"Live Fast and Prosper"

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[Summary]

Janeway tracks down a trio of Starfleet imposters. Neelix and Paris have a crisis of confidence.

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

On an alien mining world, the boss is out of town, leaving operations to a pair of characters who, it is fair to say, are not the sharpest bits on the drill. On Earth, Abbott and Costello would play these roles.

"You're late!" says the first miner. A somewhat deeper voice and thinner profile distinguish him.

"There was a problem with the pulse drills on level four," says the second miner--a tad pudgier, a bit reedier of voice.

Both are nervous and self-conscious. They pound the dust off themselves. "They're going to be here any moment! I want to make a good impression," the first miner says.

"You're certain we should be doing this?" bleats Miner Two.

"Orek will be pleased that we took the initiative," assures the first.

"Oy," sighs the second. "I hope you're right."

They're about to find out. We hear the familiar sound of the transporter, and the humanoid-shaped field of pretty blue stars that resolves into a couple of folks in Starfleet uniforms.

Showtime.

"Welcome to Telsius!" says the first miner.

The Starfleeters step forward. "Thank you. I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway. This is Commander Tuvok. We're from the Federation Starship Voyager."

Seems like a fairly standard away mission, right?

Only thing is, things are just a little off. The uniforms don't fit quite right, for example. Janeway's hair is all wrong--not a speck of red in it. She seems a bit too mellow. And there's a funky alienesque forehead on both alleged officers.

Look. I've been watching Voyager a long time. I've been there with Captain Janeway from the beginning. And though I'm going out on a limb here, I think it's a safe guess that this ain't her. As for Tuvok, he's got less hair and more heft than the Vulcan I'm used to seeing.

They look similar--but not THAT similar.

Well, Janeway is as Janeway does, so we'll just have to keep watching. Who knows--maybe there's some sort of Steth-ian bodyswap going on here. Maybe this is another one of those alternate universe tales. Maybe this Janeway is the Dick Sergeant to Mulgrew's Dick York, or vice-versa. Perhaps Tim Russ is doing the Max Weinberg thing, touring the country with the band while someone else fills in at Tactical.

Well, whatever's going on . . . Caveat videor.

* * *

"We have several mines like this on Earth," Janeway says.

"I'm not familiar with Earth," Abbot says.

"Thatís because it's 30,000 light years from here."

"30,342.4. To be exact." Hmmm. Now I know it ain't Tuvok--he's never this precise. For that matter, we're not used to getting that kind of precision from the writers, either.

"You're a long way from home," Abbot says uneasily.

"It's difficult sometimes. Then I close my eyes, and think of the farm in Indiana where I grew up, and for a moment I'm home again." Janeway's voice is dreamy, but only for a moment. "Shall we get down to business?"

"Yes, Um," says Abbott, eager to proceed. "We've had a shortage of dilithium for the last two months. If we can't replenish our supply we may be forced to suspend work."

"Our chief of mining operations has gone to the Grenna system--" begins Costello helpfully, before being cut off by his partner.

"But, um, we are authorized to conduct trades in his absence," Abbott interrupts.

"What are you prepared to trade?" the Tuvok-like person asks.

Abbott and Costello share a look. Abbott, the brains of the bunch, spills it. "I'm afraid the only commodity we have is, uh, Dolomite."

No way! The avenging disco godfather? The king of low-budget 70s cheesefests? That is too cool--

Oh, wait. He said bolomite. With a B. Never mind.

Even so, this Janeway and Tuvok share a ka-chinng! Look.

"We really don't have much use for that," Janeway says.

"On the contrary, Captain. Bolomite is used in omega radiation therapy. The orphans on--"

"Orphans?" Abbott asks.

"The settlers on the Narva colony were exposed to toxic levels of omega radiation. The entire adult population was killed," Tuvok explains.

"We're doing all we can for the children," Janeway says. You can practically feel the Sally Struthers Sob begin to build. Who can resists orphans? Annie, Oliver, Lyle and Eric--

"All right," says Janeway. "20 kilotons of dilithium for an equivalent amount of bolomite."

The two miners can barely believe their luck. But then they realize something. "We only have ten kilotons left."

Janeway is in a charitable mood. The children, don't you know. "Then ten it is."

This surprises Tuvok. "Captain, I must point out that dilithium is worth nearly twice as much as bolomite."

This reaction puzzles Janeway. "Tuvok, these people need our help! I'm not going to quibble over a few tons of ore."

Abbott and Costello are now officially the luckiest miners this side of a Harry Mudd episode. "Perhaps we should celebrate," Costello suggests.

Janeway smiles warmly. "I wish we could, but there's a neutronic storm approaching our ship. We should be leaving orbit."

"Give us an hour to finalize the arrangements?" Abbott asks.

Janeway beams. "We'll be waiting to hear from you."

Tuvok does have a thought. "Before we leave, would it be possible to tour your facility? It's our duty as Starfleet officers to--"

We see the first flash of true impatience on Janeway's face. "Unfortunately!" she interrupts, before reining in her ire and returning to the deferential guest, "the storm won't wait. Maybe on our next visit."

Tuvok looks disappointed, but takes the hint. Raising his left (!) arm in the traditional split-fingered Vulcan Aloha, he wishes the miners well. "Live long and prosper."

Abbott and Costello attempt vainly to mimic the gesture.

*

Orbiting the mining colony is a ship that is nobody's idea of modern. You half-expect to see the Dentrassi working in the galley.

Janeway enters the bridge, followed by Tuvok. A man is here, not wearing a Starfleet uniform, lounging like someone without a care--or specific task--in the galaxy.

Though it takes a bit of tooth-pulling, caption-watching and other bits of wizardry to figure out who's who in this episode, as a public service I'll short-circuit the process and provide some names.

Janeway tears her hair right off her head. Turns out to be a simple task--It's a wig, and not the glued-on kind. "Ugh! This hair is so uncomfortable." In an instant, the near-Janeway look is replaced by something more alien. Bald was a good look for Picard and Sisko, but Janeway should stick with long, wavy, silky auburn tresses that--

Ahem. Excuse me.

Tuvok, who doesn't take his hair off, also doesn't drop the shtick. "I find it aesthetically pleasing."

"The negotiations?" asks the bald alien in the sweater, who will eventually be called Zar, and who despite his lack of rank is apparently the ringleader of this motley crew.

Long story short: "Janeway" is really named Dala, and she's not really a Starfleet captain.

"It would've been perfect if 'Tuvok' hadn't decided to improvise," Dala grouses.

"I was portraying my character as truthfully as possible."

Ah, method actors. His real name, for the record, is Mobar, though he's so into the role that he might be considering a legal change of name.

Which is unlikely to occur, because . . . but that would be getting ahead of the story.

"Once we finish a transaction, we leave. Is that clear?" Dala insists.

"Indeed," says Mobar.

Zar's panel chirps. "Incoming transmission . . . for Captain Janeway!" His grin is greasier than home-fried chicken.

