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B'Elanna: the Musical!
Jump straight to the Analysis
There have been many occasions the past thirty-four years when Star Trek has borrowed liberally from the theatre for its inspiration. Shakespeare has been called upon often enough to earn an honorary place among the writing staff. Greek tragedies, Roman comedies, British farces, even American sitcoms and Very Special Episodes have provided frequent source material.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the old-fashioned stage would return the favor.
On an unfamiliar world, we see a familiar stage. The set is spartan, the Chorus a trio of older men who narrate in monotone. The outdoor setting is illuminated by dozens of candles, adding to the otherworldliness of the presentation.
Captain's Log, Stardate 53896.
B'Elanna Torres has requested permission to take the Delta Flyer and search for dilithium.
Shining Voyager, far from home, far from the gleaming cities of Earth.
The camera pans across the stage and into the audience. We see an audience that would look at home in the Aegean of 200 B.C.E. Simple, natural fibers worn by the common people who sit on stone benches. The front row is separated from the back benches by several feet of space, and two menacing warriors wearing bronze helmets the size of tank turrets. The front row is reserved for a man wearing the attire of a warrior king, and a woman who wears the baubles that only the spoils of war and the burdens of heavy taxation can afford.
That such a primitive-looking society would be watching a play about Voyager seems incongruous. But then again, St. Elsewhere took place inside the mind of an autistic child. Fate and fiction have often dealt stranger hands.
A younger man, mid-thirties, wearing robes of priestly white, addresses the audience as the chorus recedes into the background and other performers take their places.
Headstrong B'Elanna Torres, and young Harry Kim, speed away from Voyager to the Delta Flyer in search of their treasures.
We see two figures, both in the same white cloth gowns, holding masks to their faces. They sit on a stone bench in the center of the stage.
I've trimmed the sails but the sea is rough. Maybe we should return.
I know what I'm doing.
The two begin to sway as the play continues.
A wave as high as a mountain struck the Delta Flyer.
Get into the escape pod.
We die together.
No one is going to die! Go.
Headstrong B'Elanna Torres pulls Young Harry Kim from the stone and sends him offstage, then pantomimes being tossed about inside an unsteady vessel.
Young Harry Kim left her side and B'Elanna Torres was thrown against the rocks--the rocks of our very shore.
B'Elanna Torres drapes herself poetically upon the cold stone ground, then lies still.
The speaker in white approaches the still figure. Kneels beside her. Regards her tenderly.
Which is where I, Kelis the poet, found her . . .
Broken . . .
She told me her story . . .
And now I've told you.
There isn't a dry eye in the house. However, the reaction is a silent, tense moment when all eyes fall upon the man flanked by guards.
His eyes, too, are misty. He begins to applaud, and stands. Relieved, the rest of the crowd rises and registers its own approval for a play well told.
Okay, so it was only a one-minute play. But this is the bronze age; they won't invent George Lucas for another couple of millennia. They still had characterization, danger, a hint of romance. Not bad for the teaser.
The warlord--let's call him Phil--is a study in contrasts. A bit on the soft and fleshy side, suggesting that he hasn't led the charge into battle for a while. But his eyes do have that steel of command, and an amusement that can only be taken so far. "An excellent conceit, that you discovered her yourself," Phil the warlord declares.
Kelis the poet accepts the praise. "Thank you."
"Well, now that B'Elanna Torres has come to our shore, what will happen? Does Captain Janeway come searching for her? Or does she give her up for lost?"
Kelis is caught off guard. "Who can say?" he says with a nervous laugh and a shrug of his shoulders.
The patience drains from those authoritative eyes. "Well, I would hope that you can. I want to see more of these Voyager Eternals."
Kelis gulps. "Inspiration...can't be forced."
"One week." Phil, his woman in tow, moves toward the exit.
"Uh, three weeks!" Kelis calls after him pleadingly. "Maybe two," he amends when he sees the flash of irritation from the warlord. When that look remains, the poor poet caves completely. "One week. The story will continue."
Satisfied, Phil the Warlord continues his march to the exit. (Incidentally, where did all the people go? I haven't seen a room clear this fast since the last time I did standup.)
Kelis presses his luck. "Have you noticed how thin my performers have gotten?"
The Warlord decides whether to be angry, but in the end sides with generosity. He strips a weighty bauble from the necklace of his companion, and tosses it to the starving artist. "Let them eat this." The casualness of the act, like throwing scraps to a dog, is a humiliation, no matter how great the price the jewelry may command in the market.
The night at the theater isn't much longer than the play itself. But it speaks volumes about the social order on this planet.
Backstage is crowded as the players remove makeup and costumes, and unwind after their performance.
Kelis arrives, waving the expensive trinket. "Ladies and gentlemen--our patron salutes you." He tosses it in the air.
"Finally!" a boy shouts, deftly snatching it on the downward arc.
"We're doing another Voyager play...as soon as I can write it."
As he moves through the crowd of players, one in particular--a busty, lusty dishwater blonde with bedroom eyes, snuggles up close. "Shall we celebrate, the two of us?"
Kelis smiles, but demurs. "I have very little time. 'Celebrating' will have to wait." He breaks away, and exits into the night.
The young woman watches him go. She bites her trembling lower lip, as a tear flows down her left cheek.
The theater isn't the only thing on the planet that's open-air and lit only by candles.
The Delta Flyer, however, shouldn't be either of those things.
This may explain how such a premodern poet gathered his material.
In the foreground, unmoving, we see headstrong B'Elanna Torres. Or is that strong-headed B'Elanna? Either way, that forehead of hers might well have saved her in the crash.
We see the poet enter the grounded shuttlecraft. He gingerly makes his way toward the still form. He takes a knife, and reaches out to slice her arm, which already bears the scars of many previous attacks. We see that her hands are tied together.
But this unkindest cut of all awakens the sleeping giant. With a roar and a mighty THWACK, B'Elanna uppercuts the poet. He flies backwards onto his poetic podex.
"Who are you?" B'Elanna demands of her knife-wielding attacker.
"Kelis. Kelis the poet," the stunned man says.
Then, recovering his wits, bows humbly before her. "Your servant."
B'Elanna's eyes go wide.
* * *
As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we see more. B'Elanna's got a nasty bruise on her forehead. Her jacket is off; she's wearing a long-sleeved gray undershirt that has been more common to season six (after season five, the Year of the T shirt.) One sleeve has been pulled up, the better to slice her arm.
Torres looks calmly My servant. All right. Then let me go."
"Why not?" B'Elanna asks.
Kelis stands, slowly so as not to aggravate her further. He shakes his head. "You'll fly from me...the way inspiration always does." Ah, poets. You gotta love 'em.
The more literal Torres doesn't quite grok the lyrical statement. She shows him her arm. "You're trying to kill me."
Now it's Kelis' turn to be confused. "I'm releasing the heat from your veins!" he insists.
"What are you talking about?"
"You've been in a fever since I found you. Bleeding is the best way to treat it."
Torres groans. "I can see I'm in good hands."
Kelis smiles. There is a seductive charm there that no doubt serves him well in many pursuits. "Something tells me you have your doubts."
Torres tries to clear her head. First things first. "There's a med kit over there." Kelis offers a blank stare. "A box. Made out of metal?" she explains. He still looks confused, but does her bidding.
"There's a small cylinder inside. Bring it here." It takes him a moment to find it. He examines it with a look of casual curiosity as he brings it to her.
As Kelis approaches, we notice his own attire. Sleeveless brown tunic, made of humble fabric. It extends down to the knees. We see his arms and calves, which are well developed--not surprising on a world where walking is the prime means of transportation. His voice, of course, is ideally suited to the stage--a resonant baritone, just gravelly enough to give him the air of maturity. His shaggy dark hair and upright bearing is reminiscent of Prince Humperdink from the Princess Bride, only less sleazy.
