"Night"

[Disclaimer]

The usual. It's Paramount's playground; I'm just borrowing the equipment. Any resemblance to products, productions, novels, television shows, films, characters, public figures, celebrities, bodily fluids, et al., is purely intended for entertainment purposes.

These reviews are long, highly opinionated, and prone to digressions. They retell each episode from beginning to end in excruciating but dubiously accurate detail. If you haven't seen the episode yet and want to be surprised, run away.

But some people seem to like them, and if you don't mind your Trek with some tongue-in-cheek running commentary, hop on the fun bus and join the crowd, because Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.

[Summary]

The ship's long day's journey into night is interrupted by a little epic environmental disaster.

Jump straight to the Analysis

[Breakdown]

The unexpected but welcome sight of that Big Blue Marble of Earth is marred by only two things. First, it is being threatened by an alien dictator of sinister cunning and ruthless ambition. Second, it's spinning way too fast. At the rate it's going, Seven days would pass in about an hour.

Switch to an interior shot. The scene harks back to a bygone age, when the same stage was used by both Flash Gordon and the original American Bandstand. Toss in some blinking panels and lightning machines, throw a tarp over Chubby Checker, give the brass section some peppy bars that lean toward fff, and you've got yourself the interior of a rocket ship from a classic 1930s Sci Fi serial in living black and white.

His evil intergalactic royal highness, Doctor Chaotica, even uses Dick Clark's black-corded microphone to announce his ultimatum to the planet below, spinning the hits that are fit to pick. Cool, daddy-o. "Citizens of Earth--your destiny is in my hands," he drawls with candy-coated menace.

Doctor Chaotica looks as one would expect a public-domain galactic tyrant bent on earth's domination to look: a rough cross between Attila the Hun and Screech from Saved by the Bell. John Tesh goatee. Widow's peak skullcap straight out of J. Peterman's Ode to Druids catalogue. A shimmering metallic robe borrowed from James Brown's locker. (He looks very much like Flash Gordon's original arch-nemesis-picture available in the Sci Fi 100 edition of Entertainment Weekly; kudos for the attention to detail...)

"Those of you who acquiesce to my demands will be treated fairly," continues the supremely confident Evil Genius(TM), each syllable a dollop of evil rolled in crushed cashews, dipped in Belgian chocolate, and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. "Oppose me, and you face a dire fate indeed--as my slaves in the mines of Mercury!" The orchestra punctuates the threat appropriately. "You have . . . one hour."

As Global Conquest for Dummies cites in chapter one, you cannot be an effectively evil scourge of humanity without having a couple of hostages tied to chairs. Dr. Chaotica has two. One is a buxom blonde from Central Casting-- not Seven of Nine--wearing an elegantly engineered I Dream of Jeannie outfit, cascading blonde hair, and a stunningly vacant expression. Her chest heaves with worry. (Boy, is she worried.)

Her companion in captivity--J Crew fashion plate Harry Kim. "You'll never get away with this," Harry says confidently.

"Oh, but I shall," coos the Evil One, who snaps the microphone cabling like a bullwhip before tossing it on a control panel (accidentally flicking a switch that plays a few seconds of "At the Hop.") "Your once-proud country will fall to its knees." (Earth is a country?) He kneels in front of Harry's chair, which-coincidentally, I'm sure-also gives us a phenomenal view of the blonde. "How ironic that I am using your rocket ship to lead my space force into battle!"

Harry smirks. "You're wrong, Chaotica. Before you came on board, someone pushed the self-destruct button. In three minutes, we'll all be dead."

"Noooo!" screams Chaotica, going for the Emmy. He leans back in a full-extension Emote, face averted and twisted in anguished rage, left hand shielding his eyes from the view of his smug captive, the right grasping the chair for balance.

The vapid blonde snaps her chewing gum. To her credit, she does it expertly.

All eyes turn to the door as we hear pounding noises. The trumpet section gets busy as a familiar face enters the scene. It's Tom Paris, Helm Boy extraordinaire, wearing an action ensemble lifted right out of The Rocketeer (right down to the "rocket pack" on his back), wielding a hand held ray gun of unprecedented potential. (Now that you mention it, the blonde bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Connally in the same film, though not nearly as bright.) "The jig is up, your majesty," Paris says with gusto.

