddy outfits are history, and the Puberty Fairy has paid her a couple of visits. Naomi's voice has also deepened over the past season.

Sob. Voyager's only child isn't a baby anymore.

Janeway returns the smile. "Well, you certainly succeeded!" The captain next looks to Neelix. "When is Commander Tuvok making his presentation?"

"Well, now's as good a time as any. Captain?" Neelix excuses himself and walks toward the jukebox. Tom hits Pause, which quiets the room, and Neelix takes over.

"May I have everyone's attention, please? In honor of the 315th anniversary of his ancestors' arrival on Earth, I've asked Mr. Tuvok to recite the first words spoken to humans by a Vulcan. Commander--"

The crowd parts. Tuvok steps forward, in his usual, um, cheery mood. "Is this really necessary?" he asks with the appropriate degree of wet-blanketness.

Neelix pouts. "You promised!"

"Very well." Tuvok lifts his hand in the traditional split-fingered Vulcan salute, and enunciates all the way to the cheap seats in his resonant baritone. "Live long, and prosper." The crew cheers.

It may seem silly, and perhaps it is. But FIRST CONTACT is a good reminder that putting the Vulcans (well, okay, everyone) off their guard was a Zefram Cochrane trademark. Cherished holidays often have odd roots.

Neelix, the irony-free morale officer, is ecstatic. "And now, for some more of Zefram Cochrane's favorite music!" He punches in another guitar riff, and begins moving his feet in a bit of free-form hoofing that's not quite as awful as Elaine's on SEINFELD.

This also has its roots in First Contact day, and I'm sure that the Vulcan cultural memory is still seething about it, 315 years later. Cochrane didn't let First Contact end until the Vulcans did a little electric slide.

Tuvok's eyebrows knit. Then they pearl. Then they stitch.

Neelix notices that Tuvok isn't dancing. "Hey, come on, Mr. Vulcan!"

Tuvok stiffens further. "Vulcans do not dance." Now, this isn't strictly true. Tuvok is an expert in martial arts, and it's just a small step between, say, Tai Chi and the Chicken Dance. (Yeah, you guessed it - Thai Chicken).

"But it's tradition!" Neelix squeals.

"There is no tradition, Mr. Neelix. This ceremony is entirely your invention." Well, he does have a point there--Neelix does this kind of thing all the time.

However, he's the morale officer, and Voyager has a habit of founding its own traditions--with the full blessing of Mama Kate. So traditions are whatever SHE says they are.

We don't have long to wait. "This is an official ship function, Commander," Janeway says with a voice of ice (festively sculpted, of course). "Don't make me order you to dance." Harry and Tom get a quick camera fly-by, and they're on the verge of some serious full-body laughter as Tuvok squirms.

Poor Mr. Vulcan. He don't get no respect. Neelix knows just how to push his buttons, too.

Before hilarity can ensue in earnest, Chakotay enters the mess hall and requests Janeway's attention. "Sorry to interrupt, but I've got some interesting news. Neelix, you might want to hear this."

He's got Janeway's attention, and Neelix's. He maintains it with this next part: "Long-range sensors have detected several hundred life signs approximately 4.9 light-years away. They're Talaxian."

Over 40,000 light-years--half a galaxy--away from his native Talax, Neelix finds himself within spittin' distance of his own kind. (Longtime viewers know how fond Neelix is of his heritage.)

Small universe, ain't it?

* * *

Neelix begins pestering the bridge crew before the turbolift doors close. "Are we there yet?"

"Not exactly," Janeway says. "The life signs appear to be coming from inside that asteroid field." She points to the forward viewscreen, and the camera guy is kind enough to give us a peek.

This is about as dense as asteroid fields get.

"From a ship?" Neelix asks. He can't see how it could be anything else in that floating rock pile.

"We are not detecting any vessels," Tuvok reports.

"No response from hails?" he asks Harry.

"Not yet," Harry replies.

Neelix looks worried. "I hope they're all right."

"There's a lot of interference," Chakotay says. "Maybe they haven't received our transmissions."

"Can we move in closer, Captain?" Neelix asks.

Tom Paris speaks up. "Voyager is too big to maneuver safely in there." Even so, Tom is good at thinking outside the box, and it doesn't take long for the light bulb to come on. "But we could take the Flyer."

Uh oh. Batten down the hatches, kids--Tom's feelin' the Need for Speed.

*

Nothing says Pilot's Dream like a quick flit through an asteroid field. Real seat-of-the-pants stuff.

Tom's got things well in hand, so there's plenty of time for Neelix and Tuvok to kvetch at each other.

"It wouldn't have hurt you to do a few steps," Neelix says sourly.

"I am trying to concentrate," Tuvok says, doing his best to ignore his tormenter.

Yeah--good luck with that, Vulcan dude.

"I think you were just afraid," Neelix clucks.

This raises the ol' eyebrows. "That's absurd."

"It's understandable," Neelix says, continuing the line of thought. "There were a lot of people watching."

"Vulcans don't experience fear," Tuvok insists, experiencing something else...

Neelix warms to the topic. "I'm going to make it my personal mission to get you to dance at least once before we reach Earth!"

"Then I suggest you find a more productive hobby," Tuvok huffs.

Lt. Paris practices his Fatherly Uncle Tom skills. He tosses a stern look over his shoulder. "If you two don't stop it I'm going to come back there and separate you." One can only imagine he'll be saying that a lot after their first few kids come along.

Fortunately, the banter ends when Tuvok's station chirps. "I've localized the life signs. Bearing 108 Mark 26. They appear to be inside a large asteroid."

"Inside?" Neelix asks, surprised.

BOOOOM

"What was that?" Neelix asks.

Tuvok checks. "A thermalyte explosive. 30.6 kilometers to port. I'm detecting another projectile heading directly toward us."

Evasive maneuvers!

BOLOOOOM

That went well.

"We've lost shields," Tom announces. "Main propulsion is off-line. We're going to have to make an emergency landing."

"Where?!?" Neelix squeaks. As the Arthur Dent of the Delta Flyer, worrying aloud is his primary function--and Neelix goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Tom runs a rapid scan of the area. "The Talaxians' asteroid is the closest."

Tuvok runs his own scan. "Its surface is covered with craters, ice fields." In other words: strap in, kids, Daddy's driving.

"We don't have a choice. Hold on."

The Flyer goes in. It slides. It slips. It shakes, rattles, and rolls. It bumps and grinds. All live and in three-D. It's really quite impressive.

Finally, the Flyer grinds, ricochets and jolts to a stop.

After the ribbing I gave Chakotay last week, I suppose I should tweak Tom a little for his own record of splashing down shuttles. The difference is, the Flyer has a tendency to stay in one piece, and requires little more than a tune-up and a run through the rinse to be ready for action again.

Even so...heaven help whoever wasn't strapped in.

Great Forest, here we come.

*

Janeway enters Astrometrics; she has been Summoned. "Problem?"

Seven of Nine offers her report. "We've lost contact with the away team. I also detected some unusual energy discharges in the asteroid field."

Janeway frowns. "What kind of discharges?"

"It's difficult to tell because of the interference, but they appear to be thermalytic explosions. I believe several of them were in close proximity to the Flyer."

"Source?"

"Unknown," Seven regrets to report.

Janeway's jaw sets; her molars splinter under the pressure. "We'll need to send a rescue team. Work with B'Elanna. Try to modify the shields on one of the shuttles to withstand these explosions."

The search begins.

*

Neelix awakens with a bump on his head and a very attractive Talaxian woman hovering over him.

"Stay still."

Neelix tries to rise, but feels woozy. He falls back into bed, and feels his throbbing skull. There's a bandage on his forehead.

"Don't worry--it's not serious," she says.

"Am I inside the asteroid?" Neelix asks weakly.

"Yes. This is my home." Pretty as she is, and pleasant as her voice is, her tone isn't entirely friendly.

Neelix risks a look around the room. "Where are my friends?"

The woman's eyes narrow with suspicion. "If you mean the aliens who were on the ship with you, they're safe." She seems almost disappointed.

Neelix notes her tone. "I'd like to see them."

"You need to rest." She continues to tend to her patient. "What were you doing in the asteroid field?"