"Give it to me," B'Elanna says softly. Eventually, he does. Torres holds it awkwardly--bound hands, remember--and manages to turn it on. It lights up, and begins to hum.
Kelis jumps back, astonished.
"Don't be afraid. It won't hurt you." B'Elanna finds that she can't use the dermal regenerator on herself. "Here," she says. "Pass it over where you cut me."
Kelis reluctantly, silently obeys. His eyes widen as the light, brushed across the silky flesh, erases the wounds as though they never existed. To his credit, he doesn't lose his cool. He's already produced one Voyager play; it's a fair guess he's seen enough wonders already to know he's dealing with someone whose abilities are beyond his comprehension. So he doesn't bother to comprehend--only accept.
"You're an Eternal. I suppose such things are to be expected."
Torres gives away little. She prompts Kelis for more information. "What other things do you expect from an eternal?" she asks softly.
Kelis shrugs. "The power to make the ground open up and the sky to fall--all the strange events sung by the ancient poets." Don't laugh--Voyager could easily do all that, and more. Opening up the ground wouldn't take much more than some well-placed phaser volleys or torpedo launches. To make the sky fall, just let Chakotay take a shuttle for a spin and let nature run its course.
Kelis smiles happily. "Fortunately for me, no poet has ever sung about your clan. I'm the first."
"My . . . clan?"
"The Eternals on Voyager." His smile widens as his voice plays to the back benches. "'Shining Voyager far from home.'"
"What do you know about that?" asks Torres, her eyes wide.
Kelis stands, then walks over to a panel. It would seem that the Delta Flyer's energy reserves aren't totally depleted--the audio logs still work. He presses Play.
We hear B'Elanna's voice. "Delta Flyer Log: Stardate 53918. Harry and I are continuing toward the fourth planet. Sensors have picked up natural dilithium deposits on nearly every land mass--"
B'Elanna cringes. Janeway isn't gonna like this.
Kelis fast forwards. We now hear Chakotay as well as Torres.
Acknowledged. Has your warp core been damaged?
Yes. We're running on thrusters. Can you track our position?
Some plays just write themselves, I guess.
Kelis presses the Stop button. The logs end.
"How long have I been here?" Torres asks.
"Eight days. I was walking through these mountains. I saw a light burn across the sky and I heard a terrible sound. When I arrived, I found you. I treated your wounds." He smiles shyly.
"And you tied me to this chair," Torres points out, holding up the ties that bind.
"When a gift falls from the heavens, only a fool would let her go." True enough. If B'Elanna dropped into my backyard, I can't say I wouldn't want to keep her. (Then again, I've seen Misery; I know these things rarely work out for the best.) "You've already given me one play. The story told by those voices. I pieced them together...tried to fill in the gaps." He's proud of his accomplishment--and hey, it paid the bills.
Torres is shocked. "You made a play out of our logs?"
Kelis beams. "The Away Mission of B'Elanna Torres. My patron was impressed."
"Well, he has great taste," Torres mutters. She extends her hands and speaks softly, showing little of that famous temper of hers. "Now, take that knife of yours and cut me free."
"That...would be unwise."
Kelis shrugs. "My patron is intrigued by the Voyager Eternals. He wants another play. To compose that, I need more...details."
"And you expect to get them from me?"
"I did save your life."
Torres tries another approach. "I need to get back to Voyager."
"I need another play." Stalemate.
"What exactly do you want to know?"
"That's not possible!" Torres says harshly. She cuts herself off, and starts again. "We 'Eternals' have our rules. We can't just...give everything away."
Kelis acknowledges this, so he starts with more specific questions. "How did you get lost?"
Torres sees an opening. "Cut me free and I'll tell you."
"You won't leave me?"
"Cut me free," says Torres, promising nothing.
Kelis looks at those big brown eyes of B'Elanna's, and takes a chance. He cuts her free.
B'Elanna rubs her chafed wrists for a moment--then reaches for a phaser. Leaving the pilot's seat for the first time, she aims the weapon at her humble but insistent servant.
"You're the one who's leaving!" she says.
Kelis, who doesn't know much about modern technology, isn't sure what to think of the thing being pointed at him.
Torres gives him a hint. She fires on what I think is either a branch, or a piece of the Delta Flyer that looks ready to break off anyway. It disappears.
Torres then aims the disappearing thing at Kelis. "Don't come back."
Kelis does as he's told. You don't mess with an Eternal that can disappear you.
But as we've already seen, he's got a bit of a stubborn streak. I doubt it's the last we've seen of him.
The planet is a sight to behold in the daylight. Trees and mountains abound, and the wreckage of the Delta Flyer stands in odd contrast to the pristine wilderness that surrounds it.
The Flyer itself is in bad shape. The sloping "windshield" has a gaping, charred hole in it. Pieces are missing from the outer hull, and very little of the craft is the original color. The vessel has been through much, storm-tossed and run aground by the cruel winds of fortune.
And one wonders what happened to Young Harry Kim. Who, six years after his graduation from the Academy, is now pushing thirty. The kid from Boy Meets World is now a married college student; young Ricky Schroeder has become a spokesmodel for Rogaine. And of course there's Jerry Mathers as The Beaver, still doing the same youthful shtick to amuse his grandchildren.
And then there's Chekov, old enough to be collecting Social Security, but still treated like the poster boy for Tiger Beat. No wonder he turned to the Dark Side of Psi Corps; at least the folks at B5 let him grow up.
But I digress.
Inside the compromised Delta Flyer, B'Elanna Torres--now freed from her bindings--effects what repairs she can. "Computer, bring the subspace transmitter on-line."
BEEP "Unable to comply."
Torres tries to remedy that. Without success. In fact, things just get worse--all the panels go dark.
"Great. Now there's no power." Torres throws up her hands.
Kelis pokes his head in. "Are you hungry?"
Torres glares. "I told you not to come back."
Kelis enters. "You haven't eaten in days. We have to support each other, we poets." He holds out a handful of trail mix, as though he's feeding a young llama at a a petting zoo.
Torres scoops up the offered snack. "I'm an engineer." She takes a hungry bite. "I fix things."
"From the looks of it, you're not doing so well," he says, gently teasing.
"You a poet or a critic?" But there is no heat in her words.
Kelis takes a seat near her. They're bucket seats--don't worry, Rosie, they're not invading each others' personal space. "Tell me about Earth," he says, holding the burlap feed bag.
Torres takes the last bite of food originally given her. "I have to sing for my supper, hmm?"
"We all do...one way or another." His voice is momentarily sad. Then he holds out the goody bag. "Earth."
Torres considers her options. From the way she eyes the food, we know the nine foodless days have taken their toll. Eventually, primary needs win the day; she takes the sack and begins to snack. "It's, uh...an island...a beautiful island, blue and green." Not great poetry, but give her points for trying.
Kelis is as hungry as Torres. "And Voyager? A-a great ship?"
Torres nods fondly. "In a long line of great ships." Better.
"How did Voyager get lost?"
"The Caretaker--" Torres instantly regrets her words. Prime Directive and all that.
Kelis nods sagely. "An Eternal."
Torres is surprised, then sees her way of escape. "Yes, you could say that. He...caused a storm, which blew us off-course."
Kelis chooses his next words carefully. "Tom Paris." Torres' eyes go wide. "Are you in love with him?"
Unfortunately, he didn't choose carefully enough. "Supper. Is over." Torres irritably tosses the feedbag back to the poet. She glares. He smiles back with an innocent smile. While she didn't answer, her look speaks volumes--more than enough for him to work with in the play.
Torres considers what to do next. Despite her irritation with the sensitive and sometimes personal nature of his questioning, B'Elanna is an engineer--she fixes things. She has things she must fix if she hopes to be rescued.
She cannot fix them without assistance.
Her decision is made; B'Elanna rises. "Come with me." With renewed energy and purpose, she heads for the door that leads to the aft section.