Dala takes her place in the big chair and puts on her wig. "Ready," But Mobar's disapproving look reminds her to put her collar back in place--Starfleet doesn't believe in cleavage this century. "This is Captain Janeway."

The two miners stand side by side. The transmission is grainy but workable. "The bolomite is ready for transport. We thank you for your generosity."

Dala offers a smile as warm as a well-stashed shiv. "Directive 927 of the Starfleet general order: 'Always help those in need.'"

"Transport complete!" Zar says with gusto.

"We've enjoyed meeting you, gentlemen," says Dala.

The miners look uncertainly at each other. "Uh, Captain, uh, we haven't received the dilithium yet," says Miner 1.

"Oh, the neutronic storm seems to be interfering with our transporters," Dala says airily. "If we don't leave orbit immediately we will sustain heavy damage." Zar mucks up the channel with deliberate interference.

"What about our dilithium?" asks Miner 2 desperately.

"We'll be back to deliver it as soon as the storm clears," Dala assures them.

"Well, how long will that be--"

"Captain Janeway out." She nods, and Zar cuts the signal.

Mission accomplished. "Let's go," she says.

Zar chortles, and Dala joins in.

Mobar remains stoic. What a trooper.

*

It's morning on Voyager. Judging from the terminal case of Morning Hair and the keg-sized coffee cup the (presumably real) captain is sporting as she trudges into her bathroom, it's gotta be a Monday. One can only hope this degree of sluggishness is thanks to one heck of a weekend of fun.

Janeway looks at herself in the mirror. Or she would be, if those two elephants would stop bungee jumping from her eyelids. She seems to sense, though, that whatever she would have been looking at is not encouraging.

Setting down the coffee keg with a resounding thwunk, Janeway gravels out a command. "Computer, activate the sonic shower."

Could it be? Is Janeway about to extend her lead as the Nakedest Trek Character Ever? She's certainly dressed for the occasion--just a white terrycloth robe.

The computer complies.

Oh my, does it comply.

Mariah Carey has nothing on this sonic shower.

"Oh...Adjust the frequency!" Janeway pleads. Her ears begin to bleed.

But the sonic assault just gets worse.

"Computer, deactivate the sonic shower!"

Presumably it does. But not before cracking the mirror.

Well, at least she's awake now.

*

Fully dressed and with hair to die for, Janeway enters engineering. "Report," she orders.

Torres is already busier than usual. "We've got systems failures on eight decks, Captain."

"That explains why my sonic shower was a little louder than usual."

Torres sighs. "Make that nine decks." She shakes her head. "I've run every diagnostic I know and I can't seem to isolate the problem."

Janeway stares at the panel and gets one of her famous looks. "Gremlins."

"Excuse me?" Torres asks.

"In the early days of aviation, engineers blamed imaginary little creatures called gremlins for malfunctions they could not explain."

One of the engineering consoles beeps; Torres is on it like white on rice. "Well, one of your gremlins just paid a visit to the replicator system."

Sharing a quick look, the two women sprint to the exit.

*

The mess hall is bustling. Tuvok waits patiently as Neelix ladles a healthy (?) scoop of vegetables onto his plate, then he looks for a place to sit.

Tom and Harry are nearby. "Tuvok, we saved you a seat," Ensign Kim says cordially.

Tuvok pointedly ignores him.

"What's wrong?" Ensign Paris asks.

Tuvok continues to ignore them, then decides to confront. "Someone has altered one of my Holodeck programs...again."

Paris and Kim share a blank look. "Are you sure it isn't just one of these malfunctions?" Tom asks.

"Everything on the ship's been affected including the Holodecks," Harry reminds him.

Tuvok isn't impressed. "The Oracle of K'Tal isn't programmed to wear pajamas."

"Well, maybe he overslept," Tom suggests.

Tuvok glares. "I am not amused by your practical jokes, Mr. Paris."

"Uh-ha! Why do you always think it's me?" Ensign Proton is the very picture of innocence. How he managed the halo, I'll never know.

Tuvok rolls his eyes. "Mr. Kim?"

"I'd like to claim credit, but I'm innocent," Harry says.

Tuvok sighs. "The next time I visit the Holodeck, I expect to find my program restored to its original parameters." He chooses another table.

Paris calls after him. "I'm telling you, Tuvok, we didn't do it!"

Kim leans toward his friend as Tuvok walks away. "I wonder how the oracle would look in a sombrero," he whispers. They snicker like schoolgirls.

At that moment, Torres and the captain arrive. "Everybody, stop eating!" Torres announces.

"Captain, what's wrong?" Neelix asks.

"If I could have everyone's attention for a moment," Janeway says. "We found a contaminant in the replicator system. It's noting serious, but if any of you start to feel a little queasy report to Sickbay immediately. In the meantime, the galley is closed."

Tom and Harry share a look.

Harry urps in a big way. "I wish I hadn't had seconds," he moans, grabbing his stomach.

*

Janeway scans the kitchen, and her tricorder strikes gold. "Here." A panel rises, revealing a piece of machinery that, frankly, looks out of place.

Torres scans the device. "Well, that explains it," she says irritably.

Neelix doesn't see the problem. "Don't tell me a simple heating coil in the stove is responsible for everything that's gone wrong this morning!"

Janeway rolls her eyes. "Any component connected to the integrated circuitry can spread a contaminant."

"This isn't Starfleet issue," Torres says.

"Where did it come from?" Janeway demands.

Neelix stammers a little. "I obtained it during a trade!"

"With whom?"

"Sister Dala."

Janeway gives Neelix a blank look. "'Sister'?"

"One of the clerics on Selnia Prime. Tom and I met her during our away mission. She was the one trying to help all those poor orphans. It's all in our report."

"Did you run a diagnostic before you installed it?" Torres asks. Neelix's helpless look is answer enough.

But before the two women can tag-team Neelix into a coma, he's saved by the bell. "Captain to the bridge," Chakotay says.

"I'm a little busy now," Janeway says, glaring at the cowering Neelix. "Can it wait?"

"I'm afraid not."

"I'll be right back," Janeway says. She hands Torres a napkin.

Torres, with a napkin in one hand and the faulty device in the other, gives Neelix a Janeway-class skunk eye.

*

Chakotay is dealing with an unhappy alien on the other side of the viewscreen.

"One excuse after another. You're stalling! And I don't have time for it!" the alien rages.

Janeway arrives just in time.

"Captain, this is Mr. Orek," Chakotay says. "He's chief of mining operations on Telsius Prime."

Janeway nods. "A problem, Mr. Orek?"

"Not if you deliver our dilithium."

Janeway looks at Chakotay, who shrugs. "Dilithium?" she asks Orek.

Orek holds up a triangular display pad. "It's all clearly documented! Ten kilotons of bolomite ore in exchange for ten kilotons of dilithium."

Janeway does her best not to burst out laughing. "I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding."

"One way or another," Orek says testily, "I intend to collect what you owe me!"

* * *

Mr. Orek has beamed over with his evidence, which he now shares with Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok in the conference room.

