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

"Natural Law"

[Disclaimer]

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

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

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

[Summary]

Chakotay and Seven of Nine take a little romantic getaway on a monkey-free garden world. Eat your heart out, New Earth. Oh, and Tom Paris gets his drivers license revoked and lands in Drivers Ed.

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

One of Voyager's shuttles flies low over a verdant alien wilderness.

You know what that means. Its minutes are numbered. And whoever's inside that puppy are either going to die, or come close to it--and most likely fall in love.

It is Sweeps, after all.

Shall we peek in on this week's plot pawns?

[Insert wavy transition effect here...]

*

Uh oh. Commander Chakotay, the Splashdown Kid, terror of the Voyager motor pool, is behind the wheel.

And with him...Two of 38D.

Oh, shut yer whining, people. It's not like Chakotay has been eavesdropping on Seven of Nine's fantasies. He doesn't know she's tagged him as her Holodeck Handyman. And Seven's not one to kiss and tell, in cyberspace or otherwise. Think "Unimatrix Zero."

Death it is, then. Only question is, which? The rumor mill has been flying. Ante up those replicator rations, c/o Lt. Paris.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's check in on the sexual tension, already in progress.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Chakotay says, drinking in the sprawling vista of unspoiled nature--hills and dales, rivers and woods, flora and fauna. Mr. Bluebird's on the port nacelle.

My, oh my, what a wonderful day.

Seven of Nine is unimpressed. "A sensor analysis would have provided the necessary information," she grumps.

Chakotay shrugs. "Just admiring the view." Yes, he's looking at her when he says it. But he seems as enthused about sharing the moment with Seven as she is with being here at all.

"The conference begins in less than an hour," she reminds him.

"There's always time for warp field dynamics. But you don't see natural beauty like this every day."

The scenic route, though, apparently has a few potholes. The shuttle crackles with energy, and its occupants are tossed around a bit.

"What was that?" asks the Splashdown Kid.

Seven checks her display. "Some kind of energy barrier, directly below us." Her eyebrows rise. "It spans thousands of square kilometers."

"Why didn't our sensors detect it?" Chakotay asks.

"I'm not certain." Seven runs another analysis of the data. "It has an unusual tetrion signature. Species 312 used a similar technology." (Foreshadowing...)

The shuttle rocks again as the ZZZZT! sound grows louder.

"There's a power surge coming from the barrier," Seven reports.

"Shields at full."

ZOT! [rumble] [bop] [*OOOOOF!*] Stuff starts to ignite inside the shuttle. Outside, we see the tiny craft skip along the top of the barrier like a warp-capable rock across an electrified pond.

"They're creating some kind of feedback," Seven says urgently, just before more stuff goes all sparky and dies with the appropriate shutting-down sound effects. "We've lost impulse engines."

Chakotay springs to action. "Go to warp."

ZOT! BBBBrrrrr...

The warp core is off-line. How con-veee-nient.

"Warp engines don't just shut down when you scrape an energy barrier," Chakotay complains. (They do when you're driving, Commander insurance risk.)

"It's affecting all our systems," Seven says.

"Warning: structural failure in 30 seconds," the Computer reports.

Chakotay grunts his frustration. "We'll have to beam to the surface."

"We can't transport through the barrier," Seven reminds him. Then she gets an idea. "Transfer auxiliary power to the weapons array."

"What are you trying to do?"

"If I can realign our phasers to the correct frequency I may be able to open a rift," Seven says.

Uh oh. "Big enough to get a shuttle through, I hope," he says.

"Warning: structural failure in ten seconds...Nine...Eight..."

Seven's fingers fly across the controls. Just before "...Four...", she announces success. "Phasers reconfigured."

*

The bouncing shuttle lashes out at the barrier with an orange whip of flame. The barrier fights back, but it's a losing battle.

A rift appears. The Shuttle slips through.

Well, perhaps 'slip' isn't the word.

The front half of the shuttle emerges through the rift, tumbling wildly.

The remainder of the runabout's whereabouts are unknown.

*

Our perspective shifts to the planet's surface. Not to the splashdown point(s) of the shuttle, but rather to the materializing forms of Chakotay and Seven of Nine, and a handful or two of supplies.

They seem to be okay.

For now.

* * *

Seven of Nine scans the sky above. "The barrier's closed again."

Chakotay takes a step--and winces. He looks down and finds a nasty gash on his leg, no doubt a remnant of his latest senseless shuttle murder.

"I should examine you," Seven says.

"I don't think it's serious."

Seven helps him hobble over to the nearest fallen tree trunk, where she scans his leg. "You have a hairline fracture."

"We've got bigger problems. I'll be fine."

You don't have to tell her twice. She scans the surrounding area. "I'm detecting shuttle debris scattered over several square kilometers."

This is good news. "Some of it might still be functional."

"If we can find the right components we may be able to construct a beacon--send a distress signal."

Chakotay gives her a dubious look. "Through the barrier?"

Seven is hesitant to admit defeat, but the best she can come up with is a sigh and a "Maybe."

Chakotay struggles to his feet with a minimum of agonized grunting. "If we hurry, we might still make that conference." He takes a ginger step or two, and turns to Seven. "Well, if we have to be stranded somewhere, you couldn't ask for a nicer place." He then leads the way into the forest.

He would bring that up again. Seven's foul mood returns. "We wouldn't be stranded at all if you hadn't insisted on admiring the view."

It is no accident that this scene ends with a loving on-screen admiring view of Seven of Nine walking away.

I'd call this a hurt/comfort story--but Chakster's hurt, and Seven's not exactly nurturing, even on a good day.

My rations are still bet on Death.

*

Meanwhile, back in the relative safety of the freezing vacuum of space...

Another shuttlecraft--the famed Delta Flyer--is getting a close look at a massive, bustling space station. Think Utopia Planetia with mini-malls. The flight path has a skilled randomness evocative of a nice relaxing joy ride--of the sort that the driver enjoys, while those around him shake their fists (or individual appendages of same) and utter phrases which prompt blushing fits in the Universal Translator.

Let's peek inside, shall we?

Figures. It's Tom Paris, manning the joystick with the joy of a teenager on hour twenty of a 24-hour Elite Force marathon, freshly refueled from another six-pack of Mountain Dew.

In short, this is Tom in Simple Pleasures mode. Captain Proton, footloose and fancy-free.

A few seconds after the latest in a series of bumper-scraping adventures, Tom's comm station lights up with the face of a humorless alien bureaucrat.

"Guest Vessel 74656, this is Ledos Port Control. Shut down your engines."

Busted!

"This is Lieutenant Tom Paris," Tom says amiably. "Is there a problem?"

"You were observed committing piloting violation two five six."

Tom plays innocent. "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with your regulations. It won't happen again."

The Ledosian ignores Tom's affable charm as irrelevant. "You will be informed of the penalty."

Now Tom's shields go up. "What kind of 'penalty'?"

"That's not my decision. Your docking permit says you're assigned to the Starship Voyager."

Tom gulps. "That's right."

"Your commanding officer will be notified of your infraction." The alien traffic cop ends the call, leaving Tom to simmer in his own juices until the next shoe drops.

He doesn't have to wait long.

*

"'Piloting lessons?'" Tom wails, his arms folded defiantly. He's in Janeway's ready room, and he looks as though the death penalty has just been pronounced.

Perhaps it has--on his pride, at least. It's back to traffic school for you, helm boy.

The chief injustice of it all, of course, is that Tom gets slapped for tailgating, while Chakotay walks away from crash after crash with impunity.

Well, okay, limps. You know what I mean. Tom's shuttle was intact, at least; Chakotay doesn't even get fined for littering when he rains debris all over the countryside.