There are no windows in the aft compartment. It's black as pitch as Torres pries open the door. She and Kelis bring candles to light the way. Down the stairs. Across the room.
Torres grabs a portable power source, and plugs it into one of the databank computers.
"This is where we put all the names and dates when our heads won't hold any more," Torres explains.
"A memory!" Kelis catches on fast.
"Exactly." Torres' opinion of Kelis ratchets up a notch.
She calls up an image of a dilithium crystal. It's got a rough crystalline beauty in its raw form. "Tell me...have you ever seen this before?"
Kelis looks for a moment, then recognition dawns. "Winter's tears!"
"Can you get me some?" Torres asks urgently.
"This is...dilithium, isn't it? W-what you were looking for!" He really catches on fast.
"Where can I find it?" she asks, excited. Rescue is imminent . . .
But there's bad news. "The only deposit I know of is on the hunting grounds of my patron. He'd execute me for trespassing. And you!--well, he'd love to capture an Eternal." Wouldn't we all. Wouldn't we all. I've been dreaming of Jeannie for decades . . .
"Well, maybe I'm more powerful than he is," Torres suggests cryptically.
"Perhaps," he says pragmatically--she'd still be hungry if it weren't for a humble poet, but he's also seen her vaporize large objects. "But, if he caught you he'd force you to fight against his enemies."
Strap in, kids, we're about to get The Message. "They're constantly at each other's throats! Bickering over territory, raiding each other's land, starting wars whenever they can be guaranteed of good weather--and we suffer the consequences. You don't want to get involved with them."
Torres agrees. "Which is why you're going to get the dilithium."
"I told you! I'd be executed if I'm caught!" Not so much fear, as incredulity. This Muse is turning out to be a real high-maintenance harpie.
Torres takes a step forward. Her eyes glow in the candle-lit dark. "The dilithium...or I don't say another word about...'shining Voyager far from home.'"
As though to underscore her point, a sudden thunder rolls through the canyon outside.
Kelis' eyes widen with genuine fear. "Did you...?"
Torres plays it beautifully. She takes another step forward. "Don't get caught."
Phil the warlord might be someone not to be trifled with. But an Eternal who can command the weather?
Kelis makes tracks. Better to risk death at mortal hands than the nameless horrors Headstrong B'Elanna could inflict on him.
There's something bigger than Phil . . .*
(*Attribution note: Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Two Thousand Year Old Man)
* * *
Darkness falls. Torres works near the broken windshield, to take advantage of what little light remains. She's rigging up something useful.
Kelis, drenched with perspiration, his hair matted, is too winded to speak when he arrives.
Still gasping, Kelis opens his travel pack. Torres rifles through it until her hand touches the familiar crystal. She extracts it from the pack, and smiles. "Beautiful."
Her smile broadens. "I've got an idea for your next play."
Kelis, exhausted as he looks, smiles as well. The creases of his smile lines form facial gulleys, which quickly fill with sweat.
He risked death to obtain the Winter's Tears. But he also risks death if he cannot produce more Stories of Voyager. Stories only she can provide--and will provide only as long as her own needs are being met.
The Eternal and the Poet have found an uneasy alliance, founded on the pragmatic basis of quid pro quo.
And on the morning of the tenth day, the cast of the Kelis Theater is joined by the bard himself, who is in a cheerful mood.
"I've been visited by inspiration herself," he says grandly as he enters from Stage Right. "How does this sound? The Rescue of B'Elanna Torres--right here, in one week."
"One week?" asks Chorus #2, otherwise known as John Shuck, longtime veteran of Star Trek (Klingon ambassador of the original Trek films, for example) and one time robocop.
Kelis claps his hands. "Let's get to work."
Not to put too fine a point on it, Kelly my man, but Phil gave you a week TWO DAYS ago. The clock's already running.
Shining Voyager, far from home.
Somber conference room, not far from the bridge.
Janeway stands by a monitor. It would seem the meeting was not good news. "Dismissed," she says wearily.
Tom Paris rises. "That's it?"
"Mr. Paris, try to stay calm," the Doctor urges quietly. Everyone in the room is downcast--B'Elanna and Harry are an integral part of the crew, and personal friends.
"No, that's not going to happen," Tom says, waving the doctor off. The two missing officers are the best friends Tom Paris has. He's not downcast--he's angry. "Isn't there anything else we can do?"
Janeway walks up to Tom. Her voice is soft--compassionate, not dangerous. "Not until something shows up on sensors."
That isn't good enough. "I'll take a shuttle out myself. I'll run a planet-by-planet search!"
"An inefficient plan," says Seven of Nine.
"And too dangerous--you could be hit by the same spatial eddies that sent the Flyer off course," Chakotay warns.
Janeway's voice is soothing. "We need to concentrate our efforts from here, Tom. All right?" She places a comforting hand on his arm.
Reluctantly, Tom nods.
"Dismissed," Janeway says.
Everyone files out of the room, except for Tom. He collapses into his chair; heavy hangs his sorrowing head.
At least one scene has been written. The players do a readthrough as Kelis, crouching, directs.
CHORUS 1 (Old Man)
Steady-armed Paris, bound by a sleep that brings no rest...
CHORUS 2 (Middle-aged Man)
The door opens, and the shadow of a woman falls on the helmsman. His eyes open.
TOM PARIS (lying on the stone bed, props up on his elbows.)
Seven of Nine, did you find B'Elanna Torres?
SEVEN OF NINE (standing at the foot of the bed)
I'm sorry to disappoint you.
Kelis is irritated. "Closer." The blonde who threw herself at Kelis in the teaser takes a tentative step closer to the head of the bed; she is now parallel with the actor's knees.
"Closer!" Seven of Nine, clearly unhappy with the direction, nevertheless takes a dramatic slide-step north, to around waist level. Kelis nods, and the scene continues.
Unpleasant news . . . Delivered by the most pleasing of messengers. (he rises; they kiss)
Wha-wha-What!??!? The Borg Queen and the Helm Boy?!? Say it isn't SOOOOOoooo . . . .
Seven of Nine certainly seems to agree. Even the real Seven is likely to have played the scene with more conviction--and that's not saying much.
Kelis groans, exasperated. "No, no, no, no! Seven of Nine is a Borg--the scourge of the Eternals.
"Ahh--" The prima donna attempts to get a word in edgewise, but Kelis isn't through.
"You're portraying her like a-a shy bride on her wedding night!" Ouch. "Once more."
Seven walks back to the foot of the bed--then hyperdramatically slides back to waist level and casts a jaundiced eye at the director. Happy now? Her eyes say.
Seven of Nine--did you find B'Elanna Torres?
SEVEN OF NINE
I am sorry to disappoint you.
She has some of that hauteur that the real Seven can bring, but not nearly enough. She looks at the director.
Kelis, for his part, merely throws the script to the ground and curses her agent.
Back on the Delta Flyer, night is falling. The candles are lit.B'Elanna is focused on her power problem. She's an engineer; Tech is her specialty.
Kelis, pacing, is more concerned with characterization.
"I can't blame my performers! These Eternals on Voyager are difficult to understand!"
Torres grits her teeth as she scans the long hose of power couplings. "Will you stop walking around? You're going to break something."
He ignores her and continues pacing; he's got his own problems. "This Tuvok, for example. He's not like anybody I've ever met. No emotions? How's that possible?"
Torres plugs in a circuit patch; with a grunt and a click, it settles into place. "It just is." Her frustrations change instantly when the panel lights up, and the sweet sound of living technology purrs.
"It worked?" Kelis asks.
"It worked," says Torres, equally surprised. Slowly, she makes her way to a table, where her jury-rigged dilithium battery pack is mostly assembled. Gingerly, she lowers the raw ore inside the battery chamber. She presses some commands, and a corner pylon lights up. Very good sign.
"Okay," Torres says. "Computer, bring subspace transmitter on-line."
Torres is irritated, but less than you might expect. Perhaps she's trying to play the role of the not-easily-perturbed Immortal.