"Looking for you," Neelix says, his voice all dreamy. Then, seeing her reaction, and realizing too late that it sounded like a standard-issue chat-up line, he begins to stammer. "Well, not you, s-s-specifically. But my ship detected Talaxians. I haven't come across any in years, so..."

His voice trails off. He's not making a good impression. "I'm sorry." He starts again. "I'm Neelix."

"Dexa." She softens just a little. "I had an uncle named Neelix." As it turns out, there's no relation, but being compared to someone's uncle does tend to dampen the mood. "Are there other Talaxians on your ship?" she asks.

"I'm the only one," he says. We can hear the aching loneliness in his voice.

"Why are you living with aliens?" Dexa asks. The very idea disturbs her.

"They're my friends. Did you receive our hails?" Uh-huh, she says without enthusiasm; Neelix is confused. "Why didn't you respond?"

"We avoid contact with outsiders." And that's how we prefer it, Mister Man.

"We were attacked. There were explosions. Did you...?"

"No," she insists. "We're not violent." Just paranoid.

"Who fired at us?"

"No one fired at you," Dexa explains. "There are miners who use explosive charges to break apart the asteroids so they can collect minerals from the debris."

"I wish we'd known." He's too kind; a lesser diplomat would have said, "Thanks for letting us know before we showed up..."

Now it's Dexa's turn for questions. "Why were you carrying weapons?" This clearly bothers her.

"It's standard procedure for an away mission," Neelix says with a shrug.

Neelix then notices a young Talaxian boy in the room. Cute little rodent. "Hello. What's your name?"

"Brax. What's yours?"

"I told you not to come in here!" Dexa scolds.

"I just wanted to see him!" Brax protests.

"You're supposed to be helping Oxilon."

The boy looks at Neelix appraisingly. "He doesn't look dangerous to me."

Neelix tries to look as nonthreatening as possible--which is not a stretch for him. "I think you have the wrong idea about us."

Dexa shoos the boy away. "I'm not supposed to be talking to you at all."

Neelix rises from his bed. "I'm feeling better. I'd like to see my friends now." Dexa backs away from him; Neelix follows.

Until he runs into a roadblock--Dexa activates a force field.

"What are you doing?"

Dexa's look is one of pure suspicion. "I've been told not to let you leave."

So much for the glorious Talaxian family reunion.

* * *

Voyager's bridge is tense; the search for the away team continues.

Janeway asks Ensign Kim for an update. "Still no response to hails," he says.

Janeway's hands go to her hips; she kneads vigorously. "Janeway to the shuttlebay."

"Go ahead, Captain."

"What's the status of the shield modifications?"

"Lieutenant Torres and I will be finished in a few minutes."

"Good. Take an away team and find them." Janeway ends the call.

Ensign Kim's station board chirps. "Captain, there's a ship approaching from astern. We're being hailed."

This was most unexpected. "On screen."

Pinhead's cousin from the Hellraiser series is out of makeup--no pins. Otherwise, the family resemblance is evident. "Identify yourselves," the alien demands.

This is a good start..."I'm Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager," Janeway says evenly.

"Commander Nocona. This is our asteroid field."

"We weren't aware of that," Janeway says. It's not as though there's a beacon announcing ownership.

"Now you are," Nocona says. His tone is brusque, but slighly less hostile.

"We lost one of our shuttles inside the field," Janeway explains. "We're preparing to send a rescue team."

"All your base are belong to us." (Hmmm. My UT must be on the fritz.)

Janeway just shrugs. "We're not interested in the resources. We were only trying to make contact with the Talaxians."

Nocona's suspicions rise. "What's your interest in them?" Talaxians appear to be a sore spot with him. That could also explain Dexa's low-grade xenophobia.

"One of my crewmen is from Talax. He was eager to meet some of his people."

"You should have requested permission before sending in a shuttle," Nocona blusters. "We have a mining operation in progress." Apparently Voyager was expected to not only know that this asteroid field was claimed by a species they had never previously known existed, but should have known how to contact them. Ah, the logic of arrogance.

"Does that explain the explosions we detected?" Chakotay asks.

Nocona nods. "Mining charges."

Janeway tries to be cordial. "We'd appreciate it if you'd stop using them until we can get our people out."

Nocona considers this for a second. Give or take a second. "I'm sorry, we're on a strict deadline. But I'll conduct a search for your crew. If they need help, we'll provide it." What a guy.

"That's kind of you," Janeway lies. "But we're prepared to go in and get them ourselves."

"I cannot guarantee your safety if you enter the asteroid field. Stay here. We'll contact you when we find your people." The transmission ends.

On one hand, Janeway's never been one to rely on others when she can do the job herself. On the other, the Delta Flyer is down, and it's the most resilient shuttle they have, along with their best pilot. Perhaps letting Nocona do the dirty work does make sense. She doesn't object.

*

Neelix lies on the bed in his makeshift cell, his hands cradling the back of his head.

He hears a noise, and looks up to find Brax on HIS side of the force field, though at a safe distance, playing with what looks like a Talaxian toy ship.

"I don't think you're supposed to be here," Neelix says gently.

"This is my home," young Brax says defensively. "You can't tell me what to do."

Neelix smiles and sits up. "No, of course not. I just don't want you to get in trouble." He takes note of what's in the boy's hands. "Is that a model ship?"

Brax hesitates, then nods.

"What's it called?" No answer. Neelix gets a playful look. "How about The Two-Tailed Talchok?"

Brax smiles.

Neelix grins. "The Fur Fly?" he guesses. This time, Brax giggles, deciding he likes this newcomer.

Neelix continues to charm his new friend. "The ship I come from is called Voyager."

Brax looks at the model in his hands. "Is it big?"

Neelix nods. "And fast."

It's clear just from the way his mother acts that Brax doesn't get out much, which no doubt makes space even more fascinating to him. "Can I see it?"

Neelix chooses his words carefully. "I think it would be a little difficult to take you there while I'm stuck here." He pauses. "But, if your mother would let me out..."

Speak of the devil-in-a-blue-dress. They hear footsteps. "That's her!" Brax squeaks.

"You better hide," Neelix whispers.

Brax looks worried. "You won't tell her I'm here?"

Neelix smiles. "No, of course not!" He winks and inclines his head, pointing out a good hiding place, a table on the far side of the room. Brax makes a beeline for it.

Dexa arrives a moment later, followed by someone new--a male with even longer whiskers than our favorite Talaxian. "Neelix," she says, "this is Oxilon, our council regent."

Neelix stands near the force field. "I wish I could say it was nice to meet you, but this wasn't exactly the welcome I was expecting."

Oxilon silently activates the controls to lower the force field. "You're free to go now." He is about as friendly as Dexa.

Slowly, not quite believing it, Neelix reaches for his jacket from the wall hook and puts it on before stepping past the once-secure doorway. "What about my friends?"

"We've determined they aren't hostile. They've been treated for their injuries and asked to leave." Real friendly, these Talaxians.

"They're aboard your shuttle making repairs," Dexa says. "I'll take you there."

"Well, now that everything has been cleared up, maybe we could talk...get to know each other a little?"

Dexa and Oxilon look at each other uncertainly. "If you'd like," Oxilon says, though he seems to wonder what the point would be.

"My friends, too?"

Oxilon shakes his head. "I'm sorry."

"Why not?"

"We've learned from experience to keep to ourselves." Oxilon seems almost apologetic, but firm.

That settles the question for Neelix. "Well, if they're not welcome, I'm not staying either." He removes the bandage from his forehead, the lone symbol of the locals' dubious hospitality.

Oxilon seems pained, but not offended. "That's your choice."

*

While not exactly free to roam the asteroid, Neelix is given a bit of a tour on his way back to the shuttle. Dexa's company is somewhat more welcome now that Neelix has not been judged a threat. "I know Oxilon seems overly cautious," she says, "but we're not used to having visitors."

Neelix is the forgiving type; besides, he's stunned by the sheer number of Talaxians he sees around him--easily more than we've seen in all the hours of Voyager to date. "How many of you live here?" he says, gawking at the teeming mass of Talaxianity.

"Close to 500," she says proudly. She takes him over to an observation area, which gives us a better idea of the size of the asteroid--there's darn near a horizon, and there are several clusters of buildings on the far end of the complex. "All of our homes are connected to the central cabin by tunnels and lifts. They allow us to easily move from one section of the asteroid to another.

Neelix whistles appreciatively. "It must have taken years to build all of this!"