Janeway displays the appropriate level of compassion for her helmsman, which is to say, none at all. She lifts the padd from her desk and skims it perfunctorily. "Apparently, the standard penalty for your infraction is a three-day course in flight safety, followed by a test." She sets down the padd, barely containing her smirk. Janeway's voice has taken on that overly theatrical, nigh-British Katherine Hepburn quality that suggests she lives for moments like this, when the suffering of her underlings is both trivial and richly deserved.

"Well, did you explain to them that we wouldn't be here that long?"

"Actually, while you were completing your mission, Seven was invited to four-day conference." Janeway applies her inner Skunk Eye to the corners of her mouth, forcing them back to non-grin levels.

Tom's face falls; he emits a full-body sigh. "Here on Ledos?"

The captain nods. "I decided to give the entire crew shore leave. It'll give you plenty of time to brush up on your piloting skills." Even the glare-o-death can't stop the latest smirk from escaping to the surface.

"I don't need lessons!" Tom protests.

Janeway shrugs with mock-helplessness. "Apparently, the authorities disagree."

"But, Caaaaaaaptaaaaaaain..."

Uh oh. Don't push your luck, two-pipper. Mama Kate giveth, and Mama Kate taketh away. Her mirth evaporates. "You may not have known the Ledosians' rules, but you know ours. Comply with local law. Understood?"

Tom knows when he's licked. "Yes, ma'am."

*

Meanwhile, back down dirtside...

Seven is now out front, scanning for debris, while Chakotay limps close behind running his own sensor sweeps.

It should be noted at this point--following the nothing-is-accidental school of critique--that the spiked-heeled, cat-suited, immaculately-coiffed Seven of Nine looks wildly out of place in this outdoor environment--like a fish out of water, wearing a tuxedo, holding a martini.

Chakotay does a better job blending into the setting, although he's not nearly as naked as he was in "Tattoo." Exposed and vulnerable, though, he certainly is.

Soon, seven finds something--a twisted bit of wreckage small enough to lift but too large to carry. She kneels beside it and runs a diagnostic. "The relays are fused. It's useless."

Chakotay pushes a few steps ahead, led by his tricorder. "Looks like we're not the only ones here."

Seven looks over his shoulder to view the readings on his tricorder. "Indigenous wildlife, perhaps."

Chakotay shakes his head. "I'm reading residual life signs. They're humanoid."

"Ledosian?"

"No, but they share the same genetic traits. Whoever they are, they may be able to help us." Chakotay is by nature an optimist.

Seven is not. "Unless they're hostile."

The commander's gaze hardens. "Why don't we give them the benefit of the doubt? The life signs lead in that direction." He takes a step, but his knee buckles from the pain.

Seven reaches across his chest and grabs the hexagonal pack from his left shoulder. "I suggest you rest your leg while I investigate."

But Chakotay will have none of that. "It's better if we stick together."

But he isn't above accepting a little help--he rests his hand on Seven's near shoulder. "At least until we know whether they're 'hostile.'" Thus supported, the two walk side-by-side into Eden.

*

Some time later, Chakotay's arm is fully draped over Seven's shoulders, and she holds onto him tightly as they struggle forward.

Don't worry, 'shippers of every non-C/7 stripe--it's hardly a stroll down Lovers' Lane. If Seven were still a drone, by this point she'd have yanked the primary uplink node from Chakotay's thoracic cavity and would at this moment be assimilating his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

But I digress.

They come upon a clearing, and spy a small gathering of aliens living a simple, non-modern life in the great unwashed Outdoors.

"I'm guessing they're pre-warp," Chakotay says. Which was the giveaway--the bone knives, or the bearskins? Perhaps it's the months' worth of caked-on grime each of the natives is wearing. Or maybe it's the wall of stench even more potent than the energy barrier that took out their shuttle.

"Obviously, they can't help us." Seven is eager to move on, and keep their distance from the non-corseted rabble.

"No...I don't suppose they can," Chakotay says. His disappointment is obvious, though mixed with a quiet awe. The social scientist in him lives for moments like this. "But they're fascinating, aren't they? I never expected to run into people like these on such a technologically advanced planet."

"This isn't an anthropological mission, Commander."

"You're right," he admits a moment later. "We should keep searching for debris." He turns away--

and falls to his knees. Birds flee their perches at the sound of his grinding teeth.

Seven drops to a knee as well, and scans his leg again. It's visibly worse. "You're developing an infection. You should rest."

Chakotay doesn't argue. "I'll have to stay here and try to keep out of sight."

Seven helps him over to a nearby clump of trees and low-hanging brush. "I'll contact you if I find anything useful."

"I guess I don't have to tell you to avoid interacting with these people." Her parting look is answer enough.

Chakotay hops the last few unassisted steps to the tree that becomes his resting place. He fights his way down to a sitting position, then begins the next battle--against pain, fatigue, and boredom, while Seven has all the fun--or would, if she could ever learn to grasp the concept.

*

A short time later, Seven tracks down another shuttle fragment. This one's still blinking, a good sign. And it's small enough to carry.

She taps her chest. "Seven of Nine to Chakotay."

There is no answer. She frowns.

*

"Seven of Nine to Chakotay."

It's difficult to tell which is the first to awaken the commander--Seven's voice in his combadge, or the funk-fouled hand reaching for it.

Chakotay sees three natives hovering over him. They look curious, maybe perturbed, but not all that threatening.

He slaps away the hands, and scrambles to his feet with a speed his leg pain takes a second to match. Lucky for him he has a branch to hang onto when the wave of agony strikes.

Seven's voice comes over the combadge again. "Commander, respond. I've found something."

One of the aliens makes a quick grab for the talking jewelry, tosses it on the ground, and reaches for a small but heavy stone.

"Don't--!"

Too late. Nature Boy demonstrates a knowledge of gravity, to the commbadge's detriment.

Chakotay sighs--and fervently hopes that Bam-Bam doesn't move on to Lesson Two.

*

Seven tries hailing Chakotay one more time, then gives up. Unable to contain her annoyance, she stuffs the blinking tech into her carryall and starts walking back to where she left him.

*

Night falls. Seven of Nine, led by a flashlight, finds a cave that seems to be registering Chakotay's lifesigns. And others.

Cautiously, she enters the cave, prepared for the worst.

She finds a bunch of aliens surrounding Chakotay, who is lying face-up near the back of the cave, near a fire.

"Step away from him." (Look out, she's got a flashlight!) The natives, looking like the descendents of Richard Hatch, only with more clothes (barely), scatter.

Chakotay holds up a hand of caution. "It's all right, Seven. They're friendly. They're treating my wound." He points to his leg, which is now wrapped up and splinted. It's a decent bit doctoring.

The aliens keep their distance, letting Seven approach Chakotay. She kneels beside him and runs a tricorder over him.

"You said we were supposed to avoid interaction," she scolds.

"They found me. There was nothing I could do."

"You should have tried to contact me."

"I didn't want to expose them to our technology." Uh huh.

Seven notes his tech-free chest. "You hid your combadge?"

"Actually, your call scared them. They broke it."

This doesn't give Seven much reason to cheer--she's got plenty of visible technology on her face and hand. "I suggest we leave before they break anything else."

Chakotay suggests otherwise. "Look, they're friendly...And I am hurt."

"What are you suggesting?" She looks around. The natives are taking a clear interest in her, of unknown intent.

"We may as well stay the night."

"Commander--" Seven protests, fearing for their safety.

"It's good shelter, and my leg feels better since they put this dressing on. I'm going to get some rest. I suggest you do the same."

Chakotay goes back to sleep.

Unable to hide her discomfort and anxiety, Seven looks for a place to sit. It's likely she won't be sleeping much tonight.

One alien in particular, a girl approaching womanhood, inches close enough to almost touch Seven's eyebrow node.

Seven rears back in shock, and the girl scrambles away. Like the others, the girl makes no sound.

Seven, usually the picture of perfection, is starting to fray around the edges. Some of her hair has come loose from the Bun of Solitude.