"What happened?" Kelis asks.
"I don't know. The transmitter must have been weakened in the crash. It couldn't take the energy surge." She whips out a scanner and surveys the damage. The analysis complete, she begins yanking wires to set up another attempt.
Kelis fills the silence. "These Vulcans--"
"Enough!" Torres roars. She storms across the shuttle toward the pilot's seat, grabs a bit of ceiling, and gathers her composure.
More or less. "What kind of metallurgic technology do you people have?"
Kelis stares blankly.
"Alloys...Which ones can you make? Steel? Bronze?"
Kelis reacts, eager to help. "Bronze!"
"Bronze, all right." She pictures what she needs, then describes it as though she was programming a replicator. "I need a plate of metal this big, as thin as it can be--three parts tin to five parts bronze. One side coated with gold.
Kelis gulps. "Gold is expensive; I can't afford it."
"Then you're going into debt." Easy for her to say.
Kelis plays the only card he has. "Then tell me about the Vulcans."
"Get me the plate, and then I'll tell you."
"Everyone's asleep. I'll do it in the morning."
Torres opens her mouth to counter--but comes up with nothing.
Kelis folds his arms stubbornly. Check and mate.
"The Vulcans?" he repeats.
You gotta love this guy. It's not every person who can hold their own with B'Elanna Torres and not come off as either a wimp or a bully. He's got the tigress by the tail, and you can't help but applaud him for surviving this long.
Speaking of Vulcans . . .
The mess hall, like the conference room, is a quiet place. The loss of B'Elanna and Harry is hitting everyone hard.
Even Tuvok, who sits alone at a table, poring over PADDs.
Neelix approaches with a teapot. He risks prying. "Maybe I've miscounted, but . . . I don't think you've slept in . . . ten days?"
Tuvok is annoyed--but he's also clearly exhausted. His voice cannot lie. "Your count is accurate."
Neelix takes the seat beside Tuvok. "Don't you think you should go to bed?" he asks, the concern in his voice clear.
"As a Vulcan, I can function without sleep for more than two weeks." Though toward the end, malfunctions are commonplace. And Tuvok is pushing it. His eyebrows are valiantly trying to keep his lids pried open, fighting every blink.
"But there's a point of diminishing returns," Neelix points out, "when your mind starts to play tricks on you."
"My mind, Mr. Neelix, does not play tricks."
Neelix doesn't press. He looks around. Notes the silence. "The ship is lonely without them, isn't it?"
"If you would allow me to continue my sensor analysis, I might be able to locate them."
Neelix rises. "If there's anything else you need...A stronger tea, perhaps."
Or coffee. But only when things get desperate.
The rehearsal continues in the broad daylight, though a candle rests on the multipurpose slab. Now, it is a table, or an altar--and a youngish man, playing Tuvok, kneels at the far end, across from Kelis.
When a friend is lost, the mind is split in half,
Divided between memory of the past and fear of the future.
Harry Kim, Ensign. Only a boy when fate took you from the arms of blue-green Earth.
B'Elanna Torres--half-Klingon, half-Human. I am honored to call you--
Cut, cut . . .
"What are you doing?" Kelis demands, silencing the young man. "Is that a tear?"
Kelis stands. "Logical Tuvok doesn't cry! That's why they call him Logical!"
"Tuvok" rises as well. "Everybody cries."
Kelis lets his exasperation show. "The land of Vulcan has no laughter, and it has no tears. It is a very quiet place--calm, just like Tuvok!"
The young actor shakes his head. "I can't believe that."
"You don't have to--just don't cry!"
But the actor isn't satisfied. "The audience won't believe it either. They'll either think Tuvok is an unfeeling monster, or that I am a bad performer!"
Kelis' voice rises with the passion of someone determined to see that it is done right. "They'll realize that beneath your unfeeling exterior is a heart that's breaking. Silently--and in more pain than any of us can possibly understand, because that's what it is to be Vulcan!"
Have you ever heard or read something that left you breathless? That's the impact this line had on me. The poet has grasped the essence of Vulcan character, and better yet, has managed to vocalize it. For the actor playing a Vulcan, there is a moment of awe--and a silent nod. To play a Vulcan--and play him well--is a challenge he cannot resist.
"Try it again?" Kelis asks softly. The young man nods, and kneels.
"Kelis!" the middle-aged Chorus male calls, running into the theater.
"What's wrong?" Kelis demands.
"Our patron has been insulted by his enemy to the north," he says breathlessly. "The armories are opened."
"Has a battlefield been chosen?"
Kelis grits his teeth. "Then we have a chance."
Although it is still daylight, the candles are burning inside the Delta Flyer. Torres continues her efforts to fix the communications array.
"I need your help." Kelis enters, his mood quiet.
"I've given you enough help. Where's that piece of metal?" Torres demands.
Kelis produces a piece of metal slightly larger than a credit card. It's quite a bit smaller than what she asked for, but he scores points for delivering something.
Torres gives it a visual scan first. "Not bad." She whips out the tricorder for a more substantive analysis.
"My patron's been angered by the leader of a neighboring state," Kelis says. "He'll want to take revenge. It could lead to war."
"We Eternals aren't supposed to take sides," Torres reminds him.
"I'm not asking you to fight," Kelis says. "I need a way to change his mind!"
"I don't have that kind of magical power," Torres says.
"Yes! you do!"
Torres looks up, surprised by his confidence.
Kelis explains. "I believe the right kind of play can turn the mind from violent thoughts. The perfect play might even stop a war!"
The tricorder gives a depressing sort of beep at the conclusion of the metallurgic analysis. Torres' face falls. "I can't fix the transmitter with this. It has too many impurities. It'll never carry a plasma charge." Her despair grows.
Kelis, as he has done before, brings his plight to her in terms that relate directly to her. "If the fighting starts, scouting parties will start moving through these mountains. You'll be discovered."
He offers a ray of hope. "But my play...it could stop it from happening. You have to help me."
B'Elanna shakes her head. "There's nothing I can do--"
"Then come with me. I'll show you what I've done so far. It's our only chance."
B'Elanna, wearing a hooded robe that does not cover the bumps on her head, stands beside Kelis, who introduces her to the cast and crew of his theater.
"She's a fellow poet from across the Eastern Sea--an expert on the Voyager Eternals. She's devoted her life to them. She's here to help."
The throng doesn't look all that enthused. The actress playing Seven of Nine, in particular.
Perhaps inevitably, the bad blood between Klingon and Borg continues.
But it's an odd reversal; a Klingon is being brought in to save the show, and the Borg takes umbrage. "Seven" stalks off.
This does not bode well.
* * *
Kelis has a scale model of his theater backstage. He uses it to block the scenes for B'Elanna while the other players work on their lines, try on costumes, and otherwise prepare for the production.
"The Rescue of B'Elanna Torres. We begin with Harry Kim reaching Voyager in the escape pod. He tells Captain Janeway that B'Elanna Torres is lost. We continue to the point where they discover a piece of the Delta Flyer. After that . . ." His voice trails off. Clearly, this is where he's stuck.
Torres applies her engineering skills. "It's simple. They search for B'Elanna Torres. B'Elanna Torres is found--"
"Or not found," Kelis suggests. The poet is going for Message, accuracy be damned.
"Or not found," Torres concedes, though only in the context of the play. "The End. It sounds pretty straightforward to me."
"That's exactly the problem. Where is the mistaken identity? The discovery? The sudden reversal?"
Torres gives Kelis the same look he gave her when she was asking him about metallurgy. Kelis explains.
"Mistaken identity--a character who is someone else."
"Discovery--the moment when that identity is revealed."
"Reversal--a situation that turns from good to bad in a blink of an eye." Ah--Plot complication.