Dexa smiles. It's a good look on her. "Almost five. It still isn't finished."

"Where did the technology come from?"

The tour continues. Past steaming ducts, processing plants, mining parties. Neelix drinks it all in. "We arrived here with a caravan of six ships," Dexa says. "We disassembled all but one of them and modified their components. We converted torpedo launchers to blast away rock and excavate these tunnels. These conduits run into the asteroid's core. We use geothermal energy to melt the ice that covers most of the outer surface. It provides us with oxygen and water."

Neelix is properly impressed. "Who'd have imagined all of this inside an asteroid!" Dexa beams. It's likely they don't get many compliments from outsiders.

Nocona comes to mind.

Neelix changes the subject. "Your son seems like a wonderful boy."

The shields go up again. "How would you know? You only met him for a few seconds."

Oops. "True. But I'm a quick judge of character."

Dexa isn't angry. "He came to see you while I was out, didn't he?"

Neelix considers protecting Brax, but then chuckles when he sees the boy won't get into trouble. "You can't blame him for being curious."

"Hmmm. He's a lot like his father--no fear."

Neelix is nothing if not an old-fashioned nice guy, a real gentleman. Even when it came to his fling with the Klingon warrior babe, he followed the proper mating protocols. He is no different here. In spite of the obvious attraction, he doesn't leap on the first pretty whiskered face he sees. "I'd like to meet your husband," he says sincerely.

This brings Dexa up short. She stops walking and faces Neelix. There is sadness in her face, but no fresh pain. "He's dead." Probably for a while now.

Poor Neelix. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"It's...It's all right," she says softly. "You didn't know."

On the bright side, she's available.

They continue on in silence.

*

The shuttle door opens. We see Paris and Tuvok already hard at work making repairs when Neelix and Dexa enter.

"Neelix! Are you all right?" Tom asks.

"I'm fine." Pleased as punch, believing he's established a rapport with the woman, he makes the introductions. "Dexa, this is Lieutenant Paris, and Commander Tuvok."

Dexa says nothing. She refuses to look at either alien.

Tom tries to break the ice. "Thanks for bringing him back. We were getting worried."

Dexa says nothing some more. To her credit, she's struggling mightily to resist fleeing. She looks to Neelix, silently pleading for release.

Neelix is saddened by her non-response, but he lets her off the hook. "It was nice to meet you," he whispers.

Dexa nods. Then she flees. Swirling dust trail and all.

Meep-meep. Thrbbbbbt. Whooooosh.

Neelix watches the doors close. His lips a thin white line. Then, he swallows his regret and returns to duty. "So, what can I do to help?" he asks as he removes his jacket and rolls up his sleeves.

Tom gives him a sympathetic look. "Well, you can give me a hand with this plasma manifold." Neelix accepts the task gratefully.

"How did it go?" Tom asks a second later.

Neelix's voice is sad. "Well, uh, they didn't exactly send out a welcoming committee, but I'm sure they have their reasons." He sniffles a bit. "I guess my expectations were a little high."

"I regret that you didn't have a more fulfilling experience," Tuvok says. It's a remarkably kind comment on Tuvok's part. Maybe the old boy's starting to get a soft spot for the loveable little fuzzball.

Neelix is surprised, and grateful. "That's nice of you to say, Commander, but it wasn't a complete waste of time. I got to meet some of my people again..." His face clouds. "Even if it was a short visit."

His tone gets wistful. "Who knows? It's probably the last time I'll ever see another Talaxian."

This gives Tom in particular something to think about. Most everyone on Voyager has spent the last seven years flying ever closer to Home, in the Alpha Quadrant. He's one of very few on board who wasn't born and raised within the Federation; only Icheb is a fellow Delta Quadrant native. (Naomi was born in the DQ, but was conceived in the AQ; Seven of Nine was born--and born again--in the DQ, but Annika Hansen was born and reared back "home". Doc was activated in the DQ, but created back in the Sol system.) As for Kes, she started out the adventuresome one, but as we know from that @#%$!@%@!$% piece of crap abomination known as "Fury," she ultimately decided to go home.

In a sense, Neelix never could go home again, though he did (sort of) in "Jetrel." Talax is a bad memory, a trophy of war and a monument to science gone evil. It was hard to blame Neelix for wanting to put distance between himself and the horror of the Metreon Cascade. But he has always spoken fondly of his people and culture, and his planet. In his quest to make Voyager and its crew as comfortable, safe and happy as he could, he has tried to make a home for himself among strangers.

The irony is, by calling such aliens from across the galaxy his friends, he has become a stranger to his own people.

*

With three people working, the repairs to the Flyer proceed quickly. Soon, the lights in the forward cabin come on.

"Good work," Tom says. "Now we need to run a systems--"

"Intruder alert."

Tom curses. "At least we know internal sensors are working."

Neelix and Tuvok move to the aft cabin to investigate. It's still dark back here; this part of the Flyer isn't yet a priority. They use wrist-lights and tricorders to search.

Neelix points to a uniform closet, where the environmental suits are kept. Buvok flashes his light thataway.

Brax gasps. Caught!

"Brax!" Neelix chirps, at once happy to see him, and pleased that Tuvok didn't vaporize him. Not that Tuvok had his weapon set higher than stun; he's just got a stern look that can reduce the average child to a puddle of weepy goo.

"You know him?" Tuvok asks.

Neelix reaches into the closet and puts a protective arm around the boy. "We're old friends."

"You said you'd take me to see Voyager," Brax says. His mother was right--the boy's got no fear.

Neelix chuckles. "I don't think your mother would approve."

Mother! "You won't tell her I was here, will you?"

"Here?" Neelix asks, as though confused. "I...I have no idea what you're talking about." He gives the boy a smile and a wink, and Brax immediately relaxes.

Neelix leads the boy to the door. "I'll be right back," he tells Tuvok.

*

Neelix leads the way back to Brax's home, but the two are distracted by the sound of raised voices. They take a detour to investigate.

It would seem that Nocona and his people have found the Talaxians. Funny, though--they aren't asking about the lost shuttlecraft.

"Three days isn't nearly enough time for us to dismantle all our equipment!" Oxilon says desperately.

"Then you should have begun the first time we asked!" replies Nocona of Planet Pinhead. "We can't wait any longer. Demolition of the asteroid is going to start whether you're here or not."

Uh oh. This doesn't sound good. All your base are belong to us.

One does have to wonder why THIS asteroid in particular is so important to the pinheads. It's not like it's the only one left in this massive asteroid field.

Dexa's eyes flare; she steps to the fore. "You'd kill us?" she demands, getting right to the heart of the matter.

"We don't want to hurt anyone," Nocona says, looking marginally guilty. "But our patience has run out." He's a man with a deadline, and no doubt a profit margin.

Capitalist scum. Don't get him mad, or he may bring in the storm troopers at Casa de Perspiro de la Kathie Lee.

The demand, of course, is unrealistic, especially since the Pinheads are offering no relocation assistance. "We've only got one ship," Oxilon points out. "There won't be enough room for any of our belong-gings!"

"It's not our fault you took apart your other vessels," Nocona counters. What sympathy.

"You can't do this!" Dexa growls.

She lunges at Nocona, but Oxilon grabs her. "Dex, don't provoke him." The Talaxians are naturally suspicious of strangers--and in this case, rightly so--but they apparently aren't the fighting type.

"Where are we supposed to go?" Dexa demands.

"I'm sure you'll find a home somewhere," Nocona says off-handedly.

"THIS! Is our home! You have no right to make us go." She gets right in the face of the tall, black-leather, jack-booted industrialist.

Nocona sweeps her aside. He's twice her size, and Dexa literally goes flying. She lands with a thud. Nocona and his henchmen turn to leave.

Brax, who has watched silently until now, picks up a large chunk of ore. "Leave her alone!" he shouts, and lets the stone fly. It his Nocona in the small of his back. There isn't enough momentum to do more than get his attention, but it's enough to realize that if he doesn't end this now, the next rocks--or worse--could be thrown by adults. He whirls on Brax and points his finger.

"Bring him here!" he bellows. Thug #1 marches toward the no-fear Talaxian.

Neelix stands between them. "Don't touch him!"

The thug laughs mockingly. "Are you going to stop me?" he follows Nocona's lead--a quick sweep, and Neelix goes sprawling.