Pleasant dreams...

* * *

Meanwhile, back in the future...

Voyager's corridor is clogged as Harry, B'Elanna and Neelix walk side-by-side, in a uniformly upbeat mood.

"Chell says we shouldn't miss the flame gardens," Harry says.

"I hear the arboretum is beautiful, too," Neelix adds.

"We can do both," says the glowing-and-showing B'Elanna.

It seems difficult to believe their mood could get any more chipper--but then Tom Paris appears. Harry is particularly radiant. "Tom! You joining us?" He asks as he clasps a bearish hand on Tom's collarbone as they continue walking. "Oh, that's right. You have to go to pilot school!"

The three amigos--well, okay, dos hombres, una mujer, y un lugar de la pizza--laugh it up.

"I hear the course takes days," B'Elanna says.

Tom, however, is undaunted. "Yeah, for most people. But I did a little research. If the instructor agrees, you can skip the lessons and go right to the test. So I will be seeing you in a couple of hours."

Tom is nothing if not confident. He leads the way into the transporter room.

"You have to admire his optimism," he notes dryly as the three follow Tom.

A young extra (wo)mans the transporter controls. "Just a moment, sir," she says.

The transporter pad gets all sparkly for a moment. When the special effects end, a Ledosian male--patrician, severe, born before the age of amusement--is standing there looking for someone to glower at.

Ladies and gentlemen of the audience, may I present the Drivers Ed instructor from Hell.

"I am Mr. Kleg, the flying instructor," he announces. His gaze falls first on Harry Kim. "Are you Lieutenant Paris?"

If ever Harry wished he WAS Tom, this is not one of those moments. Suppressing a smirk and a sigh of relief, Harry points toward Tom. "He is."

Tom makes a warp-10 transition into Suck Up mode. He steps forward with all the confidence he can muster. "It's an honor to meet you, sir." He gestures toward the door. "May I show you to the Delta Flyer?"

Kleg's eyes narrow--an expression made even more disturbing by the exaggerated V of the Ledosian forehead. "Why?" he asks suspiciously.

Oops. "So...you can explain what I did wrong and then...administer the test."

Kleg's gaze narrows still further. "It sounds to me like you need lessons in patience, as well."

What makes this even worse is that there's an audience to see Tom squirm--comprised of the three most likely to rib him mercilessly for weeks afterward.

"Oh, Tom is very patient, sir," B'Elanna assures Kleg. (Excuse me, MISTER Kleg.)

Neelix readily agrees. "Never impulsive."

"Take all the time you need," Harry urges helpfully. "He'll enjoy the extra attention."

Tom's buddies hop up on the transporter platform, safely behind Kleg so they can offer their true feelings--undisguised mirth.

Tom, directly in Kleg's line of sight, doesn't have the luxury of a response. But one can only imagine it would have been one for the ages.

For his part, Kleg is oblivious to the irony. You'd think after a few millennia of putting hotshot pilots in their place, he'd have developed a heightened sense of it, radiating from the non-detentioned buddies of said hotshots in the hotseat. But...no. "Well, I'm pleased to hear it. We'll start with a review of safety procedures. Do you have a visual display system I can access?"

Tom knows he's in for the long haul. The smile is frozen on his face. "I think I can find one."

"Have fun," Tom's wife says, loving every minute of it.

Harry looks like he wants to stay to enjoy every last indignity. But, even schadenfreude has its limits, and the flame gardens await. "Energize," he says.

Their three grins are the last to disappear.

Tom tries to make the best of a bad situation. "So--how long will this 'review' take?"

"Oh, typically about four hours." Kleg smiles slowly. "But there's no rush."

Tom laughs the chuckle of the damned. "Of course not."

The nameless extra wisely says nothing further, and saves her peals of laughter for after the doors slide closed.

*

It's daylight in the alien camp. Chakotay, looking a bit better, is trying to teach the natives some of his vocabulary. And vice-versa. While the two men converse, the young woman so interested in Seven of Nine the night before squats nearby, observing intently.

After a few Darmok moments, the rudiments of communication are established. Chakotay draws a map, uses a rock to signify a mountain and water from a gourd to give some authenticity to a river. For their part, the natives seem capable of hearing, but show either the inability or lack of interest in making any noise themselves. Their communication is handled through gestures, and seems expressive enough. Eventually, they figure out where to place the You Are Here sign. Literally, over the hill and through the woods from their beamdown site.

Now the local has a favor to ask. He points to the shiny thing on Chakotay's collar. Then he retrieves what looks like an edible nut from his hip pouch, and makes the universal gesture for "let's trade."

Since the rank insignia doesn't talk, it seems safe enough, and Chakotay agrees. Seven approaches just as the trade is completed and the local teaches Chakotay to say Thank You. He even offers something akin to a smile before moving away to share his new acquisition with his partners in grime.

"Did you make a favorable exchange?" Seven asks.

"I didn't want to insult their customs. Any luck?"

"I may have found a way of communicating."

"Me, too. I've learned how to say 'thank you.'" Chakotay repeats the gesture for her benefit.

"I was referring to communication with Voyager." This gets his attention.

Seven shows him the pieces she's found so far. "It may be possible to construct a beacon by connecting these components to the shuttle's deflector." That would most likely be the part of the shuttle we saw tumbling earthward in the teaser.

"Did you find it?"

"I detected it six kilometers from here. I believe it's intact." Seven notices the young girl getting curious about her backpack, and the shiny stuff inside it.

Chakotay tests his leg. The results aren't encouraging. "I'm not sure I'm up for that long a trip."

"I'll go." Seven packs up the stuff, giving the skunk eye to the girl who's a little too close for comfort.

Chakotay points to the map he's made in the dirt. "I've started mapping the area. Here's the river we passed. This is where we beamed down. And we're here now."

"Then the deflector should be approximately here," Seven says, pointing to another spot. That's where she's headed. She packs up the rest of her stuff, keenly aware of the girl's continuing interest in her and her bag of tricks.

"Six kilometers is a long way," Chakotay says. "Maybe one of them could guide you."

Seven frowns. "I'm still trying to limit our contact with these people."

"The sooner we get to the deflector, the sooner we can get out of here. They know the terrain. Maybe they can get you there faster."

"And watch me construct a tetrion-based signaling device?"

Point taken. "All right, but be careful."

Her packing complete, Seven rises, and heads back into the woods.

Chakotay stops her. "This is how they say 'good-bye.'" He gives something not unlike a Roman salute. Seven, who really doesn't care what these people do as long as they do it away from her, rolls her eyes, then disappears, leaving Chakotay to hobble around with the locals.

*

You can tell Seven is not warming up to the Ledosian wilderness.

Perhaps it's the outfit. Maybe it's the hair, increasingly out of place. But most likely, it's the roots and uneven terrain, which is most unfriendly to stiletto pumps.

A stray root catches her heel, and Seven goes sprawling. Her tricorder tumbles a little, and ends up slipping through a fissure a few meters away.

It's in the hole.

Seven dusts herself off, then goes on hands and knees to reach for the escaped scanner. But no go.

One step closer to the dark ages, a few more strands of blonde perfection knocked out of place, Seven soldiers on.

*

Chakotay discovers a few more tricks up the natives' sleeves (well, if they had any). The guy he bartered with last time has made him a nicely serviceable walking stick.

He tries it out, and expresses his approval, complete with Thank You gesture.

The native tells him to hop to it, and moves off to do more good in the neighborhood. Chakotay heads toward a group of young men and offers a cordial, bilingual welcome.

But discovers to his horror that he has fans among the Ledosian natives. Several of the young men now sport forehead tattoos remarkably similar to his own.

They say Hi. He says Oops.

*

Another night has arrived. An ill wind blows. Lightning flares. It's cold.

Seven of Nine is still on the move, but not making very good time. Her time dirtside is really taking its toll.