Harry and the blonde beam. The Evil One goes a paler shade of gray. "Captain Proton...." he whispers.

Paris/Captain Proton lifts his aviator goggles onto his forehead. "Spaceman First Class, protector of Earth, scourge of intergalactic evil...at your service," he says, keeping his spank ray trained on the nefarious Doctor Chaotica as he edges toward his friends. Salvation! Huzzah!

"But I saw you fall into the fiery mouth of that volcano!" Chaotica protests.

"It takes more than a little lava to stop Captain Proton," Tom says as he rapidly unties his buddies with one hand. "Now, I want you to call off your invasion and give me back my rocket ship." Harry and the blonde rise from their chairs, flanking their hero. Her two-piece outfit is even more eye-popping when she's standing. (Just a guess: Tom and B'Elanna are having relationship problems.)

But Chaotica is not thwarted yet. "There is one force in this universe that even you cannot defeat." He talks to his own hand, like Johnny Sako of Giant Robot fame. Or anyone on Babylon 5.

The door opens. Closeup of the blonde, who screams crisply on cue at the unspeakable horror about to be unleashed on them.

Holodoc enters, In Color--which makes him thoroughly out of place in this monochromatic setting. "The same to you," Doc says. (Look out, Chaotica's got an insult comic!)

"Doc," Paris says, irked by the intrusion. Harry's also miffed. The blonde and the evil genius look at each other and shrug, confused.

"Mr. Paris. I should have known it was you monopolizing the Holodeck."

"Who is this insolent fool?" Chaotica demands.

"Uh, he's one of our men," Harry stammers, thinking quickly, then whispers an order to the computer to "adjust the doctor's spectral frequency." Doc's image flickers, then returns in the appropriate shades of gray. He's not amused. "I have no interest in your frivolous fantasy," Doc snipes. "I'm here to rehearse a duet from Don Carlo and you've already gone three minutes into my scheduled ti..."

"Enough!" demands Chaotica, speaking into his hand again. "Robot, attack!" (Yep, definitely Johnny Sako.)

In comes a Price Club-sized tin can with Slinky arms and legs, looking like the grandfather of PimpBot 5000, buzzing with a menace that suggests he flunked Asimov 101. The blonde dutifully screams again, prompting a wince from Tom and Harry. Paris, realizing that this is no ordinary killer robot, places both hands on his ray gun.

"Destroy them," urges Chaotica imperiously, who points with trademark menace toward the Doc. "Start with him." The robot shuffles gingerly toward the stairs.

Doc rolls his eyes. "Computer, freeze program." The scene halts in its tracks, all but for Paris and Kim and Doc, leaving Chaotica to point, the blonde to pose, and the robot with elbows almost bent to the devastating 90-degree Angle of Doom. Doc makes his way to the Holodeck control panel and starts tapping away, calling up his Don Carlo program.

Paris protests. "Doc, this is the final chapter--Satan's Robot Conquers the World. We can't stop now!" He cancels Doc's commands.

"Does the phrase 'To Be Continued' mean anything to you?" (Ba-Dum Boom)

Tom says Doc's opera can wait. Doc calls Paris' show "a waste of photonic energy."

"Oh, really?" says Tom, disbelieving. "Take a look around you. This is how the 20th century saw the future. We are studying sociology." (Not to mention anatomy...)

Doc frowns. "Perhaps you can teach a course at Starfleet Academy--'Satan's Robot: an Historical Overview.'" Perhaps the blonde was right; Doc's wit is deadlier than any ol' robot.

A game of dueling programming takes place between Doc and Paris. And just as Rayna blew a gasket when she couldn't choose between Jim Kirk or Our Man Flint, the control panel finally declares it a draw-and gives up the ghost in a hail of sparks.

*

The Holodeck's distress does not escape Chakotay's attention. He instantly notes the warning flash on his console and hails the Holodeck, demanding an explanation.

"Oh, nothing, Commander. Just a little power surge," says Harry.

"Says here the Hologrid just blew out," Chakotay says, more worried than you'd expect. Paris says they're fixing it now. "Well, make it quick. The last thing we need is a broken Holodeck."

Really? Since when is that such a high priority?