The old man of the chorus approaches, his tone a lecture and a lament. "Find the Truth of your story and you won't need all those tricks!" He looks kindly at B'Elanna. "I don't know how things are done across the Eastern Sea. But here, poets have become lazy. They rely on manipulation to move their audience. It wasn't always that way." He shakes his head sadly. Then he bows. "Welcome," he says deferentially to the newcomer.
Torres is charmed. But she doesn't reveal her mistaken identity. "Thank you." The old man, smiling, walks away.
Kelis sighs. "The truth of my story. It's an old-fashioned idea! Today audiences want excitement . . . passion!" He thinks of a way to show, not tell. "Let me show you what I've done with Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay." Kelis claps his hands. "Let's make a good impression on our visitor."
The actress does not look or sound like Captain Janeway. But she plays the role as given. Her mask is before her face, just as Chakotay's is placed before him.
Chakotay, why must I be denied what every other female officer on this ship can have?
The privilege...of your touch.
The lips of the masks touch, then are swept aside. The lips of flesh then meet, fulfilling long-postponed desire.
Kelis is proud of himself.
B'Elanna's jaw hangs open in disbelief.
As I type this, I'm watching the opening scene of the X Files. Mulder and Scully are watching Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni, as Mulder and Scully, suck face inside a closed casket after facing down an army of gun-toting zombies controlled by a cigarette-smoking Archbishop.
Excitement and passion--it's got 'em both. Not only that, it's got some terrific redhead references. The audience is eating it up.
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully sit together in the theater audience--and their jaws are hanging open in disbelief.
Whoa. Déjà vu.
Back on Voyager, Janeway sits on the couch in her ready room. While it is doubtful that she's been up as long as Tuvok, she's showing signs of extreme exhaustion.
Her door chimes. "Come in."
Chakotay enters. A PADD is in his hand.
"If that was good news, you'd be smiling."
The strain on Chakotay is also evident. His posture is stooped. "I was just contacted by an alien transport vessel. They picked up the Delta Flyer's distress call."
He plays a snippet.
Primary controls...Off-line. Ordered Harry to eject...I still have thrusters. L-class planet... Try to...
"They couldn't get a fix on her position," Chakotay says quietly.
"That was ten days ago," Janeway says. "B'Elanna ordered Harry into an escape pod. What's the longest he could survive?"
A short pause. "Less than ten days."
A long pause.
"An L-class planet--" Janeway says.
"I've already narrowed the search parameters."
"If B'Elanna made it there, it's possible Harry did, too," Chakotay says, offering what hope he can.
"Good night, Commander," Janeway says.
"Captain." Bowing slightly, he turns and leaves.
The mask doesn't fall until after the door closes. Then Janeway clasps her hand over her mouth, and sobs alone.
Night falls on the theater. The mood is somber. The search for an ending to the play is as earnest here as the search for Harry Kim is on Voyager.
The stakes are actually higher in the theater. At minimum, an unsatisfactory play will cost Kelis his position with his patron, and he and his players will need to find other employment. At worst, an angry warlord will place the entire cast on the front line of his next battle.
"We'll have a final rehearsal in the morning," Kelis says. The cast begins to disperse.
"Tuvok" stays behind. "The last Tuvok scene doesn't make sense to me. And we still don't have an ending." Darn. This is two weeks in a row that the guy playing at playing Tuvok has adopted some of his characteristics. Logical Tuvok always cuts to the heart of the matter.
Kelis smiles wearily. "I've got the rest of the night to work on it. Maybe you can get some sleep." The younger man, putting his trust in his playwright if only long enough to get some sleep, trudges away.
Kelis trudges to the bleachers, and sits beside B'Elanna. "What did you think?"
Torres doesn't mince words. "Captain Janeway kissing Commander Chakotay? Tom Paris kissing Seven of Nine? I don't see the point."
B'Elanna would not like the Internet. Without all the kissing, the fanfic would be a lot shorter. And there would be far less of it. And if you include the stories that go beyond kissing . . .
Ah well. At least Kelis showed some restraint--he didn't turn the mess hall into the set of Caligula.
Kelis explains his reasons. "Anger is like fire. Love can be the rain that extinguishes it. My patron is filled with hatred for his rival. So our play should be filled with love!"
Ah. Make love, not war. Now there's a theme as old as the ancient Greek playwrights. Aristophanes would be proud.
Torres, though, is not impressed. "You can't change somebody's way of life with a few lines of dialogue!"
"Yes, you can!" Kelis counters, his passion for his topic evident. "It's been done before!"
He waves his arm around the theater. "Do you know what this place used to be...A hundred years ago? A temple. And this--" he says, gesturing to the slab at center stage--"was the altar stone. Every year a victim would be sacrificed on it in honor of winter.
"And then, one year--nobody remembers exactly when or why--a play took the place of the ritual. And no one had to die here again."
Kelis gives Torres a heartfelt look. "Why can't my play take the place of a war?"
Torres listens, and part of her seems to agree. In theory, anyway. "Well, you're going to have to do a lot better than Harry Kim kissing the Delaney sisters."
"Why?!" Kelis demands.
"Because . . . !"
Torres changes her tone. How to explain life as an Eternal? She finally finds the hook she needs.
"When you think that you are surrounded by enemies--when you're up against the Borg, or, or Species 8472--the last thing on your mind is romance!"
Generally, I'm inclined to agree. However, I wonder if a male member of Team Janeway would have given the same answer.
Torres gets up and walks toward the exit. Kelis follows. "You're an eternal--You have to help me!"
"I'm sorry, Kelis."
"The Borg...tell me more about them!"
Torres stops, sighs, and submits. "They're soldiers. Part of a vast army. They all think the same thoughts, and they travel on ships that look like hives."
"Like insect colonies!" Kelis says.
"They even have a queen."
Kelis considers this. "That sounds terrifying. Captain Janeway hasn't been able to destroy them--"
Torres loses patience. "She is a Starfleet officer! Trained to avoid violence whenever possible. She would make peace with the Borg if she could!" (Foreshadowing?)
B'Elanna's outburst is an epiphany. "This is what I need! An enemy--someone to stand in the way of Voyager finding B'Elanna Torres!" He thinks fast. "Captain Janeway, driven by vengeance, must seek out the Queen of the Borg! The audience thinks she plans to destroy them all. But! . . . "
B'Elanna smiles. "Go on."
"The Sudden Reversal! Captain Janeway, holding her spear at the queen's throat, throws her weapon aside. And she argues passionately to put an end to their conflict...in words...no one will fail to understand!"
"Including your patron?" Torres asks rhetorically.
Kelis lets out a hearty laugh. Score another point for the Muse.
"That's much better than all that kissing."
"Stay and help me," Kelis urges. "I still need an ending."
Torres shakes her head. "You'll figure something out." She turns to walk away.
Kelis calls after her again. His voice is theatrical. "B'Elanna Torres dies tragically."
Torres turns around. Her eyes flash, but the added twinkle just makes her look impertinent. "You wouldn't dare!"
Their smiles fill the distance between them. Neither can deny the growing bond.
But there's no kissing.
Torres arrives at the Delta Flyer in the dark of night. She's smiling contentedly as she removes her outer cloak to reveal her true nature as someone not of this earth.
As though her home away from home wasn't clue enough.
She finds she is not alone. The blonde from the theater company is here. She calls out from the darkness, her voice strained with bitter tears. "I followed you here expecting to find a love nest. It's quite a nest." You'd think this would be a comfort, but no--she's even more agitated than mere infidelity might have made her. "You're no poet from across the sea. You're an Eternal. Maybe even B'Elanna Torres herself!"
"Don't be ridiculous, says B'Elanna Torres herself.
"You know all he thinks about is you?" demands the blonde--who, though never called this in the episode, is billed in the credits as Lanya.
The Pet Peeve!
"We're collaborators...that's all," Torres insists.
Lanya stands. "If you come to the performance tomorrow night I'll expose you to the Autarch." Her voice is choked with emotion. "So leave us alone! You fix your ship and go...Please!" She runs, weeping, into the night.