But unlike Dexa, Neelix doesn't let it end there. He leaps back up, and dives back in. He catches the guard off-guard, and a few well-delivered fists later, he's got the upper hand.

The other Talaxians in the room gasp--they're not used to seeing one of their own stand up like this.

Nocona is shocked as well. Usually the sweep-aside is sufficient. He reaches for his weapon.

Neelix reaches for the fallen guard's weapon.

Neelix is faster.

"You've said what you've come to say," Neelix spits, the weapon trained on the Pinhead in Chief. "Now I suggest you leave."

Captain Kirk would be proud. This is cowboy diplomacy at its finest.

Nocona takes what's left of his dignity--and his guard--and backs out of the room. "You have three days to evacuate," he says, though his threatening tone doesn't have quite the aura of invulnerability it did a moment before.

With the aliens out of sight, the Talaxians look at each other with a wide range of conflicting emotions.

They're on notice. Three days before their home gets destroyed.

They can't escape. Not enough ships.

They won't fight back. Not enough resolve.

On the other hand...

Dexa rushes to her son, and the two embrace tightly. Neelix stands nearby, weapon raised protectively, like a frontier dad defending his turf.

There's a new alpha gerbil in town.

* * *

Dexa gives Neelix a look of surprised gratitude for protecting her son. "You can see now why we're suspicious of outsiders," she says. Neelix can't help but agree.

Oxilon approaches next--carefully, since Neelix is still the guy with the gun. "Thank you for protecting the boy. But I'm afraid your actions might make things worse."

"How could they get any worse?" Dexa demands. She has a point.

"Fighting back has never done anything but cause us more trouble," Oxilon reminds her.

"And what has running away ever done for us?" she counters.

"It's kept us alive."

"Maybe it's time we stayed and defended ourselves." Dexa turns to Neelix. "Will you help us?"

Uh oh. He might not fear the Pinheads, but the wrath of a certain ranking Redhead does loom large. "I agree with Oxilon," he says, the ambassador / morale officer says uneasily. "Fighting isn't the answer. But I'll try to help."

Despite the blonde hair, Dexa's a bit of a redhead herself. Her passions run lava-hot--and when they cool, she's hard as stone. She turns to stone now. "How?" she asks, as the mask clunks into place.

"Well, uh..." Poor Neelix. All he wanted to do was stop by and say Hi. "We could talk to my Captain, and maybe she can negotiate with the miners...uh, get them to agree to, ah, let you stay."

Oxilon leaps on that option. "Your Captain would be willing to do that?" he asks eagerly.

Neelix draws strength just thinking of his Captain. "The best thing would be for you to come to Voyager--talk to her yourself."

Oxilon is pleased. Dexa is suspicious.

Brax had a new goal in life as soon as Neelix said the words come to Voyager. "I want to go, too!"

Dexa shushes him, but Neelix stands up for his little friend. "Why don't you both come? I've seen your home. I'd like you to see mine." He smiles warmly enough to melt the ice...without awakening the lava.

*

The Flyer is back, and it's brought company.

Neelix leads Dexa and Brax to the bridge to give them a nice look-around. He beams when he sees the first officer. "Commander Chakotay! I'd like you to meet Dexa...And Brax."

Chakotay smiles. "Welcome to the bridge." Dexa is cool; Brax has eyes only for the cool shiny technology.

"And this is Ensign Kim," Neelix says. Harry smiles.

"What's this?!?" Brax squeals, rushing over to a big shiny diagram of Voyager on a multi-screen bridge console.

Neelix shrugs his apologies to the officers, and rushes to continue his tour-guide duties. "This...is an Engineering station. And over there is Tactical. And-and down there is the Helm." Neelix gets a reverent look as he saves the best for last. "And this...is the Captain's chair."

"Which station is yours?" Brax asks excitedly.

Dang kids. Neelix loses his tongue for a moment; Harry and Chakotay sense the danger, and rush to intercept.

"Well, actually, I don't--" Neelix says, embarrassed.

"Neelix does too many things to have just one station," Harry interrupts, offering a proud, comeradely smile. He's our...ambassador, morale officer, --"

"Trade negotiator," Chakotay adds. "Without a doubt he's the most versatile member of our crew."

Neelix is not used to this kind of kind talk about him. He looks a little embarrassed, and a lot grateful. The look in Brax's eyes is worth it all, and even Dexa seems more than a little impressed...and the temperature begins to rise.

*

Brax, fascinated by technology as it is, is downright smitten with Seven of Nine.

They're in Astrometrics. Seven is showing off Voyager's pride and joy. "Our sensors are extremely precise. We can scan for life signs light-years away."

"That's how we found you," Neelix says.

"I have something else that may interest you," Seven says. She enters the commands, and a planet leaps onto the big screen.

Brax is enthralled. "What is it?!"

Dexa's breath catches. "Talax...! You can scan that far away?"

"No. This image is from our database."

Dexa gets all squishy. "It's as beautiful as I remember."

So does Neelix. "There's the Godo mountain range," he says, as a wave of nostalgia darn near suffocates him.

"And the Axiana lakes," Dexa says breathlessly. "That was always one of my favorite places."

"Mine, too!" Neelix looks at her with new appreciation. (as though his old appreciation wasn't already substantial...)

Leave it to Brax to spoil the mood. "Why don't we just go back to Talax? We could live there!"

The poor kid. The two adult Talaxians share a silent moment of boundless anguish. "It's still controlled by the Haakonians," Dexa tells her son. "They don't treat Talaxians very well. That's why we left." She doesn't mention that most of the Talaxians who remain, remain in the form of random clouds of component matter, courtesy of the Metreon Cascade.

"Maybe Neelix could go with us and we could fight them! Take the planet back."

They know hero-worship when they hear it. Seven is mildly amused by the concept of Neelix, Warrior Princess, but says nothing. For Dexa and Neelix, it's a far more personal matter. Talax, their Talax, is gone forever, lost in a cloud of torment beyond death.

This time, Neelix recovers first. "If tomorrow's negotiations go well," he says with all the confidence he can, "you won't have to go anywhere."

*

The good mood is starting to return. "Next stop...Engineering!" Neelix says, hoping to refocus Brax on the shiny, candy-like technology of Starfleet.

It works. "The warp core!!!" Whew.

They're intercepted in the corridor by Naomi Wildman. "Neelix!" she calls.

Neelix is happy to see her. "Naomi!" Then he remembers. "I'm sorry. I forgot all about our kadis-kot game."

"That's all right; I know you're busy. I just wanted to meet your friends." She smiles warmly at Neelix's guests.

"Of course," Neelix says. "Dexa, Brax, this is my goddaughter, Naomi."

"Hi," Naomi says.

For the first time, we hear Dexa respond to a greeting. Must be Naomi's age--it's hard to be suspicious of a kid, and Naomi (barely) qualifies. "You live on a beautiful ship," Dexa says.

"Thanks," Naomi replies. She smiles at Dexa's son. "Maybe Brax would like to go to the Holodeck."

Why, Naomi Wildman, subunit of Samantha, you little schemer! Neelix beams. "That's a great idea!"

Naomi elaborates. "Lieutenant Paris has a new program. Invaders from the Ninth Dimension." She waggles her eyebrows. Her forehead horns dance.

Neelix grins. "Sounds scary."

Naomi returns it. "Very."

Dexa winces a little; this is a very strange group of aliens who find entertainment in the context of INVASION. Especially with the loss of her home looming.

Brax isn't thinking that far ahead, which may be exactly what the doctor ordered. The kid could use a little diversion. "What's a holodeck?"

Naomi teases him a little. "Neelix is right. Might be too scary for you." She says it in a way that clearly spells C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E.

Brax rises to it. "I'm not afraid." He looks up at his mother. "Can I?"

Dexa seems a step or two behind. She looks to Neelix, the only one she even comes close to trusting. Neelix gives her a look; really, it's okay. Trust me. He'll be fine.

Against her better judgment, Dexa agrees. Naomi smiles and takes Brax's hand; together they scamper off toward adventure.

This has the extra benefit of letting Neelix and Dexa walk a little closer together.

"You're lucky to have found these people," Dexa says. "They obviously think a great deal of you."

Neelix gets misty. "The feeling's mutual," he says.