She trips over something...and discovers to her horror that she's been walking in circles--it's the same root that claimed her tricorder.

She sits down on a nearby tree, hugs herself, and shivers.

Santayana's reminder bears repeating: those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

So Seven has learned.

The lesson: never let Chakotay drive.

* * *

The wind is really blowing. Seven's hair is completely down around her shoulders now. She looks like Kentucky-fried Hell. Her power bun is all but gone, her hair flowing with the wind, annoying her to no end. You can count every goosebump through her violet outfit.

She hears a noise. On goes the flashlight, aimed expertly toward the source. "Identify yourself!"

There's that nosy little girl again. But this time, she's here to help. She hands Seven a thick blanket, then builds a fire out of the most unlikely components--crumbly rocks, the oil of a nearby plant.

Bright kid.

Seven is grateful--and impressed. "An exothermic reaction..."

The girl, emboldened by the non-brushoff, next pulls out a stick of something edible and offers it to her. Seven begs off, saying she's not hungry.

But at least she's no longer cold. Thanks the Omega particle for small favors.

*

At long last, Mr. Kleg has moved Tom's coursework into the Delta Flyer.

Safely nestled inside the shuttle bay, where Tom Slick can't break any more rules. Yet.

Mr. Kleg is not pleased with what he sees. "Inadequate system integration, visibility impaired by lateral sensor array, insufficient console accessibility..." you know, all the cool-looking but idiotic things about the Captain Proton design that your average 21st-century engineer has been pointing out for years.

Tom tries to take the instructor's side. "You know, I couldn't agree more. Those are just some of the defects that led to my so-called pilot error!--"

Kleg ain't listening. "Polarity thrusters? Ugh! They've been known to cause accidental acceleration!"

"Exactly my point!" Tom says. "Why should I be held responsible for the ship's design flaws?"

Now Kleg turns toward Tom. "According to the maintenance records, you were this vessel's chief designer."

BUSTED! Tom gapes like a catfish in Cajun country.

"I make it a point of professional pride to research every case I'm assigned to." His schoolmaster's gaze narrows still further. "Are you familiar with that term, Lieutenant? Professional pride?"

Tom knows he's fighting a losing battle. But he soldiers on. "Yes, sir. In fact, that is why I am so eager to get underway. I want to prove to you that I am a good pilot!"

This doesn't earn him points. "There are protocols, Mr. Paris. System by system diagnostics, preflight simulations--"

"You must have other students who need your attention. It wouldn't be fair to--"

Kleg gives him a look of sadistic pity. "Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'm planning to spend as much time with you as you need." His smile portends doom.

Tom's smile, returned with great effort, contains a whiff of brimstone.

*

Seven of Nine awakens. She looks like hell warmed over, but she made it through the night.

The girl is a few steps away, squatting, observing her with interest. She makes a gesture that Seven interprets as "Good Morning." Seven says the greeting aloud, and then repeats the gesture.

Once again, the girl offers Seven some of the Ledosian trail mix, eating from the same slice to show it's safe. This time, Seven takes it.

Wouldn't you know it--even here, they got leola root.

Seven next draws a map on the ground, similar to Chakotay's. "I'm trying to go here." The girl catches on fast, and points in what she considers the proper direction. Seven rises. "Can you show me?"

The girl leads the way.

*

A short while later, the girl stops, and gestures Seven to follow her down another, unbeaten path.

Seven doesn't want to. But the grl is insistent. And she's leading at this point, so Seven doesn't have much choice.

The girl stops at a cliff overlooking a truly breathtaking waterfall. She takes a seat and drinks in the experience, and gestures to Seven to do the same.

"Yes, it's quite an impressive view. But now we really have..."

But Lady Mowgli ain't going nowhere. Seven sighs and takes a seat beside her, and attempts to appreciate the value of stopping to smell the roses from time to time.

*

Chakotay is hobbling a bit better today, but he's also worried--Seven's been gone since yesterday, even though it was only twelve kilometers round trip. She ought to have been back before nightfall.

Chakotay gestures to his local buddy. "My friend...she hasn't come back. I need to find her." It's a bit complicated for them, so he draws a picture--a rough approximation of Seven, for dirt art.

The native seems to catch on--tattoo boy wants woman with shiny stuff on her face. He disappears, and returns with a woman with shiny stuff on her face. And a purple form-fitting top.

But it's not Seven. It's one of the locals, with a piece of shuttle debris duct-taped to her forehead. Now the women of the village are taking fashion tips from the newcomers.

Chakotay doesn't take the time to fret about the pollution of the culture--if they can eventually duplicate Seven's corset, they'll be plenty close to figuring out the intricacies of warp theory.

Chakotay instead focuses on the debris. "Where did you get this?" He points to the woman's forehead. The locals leave, and return with a bag full of the stuff.

Merde.

Chakotay pounds sand again, pointing to the face in the dirt. He makes the appropriate gestures. And he shouts: "My friend. WHERE?!"

*

The detour was short enough that it's still daylight when the girl leads Seven to what's left of the front of the shuttle. The "7" is scorched off, but the "4656" are clearly visible. Seven gets to work right away. Now she's in familiar territory.

The girl's curiosity returns around the shiny sky stuff. She's particularly drawn towards a sharp edge that has tetanus shot written all over it.

"Don't touch that!" Seven shouts, her voice that of warning and concern rather than irritation. She softens her tone when she sees the girl's reaction. "Please."

The girl finds a place a few steps off to sit and sulk while Seven starts hooking pieces together.

*

Captain Janeway enters Astrometrics, where Commander Tuvok and Ensign Kim are working. "Problem?"

"Commander Chakotay failed to report in at the scheduled time," Tuvok reports. "We tried hailing, but there was no response."

"We contacted the conference coordinator," Harry says. "He said Seven and Chakotay never showed up."

Janeway frowns. "Anything on sensors?"

"We located a hull signature over the southern subcontinent," Harry says, "but it's only a wing."

This isn't good. Chakotay's lousy driving is legendary. "Nothing else? No life signs?"

"No, ma'am," Harry says. He pulls up a live image of the debris.

Janeway rests her hands on the console. "That's awfully low for something to be in orbit," she notes.

"It's not in orbit," Tuvok explains. "It's resting on an energy barrier."

"We think the shuttle may have collided with it," Harry adds.

"Why didn't they see it?" Janeway asks.

Tuvok fields this one. "Standard scans didn't reveal its presence. We were only able to detect it with our Borg sensors."

"If all you found was a wing, maybe the rest of the shuttle made it through the barrier."

"Logic suggests that possibility. Unfortunately, the barrier is deflecting all our scans. There's no way to know if the shuttle or its occupants are on the other side."

Janeway growls softly, then turns to Harry. "Hail the Ledosian ambassador."

*

The Ledosian ambassador, looking as humorless as everyone else on his planet, peers back at Janeway on the Bridge's forward viewscreen. He's dressed in the standard festive Ledosian gray. "We'd have warned your Commander but his flight plan didn't go anywhere near that area." Figures. By the time he's through with his term in pilot school, Voyager will be home.

Janeway nods. "He must have altered his route for some reason."

"And collided with the barrier. I'm sorry."

"We're not assuming they're dead," Janeway says evenly.

"We believe they may have found a way through," Tuvok adds. The ambassador isn't so sure. Janeway has faith in her people--but asks for more details about the barrier.

The ambassador isn't really happy to talk about this, but he presses forward. "It shields the territory of an indigenous society--The Ventu."

This encourages the captain. "Then the area's habitable. If you lowered the barrier we could scan for our people's life signs."

An awkward pause. "I'm afraid we can't do that."

Janeway's gaze turns dangerous. "Why not?"

Another awkward pause. "It was erected by aliens hundreds of years ago. They haven't been back. The technology is a mystery to us."

"Why did these aliens build the barrier?" Tuvok asks.

Pause. "To protect the Ventu."