The Sudden Reversal!
B'Elanna is stunned to silence. Darn the Borg Queen's Understudy for harshing her mellow.
"Friend of yours?" asks a familiar voice, which breaks the silence.
B'Elanna's looks around wildly--and sees a movement in the trees just beyond the broken windshield of the Flyer. Her mood whiplashes back to happy. "Harry?!"
Harry peeks out from the branches. Torres laughs giddily and rushes to the fore.
"Give me a hand," Harry says. Soon, he's inside the Flyer, and being crushed in a Klingon bearhug worthy of song and story.
But no kissing.
"Oh, how?" Torres asks.
"I ran into some turbulence in the escape pod, decided to turn around and follow your ion trail, and landed about 200 kilometers from here." He's tired, but bright-eyed. Reunions have a way of chasing away the fatigue in the warm glow of companionship.
"You walked?" Torres asks. That's a heck of a hike, although at just under two weeks it's only a few miles a day.
"At night," Harry says, correcting a certain review boy. "I tracked your position with a tricorder and tried to stay hidden during the day."
The Sudden Re-reversal!
Harry cracks open the satchel he carried all that way. "Uh, I've got some emergency rations left, a phaser, and . . . the escape pod's transmitter, which I didn't have power left to run, but--"
Torres looks at it like it's the Holy Grail. She snatches it out of the eternal Ensign's hand. "'Harry Kim saves the day.' Just the ending I was looking for!"
Harry has no idea what that means, but he likes the sound of it.
* * *
The theater can be daunting at any time of day. Whether it's filled with people a moment before showtime, or completely empty like a blank canvas waiting to be transformed into something, anything . . .
And the artist stands alone, brushes in hand, his mind just as blank, mere hours before his work is to be unveiled.
"The final moment. The last scene. More important than anything that's gone before." Kelis paces. "But what is it?"
Layna, and the middle-aged Chorus male, arrive together.
"Where is she?" Kelis asks.
Lanya is caustic. "Your collaborator's probably halfway across the Eastern Sea by now," she says as she passes.
"She'll be here," Kelis insists to nobody in particular.
"You said we'd have an ending by mid-morning," says the man in the chorus, whose worry is clear. "We won't have time to learn it."
"It'll come to me. Don't worry."
But his own worry is evident as well.
Harry and B'Elanna work together to get their comm system functioning.
"Want to give it a try?" Harry asks.
"Why not?" Torres says from underneath one of the stations. "The 38th time might be the charm."
And whaddya know . . . it is.
"It's working!" Harry says as the panels light up.
"Transmitter is on-line," says the computer.
"Why don't you do the honors?" Harry asks.
Torres accepts. "Voyager...this is the Delta Flyer."
Night falls. The audience has begun to arrive. Soon, the warlord does as well--and he's in a foul mood.
If all does not go well, the theater may be converted back to its original purpose just to satisfy his black mood.
"Our patron has arrived," says the young Tuvok. "He's not in a very good mood."
"He will be," Kelis assures him.
"Not if this is any indication!" grumbles the middle-aged man in the chorus.
John Shuck agrees. "Kelis, this is no way to end a play!"
"It doesn't make sense!" Agrees the eldest male. That makes it unanimous--the chorus isn't pleased with the ending.
"It'll have to," Kelis says. He makes a dismissive gesture, shooing the players onstage. "Go, go!"
So the play is underway--and the ending doth suck.
Kelis, thinking fast, scribbles a quick note, which he handles to one of the scribes, or best boys, or key grips, or whatever. "You know where the ridge ends just below the peak? Run there as fast as you can. You'll find a vessel wrecked against the rocks. Go inside and give this to our friend. Don't be frightened. Go!"
Voyager's bridge is mostly silent. But a soft growl is heard, emanating from the Big Chair.
Tom Paris turns around from his position at helm--and sees sleepy Tuvok sawing logs.
It's a rare moment of amusement after two tense weeks. Tom smiles, then does his duty and tries to wake the officer of the watch.
"Tuvok," he whispers. The snoring continues. "Tuvok!" he whispers a little louder.
Tuvok performs that universal reaction--the jolt, the spasm, the silent prayer that nobody noticed. "As you were," he orders.
Tom turns back around, smiling, but not planning to rub salt in the wound to the Vulcan's pride. One suspects that he's grateful to the Vulcan for expending so much effort on behalf of B'Elanna and Harry.
One wonders if the sabotaging of Tuvok's Holodeck meditation program will cease for any length of time.
Tuvok bows to the logic of the situation. "Bridge to Chakotay."
"Request permission to be relieved."
"Understood. I'll be right there."
But then . . . the Sudden Twist.
All eyes turn to the Big Chair. Tuvok checks the readout. "We're picking up a subspace transmission--Starfleet frequency."
Paris leaps to assist. "It's a little rough. Hang on!"
The quality improves. The voice is B'Elanna's. "Delta Fly...Harry and I are all right. We're on an L-class planet...Propulsion...Is down."
"Origin," Tuvok demands.
"5.2 light-years. F-type star," Paris reports. "Looks like the fourth planet."
"Lay in a course...Maximum warp."
Looks like we got a Deus Ex Machina in the making . . .
We return to the play, already in progress.
JANEWAY Seven of Nine. SEVEN OF NINE Captain. JANEWAY The Delta Flyer has been found...
In pieces, on a rocky shore. SEVEN OF NINE And B'Elanna Torres? JANEWAY No sign of her.
Seven of Nine, you are my eyes and my ears.
If anyone can find her, it is you.
Seven of Nine.
SEVEN OF NINE
The Delta Flyer has been found...
In pieces, on a rocky shore.
SEVEN OF NINE
And B'Elanna Torres?
No sign of her.
Seven of Nine, you are my eyes and my ears.
If anyone can find her, it is you.
Seven of Nine paces in front of the audience. She drops her mask, revealing her true intentions. She makes particular eye contact with the warlord--who left his woman at home tonight. No baubles for the cast flung from the King's Table tonight.
SEVEN OF NINE (to audience) Her eyes and her ears...and the viper in her nest.
I, Seven of Nine, have no intention of finding B'Elanna Torres.
I, Seven of Nine, am Queen of the Borg.
No one will be more surprised than Janeway when I take my revenge on Voyager.
Say nothing--or you, too, will be assimilated. SEVEN OF NINE (to JANEWAY) Captain...I will comply. (exits)
SEVEN OF NINE (to audience)
Her eyes and her ears...and the viper in her nest.
I, Seven of Nine, have no intention of finding B'Elanna Torres.
I, Seven of Nine, am Queen of the Borg.
No one will be more surprised than Janeway when I take my revenge on Voyager.
Say nothing--or you, too, will be assimilated.
SEVEN OF NINE (to JANEWAY)
Captain...I will comply. (exits)
Janeway steps off the stage, and paces mere feet away from the warlord. She leaves her mask up until the very end of her soliloquy.
JANEWAY (to audience) My enemies are everywhere...without and within.
Seven of Nine is Queen of the Borg.
Surprised? So was I.
Tell her nothing, or I will lose my advantage...
(the mask falls)
and my ship as well.
JANEWAY (to audience)
My enemies are everywhere...without and within.
Seven of Nine is Queen of the Borg.
Surprised? So was I.
Tell her nothing, or I will lose my advantage...
(the mask falls)
and my ship as well.
The warlord glares as the audience gasps.
In the darkness of the Delta Flyer, a faraway voice closes the distance, and the pain of separation yields to the anticipation of reunion.
"Are you okay?" Tom Paris asks over the com line.
"Yes," B'Elanna says.
"We're fine," Harry says.
"Good to hear it. We'll see you soon."
Something goes bump in the night. Harry and B'Elanna both draw phasers.
The shadow moves. Then the boy from the theater enters, amazed by what he sees.