We note that the bridge is virtually empty; just Chakotay and a helm girl who appears to be nodding off. The forward view screen is black as coal. Hmmm.

Seven of Nine exits the turbolift; Chakotay seems glad of the company. "I want good news. That's an order," he snaps cordially.

"Then I must disobey; I have no good news to report," says Seven amiably. "I've completed an astrometric scan of the entire region. There are no star systems within 2,500 light-years."

Chakotay's shocked. "Nothing?" Nothing, she confirms. He asks why they can't see any stars beyond that. "There are heavy concentrations of theta-radiation. It is occluding our sensors," she tells him.

"Any other ships out there?" he asks. "None," say Seven. "We are alone."

Chakotay's expression is pained. "Every sailor's nightmare. . . It's like being becalmed in the middle of the ocean. If it weren't for sensors we wouldn't even know we were at warp. We've only been crossing this expanse for two months and we're already feeling the strain. How do we last another two years?"

"We will adapt," says Seven. "Easier said than done," says the hollow-eyed Chakotay.

Ah, I see the problem. Boredom can be the worst stress of all. Two years of nothing would be awfully hard to take. Not very scintillating drama, either.

See you in 2000, folks.

"Shall I inform the Captain of my findings?" Seven asks.

Chakotay winces at the mention of Janeway. "No," he says after a long pause, his back to Seven of Nine, his pained expression ours alone to witness. "I'll tell her."

Uh oh. This can't be good.

* * *

First Officer's log, Stardate 52081.2. It's been 53 days since we entered this desolate region. If we want to continue our course toward home we have no choice but to cross it. We won't have an opportunity to take on fresh supplies or fuel so I've ordered all departments to create an energy reserve. We're using power cells to stockpile deuterium.

In some ways, this is the most difficult time for a Starship-- knowing each day will be just like the last.

*

The briefing room is not a happy place. Compared to the dour looks of Paris, Kim, Torres, Doc and Chakotay, Tuvok's impassivity comes across as almost cheerful. Neelix is trying, but even he is showing stress. Chakotay sits at the head of the table. For those playing the P/T home game, Paris and Torres sit very far apart and never look at each other.

The Captain is absent.

"This won't be much of a briefing," Torres says dismissively. "There's nothing new to report."

"Humor me," Chakotay says, trying to maintain discipline and routine. Torres complies halfheartedly; the ship's in great shape, the engines are operating at peak efficiency, and the staff is going stir-crazy.

Harry's next. "Nada," says the still-uppity-after-all-these-months Ensign Kim. This earns him a displeased look from Chakotay. "Can you be more specific?" he asks. Kim, unchastened, says all systems are Go.

Things pick up when Tuvok mentions "a sudden increase in theta-radiation in the vicinity." Chakotay tries to muster some enthusiasm, suggesting they look into it.

"Finally, some excitement-- radiation!" exults Paris sarcastically; some chuckle, Chakotay grimaces.

Poor Chakotay tries to maintain order, with limited success. "Next piece of business. Crew morale."

"Deteriorating...Obviously," notes Doc, glaring at the disgruntled Tom and Harry.

Neelix offers a couple of suggestions to the grateful Chakotay. "Rotate crew assignments. Add variety to the daily routine. I myself wouldn't mind squeezing in a little tactical training." ("Noted," says the unenthusiastic Tuvok.) "And the Holodecks have been in high demand. I was thinking...we could install a few emitters in Cargo Bay Two-- turn it into a third Holodeck."

Doc loves the idea. Seven is not here to object to the proposed intrusion on her alcove. Chakotay tells Harry to proceed nonetheless.



Neelix continues--cautiously. "One other item, sir. Point of, uh, concern among some of the crew. It's...Well, it's the Captain. Uh, She's been a bit elusive lately."

Chakotay's composure had held remarkably well up to now, but once again the mention of Janeway changes his demeanor. "What's your point?" he demands dangerously.

"People take comfort in talking to her," Neelix explains carefully. "When they see that the Captain's happy, they're happy."

Paris chimes in, his manner more subdued. "Rumor has it she never leaves her quarters."

"Captain's privilege," Chakotay snaps. "She'll come to the bridge if and when she's needed."

"Spare us the protocol, Chakotay," says Torres. "It's pretty odd, you've got to admit it."