This is like pulling teeth. Or teaching Tom how to fly like a good citizen of the galaxy. "From whom?" Janeway asks.

Some hemming and hawing now. "Us. Our ancestors fought them, polluted their habitat. I'm afraid we weren't very enlightened back then." Ah. This explains the hesitancy. And, naturally, sets up expectations for a plot complication.

Janeway is understanding. "Earth went through its dark periods, too, Ambassador. Would you have any objections if we tried to lower the barrier, just to scan for our people?"

"I told you, it's not possible." But there's hope in his voice. It'd be nice if SOMEONE could.

"Perhaps if you gave us information about the barrier's power source," Tuvok says.

"The generator is inside. There's no way to access it. Even if your people did survive, I'm afraid there's no way to get them out."

Ah, a challenge. Trek folks just love 'em.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 54827.7: Although the Ledosians are skeptical, they're allowing us to try to locate our people. Meanwhile, we've begun to analyze the shuttle fragment.

Engineering is the latest resting place of the shuttle pieces that didn't make it through the barrier. Tuvok and Torres go over the wreckage while Janeway hovers.

"The burn pattern suggests a tetrion flux," Torres says over the whine of her tricorder.

"We found a reference to similar technology in Seven's Borg database," Tuvok notes.

This catches the captain's attention. "You think the Borg erected it?"

"No, but it may have been constructed by people they later assimilated--Species 3-1-2."

"If Seven were here, she might be able to figure out a way to get through it," Janeway mutters aloud.

"Maybe she already did," Torres says. "Some of the damage to the wing was caused by feedback from the shuttle's phasers."

Ah! A shred of hope. "Seven and Chakotay might have used them to penetrate the barrier for some reason!"

Tuvok agrees. "If I can determine the appropriate frequency I may be able to do the same thing. But," he cautions, "there is risk involved."

"What sort of risk?" The hands are on the captain's hips in that notorious Tac-Tac-offending manner.

"It looks like the feedback from the barrier is what destroyed the shuttle," Torres explains. "If we're not careful the same thing could happen to Voyager."

*

While Seven of Nine continues her modifications, the girl digs some natural magnets out of the ground--she needn't dig far, they're everywhere--and begins playing with them.

Seven is too busy to notice. She wraps up the changes, and flicks the switch. We can hear the power cells ramp up toward a major discharge--

which fizzles, barely reaching a few meters before getting sucked in by a trio of very cozy stones.

Until this moment, I'd never heard Seven swear in the original Borg. It's quite impressive, really. Oh, she's now wearing her hair in a nice Janeway-esque "Basics" ponytail, taking a step back--but just a step--from the realm of the feral.

Only then does Seven take note of the girl's handful of magnetic rocks. "May I see those?" The girl complies, and Seven's understanding dawns.

Chakotay chooses this moment to appear, hobbling toward the shuttle with a couple of the natives close behind. "Seven! Is everything all right?"

"I need your tricorder." She holds out her hand.

Chakotay complies, but then scolds her with his tone. "Nice to see you, too."

Seven doesn't apologize, but her tone is contrite. "I lost mine." She scans the area. "There's a strong magnetic field here that's preventing me from generating a deflector beam." She scans some more. "But the field drops off approximately 4.8 kilometers in that direction." (Give or take 0.1km...)

"Can you transmit the signal from there?"

"Not through the barrier. But I may be able to neutralize it by generating a dampening field with our deflector." Even better.

"Even if you're right, this must weigh 500 kilos. How would we move it?"

Seven points to the locals. "Some of them could help us."

Chakotay's features darken. "We shouldn't involve them."

Seven is surprised. "Do I detect a change in attitude, Commander?"

"Your concern was justified. They've been gathering debris from the shuttle. Using it to imitate us. I don't want them helping."

Oh, man. Can't you just cut the sexual tension with a knife?

"What's the alternative? Staying here? Allowing them to find all of the debris? If we neutralize the barrier Voyager can transport us and our technology off the surface." Good point, Seven.

"Is there a possibility that this dampening field could disrupt the barrier permanently?"

Seven considers this. "Unlikely. Once the deflector is deactivated the barrier should reinitialize."

He ponders their options, then decides. "Let's hope you're right."

*

Meanwhile, Tom has FINALLY made it to the driving range. Complete with space-borne traffic cones. (Kleg is one cruel S.O.B.) The Delta Flyer moves slowly and expertly between the markers.

"So, you can execute a turn at less than 300 kph. Well done, Lieutenant!"

Tom takes the left-handed compliment with all the enthusiasm it deserves. "Thanks. You know, I don't want to seem impatient again, but is there any way that you'd let me take that test now?"

Kleg's mood shifts back to grumpy. "I thought I made myself clear about that. All my students complete the entire course."

"Well, I understand, Sir, but..two of my friends are missing and I'd like to help find them."

"Well, that's an admirable sentiment. But if I give you special treatment it wouldn't be fair to the others who have to take this course."

Kleg then offers a sadistic grin. "Besides...why stop now? You're getting very close to becoming an adequate pilot." Emphasis on adequate.

For once, Tom doesn't even try to smile. This schmuck is riding his last nerve.

*

The natives help drag the shuttle pieces to the required position, out of range of the magnetic field. They do so without complaint. (As though we'd know if they were. As though we care--for now, they have their uses. Ya, mule!)

Seven points out the desired spot, enough in the open to have an unobstructed path from the ground to the sky. "Here, Commander." The Ventu stop dragging, and start getting shooed away so Seven can resume her work.

*

Voyager tries to breach the barrier. But the feedback loop is as potent as Torres feared.

"Phasers are starting to overload," Harry reports.

"Can we divert any more power to the shields?" Janeway asks.

"The shields are amplifying the feedback," Tuvok reports. Pretty good design, species 312, I must confess.

"The barrier's interfering with every system we activate," Torres says.

Reluctantly, Janeway orders Cease fire. "I'm open to suggestions."

Tuvok's got one. "We may be able to reconfigure a photon torpedo to detonate at the appropriate frequency."

"What about feedback?"

"A torpedo shouldn't create any...theoretically."

That's good enough for Action Kate. "Do it."

*

The Ventu's curiosity is overwhelming. They inch back toward the shuttle, prompting Seven to once again ask Chakotay to move them back. Systems are starting to power up; it's for their safety.

Chakotay backs them up several meters, but the girl slips away and approaches from the starboard side.

Seven doesn't notice her either. She completes her modifications, turns on the device--and runs like frell.

this time, there's no magnets to steal Seven's thunder. Twin tongues of greased lightning shoot skyward.

The Ventu begin to shake in their baby sealskin boots. "It's all right," Chakotay says encouragingly, while urging them to stay back.

All of them do--except for the girl, drawn to the shiny light.

I think I'll call her Pandora.

*

"The energy barrier's coming down!" Harry reports, surprised.

Janeway is too. "I thought you were still reconfiguring the torpedo," she says to Tuvok.

"I am." Tuvok scans. "It's being deactivated from the inside."

This is the most encouraging sign yet that her crew members are still alive and kicking. "Harry, scan for life signs."

"Aye, Captain," says Harry, who had anticipated that very order and is well into the scan.

*

Pandora inches toward the shuttle, reaching out to a pretty sparking wire, its leads nice and exposed and beckoning to her like a 50,000 volt lollipop.

Seven notices, too late. She yells at the girl to back off, but Pandora's hair is already on fire. She goes down sparking.

Seven sprints over to assist, with Chakotay hobbling along at full impulse.

*

"I'm only reading one combadge," Harry reports. "It's Seven's."

Janeway frowns. "Open a channel. Janeway to Seven. Are you and Chakotay all right?"

A brief pause. "Yes, Captain."

Janeway sighs with relief. "Stand by for transport."

*

"Lock on to Commander Chakotay. I need more time," Seven says.