*

Neelix pours a toast in the candle-lit darkness of his quarters. He offers a glass to Dexa, and raises his. "To the Axiana lakes."

Dexa takes a careful sip, then practically melts in her seat. "Mmm, it really is delicious."

"I've been saving it for 15 years," Neelix says. He gets a faraway look. "I wasn't sure I'd ever open it." He doesn't elaborate. Then he returns to the moment. "But tonight...seemed like the right occasion."

He looks at Dexa with an intensity that catches them both off guard. There is an awkward pause.

"Would you like some more...taga cake?" he says, struggling to catch his breath.

He's not alone. "A-A little. Please." He offers her one of the tasty treats--vitamin-free, I'm sure, much to Doc's chagrin--and they take a bite simultaneously.

Dexa is flushed. "I haven't had this in years." Her voice, warmed by the Talaxian nectar and sweetened by the pastry, is soft as a caress.

"I-I-I-I'm glad you like it."

"Mmm." Her appreciation of the meal borders on the religious.

Neelix isn't used to this level of adulation. "It's a family recipe."

"You're a good cook." She says it simply, and doesn't pile on the praise, but it's delivered with a conviction that seems to move him even more than her moaning. Not "this is good." "you're a good cook."

Take me now, lawd. I can die a happy Talaxian.

Dexa's natural beauty is kicked up several notches by her newfound trust in Neelix. "I haven't seen Brax this happy since his father was alive."

"How did he...?" Neelix says, then regrets it. "I'm sorry. You probably don't want to talk about it."

"I don't mind." She takes a breath. "We'd settled on a planet call Phanos. There was a lot of unoccupied territory, but the government restricted us to a very small area."

"Why?"

"They said it was a quarantine to protect the population from alien diseases," she says bitterly, "but it was just an excuse. We were outsiders. They didn't want us mixing with their people. It wasn't long before we realized we didn't have enough land to grow what we needed to feed ourselves."

Dexa takes another sip of liquid courage. "Oxilon said we'd just have to conserve our resources, but my husband was tired of being told what to do. So, he started farming outside the restricted zone." She says this with a mix of pride and regret. Neelix can guess what's coming. "They didn't like that."

Dexa nods. Drinks. Inhales. "A security patrol confronted him. He told them he had to provide for his family, that he wasn't afraid of them."

She sets her cup down. "There was a fight; he was killed."

Neelix struggles for the right words. "I'm sorry."

Dexa smoothes the folds of her dress before continuing. "After that, we came here. We thought we'd finally found a place where no one would bother us."

"Maybe this time it'll be different," Neelix says, with more hope than reassurance. He scootches a little closer to her across the table. His hands are clasped in sympathy.

"Maybe." She doesn't sound hopeful. "But even if it isn't..." She reaches out, placing her hands over his, and gives them a gentle squeeze. She leans forward. "Thank you for trying."

Her eyes are like twin moons, full and blazing. Her mouth, open ever-so-slightly, quivers. She's drawn toward the gravity well of Neelix's lips.

Neelix's eyes are those of a deer caught in the headlights. For one brief, shining moment he almost gets caught up in the moment, before his own fight-or-flight instincts kick in.

He chooses flight. For whatever reason, he gets up and runs toward the door.

"I should get a good night's sleep if I'm going to be my best at the negotiations tomorrow," he says, leaving her to kiss nothing but air.

He's got one foot in the corridor before Dexa realizes what just happend. "Uh, Neelix?!" she yells after him before the doors slide shut.

Neelix pauses. But he's got his Air Fear of Commitment sneakers on, and he's not afraid to use 'em.

Dexa sighs, emitting a perfect O-ring of estrogen, with a silver lining of frustration. She finally shrugs and bows to the inevitable. "It's been a wonderful day," she says.

Neelix smiles, and the doors close.

Dexa asks the computer for directions to the Holodeck.

Man. That Neelix has nerves of steel. He's got something else, too--and though I don't know what they're made of, I have a good guess what color they are.

Blue. *

Dexa doesn't attend the negotiations. Neelix and Oxilon are here, along with Nocona and his minions, and Janeway representing Starfleet.

Unlike some prior negotiations we could name, this one isn't catered.

"Isn't there enough to mine here, without destroying their home?" Janeway asks.

"Their home contains more than 30% of the field's ore. Without that asteriod...The operation isn't worth the expense." One suspects they want to take the first (and easiest) 30% and leave the rest.

"Would you be open to some kind of compensation?" Neelix asks, hoping to make an end-run around the dispute.

Nocona waves him off. "All we want are the minerals."

"And you'd kill us to get them!" Oxilon says. He may not be confrontational, but Oxilon does have some pride left. Unfortunately, his pride leads him to rise from the table and storm off.

Neelix also rises--and places a meaty hand on Oxilon's shoulder to lead him back to his seat. "Wait," he says to Oxilon, gently but firmly.

He turns to Nocona. "The Talaxians have found a way to produce a lot of geothermal energy. Maybe they could share it with you." Janeway clearly approves of the idea.

Nocona is suspicious. "What do you mean, 'share'?" One of those fancy alien concepts, no doubt.

"You could convert it into fuel...to power your ships."

Nocona seems to consider it, then shakes his head. "The energy they generate isn't compatible with our technology."

"We'd be willing to help you make the modifications," Janeway says helpfully.

Nocona finds himself being boxed in, and he doesn't like it, tempting as the offer might be. "We have quotas to meet. We don't have time for that!"

Janeway gives the miner one of her most passionate glares. "Commander--the future of more than five hundred people is at stake here."

All eyes are upon the Pinheads. He seems to shrink under the glare of attention, definitely out of his home field advantage...and clearly out of his league. *

In the mess hall, Naomi and Brax play kadis-kot while Mama Dexa looks on. She's looking quite fetching in her flowing skirt; she earns more than a few appreciative looks from the Voyager crew.

Naomi is regaling Brax with some of Neelix's adventures. "And once, there was a transporter accident. Neelix and Commander Tuvok got combined to make a completely different person."

Dexa doesn't like the sound of that. Brax is simply fascinated. "Really?"

Naomi smiles. "You don't think I could make up a story like that, do you?"

[PAUSE]

To those of us who recall "Tuvix," it's a mixed memory. Back then, Tuvix was a far more likeable character than either Neelix or Tuvok individually. The fusion of the two characters highlighted the best attributes of each, and it was very difficult to see him go. ("go," in this sense, being defined as the controversial 'execution' of Tuvix by Janeway's own hand--the Doctor refused to take part--to return Neelix and Tuvok to their original selves.) I guess if you're Neelix and Tuvok, or Janeway (and for a while, at least, Kes), this Solomonic solution had a happy ending. But Tuvix fans were never able to look at Janeway the same way again.

[PLAY]

Speaking of Neelix, here he comes. Brax seems happy to see him. "Hello, Neelix!" says the boy, now filled with some of Neelix's more heroic exploits, courtesy of Naomi Wildman.

"Do you want to play kadis-kot?" Naomi asks.

"Maybe later." He gives Dexa a look; she stands and follows him a few steps away, to confer in private.

Dexa is about to ask how things went, but guesses just from his expression. "I knew it wouldn't work," she says bitterly.

"We did get them to make a small concession," Neelix says, offering what encouragement he can. "They've extended the deadline. You'll have enough time to dismantle your equipment."

"Thanks," she says, without enthusiasm. "But there's too much to take with us."

Neelix has more not-so-bad news. "Captain Janeway has agreed to ferry all of you and your supplies to the nearest M-Class planet," he says. He knows it's not what she wanted to hear, but given where they were just yesterday with Nocona's ready-or-not-this-asteroid's-going-down stance, it's downright heroic.

Just not in the way that turns her insides all tingly.

The lava slows, cools, hardens. Dex turns from Neelix and walks over to her son. "Come on, Brax. We're going home."

Brax is confused. "Why?"

"We have to pack. Come on." She is NOT happy. But she is resigned.

Brax, though, having got the build-up of Talax's own Captain Proton, is having none of it. The boy has no fear, remember. He glares at Neelix. "You said you were going to help us!"

Neelix withers.

Dexa puts her arms around her son. "Brax." She doesn't look at Neelix, or any of the other aliens on this ship. They turn toward the door, and exit.

Neelix has never felt more alone.

* * * Neelix is working alone in Astrometrics, looking over planets.