She may have spoken as though to her friend, but it's the First Officer who responds. Chakotay glares at her, then sweeps his gaze across the room. "It's her choice. She can run this ship from wherever the hell she wants to. Understood?"

Torres wisely doesn't press the issue further. "Yeah. Sure," she says softly. Nobody else dares speak up.

Chakotay massages his forehead and sighs. "We're all feeling the pressure, including me," he says.

"Listen, maybe we've got the wrong attitude," Kim says helpfully. "Let's think of this as a two-year vacation." His fellow offers sink in their seats, silently distancing themselves from the suggestion. Chakotay smiles, though, appreciating the diversion from his outburst. "Dismissed," he says.

Torres mutters under her breath about Harry's idea; Paris piles on as they exit the conference room.. "Wow, Harry. You're a real genius. How do you come up with these brilliant ideas?"

"You're such an optimistic guy," ripostes Harry. (A certain review boy pleads to the script gods that he never hears a comeback line like lame again in his lifetime, and that we won't see here a replay of the same execrable Paris/Kim banter that doomed "Demon.")

Soon the conference room is empty. Chakotay's shoulders slump as soon as the coast is clear. With a deep breath, he too exits, using the door to the bridge, where once again he shares its vastness with the lone and terminally bored helmswoman, forced to sit and stare desolately at the abyss--without even the distraction of conversational discontent.

Neelix was spot-on, and Harry had it exactly wrong. When the chief enemy is boredom, they should be fully staffed at all times, running drills like the dickens, cross-training, studying, testing out some of those alien propulsion technologies and other "speed up the trip" crackpot ideas, and generally staying too dang busy to think about what is or isn't Out There.

As Susan Ertz once said, "Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon."

*

In the darkness of crew quarters, we hear gasping and panting from Neelix's bed. The noises suggest panic rather than passion. Neelix finally calls for lights-as much light as the computer is willing to give. Clad in bedclothes even more garish than Talaxian daywear, Neelix wheezes his way to the replicator. "Bergamot tea, hot," he practically shouts, voice trembling. He takes the steaming cup of Lime Koolaid liquid and does his best to keep his hands steady.

His eyes are drawn inexorably to the utter black beyond his portal. In the silence of his quarters, Neelix has the freedom to be less than encouraging. He looks downright frightened. "First thing in the morning, I replicate some curtains," he finally says, tearing his eyes from the void.

*

Mess hall. Paris and Torres play a game not entirely unlike chess. Paris makes a move, removes a piece, and hands it to Torres. "Predictable," she says without enthusiasm. "The Novakovich gambit--you always use that opening move."

"That's because you always fall for it," Paris says, dully.

"I feel like we've played this match a hundred times," Torres complains, fatigued.

"Derata is a game of subtlety," Tom mutters, eyelids half closed from sleeplessness.

"Too subtle for me," B'Elanna grouses with a yawn.

"Hmm. I'll bet," he mutters mostly to himself before taking a sip of something.

Uh oh. That woke her up. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Tom ignores the warning signs. "Well, if it doesn't involve Klingon pain sticks--"

"Good night," Torres says, rising to leave.

Paris rises as well, and the room chills.

"You don't want to start a fight with me now-- not at 3:00 a.m," says Torres.

"3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the afternoon-- what's the difference? You're angry 24 hours a day." The blonde in the Holodeck makes a lot more sense now....

They continue their bickering as Neelix enters, looking like death warmed over-which, since "Mortal Coil," he has been. Dutifully, he steps in to restore morale.

It doesn't work. Paris complains about Torres' newfound interest in bloodletting; B'Elanna snipes about Tom's interminable lame attempts at humor. Neelix tries valiantly to neutralize the toxicity of the exchange, but to no avail.

"I have a better idea," says Paris, mocking Neelix. "Why don't we make a schedule--a fight rotation. We can optimize our resources. I can start one, you can start one..." Torres bites back, Neelix is ignored...

And finally, he snaps. "Stop!" he shouts with all the air his lung can muster. "You're senior officers! You are you are supposed to be setting an example for the rest...(gasping) the rest of the crew--"

Leave it to Neelix-he actually managed to get the bickering to stop. Tom and B'Elanna forget their fight long enough to help the hyperventilating Neelix to sick bay.