"Is there a problem?"

"Someone's been injured. She requires medical attention."

Janeway accepts that. "Do you need the Doctor?"

"I believe I can treat her. A medkit would be useful."

With the barrier down, and with the Ledosians officious but otherwise not unpleasant to deal with, time doesn't seem to be of the essense.

*

Captain's Log, Supplemental: Seven has remained on the surface to tend to the injured Ventu girl while Chakotay's being treated in Sickbay.

The Doctor whistles over the Ventu's healing arts. "The poultice healed the fracture and the infection. I'm impressed." Nevertheless, he capitalizes on the opportunity to fuss over his patient.

"They're impressive people. I just hope we haven't traumatized them."

"You did what you had to do to get out of there," Janeway says. Of course, depending on the week, getting out of there isn't always the top priority. A little thing called the Prime Directive occasionally supercedes.

But, it would seem, only when it's dramatically correct.

"Still, I think we should transport all the shuttle debris back to Voyager as soon as possible," Chakotay says. Janeway agrees.

*

Seven treats Pandora back in the community cave. Her outfit hasn't changed, but there's something in her attitude that speaks volumes: Seven of Nine isn't such a stranger to these parts anymore. It's a look she wears well.

Pandora props herself up on her elbows, looking much better.

"Would you like some breakfast?" Seven asks, then makes the breakfast gesture.

Pandora gestures in a somewhat different way, and gives Seven a quizzical look. Seven smiles and repeats the gesture. "I'm not hungry, either." Mama Seven then gives Pandora a good Borgy scolding. "I admire your curiosity. But you should be more careful." Pandora's look suggests that she'll file the advice away in the appropriate place, and continue to do whatever she darned well pleases. But she is nonetheless grateful, and enamored of the stately stranger.

Seven smiles down on her new friend. "It's time for me to leave. Back to my home." She gestures skyward.

Pandora sits up, and offers Seven her blanket. The very one that kept Seven warm during that frightful night on the mountain. Seven at first balks--"That's very kind, but I have no use for it"--but Pandora is gently insistent.

Seven takes the thing and drapes it over her arm. It's a noble gesture--the Ventu haven't yet invented hygeine, and the blanket may not make it past the transporter's biofilters. But it's the thought that counts. "I suppose I should respect your customs. Thank you." She makes the thank-you gesture. Pandora responds: de nada.

Seven rises to exit the cave and beam back to Voyager, but she hears a voice--and in this village, any voice is definitely not native. "These botanical specimens indicate a high level of serum nitrates. Catalog those foliates--"

Seven is outside in a flash. "Explain your presence here!" she demands.

It's a Ledosian male, heading up a team of his people. The Ventu look at them with cautious curiosity. No tattoos, no purple, no metal faces--could be trouble. "Oh," says the leader of the Ledosians. "You must be from Voyager." Pleasant enough fellow.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Barus. I'm the expedition leader."

Seven's warning sensors blare. "What kind of expedition are you leading?"

"We're conducting scans to evaluate the potential of this habitat." Oy--sounds bad already.

"Potential for what?"

Barus shrugs, as though the answer is obvious. "Anthropological research, resource development..." He sighs happily. "We've been waiting years for this."

Seven gestures to the surrounding Ventu. "What about the people who live here?"

"We'll help them, of course." DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!

"How?" Seven asks.

"With medicine, infrastructure, education...whoever lowered this barrier did the Ventu a great favor."

Seven doesn't say it. She doesn't need to. Her look says it all.

This is one favor she's not sure the Ventu need.

LOOK OUT FOR THE LEDOSIANS! THEY'VE GOT CIVILIZATION!

* * *

The next stop is the captain's ready room, for the obligatory Ethical Dilemma debate.

"That barrier has to go back up," Chakotay argues. He and Seven are standing; Janeway is seated at her desk and listens.

"Isn't it possible the Ledosians will improve the lives of the Ventu?" Seven asks.

"Improve them...How?" Chakotay demands.

"They're intelligent people. Exposure to education and technology may give them better opportunities."

Chakotay's eyes bore into hers. "Can you honestly say that you know what's better for them?"

Seven blinks first. "No. I can't."

Janeway leans forward. "Then what do you think we should do?" she asks Seven.

"I'm uncertain," Seven admits.

"It's not like you to be on the fence."

"When Commander Chakotay and I first encountered the Ventu I found them primitive, of little interest to me. But as I spent more time with them, I came to realize that they're a resourceful, self-reliant people. Their isolation may limit their potential, but if that isolation ends so will a unique way of life."

Ah. The "Unique Way of Life" argument. Noble, ancient heritage. Proud cultural institutions like cannibalism, female circumcision, baby-seal clubbing, whale hunting, tossing widows on their husbands' funeral pyres, leaving twins out to die because Twins got Demons in 'em, watching SURVIVOR in record numbers, voting Teddy Kennedy and Strom Thurmond back to the Senate for term after interminable term...

I'm just saying, unique isn't always good. Granted, what we've seen so far from the Ventu doesn't seem so bad, but we hardly dove into the seedy underbelly of the tribe. Even if there are no skeletons in the Ventu closet, there is certainly no end of dirty laundry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

*

The Ledosian ambassador is in a rare good mood. "We appreciate your help in opening this territory to exploration, Captain. It's an unprecedented opportunity."

"A short-lived opportunity, I'm afraid," Janeway says.

"I don't understand."

"After I transport our deflector back to Voyager, the energy barrier will go back up."

Tuvok interjects. "Naturally, you'll want to get your people out so they won't be trapped inside, as ours were."

The ambassador doesn't take this news well. "You have no right to limit our access to our own territory."

"I'm not trying to do that, but we have a strict policy about leaving our technology in the hands of other cultures. It often has damaging consequences." (For a reminder of that, just see last week's "Friendship One." Just be sure to wear a helmet--the message isn't subtle.)

The ambassador doesn't care how strict the policy is--ironic, given the hoops Tom Paris is being forced to jump through at this very moment just for a minor moving violation. "I don't think you realize how important it is. It's not only the resources that interest us. The Ventu are our evolutionary ancestors--our living history!"

Janeway feigns sympathy. "I understand this is disappointing for you but I'm afraid I have no choice." This is, of course, bullstuff. They could easily wait until the Ledosians come up with their own barrier-dampening solution before taking the shuttle parts back. Janeway just isn't in a mood to. It's her choice, but it IS a choice nonetheless.

"In the spirit of cooperation, I hope you'll reconsider," the ambassador says. There is an undercurrent of warning in his tone.

"We're eager to resume course. Would an hour be enough time for you to evacuate your people?"

Ledosians recognize bureaucratese when they hear it, and recognize a fellow master of the art. The ambassador doesn't plead further. "I'll make the arrangements."

*

An hour or so later...

"We've transported all the remaining debris to the cargo bay," Harry reports.

"I have a lock on the deflector assembly," Seven reports.

BOOOM

"What is it?" Janeway demands.

Tuvok scans. "There's a Ledosian vessel on an intercept course. It's charging weapons."

"Shields!"

BOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMZZZZZZZT

"Direct hit to the transporters. They're off-line," Tuvok announces.

Janeway spits lava. "Get a weapons lock and hail them!"

Harry looks up in surprise. "They're hailing us!"

It's the ambassador. "Captain Janeway," he says with tight formality.

"What's going on," Janeway says, in full don't-piss-me-off mode.

"Our government has decided not to let you restore the barrier."

"And that justifies an unprovoked attack!?"

"We only targeted your transporters to avoid harming your crew. I hope you'll show the same restraint."

Restrain this, buddy boy. "I don't find weapons fire of any kind restrained," she growls. The forward viewscreen begins to melt under the ocular assault.

But the ambassador has that famously thick Ledosian hide. "If you want to avoid further conflict, I suggest you leave." He cuts the transmission, leaving Janeway to simmer in her own juices.