Tuvok enters. "You wanted to see me?"

Neelix nods. "I've detected five warp-capable species within two light-years of the planet where we're taking the Talaxians. I'm worried they might be vulnerable to attack." Given their history, it's justified.

"They would be vulnerable anywhere," Tuvok notes. M-Class planets will always be attractive to warp-capable societies.

"I thought maybe you could help me devise some defense strategies for their new home," Neelix says.

"Frankly, Mr. Neelix, they don't seem inclined to defend themselves."

True enough. "No, I-I suppose not..."

"But...if they were going to make a stand," Tuvok continues, "their emotional attachment to their present home might be an asset."

This catches Neelix off guard. "Are you saying they should stay?"

Tuvok's eyebrows rise. "I'm speaking hypothetically."

It takes a second for Neelix to catch on. "Hypothetically...if they wanted to defend the asteroid, how would they do it?"

Now that they understand each other, Tuvok continues. "To begin with, they would need to establish some kind of perimeter."

Neelix thinks. "You mean shields?"

Tuvok is pleased. "Yes." On to the next hypothetical. "The miners are monitoring the asteroid. If they detected the Talaxians erecting a shield they would attempt to stop them."

Makes sense. "I suppose so."

"Your people would need competent leadership to defend against a pre-emptive attack."

Oh, great. Hypothetically, they're screwed. Oxilon's a wuss, Dexa's a bit too hardcore for a measured defense...but who?

He takes a stab at it. "If you had the Captain's permission, would you be willing to provide that leadership?"

BZZZT! Thanks for playing. "Certainly not. It would be a violation of the Prime Directive. And even if it weren't," he continues, giving Neelix an appraising stare, "I don't believe that I am the person most qualified to assume that role."

Who, then? Neelix is flummoxed...waitaminit... "You mean me?" Neelix asks, dumbfounded.

There go the eyebrows again. "I am merely speaking hypothetically."

Neelix shakes his head. "I couldn't lead those people, Mr. Tuvok! I'm not a fighter. I'm just a cook..."

He remembers the praise heaped on him on the bridge by Kim and Chakotay. He now wonders how since it was. "Who sometimes imagines himself to be a diplomat." Self-pity ensues.

"On the contrary, Mr. Neelix...you are much more than that."

This is most unexpected. Neelix gapes.

"You are perhaps the most resourceful individual I have ever known," Tuvok says.

Neelix is stunned. "I always thought you just tolerated me." He's not alone--there aren't many examples of when Tuvok has been much more than tolerant, and even fewer that didn't involve a personality-altering freak of science.

"You do have some annoying habits," Tuvok admits. "However, during your time on Voyager you've developed many valuable skills--skills that would serve you well if you ever decided to assume a leadership role."

Well, hush my mouth! "You really think so?" Neelix is darn near speechless.

"Let me be clear," Tuvok says. "I'm not urging you to do anything. I am simply telling you that I believe that you are more than capable."

In a word: WOW.

*

Neelix is walking fast through the corridors when Janeway catches up with him. "Going somewhere, Mr. Neelix?"

"Just to see my friends," he says evasively.

"Chakotay tells me you're using your own ship. Why not have Tom take you in the Flyer?" She knows something!

Neelix thinks furiously. "I didn't want to bother anyone."

"You wouldn't be planning anything foolish, would you?" Who, Neelix?

Neelix drops the evasiveness. "Whatever I do, I promise it won't involve Voyager."

Now Janeway is really suspicious. "That wasn't my question."

Neelix stands his ground. Respectfully, of course. "I know you have Prime Directive issues," he says. "But I'm not officially part of your crew, so I don't have the same constraints."

Janeway takes issue with that assertion. "You're as much a part of this crew as anyone else!"

Neelix tests that claim. "Are you ordering me not to go?"

Steam rises from the Captain's collar. "That depends on what you're going to do," she says through gritted teeth. She stands between Neelix and the bay holding Neelix's vessel.

Neelix considers his answer. Then he smiles. Respectfully, of course. "It's up to the Talaxians," he says.

Janeway gives Neelix a long, appraising look. Then she turns her back to him, accesses the controls, and opens the door.

She still has a stern look on her face, and her hands are on her hips. But she stands aside. "Safe journey, Mr. Neelix." *

The Talaxians are gathered. Neelix is putting forth his best arguments.

There is some resistance.

"...I know from personal experience that you have force field emitters." He offers a sly look at Dexa, who tries not to look too guilty about their first encounter.

"We could use them to establish a shield grid. We'd need to deploy a series of them on the asteroid's surface, along bisecting diameters. 16 emitters should be enough to form a grid." Neelix shows his plans on a large monitor.

Oxilon speaks up. "Even if you're right, it would take weeks to dig that many tunnels to the surface!"

Neelix has a ready answer. "Commander Tuvok suggested that we could modify the emitters so they could be fired from torpedo tubes on your ship--implanted in the surface."

Oxilon is still skittish. "As soon as the miners realized what we were doing, they'd attack."

This is a valid point. "I could provide cover from my ship," he says. "But you're right. We'd have to work quickly."

Dexa sides with Neelix. "We could wrap power to the emitters directly from the core. They have a permanent energy supply."

"Good idea!" Neelix beams.

Oxilon still has his concerns. He is a conscientious leader, after all, if a little on the pacifist side. "If we do what you're suggesting, people are going to be hurt."

Neelix might sympathize, but where do you draw the line? "This is your home!" he shouts at Oxilon. He then addresses the crowd with a passion we rarely see from him. "The miners have no right to force you out." More than a few heads nod agreement.

Even Oxilon is partially swayed. "I agree! But...fighting?" It's a scary concept.

[PAUSE]

It's scary for a very good reason.

For those unfamiliar with the first season episode "Jetrel", here's a bit of background. Neelix's people, the Talaxians, were at war with the Harkkonen. it was an unpopular war, and Neelix was in effect a draft dodger (or conscientious objector, whatever you prefer). The more aggressive Talaxians led, some believe, to the overwhelming response of the Harkkonen, in the form of the Metreon Cascade. Rynax, the moon of Talax, was stripped of all life. Millions lost their lives. The war ended, and what Talaxians remained were either subjugated by the victors, or fled.

Neelix was found, in Caretaker, rummaging through a field of debris. In "Basics" there was a brief alliance between Voyager and a few Talaxian vessels, battling the Kazon. They helped Tom Paris eventually retake Voyager. Beyond that, we've seen very few Talaxians in quantity. Most Talaxians we HAVE seen have been either loners and schemers, or full-on victims.

It's important to understand that the legacy of modern Talaxians is death and loss. This colony has reason for being cautious about standing up for themselves. Their species' aggressive tendencies led directly to their near-annihilation.

Compared to that, taking the persecution and then moving on isn't so unreasonable.

Misery or massacre? Not a great choice.

[PLAY]

Neelix feels their pain. "I don't like it either. But at some point you have to stand up for yourselves! How do you know there won't be someone else to terrorize you the next place you go?"

Dexa stands beside Neelix, showing her support, while not explicitly defying him. "You know he's right," she tells Oxilon. It's still his colony to lead.

Neelix also defers to Oxilon. "No one has worked harder to build this place than you. Isn't it worth defending?"

*

The preparations are being made. Neelix's impassioned speech must have carried the day.

Neelix and Dexa work at a control station. Dexa does most of the work here; Neelix just explains his plans. His work lies elsewhere.

"Wait for my com call. As soon as the last emitter's in place, start routing power to the grid."

"Understood," Dexa says.

Side note: the lava's flowing.

Neelix looks at her with concern. "You're scared, aren't you?"

She doesn't answer directly, or right away. "You?" she asks at last.

Neelix utters a nervous giggle. "Terrified."

It's time for him to go. "Be careful," she says.

"I will," he promises.

"Oxilon to Neelix. The emitters are loaded. We're ready."

Neelix acknowledges. He gives a longing look to Dexa. "I'll see you soon." Off he goes.

YOU FOOL!

He must have heard me.

Neelix returns. He puts his hands on her arms. Their eyes lock. For a passionate moment, so do their lips. A promise of things to come, if they live through the hour.

Feels like muskrat loo-oo-uh--oo-uh...uh-ove.

And then...the defense of Talaxia II begins.

* * *

It's not a one-man show.