As it happens, it's a very grainy and distorted record of the last conversation between the hapless miners and "Captain Janeway."

"We've enjoyed meeting you, gentlemen," "Janeway" says on the transmission. The hair looks sorta right. The voice is close enough for jazz. But Janeway isn't fooled.

"Captain, we haven't received the dilithium yet--"

"Oh, the neutronic storm seems to be interfering with our transporters. If we don't leave orbit immediately we will sustain heavy damage."

"What about our dilithium?"

"We'll be back to deliver it as soon as the storm clears." And with that, the transmission ends.

Janeway rubs the bridge of her nose. It's just destined to be one of those days.

I woke up this morning

Sonic shower's on the fritz

A certain review boy

Don't get to see my naughty bits

Gremlins in the replicators

Harry's spewing in Sickbay

Now I'm stuck with a bill

Thanks to a damn ersatz Janeway

I'm so mad

I mean, I really pay my dues

But some days it really bites

When you've got

Those Cap'n Kate Blues . . .

 

I got me a boyfriend

I turn on like a light

All the men on the starship

Are not too bloody bright

My chief engineer's half-Klingon

I think she hates my guts

And half the folks in fandom

Are flat convinced I'm nuts!

And it's sad

It's not like luck is mine to choose

You just play the hand your dealt

Even when

It's Cap'n Kate Blues . . .

 

Orek sighs. "Do you still deny making the trade?"

Janeway wonders if they've been watching the same recording. "That woman isn't me!"

Apparently humans all look alike to him. "Who is she, then?"

"Well, she's obviously an impostor."

Orek isn't buying it. "I have transmission logs, transport records--scans of your shuttle craft!"

Janeway grabs her sinuses again. "I have never been to your planet, Mr. Orek. Aboard Voyager, or any other vessel."

"Our ship's logs will confirm what the Captain's been telling you," Chakotay says.

"And how do I know they're authentic records?" Orek scoffs.

"How do we know your records are authentic?" Tuvok counters.

Orek is scandalized. "You think I falsified data? Why would I do that?"

"Perhaps to extort dilithium from us," Tuvok says logically. Good point, dude.

Orek bristles. "I'm not the thief here."

Janeway tries to rein in the accusations. "We are not questioning your integrity, Mr. Orek. It does appear you've been cheated. But not by me, or anyone one on my crew."

"How naive do you think I am?" Orek rages. "First, you prey upon the sympathy of my miners by telling them stories about poor, orphaned children--"

Janeway's head shoots upward. Orphans?

Whoa. Déjà vu.

"--Now you try to convince me you're the victims here!"

"Did you say 'orphaned children'?" Janeway asks.

Orek nods. "A despicable tactic."

Janeway agrees. "Will you excuse me for a minute, please?" She bolts for the door, leaving a room full of confused looks.

"We are not finished!" Orek shouts.

The captain doesn't even slow down to wave goodbye.

*

Janeway returns to Engineering. Torres has brought Neelix here for his flogging.

Little did he realize that this was nothing compared to what he's about to get.

"Captain!" Neelix says, hoping to avoid another consignment to the Mortimer Harren circle of hell. "We're making real progress."

"Never mind that," Janeway says. "Tell me more about this cleric who gave you the heating coil."

Neelix is surprised. Very surprised. "Uhhhh, Sister Dala? Um, What do you want to know?"

"Everything."

"Well, uh, Tom and I met her during our away mission. We were on a small planetoid in the Wyanti system searching for the spore the Doctor wanted to grow antiviral proteins with . . ."

*

We hop into the Wayback™ Machine . . .

Tom and Neelix are exploring a rather dreary looking cave.

"I tell you, Neelix, when I first joined Starfleet I knew it was going to be one glamorous adventure after another," Tom says, his tone light. "But I never dreamed that I'd have the opportunity to go on a mold-hunting expedition."

Neelix smirks as he scans with his tricorder. "I'm detecting traces of glamour in this direction." He points, and that is where they go.

They are surprised to find two hooded characters in robes of white, each bearing a single flickering candle. Their faces are difficult to see in the darkness . . . but their voices, we soon learn, are familiar.

"Please, go no further," begs a fair-skinned woman. Her voice is pleasant, musical. "This is our sanctuary."

Paris offers an apologetic look. "Our scans didn't detect anyone down here."

"Our sect is a solitary one," intones the dark-skinned male, his mellifluous baritone a call to worship. "We dampen our life signs to protect the privacy of our meditations."

"We're terribly sorry if we've disturbed you," Neelix says.

"Begin the cleansing," the woman instructs.

The man waves the candle with one hand, and a circular talisman with another. "Olat mal pri, mal pra, mal prolat. Olate kal mi, kal ma, kal molat." (Congratulations to those Latin buffs who correctly deciphered this chant: "I came, I saw, I snookered . . .")

Neelix and Paris look suitably abashed. "I hope we haven't committed a serious transgression," Neelix says sincerely.

"The transgression was ours," says the woman. "We should have guarded the sanctuary more carefully. The deities will be angry."

"Come on, Neelix," Tom says. "We better get out of the way."

"Of...Of course," Neelix says. He bows to the clerics. "Our sincere apologies. If there's anything that we can do--"

The woman approaches the Talaxian. "Forgive me--but you look familiar."

"I don't think that we've ever met before."

"Do you see it?" the woman asks.

"Yes," whispers the man.

"You bear a striking resemblance to our Redeemer of Light."

Neelix blushes. "I'm flattered."

"Each spring, we make a pilgrimage to Narva in his honor to help the orphans," the woman says. Sister Dala, I presume.

Orphans? Who doesn't love orphans? "Well, that's a very worthy cause," Neelix says.

"It is. Unfortunately, we have no food to bring them this year."

"Why not?" Tom asks.

"A blight infected our hydroponic pods," says the man. "The crop was destroyed."

"Maybe we could replicate some food for you," Neelix suggests.

"We bestow charity on others," the man says. "The deities forbid us from accepting it ourselves."

Neelix and Paris think. "How about a trade?" Neelix suggests.

"Yeah! Good idea," Paris says. "You must have something that we can use."

"That way, you wouldn't be accepting charity!" Neelix says. "And the deities would have nothing to get angry about."

The woman looks over her shoulder at her companion, who extends his hand in grand acquiescence. She look upon Neelix and smiles beatifically. "Your heart is as kind as your face." Neelix blushes again.

"May the deities bless you," says the male, waving the green-glowing talisman.

*

To her credit, Janeway doesn't roll her eyes. "That's when they gave you the heating coil?" she asks.

"It was going to take a while to replicate the supplies they needed, so we invited them back to the Flyer."

"That's when they must have gotten access to our systems," Janeway mutters to herself.

"Captain?" Neelix asks, confused.

"Did you leave either of them alone at any point?" Janeway asks.

"I don't think so. Uhhh, after we ate, Tom took Brother Mobar to see the cockpit, but I stayed in the aft section with Sister Dala, um, talking."