*

"Some morale officer I turned out to be," Neelix mutters to himself as Doc gives him the once-over.

"I've given you a mild sedative," Doc says, happy for the opportunity to treat someone. "It should control the urge to hyperventilate and alleviate some of your anxiety."

"Anxiety?" Neelix asks, incredulous. "Anxiety's what I feel when I burn a pot roast. This...This is more like..."

"Dizziness? Nausea? Unspeakable dread?" Doc asks. Neelix's reaction is affirmation enough. "Nihiliphobia: the fear of nothingness. Or in layman's terms, the fear of...Nothingness." Thanks, Doc; that clears it up. "If it's any consolation, I can relate to it. I go into a void every time I'm deactivated. Emptiness, complete and utter oblivion. I'll admit, it was unsettling at first--the existential horror of it all..."

Doc is too busy waxing dramatic to notice Neelix's queasy expression. "You're not helping, Doctor."

"Sorry," Doc says sincerely. "My point is, you'll get used to it."

Neelix still looks deeply concerned. "I hope so." He slips off the table and without another word, exits Sickbay. Doc watches him go, frowning sympathetically.

(I'm really surprised they didn't follow up on "Mortal Coil" here; it would have been a perfect moment. What better explanation for his nihiliphobia? Paris may even have taken to calling their current locale the Great Forest, just to get under Neelix's necrotized skin...)

*

Seven of Nine enters the astrometric lab, to find Tuvok staring at a field of stars, his meditation lamp (the one made memorable in "The Gift") lit. Seven asks if she's disturbing him; he says no. She asks if the lab has been designated for "recreational use."

"I come here to meditate. Needless to say, the view from my quarters has been less than stellar lately." (Oy; Vulcan puns. Spock was famous for them.) Tuvok seems to be feeling the strain as much as anyone.

"Astronomical phenomena help you to focus your mind," Seven observes.

"Yes. I imagine that each star represents a single thought."

"Meditation-- it rejuvenates you?" she asks, and he says it does. Seven's voice changes slightly, the meter sped up slightly. "I suggest you try Borg regeneration. It's much more efficient. A simple cortical implant would be required." I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that Seven was joking-delivery's not quite up to Doc's standards, but compared to some of Tom and Harry's lines tonight she's Sammy Sosa.

Tuvok accepts the 'advice' in the proper spirit. "Another time, perhaps."

Something unusual happens. Given the sheer boredom of the previous two months, anything happening at all is unusual. When the console beeps, the banter ends, and Seven and Tuvok work together with typical superb efficiency. Seven reports that long-range sensors are picking up dangerously high levels of theta-radiation. Source...unknown.

*

Chakotay reports Seven's findings to the Captain. Her quarters are barely lit. Inside the current blackness, the abundance of windows means even greater reminder of where they are and how little is out there. Janeway seems to have been wallowing in it. She stares out the window, not facing her first officer. Only one hand rests on a hip; the other hangs limply.

"It's probably nothing," Chakotay says. "Just...Background theta-radiation. But it could mean there's someone nearby." After asking about the distance-25 light years-she tells him to alter course. Chakotay acknowledges.

But doesn't leave.

"If that's all, Commander..." Janeway says dismissively.

"Actually, I'd like to make a request. I've been saving up my Holodeck rations and I've got three full hours coming. Any chance I might persuade you to join me for a few rounds of Velocity? It'll help clear your mind."

"My mind is perfectly clear," Janeway says. Her words sound a bit slurred. Has she switched to Irish coffee lately?

The first officer feels a desperate need to get her out of her oppressive quarters. He notes the clothes strewn about, the empty pints of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia, half-empty bottles of Zima, Cameron's Titanic playing on her terminal screen (the Director's Cut, which may well last the whole two-year journey...) Even this far from the Captain, he can tell she's in a full-on funk. Her hair has lost its luster, and much of its length, and cries out for a visit to Mr. Mott. No jacket; just a ratty old Starfleet Academy sweatshirt, with the sleeves cut off and a few fresh salsa stains.

Chakotay persists. "And what if I told you I'm not leaving until you join me?"

"I'd say, 'have a seat, it'll be a while.'"