All the Talaxians work together to save their home. Oxilon leads the lone remaining vessel, which fires the emitters at the surface of the asteroid on low strafing runs. Neelix's ship runs coverage. Inside the planet, Dexa leads the effort to tap into the asteroid's core and power the asteroid's protection for generations.

So far, so good. "Two more and we're done," Neelix says as another emitter collides with and then burrows under the surface.

"Acknowledged," says Oxilon. "We're moving into position for the next one."

But the run of good luck couldn't last forever. Neelix's sensors pick up a vessel, flying in fast. "The miners' ship is on an intercept course. Evasive maneuvers!"

It gets a little tense after that.

Oxilon's ship rocks. "They're targeting our shields!"

Neelix mutters something under his breath. "I'll deal with them. Just focus on your job." He cuts the signal and codes in a flight sequence.

"All right, Mr. Vulcan," Neelix growls. "Let's see if you were right about me."

*

Neelix's ship fires back. The miners focus on him, allowing another emitter to smack down into the asteroid's surface.

Unfortunately, the miners start dropping something themselves. Mining charges. Neelix shoots one out of the sky, but another slams into the asteroid, rocking the house in a big way.

Dexa hails him; the folks down there are coughing dust. "Neelix, you have to hurry!"

"Just one more emitter and you can activate the shield," Neelix says.

BOOOOM. Neelix's ship starts to spark. "Neelix to Oxilon. My weapons are off-line."

Oxilon is worried. "We're not in position yet!"

"You have to get there! They're going to launch another charge." Neelix thinks fast, and programs in another course change.

*

Dexa notices that Neelix's vessel, no longer able to defend itself, is making a kamikaze run toward the mining vessel. She hails him. "Neelix, what are you doing?"

"Don't worry about me. Just get ready to bring the grid on-line!"

The music is nice and heroic. Neelix has that Janeway look--the one that she gets just before she tries to off herself heroically.

Well, I'd heard that this was gonna be Neelix's last episode. Could this be the end?

STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER ACTION PACKED EPISODE OF...

Just kidding. But Neelix is going full-bore toward the miners. His trajectory is on an intercept course with their latest mining charge.

But something goes wrong. The charge detonates before Neelix can collide with it.

Denied.

Someone starts to tailgate him. "Delta flyer to Neelix. Are you all right?"

Why, we'd know that voice anywhere! Neelix is thrilled, though a little concerned. "Fine, Captain! But...you shouldn't be here! You're violating the Prime Directive."

Janeway's smile can be felt from here. "We're just helping a friend in distress."

So he lives another day. Not only that, his blocking run gives Oxilon the time to dump the last force field emitter.

Dexa flicks the switch. The magma flows. The shields activate.

The next miner's charge heads downward...downward...

BOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM.... *

"Dexa to Neelix. The shield's holding. You did it!"

"We did it," Neelix says. *

Captain's Log, Stardate 54868.6. Commander Nocona seems to have given up his attempts to penetrate the Talaxians' shield. Voyager's ready to get underway but we're giving Mr. Neelix time to say a difficult good-bye to his new friends.

"We're grateful for everything you've done," Oxilon says sincerely.

Neelix is magnanimous in victory. "I'm must happy things worked out." He looks around at his fellow Talaxians. "And I'm glad that I could spend some time here...with all of you." His gaze lingers on Dexa.

But...duty calls. "I'd better go." He nods his last goodbyes, and moves toward the door.

Brax stops him. "Stay here," he pleads.

"He can't, Brax," his mother says gently. "He has responsibilities on Voyager." Neelix gives her a grateful smile for that.

"I promise I'll stay in touch as long as I can." He stands close to Dexa, and seems on the verge of kissing her again...but like an idiot, leaves her hanging.

Neelix and Dexa are both responsible people, and they are in a very public place, but...arrrgh. *

Naomi is doing homework when her door chimes. "Come in."

It's Neelix, looking like he could really use a talk. "Hi."

"Neelix!" she says, pleased--but not overjoyed--to see him. She's growing up quick.

"What are you working on?" he asks.

"A report on proto-humanoid cultures for Commander Chakotay's paleontology class."

Deer-in-headlights look. "Uh-hum. Need some help?"

Naomi smiles indulgently. "I'm almost finished."

"Oh." Disappointment...then animation. "Do you have time for a game of kadis-kot?"

Naomi frowns. "I have to get up early."

Strike two. "Oh. I guess you better get to sleep then." Poor guy. But he breaks out the big guns: "Do you want me to tuck you in? Tell you a bedtime story?"

Naomi makes a face. "You haven't done that in years!"

"Just think of all the stories you've missed." It's a cry for help, girl! Humor the man!

"Thanks, Neelix, but I can put myself to bed. I'm not a little girl anymore."

You can hear his poor heart break, right there in the doorway. There was a time, not so long ago, when tucking Naomi in at night was the only thing standing between Neelix and oblivion.

*

It's ship's night, and the mess hall is closed. Not that it's ever ACTUALLY closed, but all the services are shut down and the lights are out. Neelix enters without bothering to turn on the lights, and grabs the coffee pot.

appropriately, when he lifts the pot, he sees Janeway sitting on the nearest couch, drinking mocha by the litre.

In the dark.

Sometimes I wonder about these people.

"I didn't think anyone else stayed up this late," Janeway says casually.

Neelix smiles, grateful for the company. Especially this company. He loooooves captain Janeway. Adores her. Worships the ground she walks on. Would do anything and everything for her. "Well, I wouldn't want you to have coffee all by yourself."

Janeway's smile lights up the room. "Have a seat."

Neelix sighs as he lowers himself into the couch. He's nursing the cup, not really drinking. "I've been thinking about something," he says.

He has Janeway's undivided attention.

"It's a little hard to put into words. I haven't really made a decision yet, and of course I would never ignore my responsibilities on Voyager."

Janeway looks shocked that even suggest the possibility, even to deny it. "Of course not!"

"I take them very seriously."

"I know you do." Janeway takes a Herculean swig. "I've been thinking about something, too. Maybe you could help me."

He lives for moments like this. "I'd be happy to."

"It's an idea I'd need to talk to Starfleet command about."

"It must be important." Neelix takes a sip. His cup shakes slightly.

"It is. Now that we've established two way communication with Earth, it seems to me Starfleet could use a permanent ambassador in the Delta Quadrant."

Neelix's ears start to twitch.

"This ambassador would have to stay in frequent contact with Voyager," she says.

Neelix swallows hard. "Certainly."

Janeway cuts to the chase. "It would be difficult for me to run this ship without you, Neelix." She smiles. "But that might be a sacrifice I'd be willing to make...for the greater good of Starfleet."

Neelix is speechless. This may well be too good to be true. The man who, just a few days ago, was trying so desperately to belong to his adopted world, finds himself offered the opportunity to join it for real...and not only that, but to be the bridge between the two societies he most dearly loves. The people of his blood, and the culture of his heart. Duty, honor, country, family, friends.

"Of course, the assignment would be entirely voluntary. You wouldn't be interested, would you?"

I do believe the boy is about to cry.

*

Neelix has his bag slung over his shoulder. He rides the turbolift alone.

But when the lift doors opened, he gasps.

The corridor is filled, on both sides, with uniforms. Starfleet and Maquis. Every shoulder color, every pip combination.

Every mouth he's fed for seven years.

From the turbolift to the shuttle bay, Neelix walks the gauntlet of love, passing the people who made him one of their own--for better or worse, in sickness and health, good meals and bad. They are here to salute the Federation's first official ambassador to the Delta Quadrant...one of their own. Their first and best ally, guide, morale officer and friend.

It wasn't always so. It took a long time for them to warm up to each other. But this send-off has Love written all over it.

The last leg of the green mile features the senior staff. Paris and Kim. Tores and Chakotay. Doc and Janeway.

"Good-bye...And good luck, Ambassador," Janeway says proudly. Neelix nods, not daring to speak, and takes in one last look at his adopted family.

Tuvok stops him before he can leave. "Mr. Neelix." He steps into clear view of everyone. He looks at his shoes.

And moves his foot back and forth. Not much of a dance--but more than enough. Tom catches the significance, and bows his head before the tears get to him.

Mr. Vulcan--mission accomplished.

Tuvok then raises his hand in salute. "Live long, and prosper."