"Don't be afraid," B'Elanna urges. The boy holds onto his wits long enough to deliver the note, then he bolts back to the safety of the known world.
"What is it?" Harry asks.
Apparently, two weeks is all the time it took to learn the written language of this planet. Torres reads the note without difficulty. "'Without inspiration... B'Elanna Torres will perish.' He's threatening to kill off B'Elanna as the climax to his play."
"Let him!" says Harry, not understanding the significance of it.
After several hours working together after their long separation, you'd think the subject might have come up.
"That means...That he still can't figure out the ending!" Torres muses aloud.
"Who cares?" Harry says.
"I do!" B'Elanna admits--surprising herself.
Kim does a double-take. "You're serious!"
"Harry...Have you ever inspired anybody?"
"That's kind of a strange question--"
"It's been a strange couple of weeks. He needs me, or he's the one who's going to die on that stage." B'Elanna leaps to action, applying her engineering skills to a new task.
"What are you talking about?" Harry asks.
The computer chirps. "The transporter is on-line."
Torres holds her combadge in her hand. "Tell the Captain I'll be a little late."
"Wait for my signal." B'Elanna disappears in a glow of blue worthy of an Eternal.
Hmmm. Foreshadowing . . .
* * *
The play has reached a pivotal moment. Seven of Nine, Queen of the Borg, lies at the feet of triumphant Captain Janeway. The righteous spear of Starfleet is held to the treacherous throat of the Hive.
SEVEN OF NINE My death is irrelevant. You will never see the gleaming cities of Earth--you will be assimilated. JANEWAY And if I let you live? SEVEN OF NINE Also irrelevant. JANEWAY You don't believe that. (throws aside spear; it clatters to the ground, raising a cloud of dust.)
The battle is over. Go home. SEVEN OF NINE (rising) How foolish of you to let me go...Free to attack you again. JANEWAY (Advancing, the power of her words driving Seven of Nine backward) And again. And again. Until all your drones and all my crew are destroyed--until everything we value is gone and there is nothing left...
But our hatred.
SEVEN OF NINE
My death is irrelevant. You will never see the gleaming cities of Earth--you will be assimilated.
And if I let you live?
SEVEN OF NINE
You don't believe that. (throws aside spear; it clatters to the ground, raising a cloud of dust.)
The battle is over. Go home.
SEVEN OF NINE
(rising) How foolish of you to let me go...Free to attack you again.
(Advancing, the power of her words driving Seven of Nine backward) And again. And again. Until all your drones and all my crew are destroyed--until everything we value is gone and there is nothing left...
But our hatred.
You know, I'd really hate to be the warlord about now. But even more, I'd hate to be anyone near him when he finally blows his stack.
Which, judging from the vein throbbing on his forehed, should be any moment now.
Backstage, there is still dissention in the ranks about the final scene.
Tuvok mutinies. "This final scene will ruin everything that we've done out there. We'll have to improvise!"
"It's too late!" Kelis says.
"No, it's not," says B'Elanna, rushing in.
Kelis beams. "I knew you'd come!"
Lanya fumes. "And I told you not to." She storms from the room.
"Wait!" Torres yells, but it's too late to stop her. The only option left is to counter. "Let's go." Grabbing Kelis by the hand, Torres heads for the stage.
It's time for the big finale. The chorus is running out of material.
CHORUS Finally, Voyager has reached our shores. TORRES (rushing on stage) And not a moment too soon. Kelis the poet must say good-bye as B'Elanna Torres returns to the eternals in a dazzling blaze of light.
Finally, Voyager has reached our shores.
TORRES (rushing on stage)
And not a moment too soon. Kelis the poet must say good-bye as B'Elanna Torres returns to the eternals in a dazzling blaze of light.
The old man of the Chorus tries to wing it, though he has no idea where this is headed. "On a far-away, snow-covered peak--"
"No," Torres says to him. Then she addresses the audience. "Right here, before your eyes."
But Lanya interrupts, entering the theater from the rear, begging for the warlord's indulgence. "Wait! She's not from across the Eastern Sea. She's an Eternal! I'm telling you, she's B'Elanna Torres. The real B'Elanna Torres! I saw her ship!!!"
The warlord rises from his seat, his eyes afire. His butt-kickin' boots are on.
The Sudden Reversal!
The eldest Chorus member wings it yet again, rushing forward. "The lead actress, in a fit of jealousy, brands her rival an Eternal! Our patron rises to his feet to stop the play!"
The Rabbit pulled from the hat!
The warlord glares at all the principals. Then, strangely, he smiles. He looks at Kelis and waves a finger. "Nicely done!" He laughs. "I almost believed you."
The warlord laughs again, then takes his seat. "Continue."
Improvisation. A valid theatrical technique.
Breaths, held throughout the exchange, are let out in a vast gush of released tension.
Kelis turns to B'Elanna. "Stay."
B'Elanna turns to Kelis. "Voyager needs me."
"So do I."
B'Elanna smiles. "No, you don't. You have all that you need right here." She hands her mask to Kelis, and is revealed as her true self.
This is when the kissing usually begins.
But no. "I'll be inspired...every time I think of you," Kelis promises.
B'Elanna taps her combadge. "One to beam..."
She changes her mind, and her tone. Raising her arms in a gesture fit for an Eternal, B'Elanna looks skyward. "To ascend...To the heavens."
There is a collective gasp as B'Elanna disappears.
The Deus ex Machina!
The warlord looks back in amazement at Lanya, who was right after all.
The chorus seems to have found its hook.
CHORUS And so ends the rescue of B'Elanna Torres, half-Klingon
B'Elanna Torres, half-human
B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer. KELIS These stories will continue
For as long as we have the breath to tell them...
And as long as our patrons
Remain wise and compassionate.
And so ends the rescue of B'Elanna Torres, half-Klingon
B'Elanna Torres, half-human
B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer.
These stories will continue
For as long as we have the breath to tell them...
And as long as our patrons
Remain wise and compassionate.
The wardlord's eyes widen. He rises again from his seat.
KELIS And Voyager will continue on her journey to the gleaming cities of Earth...
Where peace reigns
And hatred has no home.
And Voyager will continue on her journey to the gleaming cities of Earth...
Where peace reigns
And hatred has no home.
The warlord glares at the stage, as the cast bow their heads as though in prayer.
I've got a soft spot for episodes like this.
Yes, I know. I've seen the email from people who decry the "slam" against fan fiction, where relationships tend to reign supreme and there is so much kissing--and then some--that you wonder where they find the time to do anything else. Like head home, fight for their lives, etc.
Not that I don't enjoy that sometimes. The Voyager of fan fiction is often a fascinating place, rich in characterization. I also enjoy the fast-paced, adrenaline-packed action and adventure that typify the episodes during Sweeps.
But in the midst of the action and adventure that typifies Sweeps episodes, a simple tale well told--rich in symbolism and social awareness and, yes, characterization--is refreshing.
This is particularly true for giving the attention to the often-overlooked B'Elanna Torres.
Many B'Elanna episodes focus on her temper. Give her something to rage against, let her get bruised and sweaty, then throw her in the sonic shower for a while. Roxann Dawson manages to get a lot of mileage out of episodes like that--"Random Thoughts," "Juggernaut," "Day of Honor," "Extreme Risk"--but there's more to her than that. We catch glimpses in her softer side in scenes with Tom Paris, and the evolution of her character as that relationship has progressed is impressive.
Episodes like "Prototype" and "Dreadnought" and "Muse" give us yet another side of Torres. The chief engineer. Solving problems creatively. Using her wits. Learning new skills. In "Muse," she learns to sing for her supper, and even to enjoy it. She knows her role, and she takes the chance and plays it.