"About what?" Janeway asks.

"Well . . . me, mostly. She wanted to know all about my role on Voyager . . . "

*

Neelix pours coffee in the aft section of the Delta Flyer for himself and for Sister Dala. She has lowered her outer hood, but her skull is still mostly obscured by a more tight-fitting inner hood.

"Ambassador, morale officer, head chef!" Sister Dala says wonderingly. "It sounds as though you're invaluable."

"I do what I can," Neelix says modestly.

"Where is your Voyager now?" About three light-years from here, Neelix says.

"Your crew is alone in this region?" We are the only Federation Starship within 30,000 light-years, Neelix explains.

That must be difficult, Sister Dala says. "Sometimes it is, but we manage," Neelix says. "We've single-handedly taken on the Borg, the Hirogen, Species 8472..."

"I'm impressed," Sister Dala says.

"Captain Janeway deserves most of the credit. She's an extraordinary woman."

Sister Dala's eyes go wide. "Your Captain is a woman?"

Neelix beams. "The finest one I've ever known."

"Tell me about her," Sister Dala begs.

"Well, uh . . . She's commanded Voyager for almost six years now. Before that, she was a science officer on the Al Batani." (How long before? I know she had at least one command in the beta quadrant between her time on the Al Batani and Voyager . . .)

"Where does she come from?"

"Earth. It's in the Alpha Quadrant. She grew up on a little farm in a place called Indiana. You'd like her."

Sister Dala smiles. "I'm sure I would."

The door opens. Ensign Paris enters with Brother Mobar. "Sister Dala..."

"Yes, Brother Mobar."

"It's late. We must return to the sanctuary."

Neelix is disappointed. "So soon?"

"It's time for the evening meditation," Sister Dala says. She rises. "We can't thank you enough for all you've done."

"We're just glad that we could help," says Neelix, beaming.

Sister Dala covers her head with the outer hood. "The blessing," she instructs.

"Certainly," Brother Mobar says, doing the same. Silently urging Neelix and Paris to bow their heads and close their eyes, Sister Dala leads the way.

Brother Mobar waves his talisman about. "May the deities bless these travelers," he says, walking about the cabin. "Tala ot val. Tala ot relina. Sen tala. Sen relina. Val golina. Su ketran. Tala otval. Tala ot relina . . ."

The rough translation is as follows:

Candle light

Incense burn

Won't these

Poor saps

Ever learn?

*

" . . . Then we transported them back to their sanctuary," Neelix concludes.

"How long did this blessing last?" Janeway asks.

"No more than a minute or two."

Janeway shakes her head. "That's probably all they needed." She heads for the exit.

Neelix is still clueless. "For what?"

*

In the aft compartment of the Delta Flyer, Janeway runs a tricorder over the computers. Tom Paris and Neelix stand at attention, wondering why an encounter with a couple of kindly clerics would be such a big deal.

Janeway concludes her scan. Turning around to face her men, she backhands shut the tricorder lid. She's not a happy camper.

"Just what I thought," she says, giving Tom and Neelix a half-lidded evil eye. "The entire database was downloaded 18 days ago."

Neelix is shocked to hear it. "Brother Mobar!" Then the devious part of his mind kicks in, about eighteen days too late. "The talisman!"

"It was obviously some sort of scanner," Janeway says.

Paris is still a half-step behind. "What would a couple of religious clerics want with our database?"

Janeway gives her poor helm boy a sad look; he used to be the sneaky one around here. "It might help if they wanted to pose as Federation officers."

Tom and Neelix look at each other as reality dawns. If they were cartoons, they'd be morphing into lollipops right about now.

Janeway shakes her head. She clucks her tongue. "Gentlemen . . . I believe you've been had."

* * *

Janeway has returned to the conference room. Tuvok and Chakotay are still here with Orek.

But the captain has brought some company with her. Neelix and Paris sit on the other side of the table looking like recently shorn sheep.

"The way I see it, we're both victims," Janeway says, leaning over the chairs between Chakotay and Tuvok. "Your bolomite was stolen, and our reputation has been damaged."

"What are you proposing?" Orek asks.

"You said you had scanned the vessel that visited your mining colony. If you allow us to analyze them we might be able to derive the impostors' warp signature."

"We could find them and recover your property before they cheat someone else," Chakotay adds.

"This is all difficult for me to believe," Orek huffs. He looks at Tom and Neelix. "Two of your crewmen deceived? By clerics? Hmm! Could they really have been so naive?"

Tom and Neelix shrink about six inches apiece.

Tuvok withers both with a glance. "A legitimate question." More shrinkage.

"It's obvious we're dealing with clever adversaries--they fooled both of us," Janeway reminds him. "But I'm confident we can stop them."

Orek goes for a naked threat. "Perhaps I should contact Telsian security. They have persuasive methods for determining the truth--"

Janeway drapes herself seductively into her chair at the head of the table. "Well, in the meantime, the real thieves could be halfway across the sector--with your bolomite in their cargo hold." She mocks her guest with her gaze.

Orek mulls this over. Then, reluctantly, he drops his triangular PADD onto the conference room table, inside the center groove, and slides it like an air hockey puck to the other end of the table, where it rests near Janeway.

Smiling, Janeway picks it up, silently congratulating Orek for his wisdom, and silently mocking him for ever doubting her word.

*

Meanwhile, aboard the Delta Liar . . .

Sister Dala, a.k.a. "Janeway," escorts a tall reptilian alien wearing a fur coat through her ship. "And finally, our bridge."

"Is this a typical Federation vessel?" the alien asks, not the least bit impressed. The ship is a bit of a dump.

"Well, the Delta Flyer may look a little worn; that's only because she's been through so much. This ship has helped fend off the Borg, the Hirogen, Species 8472 . . ."

"Most of your technology is outdated," the alien observes.

"Show him the mothership, Mr. Chakotay."

Zar, a.k.a. "Chakotay," is now wearing the red-shouldered tunic of Starfleet, right down to the Maquis rank insignia. He's wearing a wig, like the others, his resembling though not duplicating Chakotay's. His tattoo is also in place.

He seems to be enjoying the role. He calls up Voyager's schematics on a terminal that is similar to, but not entirely like, the Federation LCARS user interface.

"U.S.S. Voyager... Intrepid class. 15 decks of the most advanced technology you'll find anywhere. Dilithium-powered warp engines, integrated bio-neural circuitry, Holodecks..."

The alien smiles; this is more like it. "Is this a typical Federation vessel?"

Janeway grins. "Every ship in the fleet is built to exacting standards. But I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think Voyager was exceptional. As her Captain, I'm not entirely objective." She nods warmly, captain to captain. "I'm sure you feel the same way about you ship."

"It is my home," he confides.

"I'm glad to hear you say that, Mr. Varn...because that's exactly what the Federation is--a home. For an extended family who share resources and come to one another's aid in time of need."

Mr. Varn considers this. "So, if my ship joins your Federation, Voyager will help me fight my enemies?"