For a brief moment, she considers the Corbomite maneuver--only she's actually got some, and she's already got the orifice picked. But cooler heads, remarkably, prevail. "Take us out of orbit," Janeway says through clenched teeth.

Chakotay doesn't like this. "What about the deflector?"

Janeway gets an idea that's even more appropriate to the occasion than the Corbomite enema. "Is Tom still in the Flyer?" she asks Harry.

Harry can't help but smile. "Yes, Ma'am."

Janeway's eyes glint with genocidal glee. "Hail him."

*

At the Ledosian Short-Bus Flying Academy, Mr. Kleg is beginning to offer genuine compliments to Tom Paris as, one by one, the poor Lieutenant's piloting instincts are browbeaten out of him.

"Excellent, Mr. Paris. Now come about--slowly."

"Janeway to Paris. Respond."

Talk about a Deus ex Rufina. (yeah, my Greek sucks--think "divine redhead intervention".)

Tom is relieved for the impending reprieve. He hopes that's what it is.

Kleg is irritated to have his petty feifdom invaded. "Captain, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't interrupt my student during his examination."

"I'm sorry, but something's come up."

"What is it, Captain?" Tom asks.

"Tom, I'm sending you some encrypted orders."

"Yes, ma'am!" He turns his attentions away from Kleg, answering once again to a higher authority.

"This is highly irregular!" Kleg protests.

Tom needn't say so--we know that highly irregular is exactly how he likes it. But he has the good grace not to whoop with glee when he reads his orders, straps in, and dials up to Eleven.

The Delta Flyer exits the examination course like a flaming bat out of hell. Kleg dang near gets pasted to the ceiling.

Now this is the Helm Boy we know and love.

"You're going much too fast!!!" Kleg complains, when he finally manages to push his spleen below his voicebox.

"Yes, sir," Tom says calmly, now firmly in control of his destiny. "I'm in a bit of a hurry." He makes a beeline for the Ledosian surface.

"If you have any desire to pass this test, you'll reduce your speed immediately!!!"

"I wish I could do that, sir. I really do." Uh huh. After three days with Kleg, he's gonna enjoy every nanosecond of his license to buzz. He's got the need for speed.

SHBOOOOM!

"What was that?" Kleg demands to know.

Tom ignores him. "Paris to Voyager. I'm under attack."

*

"Give him some help, Mr. Tuvok," Janeway orders.

The Ledosian ship fires at the Flyer.

Voyager fires at the Ledosian ship.

Voyager wins. The Flyer continues its downward trajectory.

A moment later, Tom hits the transporters, and a half dozen Ledosian scientists appear behind him. "What have you done?" Barus demands.

"We had to get you out of there before we closed the barrier."

"You can't do that!" Barus demands, and storms the pilot's seat--only to run into another barrier. Way to think ahead, Tommy me boy.

"Just sit back and enjoy the ride. Paris to Voyager. I've got them."

"Find the deflector," Chakotay orders.

"I'm getting a lock on it now." BOOM.( Well, at least the Ledosians are consistent.) "My transporters are off-line." Dang.

Janeway curses. "You'd better get out of there, Tom."

"Not yet. I've got an idea."

Kleg is beyond pissed. He's redder in the face than the shoulders on Tom's uniform. "I am sorry to inform you, Mr. Paris, but you have failed this examination!!! You will no longer be allowed to operate a vessel within Ledosian space!"

Tom tries not to get too weepy. "Something tells me that's not going to be a problem."

Down, down the Flyer goes, heading straight for the deflector. The phasers fire, and the deflector vaporizes. Banking up at an insane rate of acceleration, the Flyer ascends just before the barrier closes, leaving the Ventu once again alone, with little to show for the recent visits of outsiders but a new fashion trend or two.

*

Voyager has resumed course for home.

Seven of Nine is in her cargo bay, working on something. The blanket Pandora gave her is on the console near her.

Chakotay enters. He picks up the object of shared memory. "This is a beautiful blanket."

"Take it if you like. I don't need it."

Chakotay shrugs. "If environmental systems ever go down, you might get cold."

The two share an awkward moment of silence, then speak simultaneously, then fall back to a moment of awkward silence.

"You first," Chakotay says.

"Please, continue."

Chakotay acknowledges. "In all the excitement, I never apologized."

This is the last thing she expected. "For what?"

"Causing you to miss that conference."

Oh yeah. That. "As a matter of fact, I...wanted to thank you for that."

Now he's surprised. "I thought you were angry."

"I was," she admits. "But you were right--warp mechanics can be studied any time. The Ventu, on the other hand..." Her voice trails off.

"Something's still bothering you," Chakotay says.

"I'm concerned for their well-being."

"They know how to take care of themselves."

"That's not what I mean. Members of the Ledosian expedition had the opportunity to scan my deflector modifications. In time, they may find a way to duplicate our technology and remove the barrier themselves." From the outside?

"I suppose it's possible," Chakotay admits. At least they're considering the possible consequences.

"If I had never made those modifications--"

Chakotay senses her dive into self-recrimination, and stomps it out cold. "We might still be stranded there."

Chakotay waits for her to protest; she doesn't. He continues. "I don't know about you, but I'm glad to be back on Voyager."

Seven considers his words. After a moment, she admits, "As am I."

Chakotay folds up the blanket and leaves it for her. Then he leaves her with her thoughts. Seven gives the blanket a lingering look, then returns to her work.

[Analysis]

This episode had its moments.

Naturally, we couldn't let the season go by without Chakotay crashing YET another friggin' shuttle. They don't disappoint. It is the victory lap season, after all. Likewise, we got a nice comic B plot with Tom Paris being used and abused--this time, it's his ego rather than his body that gets rode hard and put away wet, much to the amusement of those around him. Even then, he gets to rise from the ashes of humility like a phoenix and return to his Captain Proton ways.

The interaction between Chakotay and Seven of Nine wasn't quite the lovefest we'd been warned about in the rumor mill, which is a good thing. There's a trace of sexual tension--just enough to remind us of Seven's interaction with her Tattoo Toy Boy holodeck character--but for the most part the tension between the two is kept strictly professional. The two have never been eager teammates, though they've rarely been anything but civil.

The Ventu natives turn out to be decent, curious, clever, and nice, but not exactly rocket scientists. They remain the "noble savages" the bleeding hearts love to protect from their own natural inclination to adapt new ideas. (more on this in a moment.) After last week's episode, it's easy to understand the crew's "give a hoot, don't pollute" impulse.

There's an amusing B plot, where Tom "Stud Boy" Paris gets caught speeding and lands in the Traffic School From Hell (much to the amusement of his crewmates). Naturally, this intolerable affront to Tom leads to an entertaining AND relevant tie-in to the main story at the end. Once a Top Gun, always a Top Gun, and McNeill makes the most of his scenes, as the long-suffering student trying desperately not to blow his cool, right up to the moment where he can use his deceptively calm demeanor to rattle the instructor. He also gets to play hero with the full permission of the captain, always a bonus.

Everyone gets a little screen time, though Neelix and the Doctor have limited impact on the episode. More substantial are Torres and Tuvok, who get to strut their professional stuff.

Chakotay gets to indulge his anthropological hobby in a relevant cause--his readiness to reach out to the natives leads to their eventual rescue, and he is able to teach and learn with equal skill.

Seven of Nine, naturally, is expected to Learn A Valuable Lesson, but it's not forced. Well, okay, it's forced, but within acceptable limits. Autumn Reeser, who plays the curious native girl, develops a believable rapport with Jeri Ryan, step by step rather than all at once. Seven is at first suspicious, then cautiously grateful, then protective of the girl. The way her appearance changes during the away mission--at first the far-too-well-groomed ex-drone, then the fish out of water, then gradually the dirt and the hairstyle find a reasonable equilibrium with her environment. Subtle, but nice.