Could there be prime directive implications? Captain Picard was willing to be shot in the heart with an arrow rather than let a group of proto-Vulcans think of him (or anyone) as a god. Granted, the opinion of this people toward their Eternals is different--it just sounds like a fancy term for extraterrestrials, who will likely have magical technology if they can travel the skies. The people of this planet treat Eternals like regular people, mostly--with a healthy respect and caution, but not afraid to exploit them to their own use if given a chance. Kelis grabs his genie in a shuttle and ties her up lest she fly away. The warlord would force an Eternal to fight his battles.
It's not a Federation-ready society, but they're not all that superstitious. Torres' stunt will doubtless be forgiven; they knowingly beamed her up in mid-play, after all. They could have just left her to fend for herself; get Janeway irked enough, and you run that risk.
What I like most about this episode is what it says about the power of writing. This isn't an original concept. "The pen is mightier than the sword" was understood before there were pens or swords. Ideas have power. Properly conveyed, they can turn the tide in a battle of wills. Uncle Tom's Cabin helped fuel the anti-slavery movement.
Sometimes words can stop a war--many wars are not considered officially over until a written treaty has been signed by all parties. Sometimes, they can start one--the yellow journalism that led to the Spanish-American war of the late 19th century is one prime example. Fiction and theater have proven to be vehicles of social change, or as propaganda for maintaining the status quo.
Even comedy can be a force for shaping opinion. Aristophanes reserved some gleeful venom for publicly ridiculing what he saw as the evils of Socrates, in "The Clouds." He imagined a world where women could stop a war by hitting the men where it hurts--by cutting off their access to both money and sex--in "Lysistrata." (If you find the right translation, Aristophanes can be a real eye-opener. He wouldn't be mistaken for a 21st-century comic, but you'd be surprised how much of his stuff stands the test of time.)
But most of the time, it seems, "a show about nothing" is all we need. We just want to kick off our shoes, settle into the La-Z-Boy with a cold beverage and fresh batteries for the remote control, and click until Morpheus takes us until morning. The banality of sitcoms, the blandness of the local newscast, the generic boorishness of the late night chat shows--if you wish television to be safely content-free, there's a broad spectrum of options guaranteed to satisfy.
Broadcast, cable or satellite, the bulk of programming is novocaine for the soul shoehorned between advertisements. About the only time we get actual drama is in unfolding human drama--but thanks to the proliferation of talk shows (and to clip shows like Talk Soup, the ESPN Sportscenter of talk shows), even that has been reduced to a mockery of human tragedy. When families self-destruct on live television while an audience chants "Jerr-ee! Jerr-ee!", one can see the pendulum swinging ever further into Lord of the Flies territory.
Speaking of which . . .
I took a lot of heat for my "Child's Play" review, for two short but heartfelt words: "Bleak and terrible." Some felt strongly enough to write--and I'm sure others felt strongly but didn't.
The irony is, some objected less to the substance of the opinion than to the brevity of it. I'd written a far more extensive analysis of "Child's Play" using the Elian Gonzales situation as a backdrop, but I decided that it was too much and threw nearly all of it out--leaving behind just enough of a statement to satisfy my outrage over the whole situation. A situation apparently summed up by a public consensus that they were tired of the whole thing and simply wanted closure.
No doubt so they could be nice and rested for the next big controversy. That void will always be filled--there's too many cameras pointed in too many directions for the airwaves to remain unclogged for long.
Meanwhile, South Park creates a viciously funny episode dedicated to eviscerating all sides in the Elian Media Madness; someone on the Internet juxtaposed the AP wire photos with the ubiquitous Budweiser "Wassup?" commercial to create something completely surreal; and Bill Clinton got huge laughs at the weekend Washington Correspondents' dinner by showing pictures of himself and then saying suspiciously, "wait a minute, my hair is longer in this photo--" in a sketch that ended with his face carved into Mount Rushmore, "photo courtesy of Greg Craig."
I'm sure some would have objected to my commenting on the event no matter what or how much I said, but what surprised me is those who felt that if I was going to say anything, I should have at least elaborated--and for GOODNESS sakes I should have been amusing about it. But in general, the advice is fairly straightforward: "Keep your serious opinions to yourself, and keep churning out the booger jokes, song parodies and pop culture references, mister funnyman."
I see my mistake. It's okay to mention human tragedy, as long as you punch it up a little. The only crime in Clinton's America is to be tiresome.
I beg forgiveness for my shameful lapse in judgment. It won't happen again. I must have forgotten--as long as we're fiddling while Rome burns, we have an obligation to ensure that the tune is sprightly.
I'm done griping. You can tune back in now.
Writing to entertain isn't easy. Writing to entertain without offending someone is downright impossible. The broader the audience, the larger it seems that the mandate to not offend becomes. Unless giving offense is the hook.
Sometimes you have to risk giving offense. Sometimes provoking a response is an effective technique. That's the approach taken by Kelis--his play, while ostensibly entertainment, was in fact a highly focused plea to the man paying the checks, begging him to see the world in a different way. One that would cut some slack to the poor saps who filled the ranks of his armies, who were sent to fight and die simply because one of the other warlords irritated him.
When we meet Kelis, he is not what I'd call an inspiring bard. He looks for material that will please his patron enough to pay for more plays. He entertains, but the narrative is fairly benign. He works within the system, eager to stay on the gravy train--such as it is.
He's hungry. When he encounters Torres and sees the Eternals through her logs, his world is forever changed. Like the man in Plato's cave who is given a glimpse of life in the open sky, he struggles to impart some of that newfound wisdom to his fellow beings. At first, he tries it his way. But thanks to his choice of inspiration, he finds a better path. The contrast between the first Voyager play and the second is staggering.
And why is that? In the first, he tells a simple tale--an away mission, a search for dilithium, interrupted by a bad storm. It's hard to fight against nature. But in the second, the story told is used as the vehicle for delivering a message. The dialog, the plot, is geared toward showing the high cost of war and the often lower cost of finding other alternatives. The players weren't just inserting passion as players; they were also begging as citizens not to be thrown into harm's way just because the warlord was irked by a neighbor.
This is classic Trek at its most fundamental.
But on a level beyond the Message, there lies a personal story. B'Elanna Torres, who was not instantly pigeonholed for an hour because of her humanity or her Klingon side, or even for her engineering skills alone. Here was someone in a bad situation, trying to make the best of it, who ends up making a friend, helping to make the neighborhood a safer place, and who enjoys the rare privilege of being someone's inspiration.
Torres doesn't offer much in terms of specific advice. She just explains her friends and colleagues, and describes what moves her. She's not moved by fanciful pairings, and doubts the warlord would be. She's demanding of the poet, giving little away for free. Muses can be high-maintenance sometimes, but it's hard to blame B'Elanna here.
The compare/contrast between the theatric Voyager and the actual Voyager was striking. An actor wonders about his motivation as Tuvok--we get a scene that shows Tuvok giving his all to help find Torres. B'Elanna explains how romance tends to get shuffled aside in times of stress and crisis--we see a perfect example in Janeway and Chakotay, who, however they feel about each other, are stuck with the roles they were cast in as captain and first officer, and neither feels inclined to break character and stop denying themselves the relationship (define it how you will) some are dying to see happen. The play shows the officers with masks, which are dropped to facilitate the kiss. The scene on the ship shows the two with their masks, tragically, welded into place.
Torres isn't shy. The "Borg Queen"--her semi-affectionate nickname for Seven of Nine--becomes immortalized in prose. How could Kelis have even known about the Delaney sisters had she not brought it up to begin with? And so on.
But here, the masks on B'Elanna come off. She's no angrier than anyone would be in her situation. All the caricature masks are cast aside, and B'Elanna the person is given some rare moments in the sun. Kelis even manages to pull her beyond her comfort zone, and become both a theater critic, and a star--the center of attention while the Borg Queen is, for once, shunted off to the side.
Joe Menosky puts in some great lines. The guest performances are excellent, particularly Joseph Will. The regular performances are generally understated, but effective. I enjoyed this pretty much from beginning to end.
Call it four stars.
Next week: Kes is back--and boy, is she mad.