Mobar, a.k.a. "Tuvok," quotes chapter and verse. "The primary goal of the Federation is exploration. Military objectives--"

"There's no need to bore our guest with Starfleet protocol, Tuvok," Dala says, cutting him off.

"My enemies have sophisticated weaponry," Varn says.

"As do we," says Zar, bringing up more stuff on the computer to tantalize the alien. "Photon torpedoes...optronically targeted phasers... Multi-spectrum shielding."

"All of which we would not hesitate to share with a fellow member of the Federation," Dala says with seductive charm.

Varn licks his lips. "What will I have to do to join?"

Mobar again channels Tuvok. "In order to be considered, a candidate must make formal application. An extensive review is conducted by a committee composed of--"

Zar rolls his eyes and cuts him off. "The process is complicated," he says. "But Captain Janeway has influence with the Federation council."

"And you would use that influence on my behalf?" Varn asks hopefully.

Dala smiles. She consumes him with her gaze. "I'd be foolish not to. You are just the type of candidate we're looking for." The flirt!

Varn gets a nasty case of dry mouth. "I'll have to discuss this with my shipmates."

Dala nods. "Joining the Federation is a serious commitment. Take all the time you need."

Zar leans in close, but speaks loudly enough for the alien to hear. "Captain, our latest orders from Starfleet command: we won't be back here for at least six months."

Dala nods again. She turns her back to Varn and walks away. "Well, perhaps we can discuss your application then."

Varn calls after her urgently. "If we were to apply now, could you assure us we'd be accepted?"

Dala allows herself a satisfied smile before turning around. "You realize you'll have to commit considerable resources."

"I'll do whatever is necessary."

Janeway extends her hand. "Well. Let me be the first to say...Welcome to the Federation."

Selling Federation memberships. Now why didn't OUR Janeway think of that?

*

Tom Paris arrives in the mess hall looking haggard, and a little down.

"You look like you could use a cup of coffee," Neelix tells him.

Tom leans against the counter. "I've been flying concentric search patterns for the last 12 hours."

Neelix pours him a cup. "Any sign of the impostors?"

Paris shakes his head. Then he spills what's on his mind. "Neelix, what has happened to us?"

"I know exactly what you mean!" Neelix seethes. "I've been over it a thousand times!"

"Why didn't we see this coming?"

"Orphans! It's the oldest gambit in the book."

"I mean, if it'd been Harry, I could understand it," Tom says. "He trusts everybody. But you and me?"

"We've dealt with our share of shady characters," Neelix agrees.

Paris sighs. "I think maybe...maybe we've lost our edge."

Perish the thought!

Neelix thinks hard. Then he gets an idea. "Hand me one of those terra nuts," he says, putting a couple of glasses on the counter.

"What are you doing?"

"Proving you wrong." Down goes a third cup, face down.

Tom's eyes get devious. "Ah, the old shell game," he says, smiling. He grabs a terra nut and hands it to Neelix, who hides it under one of the cups. "All we need now is a mark."

"I think I see one coming," Neelix says as the door to the mess hall slides open.

Doc enters.

"You go ahead. I'll follow your lead," Tom says.

Neelix speaks louder. "Now watch carefully. I place the terra nut under the cup. Then I shuffle them. Round and round they go. Keep your eye on the nut. But be careful--the hand is faster than the eye. Now, for three hours of Holodeck time, can you tell me where is the terra nut?"

Neelix shuffles the cups lazily. Anyone with a pulse could see that the cup with the nut is never moved, just scooted around a little while the other two are given the grand tour of the counter.

The Doctor is intrigued and walks over to see more.

Tom looks at the cups. "Uh...There," he says, pointing to the cup in the middle. "No, no...No, that one," he says, pointing to the cup on the end.

Naturally, that's the cup with the nut. "Oh...I really thought I had you this time."

"Oh, keep trying, Neelix. You'll fool me one of these days." Wink wink, nudge nudge.

"This looks like an interesting game," Doc says. "May I have a turn?"

"Oh, be my guest," says Tom. "But, uh, you'll have to wager something."

"If I win, you take three duty shifts in Sickbay," Doc tells Neelix.

"And if I win, you take three shifts in the kitchen."

"Done."

Tom and Neelix wink at each other. There's one born every minute.

"Ready? Now, watch carefully . . . " Neelix now shuffles the cups in earnest. "Round and round they go. Follow the terra nut if you can. But be careful--the hand is faster than the eye."

"Careful, Doc. Try not to blink."

"Don't you worry, Mr. Paris. You have to get up pret-ty early in the morning to fool my optical subroutines."

Neelix stops shuffling. "Where is it, then?"

Doc arches an eyebrow. He grins. "In your left palm."

Tom and Neelix' eyes go wide. Doc opens Neelix's palm, and sure enough . . .

"How did you...?" Tom sputters.

Doc hands the nut back to Neelix. "Superior visual acuity. See you in Sickbay."

Neelix tosses the nut across the room.

Alas, poor edge, where ha'e ye gone . . .

*

While Tom and Neelix sulk, the crew on the bridge is getting some actual work done.

"I'm detecting a vessel on long-range scans," Tuvok says. "The warp signature matches the impostor's ship."

Janeway nods. "Harry, tell Tom his coffee break is over. Set a pursuit course."

"Yes, ma'am."

*

Meanwhile, Varn is back, and he's not at all happy with his new Federation membership and its perks.

"The photon torpedoes you gave me are worthless! No better than plasma flares!"

"Perhaps you didn't arm them properly," Dala suggests. She and Mobar are still in their Starfleet uniforms. Zar is back in his native state, which it's hard to blame him for--it looks far more comfortable.

"And in the middle of the battle," Varn rages, "the Polonians warned me to cease hostilities or face destruction at the hands of your Federation! You allowed my enemies to join!"

Mobar does his Vulcan thing. "Evidently, the Federation council decided that--"

"Your Federation is a fraud! I demand reparations!"

"You'll have to submit a formal report to Starfleet," Mobar says.

"Enough! If you will not reimburse me, I'll seize your ship."

Varn's vessel locks a tractor beam on the Delta Liar.

"Disable the beam!" Dala yells.

Mobar tries, but fails. "I can't!"

Zar grumbles as his board lights up. "We have an additional problem: Voyager."

*

There's another ship alongside the impostors. It's got them in a tractor beam," Seven of Nine reports. We see what Seven describes.

"Hail both vessels," Janeway says.

"No response from either one," Harry says.

"Well, let's try to get their attention; Mr. Tuvok..."

*

"Voyager's charging weapons," Zar reports.

"Perhaps we should surrender to them," Mobar suggests. "The Federation has an extremely humane policy regarding the treatment of prison--"

Zar and Dala glare at him.

"--ers . . . "

Dala stands up, putting on her Action Kate face. "Hail Varn again! Do it!"

Varn appears on the viewscreen.

"Look on your scanners, Varn. Our mothership's arrived. She's armed and ready to defend us."

"Tell them to stand down," Varn growls.