Neelix's lips quiver. If he doesn't leave now, there'll be a flood warning in the corridor. *

Brax is working on his model ship when he hears the door open.

"Neelix!" He rushes over and gives a fierce hug. Neelix barely has time to drop his bag on the floor.

They're still in mid-bear hug when Dexa enters the room. She looks like she's been crying a little.

It's safe to say she wasn't expecting to see Neelix again.

So when she does, she's unprepared. "Oh..."

Neelix holds on to Brax with one hand. He releases the other, beckoning Dexa to join them.

Our last image of Neelix will be this: at home, in the arms of those who love him.

It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

[Analysis]

Dang. I'm still crying.

This was a good episode by itself. As a sendoff for the Neelix character, it's dang near perfect.

I won't give an exhaustive biography of Neelix, but it's useful to look at some of the highlights.

In Caretaker, when we first meet him, Neelix was alone, suspicious, not above using and manipulating everyone around him to get what he wants. He's a schemer, and the only thing he appears to love is his young girlfriend, the Ocampa Kes.

Through the early part of the first season, Neelix was highly protective of Kes. He raged when the ship flew deliberately into danger, going so far as to call the vaunted Starfleet people idiots. ("The Cloud") He butted heads with Janeway on several occasions--taking over her private dining room, denying her her precious coffee, testing the limits of his freedom. He referred to Tom Paris as "a walking hormone" and walked side-by-side with the Green Monster of jealousy, despite several scoldings by Kes, until he and Tom ended up wrestling in hair pasta and getting sent to a planet called Hell to iron out their differences.

Neelix was known early on as a buffoon. His jokes were forced, his cooking stank, his "native guide" skills were dubious at best, and as self-appointed morale officer his record was spotty. Incomprehensibly, Kes was loyal to him--so loyal that, when Tuvok and Neelix got merged into Tuvix (a much more interesting character than either at that time), it was essentially Kes and Janeway against the rest of the ship in terms of whether to keep Tuvix or bring back the dour Vulcan and the nutty Talaxian. My vote was to keep Tuvix.

But then something changed.

I'm not sure when it happened. Sometime in season three, I think. Neelix became more sympathetic. Occasionally, he even showed flashes of insight, folksy wisdom, and true friendship. Even flashes of inspiration, good parties, cooking worth writing home about.

When Janeway first named him ambassador, it seemed silly, but not completely unrealistic. When Neelix was desperate to prove his worth, when Kes broke up with him, I felt his pain.

When Seven of Nine came along and proved conclusively that there are worse things than death, I really felt for him.

Throughout the Paris/Torres courtship saga, Neelix was there to keep B'Elanna sane.

When the first baby was born on Voyager, it was Neelix who stepped up and took on the role of godfather to a single mother (not officially, but by circumstance--the husband is still thousands of lightyears way), going well beyond the traditional call of duty.

Neelix has served more coffee to Janeway than Starbucks serves in the entire Pacific Northwest. Coffee was, ounce for ounce, more crucial to Voyager's survival than dilithium.

Although, in hindsight, Neelix was often the butt of jokes, he was also just as his colleagues said--an indispensible part of the crew. He was an acquired taste, but once acquired, impossible to forget.

The "coward" of "Jetrel" has been a hero on numerous occasions, in battle or diplomacy or simple goodness.

The schemer of Caretaker has become the most loyal and devoted crewman and able counselor that Captain Janeway ever had.

The alien who was the bane of Tuvok's existence for seven years, in the end managed to get the Vulcan to dance...voluntarily.

Even with a mere three hours of Voyager remaining, he will be missed.

*

As mentioned in the breakdown, Talax's recent history is catastrophic. There are very few Talaxians left. Most were wiped out in the Hakkonen war.

The Talaxians we meet here don't trust strangers. But they're also averse to conflict. Both have at least some origin in that earlier cataclysm.

Neelix is a good example of what even the most miserable species can become under the nurturing influence of Federation ideals. He wasn't much to look at (or smell) when he was first picked up. You couldn't trust him as far as you could throw him. And yet, over time, he has been an ambassador in every sense of the word--he's a True Believer who came grudgingly into the Federation way, but who hasn't looked back since.

Janeway's offer to make him the permanent Federation ambassador is not just a mercy firing. It was a shock to see the other Talaxians and their attitudes, because Neelix was just like that. Now, he'll have an opportunity to expand the Federation family in a way that matters most to him--among his own people, a people who could really, really use some Starfleet Love.

Over seven years of so many disappointments, this was one happy ending to cherish. If the Delta Quadrant is to become a new outpost of the Federation, it is fitting that it start with Talaxians, because that's where it all began--with a Talaxian named Neelix.

It warms my heart more than you know that the episode that begins with First Contact Day, in effect ends with another one. It's a day of celebrating beginnings. New diplomatic relations. And of course, new personal relations.

*

Dexa is an interesting character. She has some Kes-like qualities--shortish, youngish, voice to die for. But she is the anti-Kes in some respects. Kes was young, vibrant, full of life. Dexa is old beyond her years, a widow, a single mother, a refugee, a xenophobe, a zealot without porfolio.

She's not an obvious romantic choice for Neelix. She runs very hot and very cold. In a way, she reminds me of Tuvok, only blonder--she'll be one heck of a challenge for Neelix at first. But we saw him work his charm, and we saw her melt. It's not Neelix being suave or anything--it's just Neelix being who he is, a guy who cares and wants to help.

One suspects that Neelix and Dexa will, together, transform Talaxian society. She'll push him to new heights; he'll keep her balanced. Together, they'll help Brax reach his own destiny--to leave the asteroid's protective shell, and seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where Talaxians haven't been in a long, long time.

Perhaps under a ship flying Federation colors.

I'm an old-fashioned romantic, and I like that Neelix has, for the most part, been the same. He was devoted to Kes. He was devoted to Janeway (though from a distance). He rarely requested a note from the Doctor to engage in interspecies snugglebunnies. He was instead married to his job, the godfather to the entire crew.

Neelix was the ultimate Giver. It is so nice, in the end, to see the guy get not just the girl, but the whole shebang--respect, love, family, home, duty. After seven years, the universe owed him no less.

*

Okay, so there are some obvious questions.

How the heck did the Talaxians make it this far so quickly? Who knows. It matters, but not necessarily to this plot. We just have to accept that they're there. A minor issue, but one for the nitpick file.

Some of the setup, particularly the tension between the miners and the Talaxians, felt forced. It was there mostly to ensure that Neelix would have to step up, become the hero, and have an excuse to stay. It's not wildly unbelievable, just a little manipulative. Ditto the extreme hot/cold of the Dexa/Brax reactions to Neelix. Neelix essentially has to come 100% over to their side; it's not unconditional love by any means. Not yet, anyway. (I have to say, though, that Julianne Christie really, really makes me happy. I don't often consider Talaxians "cute," but this woman was downright gorgeous--high maintenance, and worth every replicator credit. Me likee.

The Tuvok/Neelix chatter in the Delta Flyer. We've seen them do it before, but their hearts didn't really seem in it, as it has in the past. Again, just a tad manipulative. I see why it was there--Neelix had to get in that "my mission before I leave..." challenge, for Tuvok to later honor. Again, it's minor. The scene was fine otherwise, and the payoff was well worth it--Tuvok's little dance made me lose it in a big way. The Tuvok/Neelix relationship has been turbulent, but this was one heck of a payoff.

I often forget to do this, but I dare not this week. Kudos all around for performances, guests and regulars alike. My top honors, though, must go to Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ, two of the under-hyped but truly great forces on Voyager over the years. They brought dignity and honor to their characters, and depth to a relationship that was in its own way as prickly and at times disquietingly difficult to watch as was the original Spock/McCoy tiffs. They were Voyager's Odd Couple, and that friction paid major dividends.

I hear nothing but good from the Voyager cast about Ethan Phillips, and I add my voice to that chorus--the man is good. And in the end, I'm a Neelix fan and I'm proud of it.

I gawr-on-tee.

*

I try not to overuse this rating, but in this case, I just can't help myself.

Five stars on the four-star scale. To the purists, that's four stars with an oak-leaf cluster. And a big slice of Jiballian fudge cake, a la mode, with leola-nut sprinkles.

Next week: Janeway goes nuts. Again.

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Last Updated: May 11, 2001
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