The more cultured natives don't seem like BAD people, per se. They have a past (but who doesn't?) but they're willing to admit it. They consider themselves more enlightened these days, and they seem worthy of the benefit of the doubt...at first. But the first thing they do when the barrier comes down is send people, whose presence is far too obvious. Unlike Chakotay, these Ledosians are not environment-friendly campers.

Of course, when push inevitably comes to shove, the Ledosians are intent on keeping the wilderness area open to development and investigation, even if they have to fight for the right. Hard to blame them for that--it's their planet, after all, and the barrier wasn't exactly put up with their permission in the first place.

On that note, let's move on to the meat.

*

Okay. The Ethical Dilemma. Should we leave the Ventu to their sheltered but protected existence? Should we remove the barrier put in place centuries before by a species that imposed it upon the Ledosians and the Ventu? Should we ASK THE VENTU WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT THE WHOLE THING INSTEAD OF PLAYING BIG BROTHER ONE WAY OR THE OTHER?!!?!!?

Ahem.

Trek history has given us examples of each, and others. Sometimes we praise the noble savages and strive to protect them from the big bad modern universe. Sometimes we give them a taste of the apple that will inevitably boot them from Eden. Sometimes we let them decide for themselves; sometimes a godlike being decides for us, one way or another.

In short, there's no one right or wrong answer. It's usually up to the captain's discretion; the Prime Directive has its 47 subclauses, but there are 47 subclauses precisely because there's no single good answer, especially where prior interference has been demonstrated. The original series is filled with such examples.

The unfortunate part of it is, it's not really a tough choice in this case. The Ledosians are annoying, therefore whatever they want cannot be good for the Ventu. Their own history supports that they haven't been good for the Ventu, else Species 312 wouldn't have cordoned off a chunk of Ledos in the first place.

The Ventu seem to be getting along just fine. They have done a decent job mastering their environment; they have made discoveries and mastered technologies and medicines that give them high survivability. of course, that's because they're trapped in a bubble, and have been allowed (or forced) to remain relatively stagnant while the rest of the planet turns into warp-capable bureaucrats with rules up the yinyang. Sure, it's a simpler life, but the Ventu are eager to adopt new things.

In the long run, it's the societies that don't stand still that have the best chance of long-term survival. If Trek is about anything, it's about the idea of examining our cherished myths, and only keeping those truly worth keeping.

Would the Ventu prefer to have sonic showers, replicated meals, and satellite-regulated weather? Some of them, no doubt. Others might not--just look at the likes of Captain Picard's brother for just one example of 24th-century earthlings who are more than happy to maintain at least a few old traditions rather than bow to the siren song of modernity.

Put another way. I know people who are still happily chugging along on 80386-based PCs and accessing their email via 28.8kbps modems. Or who are using Lynx browsers on character-based terminals to read these very reviews. Think about that--in the era of the Pentium 4 and beyond-gigahertz processors, of GeForce3 video processors that crank out more polygons per second than Stephen King churns out the words in his latest novel, there's still some folks out there who are content with what they have, even if it's not state of the art.

Obscene, but true. heck, there's folks who don't even HAVE computers, who use their money on such things as food and/or shelter, rather than on such absolute necessities as megabit DSL or Dish 500.

Put another way. There are tribesman in New Guinea who don't give a rat's patoot about rolling blackouts in California or $2.00 per gallon for regular unleaded. They get along just fine without a six figure salary, wireless web, or a Starbucks in every village.

There's enough anthropologists and documentarians carting around their recording equipment and coolers filled with Zima to give any tribesman a taste of life beyond the bush. I suspect anyone who wanted to hitch a lift back to the trading post or the airport wouldn't have much trouble--a quiver full of curari darts has a way of getting you some primo service. heck, there are aboriginal Australians who commute to and from the bush on a semi-regular basis. And when you think of Native Americans these days, you're less likely to think of Westerns, Little Big Horn or the reservation than you are of Chief Running Craps at the local casino.

Yes, I'm being facetious. Yes, I'm being culturally insensitive. Tough. Just because I generally respect other cultures doesn't mean I accept them in toto, or grant them automatic moral equivalence. I claim the right to call something barbaric by my standards, and refuse to say "it's all good." Sometimes, it's worth putting a Starbucks on every corner if it means widows aren't tossed on funeral pyres, though I certainly don't have a problem with McDonald's holding the two all beef patties in their Delhi franchises. Tandoori McChicken sounds just as tasty.

Feel free to disagree. If you don't like it, don't vote for me the next time I run for a slot in the Q Continuum. But I stand by my position that it's possible to take tolerance too dang far, and that there ARE lines to be drawn and not crossed. We can quibble over where those boundaries are; but to argue that they ought not exist at all is simply crap.

I'm getting some deja vu here. If I've done this rant before, please forgive. I'm a little rusty after so much downtime.

The uniqueness of a culture doesn't exactly make or break the "preserve or toss" balance. Mike Resnick's multi-award-winning Kirinyaga tells the tale of an outer-space Kikuyu colony, expatriates from a future Kenya who just want to become True Kikuyu again. The tribe's witch doctor, Western-educated but dismissive of all things non-Kikuyu, tries to craft his own vision of Utopia. Stitch by stich, the tapestry comes unraveled. He leaves twin infants to die of exposure. He expects the elderly to walk into the wilderness of their own accord, to be consumed by hyenas. He refuses to let women learn to read. Female circumcision is mandatory. All are unique, or semi-unique, and long-standing traditions of the Kikuyu people, but is that truly Utopia? Any and all innovations are stomped out because they deviate from the static vision that, in the end, only ONE man possesses--the man in charge of the society's fate. You can almost feel for the guy, but in the end he's not a sympathetic character. He's too rigid. Nobody can live up to such a customized vision of perfection, and in the end such a society can only be a Utopia for one person, while everyone else suffers.

Even in the Kirinyaga series, based on a concept by Orson Scott Card, there is an essential component. Every colony world must have a place called Haven, where anyone who chooses to leave their so-called Utopia can go, and get a free ride back to Earth (or wherever). Nobody can be forced to live there against their will, and nobody can be prevented from joining the society if they're willing to live by the established rules. Ledos, and the Ventu Refuge in particular, lacks this essential characteristic. Maybe some would choose to stay. maybe everyone would prefer to leave. But they are not given the choice.

To me, that's a serious flaw. Even the Ledosians aren't given the choice, and it is their planet. Janeway demoted and brigged Tom Paris when he tried to take away the choice from the so-called natives of the water planet in "Thirty Days." Here, Janeway gives him free rein to do pretty much the same thing, and it's amusing because he's been suffering under an irritating taskmaster for a few days. This after a lecture by Janeway about "obeying their laws" that landed him traffic school to begin with. Call it an inconsistency, even if it is captain's discretion.

*

Ah well. In the important sense, the episode did its job--it asked a question in the grey area, and though it provided AN answer, but didn't try to answer it for all time. It's still a grey area, and will continue to be so. In this case, they acted a certain way, based on the (incomplete) facts on hand...and if we don't all agree with the choice, it's at least something we can appreciate from the perspective of those on the scene.

The events planetside aren't exactly edge-of-your-seat exciting, but they progress fairly well, and Seven's change in attitude is believable. The technobabble is kept to a relative minimum, and doesn't get in the way of the more important stuff. The climax is a decent payoff, and amusing to boot. We're cheering for Tom to flip the bird to Mr. Fussypants and take his failing grade with typical screw-you amiability.

In short: Not a great hour of TV, but a good one. Good performances, good writing, some nicely amusing moments, a good meshing of the A/B plots. It kept my interest throughout, and gave me something to chew on without making me gag. And nobody died. I enjoyed it.

Call it three stars.

Next Week: Some Talaxians took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Neelix finds his special purpose. Tuvok gets happy feet.

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Last Updated: February 7, 2004
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