"Release us," Dala growls right back, "or Voyager will destroy you."

*

"The other ship is hailing," Harry says.

"On screen," Janeway says.

Varn appears. "Stand down, Voyager."

Question--wouldn't Varn have a bit of a question at this moment? Now he's got a Janeway on each bridge. The resemblance can't be lost on him.

But perhaps it is.

"I have no argument with you," Janeway says. "However, the vessel you're tractoring..."

"I paid for my Federation membership. The Delta Flyer belongs to me now."

Janeway blinks, not quite sure she heard that right. "Sir, I think you've been misled."

"Yes. I have." Varn stabs the controls, ending the conversation.

*

Varn's ship launches three rounds at Voyager.

BOOM BOOM BOOM

"Three direct hits. Shields down to 60%," Tuvok reports.

"Target his tractor beam," Janeway growls. "Nobody is taking possession of the Delta Flyer today except us."

Voyager fires back. An explosion on Varn's ship, and the tractor beam goes off line. The smaller ship begins to fly away.

"Lock onto them," Janeway says.

"Yes, ma'am," Chakotay says. BOOM "Now our tractor generator's off-line," he says. How conveeenient.

"Shields down to 41%," Tuvok says.

BOOM

"The impostor's ship is powering engines," Paris reports.

Janeway looks over her shoulder. "Seven, transport everyone on that vessel directly to the brig."

"Establishing a lock on three life signs." BOOM "That impact damaged the transporters. I'm losing annular confinement." What are these weapons, psychic?

"Harry, reroute additional power!"

The Delta Liar goes to warp. "They're gone," Chakotay says.

"Seven?" Janeway asks.

Seven checks her board. "I only got one of them."

BOOM

"Get us out of here, Mr. Paris!"

"Aye, Captain."

Voyager goes to warp. Varn is left alone to curse the Federation, Voyager, and Janeway.

* * *

Dala cools her heels in the brig, still wearing her Janeway outfit.

Janeway enters the area accompanied by Tuvok. Tuvok stands near the door, while Janeway gets a closer look.

Janeway gives her imposter a thorough visual scan. She smirks. "Nice hair."

Dala seems surprised by the relatively diminutive captain. She returns the smirk. "It's not really my taste."

Janeway takes a step closer. "Posing as a Starfleet Captain. Selling memberships to the Federation..." She casts a sideways glance at Tuvok. "Too bad we didn't think of it, Tuvok. Imagine the resources we could have acquired over the past six years."

"Indeed."

Janeway turns back to Dala. "I have to admit--I'm impressed."

"I wish I could say the same," Dala says. "The Great Captain Janeway. Somehow, I expected you to be..."

Janeway tilts her head. This oughtta be good.

"Taller." Dala folds her arms and looks smug. "I make a better you than you."

Janeway takes a few steps closer. "Oh, I don't know," Janeway coos. "I'd say we're very much alike--resourceful, intelligent, ambitious--but with just one tiny difference." She puts her thumb and forefinger almost together, pantomiming "tiny."

"And what is that?" Dala asks.

Janeway's eyes grow cold. "I'm not a liar and a thief."

Dala looks stung, but she soon shrugs it off.

"You're going to give me a detailed account of everyone you cheated," Janeway says, "and exactly what you did with their property."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because if you don't, I'm turning you over to Telsian security."

Dala bugs out her eyes in mock horror. "Oh. Is that supposed to frighten me?"

Janeway gives her a sad look. "How much do you know about the Telsians?"

"Just that they're a more gullible species than most."

Janeway continues her pitying look. "Tell her about your research, Mr. Tuvok," she says softly.

"I-I beg your pardon, Captain?"

"On Telsian law. I think it's only fair that we let our guest know what to expect."

Tuvok groks her intent. "The Telsian criminal justice system is rather barbaric," he ad libs.

Janeway almost weeps. "Tell her about the prisons."

"Barely habitable. Inmates often die of malnutrition before they are brought to trial. Torture is commonplace, as is disease--including several incurable forms of psoriasis."

For the bald Dala, this could be a fate worse than death. She flinches.

"I think she gets the general idea," Janeway says.

"Suppose I do tell you," Dala says. "How do I know you won't turn me over to the Telsians anyway?"

"If you make full restitution to your victims, I'll give you safe passage out of this area."

Dala laughs. "Is that a promise, Captain?"

"I know it's hard for you to believe. But occasionally, some of us tell the truth."

Dala considers this. Decides she doesn't like it. Life just doesn't work that way. Not in the Delta Quadrant.

"Give me the Delta Flyer and three days to get as far away from here as I can," Dala says. "And then I'll send you the information you want."

Janeway puts her hands on her hips. "How naive do you think I am?"

Dala plays her trump card. "As far as the victims are concerned? You're the one who cheated them. Without my help, you'll be the one who has a problem leaving this sector." Dala, in case this is not yet clear, is not a nice person.

And she's just crossed the wrong redhead.

Janeway gives Dala a look of sheer pity. The sort of "may god have mercy on your soul" parting glance that suggests a last meal is not far away. "Tuvok, contact Telsian security." Janeway walks toward the door.

She stops in the open doorway and looks back at the cell. "Tell them we have a prisoner to turn over."

The door closes behind them.

Out of sight of Janeway, Dala loses some of her swagger.

*

Out of sight of Dala, Janeway laughs merrily in the corridor. "'Psoriasis'?"

"Improvisation is not foremost among my talents," Tuvok confesses.

"Considering I caught you off guard, I thought your performance was exemplary."

"Thank you, Captain." Tuvok turns to business. "Was your order to call the Telsians part of the deception? Or did you actually want me to contact them?"

Janeway raises a hand. "Not yet. Let's give Dala some time to think about those barbaric prisons."

"Do you believe she'll relent?"

"I'm not sure," the captain admits. "Something tells me she's just as stubborn as I am."

"Then, am I to assume you have an alternative plan?"

Janeway snickers. "I'm like you, Tuvok--making it up as I go along."

*

Later that day . . .

Dala sits on the bed at the far end of her cell, under guard. Her mood is somber; she hugs her legs, her chin rests on her knees.

Neelix arrives with a plate of food. "The Captain said bread and water," he says, "but I didn't see any harm." The force field drops; Neelix enters.

"I'm not hungry," Dala says.

Neelix sets it on a nearby table. "I'll just leave it here...in case you change your mind." He moves toward the opening, then stops. "May I ask you something?"

Dala isn't really in the mood. "You want to know if you really resemble the Redeemer of Light?"

Neelix stiffens. "I'm not that gullible."

"Then what?"

Neelix regards her sadly. "Do you ever feel . . . guilty? Taking advantage of people who actually think that you care about them?"

Dala takes the criticism with all the grace that you'd expect. After a moment's silence, she looks at Neelix. "You seem like a good person. I'm sorry I lied to you."

"Actually, I think you're just sorry you got caught."

"Probably," Dala admits.

Neelix smiles. "There! Now you're being honest. I knew it was possible." In spite of herself, Dala smiles. Neelix has that effect on people sometimes.

"If you don't mind my asking, why do you do what you do?" he asks.

"My father taught me, most people will exploit you if they can. So, it's best to exploit them first."

Neelix starts to pace the room. "You know, I used to be a lot like you. Living by my wits. Never trusting anyone. Always trying to end up on the more profitable side of a transaction." True enough. His first impression wasn't at all favorable.

Dala doesn't quite roll her eyes. "But now you don't hesitate to help starving orphans."

Neelix shrugs. "I changed--when Captain Janeway made me part of the crew."

"I suppose you suddenly reformed."

Neelix takes a seat beside Dala. "No, Not right away," he admits. "At first, I was just exploiting an opportunity--to get a warm bed, food, protection. I kept waiting to find out what the Captain wanted in return."

Dala looks at him. Let me guess, her expression says skeptically. "But she never asked for a thing."

"On the contrary! She expected a great deal from me. Honesty, loyalty, hard work."

No thanks, Dala's look says. "I should've guessed."

"But I discovered that those were commodities I had in abundance!" Neelix says excitedly. "And it was much more profitable to share them than it was to be self-serving and cynical all the time. I'm happier than I've ever been."

Dala considers this. Her expression softens a little. "I suppose that you think I could change, too," she says, not quite believing it.

"Stranger things have happened," Neelix says.

"Do you really think that she'll give me safe passage if I make restitution?"

"If that's what she promised you." Neelix is utterly sincere.

Dala's eyes fill with something approaching hope. But it quickly fades. "Then what? I have never done anything else."

Neelix shrugs. "Captain Janeway let Seven of Nine remain on board--and she was Borg."

"Are you saying she'd do the same thing for me?"

"I'd be willing to talk to her," Neelix promises.

Dala is finding this all too much to swallow. "I cheated you. Why are you being so kind to me?"

"Like my great grandmother used to say, 'It's nice to be nice.'"

Dala considers everything Neelix has said. Then she smiles. "Is that tea still warm?"

Neelix beams. Another day, another good deed. He gets up for the tea. Dala follows.

But then she trips, knocking Neelix into the tray of food. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm so clumsy!"

To prove it, she doubles up her fists and smacks Neelix hard. He drops like a rock.

The guard outside is a little slow to react. Why the force field remained open while Neelix was in there is anyone's guess. He reaches for a phaser, just as Dala reaches for the phaser on Neelix's hip. She fires, and the guard goes down.

Neelix taps his chest. "Security to the brig!"

Dala shoots him as well.

She makes her escape.

*

The corridors are dark, blinking Red Alert. But they're also empty. Dala has done her homework; she knows how ridiculously easy it is to escape from the innocents aboard Voyager. She makes a beeline for the Delta Flyer.

There's not even a tractor beam to slow her down as she takes the Flyer into warp.

What fools these Federations be . . .

*

On the bridge, Harry Kim reports the bad news. "She's gone."

So why does Captain Janeway not look surprised?

* * *

Aboard the Delta Liar, Mobar--still dressed as Tuvok--and Zar, still dressed as Zar, argue over what to do next.

"It's not right to abandon her!" argues ethical "Tuvok."

"Going back is too dangerous," argues self-interested Zar.

"She's our Captain!"

"No, she's not!" Zar shouts. "And even if she were, we wouldn't be able to rescue her. We'd be captured ourselves."

"Without Captain Janeway it will be difficult to continue our activities!"

"It's too late for that!"

Mobar's frustration shows. Very non-Vulcan of him. But give him points for trying. "There must be a logical way--"

"What's logical is to get as far away as we can!"

Their argument is cut short by a beeping console. Mobar checks the readout. "There's a vessel approaching. It's the Delta Flyer!"

"Activate the shields," Zar orders.

"They're hailing. It's Captain Janeway!"

"Our Janeway? Or theirs?"

The viewscreen tells the tale. "Which one did you expect?" Dala asks.

"I'm pleased to see you, Captain," Mobar says.

"Lower the shields so I can transport aboard."

Zar is skeptical. "How were you able to escape?"

"I'll tell you once I'm aboard."

"It's difficult to believe you weren't detected."

Dala glares at Zar. "Are you accusing me of something?"

*

In the aft compartment, Tom Paris emerges from one of the bio-tubes. He turns on the audio channel to listen in.

"...Being cautious. How do we know this isn't a deception?" he hears Zar say.

"Why would I try to deceive you?" he hears Dala say.

Tom takes the portable holoemitter out of his pocket.

"You could be helping Voyager capture us in exchange for your own freedom..."

Tom enters the controls, and Doc appears. "Are we in position?" Doc asks.

"I don't have time for this," Dala says over the audio channel. "Lower your shields and beam me aboard."

"Ready?" Tom asks.

Doc nods.

*

Dala enters the bridge of the Delta Liar.

"Captain on the bridge," Mobar announces officially, earning him glares from Zar and Dala.

"As you were," Dala says. "Now, what about the bolomite and the rest of our earnings?"

Zar regards Dala suspiciously. No honor among thieves, I suppose. "They're exactly where we left them."

"Well, it's time to collect them and leave the region. Set a course before Voyager finds us."

Zar bristles. "You're not in command here."

Dala glares. "I just spent the last 24 hours in Voyager's brig. I have no intention of going back!"

Mobar checks the board, ever attentive to duty. Heck, he'd make a good crewman if it comes to that. "I'm picking up life signs on the Delta Flyer."

Dala's eyes go wide. "That can't be!"

Zar glares. "I was right. You brought them here!"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous. Whoever it is must've stowed away!"

"They're hailing," Mobar reports.

"On screen," Dala says.

Tom is on the other end of the line. "This is Tom Paris of the Starship Voyager. Prepare to be boarded."

"He's charging weapons!" Mobar says.

"Evasive maneuvers."

A brief exchange of fire ensues. The Delta Liar manages to make its escape.

*

The Liar makes orbit around a small, out of the way planet--the pirate's cove, methinks.

Dala continues to issue orders like she runs the place. "Let's get everything on board as quickly as we can," she says as Mobar and Zar pack up their supplies.

"How many transport enhancers do you recommend, Captain?" Mobar asks.

Dala glares. "Do I have to think of everything?"

Zar fields the question. "We'll need at least ten if we're going to beam all that bolomite through the geostrata." Ah. The booty is underground.

"Maybe we should take 12," Dala suggests. You know, since her return, Dala's been acting a bit . . . odd.

Zar picks up on it too. "'We'?"

Dala glares. "Is there a problem?"

"In six years I've never known you to dirty your hands with menial labor."

Dala looks uncomfortable. Then she blusters, "Well, there's a first time for everything."

Zar looks suspicious--but when he figures it out, he smiles. "You don't trust us!"

Well, duh. "Who knows what the two of you planned while I was in Voyager's brig?"

Mobar takes umbrage. "As chief of security I would never...!"

Zar shushes him. "It's all right." He bows deferentially. "We'll all go together."

Dala nods regally. "After you."

*

The underground cavern is filled with booty. The fake Voyager team has really been cleaning up the past few weeks. No doubt Voyager's reputation is in tatters.

"The next populated sector is 13 days from here," Dala says as the others set the pattern enhancers. "When we arrive, we'll trade the Delta Flyer for a new ship. Voyager will never find us. Are all the transport enhancers in place?"

"That's the last of them," Zar says. "We can go now...If that's acceptable to you, Captain." Snarky bugger.

Dala frowns--and whips out a phaser. "I'm afraid there's been a change of plans." She attaches a combadge to her uniform, and taps it, as her colleagues look on in anger. "I've found the stolen items, Captain--you can lock onto my coordinates."

Zar glares. "I told you she couldn't be trusted!"

Mobar is offended. "How could you bring yourself to deceive your fellow officers?"

Dala ignores them. "Voyager, I repeat, I am in position!"

*

Voyager is apparently in orbit as well. "Can you get a lock?" Janeway asks.

"Voyager, ...trans..." Dala's signal is not strong.

"Negative," Seven says. "The geostratum is too dense."

"Keep trying," Janeway says. She nods at Tuvok, who exits the bridge.

*

"Voyager, now would be an excellent time to initiate transport," Dala says urgently. Gee--that doesn't sound much like the huckster I know . . .

"You're not transporting anything," Zar growls. He reaches for his weapon, but Dala drops him like a bad habit.

Mobar shoots at Dala, but the beam goes right through her. She flickers a little, and looks scared, but otherwise is little worse for wear.

"Captain?" Mobar asks.

Dala runs away. Mobar follows.

Dala tries hailing again. "Voyager, please respond!" A light shines on her--she raises her weapon.

It's Tuvok--the real Tuvok. "You're a sight for sore eyes."

But the fake Tuvok appears, leaving Dala stuck between the two.

Mobar look up at the regal Vulcan. "Commander...Tuvok!" he whispers, awed.

"The one and only," Dala says, rushing up the rock face to stand beside the real Starfleet officer.

Mobar looks happily at his inspiration. "Logic would indicate that neither of us has the advantage."

Tuvok just looks at him. "Your logic. Is flawed." He shines his flashlight in Mobar's eyes. The fake Tuvok squints, and Tuvok phasers him to Happyland.

Zar appears, gun aimed. Tuvok aims right back. "Stay where you are." Zar doesn't chance it; he drops his weapon.

"What did they promise you for betraying us?" Zar asks, glaring at Dala.

Dala gives him an even look. "I believe you've mistaken me for someone else." She touches her arm.

And is transformed into the Doctor.

Perhaps Tom Paris hasn't lost his edge after all.

"Where's Dala?" Zar demands.

Doc smiles. "I'm afraid she's indisposed at the moment."

*

On the Delta Flyer, Paris smiles down on his captive as Dala awakens with the queen mother of all headaches.

"I wouldn't get up too fast if I were you, Captain. It's going to take another few minutes for the ambizine to wear off."

Poor Dala. She should know by now--never scam a scammer.

*

Captain's Log, Stardate 53849.2. The stolen property has been returned to the Telsian miners, as well as vessels from seven different worlds. I'm hoping that the reputation of the real Federation will survive the events of the last several days.

Back in the mess hall, Doc and Tom and Neelix are giving the Terra Nut Cup game one more round.

"Round and round they go," Neelix says. "Follow the terra nut if you can. But remember, the hand is sharper than your visual acuity!"

"I thought we'd already disproved that theory," Doc says, feeling superior.

"You tell me," Neelix says, stopping his cup shuffle.

Doc sighs, as though bored. "The terra nut is firmly entrenched up your right sleeve."

Paris laughs.

Neelix shows the Doc there's nothing up his sleeve. He smiles. "Sorry."

Doc checks for himself. "That's impossible!"

Paris snickers. "The old handoff." He reaches behind Doc's ear and shows him the terra nut.

"Ooh," Neelix says mock-sympathetically.

"That's cheating!" Doc huffs. He leaves in a snit.

Neelix high-fives Tom. "We've still got it."

[Analysis]

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. A light, amusing hour of TV, not long on plot but decent with characterization, and it introduces an idea that in hindsight seems almost obvious. It's a surprise nobody thought of it sooner; kudos to Robin Burger for a fun, well-paced story that both acknowledges and exploits the famous pitfalls of Starfleet niceness.

I was pleased with the performances. The three fake Starfleeters were exceptional; they work together--and against each other--very well.

Mobar is a bit too married to his Tuvok persona, but it's almost endearing; here's a guy who seems to have been truly changed by his study of Starfleet. He's not completely converted--he's still bilking aliens--but he quotes the Federation book like a true believer. At the same time, he's a pale imitation of the real thing, as his inevitable encounter with Tuvok demonstrates.

Zar spends the least amount of time in uniform, and is not a convincing Chakotay--but he is a convincing bad guy. And an interesting one at that; he seems to enjoy the game, but he has his pride, and he is inherently suspicious. In another role, he'd make a good bad guy on Die Hard, where the bad guys are allowed to have their endearing qualities.

As for Dala--when she says "I make a better you than you" to Janeway, she's not far from the truth. She seemed to revel in her role as Janeway, and there are times when the seductive, cynical approach she takes with certain aliens might even seem preferable to Janeway.

Might.

I've got a soft spot for my Auburn Queen, though. And she shines here in her faceoff with Dala. A slight tilt of the head, a purr here, a growl there. Toss in integrity, and you get the real Janeway.

She may be nuts, but she's my kinda captain. And this week, she's not even that nuts.

*

The Tom and Neelix sidestep is amusing, though not as well set up as I might have liked. Tom's scheming ways are well known, though Neelix hasn't had that reputation for a while. The "Tuvok's holo program" would have been an ideal opportunity to have Tom and Harry feign innocence, and then reveal that Neelix (classic misdirection) was the actual culprit.

But no matter. It's not too hard to believe that Neelix would take pride in his scheming ways, even if they were behind him. He survived the Delta Quadrant, no mean feat. He finagled his way onto Voyager.

Though in fairness, Neelix hasn't really shown that side of himself in a while. He's been a fairly straightforward, trusting character for years. Which is why I'd have hoped for a scene establishing Neelix's pride in his nongullibility before being shown as a sucker. Tom is pretty much a given. Even so, he makes up for it later. The Doctor is a good choice for foil, since he would be the toughest to fool in something like the shell game.

Tuvok would have been another good choice, but since he can't keep his own holoprograms secure, he was a compromised choice. Besides, by fooling Doc AFTER he'd fooled the imposters, it restores Tom and Neelix to their place of preeminence on the huckster food chain.

*

Anyway. Quite a few good lines in this, and the performances had a nice light touch throughout. This is a fine example of a comic Voyager outing.

Call it 3.5 stars.

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Copyright © 2000 Jim Wright

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Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.


Last Updated: May 29, 2000
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