Chakotay frowns, knowing he's got his work cut out for him. "Then I'll be blunt. You've picked a bad time to isolate yourself from the crew. This ship needs a Captain, especially now."

Janeway turns, then walks toward him. "Would you be satisfied with 'I'm just catching up on some reading'? I'm not sure I understand it myself," she admits. "It started when we entered this--what does the crew call it?" The Void, he tells her. "Charming. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a few Borg cubes about now--anything for a little distraction. Strange as it sounds, I almost long for the days when we were under constant attack. No time to stop and think about how we got stranded in the Delta Quadrant."

Ah. I see the problem.

"How did we end up here, Chakotay? Answer me."

Chakotay shifts his weight nervously from heel to heel. "We were faced with a difficult choice. We had the means to get home but using it would have put an innocent people at risk, so we decided to stay."

Janeway's voice gets more animated. "No...No, no. I decided to stay. I made that choice for everyone."

Chakotay tries for a positive spin. "We're alive and well, and we've gathered enough data about this quadrant to keep Starfleet scientists busy for decades. Our mission's been a success!"

Janeway's shoulders sag. "Very same words I've been telling myself for the past four years. But then we hit this void and I started to realize how empty those words sound."

"Kathryn..."

"I made an error in judgment, Chakotay. It was shortsighted and it was selfish and now all of us are paying for my mistake!" (I'd say it's time for Doc to step in and confine her to sickbay for a little angst therapy...) "So if you don't mind, Commander, I'll pass on that little game and I'll leave shipboard morale in your capable hands. If the crew asks for me tell them the Captain sends her regards."

Her voice, by the end, is barely a whisper. Chakotay dares not say another word, for fear that she will fade away completely in the midst of her reply.

*

The bridge is even emptier than usual. Not even a pilot, which seems a bad move at high warp, regardless. The Big Chair is occupied, legs draped over the armrest, by a clarinet-playing Ensign Kim. His melody is in one of those haunting minor keys that seem appropriate to the setting.

He sits up straight when he hears the turbolift doors open, but is still caught off-guard when Tuvok enters.

"Relax, Ensign. Anything to report?"

"Not even a stray electron. But I did finish writing my concerto. I call it 'Echoes of the Void.' Got a minute?"

"Too many, in fact."

Harry smiles, grateful for the company. "Tell me what you think." He resumes playing. Tuvok listens appreciatively.

*

Tom's got the Holodeck again, and it's back to black and white. He's trying to recruit Seven of Nine for the cast. "Now, when we last saw our heroes they had just retaken their rocket ship," he explains. "Dr. Chaotica had escaped, but he left behind his trusty robot to foil Captain Proton."

Seven has matured to the point where she no longer questions the need for such distractions, and probably finds such a need herself-implants, alcoves, regeneration notwithstanding. "My designation?" she asks without hesitation.

"Ah, right. You're Constance Goodheart. You're...my secretary." He seems almost embarrassed to say it.

" 'Secretary'?" A term unfamiliar to her, apparently. (You go, girl.)

"Yeah. You tag along on all the missions. Now, I want you to keep the robot occupied while I save Earth." He leaves her with the walking hot water heater while he moves to one of the control panels.

It would seem that Paris has resumed his former position as Poster Boy for Pig-boy Manliness.

"Computer, run program," Paris calls out.

The robot comes to life. Its mechanical voice is predictably fearsome. "Citizen of Earth, surrender!" it says. Its arms wave about, the dryer-tubing arms finally locking at the dreaded Ninety Degrees of Doom. It advances toward Seven, who takes a step or two back but does not panic.

"Do not resist!" It says, oblivious to the irony. It's almost upon her! The trumpets are blaring! The valve oil on the French horns bursts into flame! Oh, the humanity!

"I am Borg," says Seven fiercely. A titanic battle ensues, wherein she evades the robot's fearsome claws, ducks, weaves, parries, thrusts, and finally manages to disable it by opening up the panel on its chest and yanking out the power cord.

Man, that was a tense quarter second. She almost chipped a nail getting the panel open.

"Sur-ren...durrrrrrrr...." the robot says as its arms droop and its torso sags in defeat.

"The robot has been neutralized," Seven tells Paris before he's had a chance to look heroic. "May I leave now?"

Poor Tom. He strolls over, slides between the robot and Seven, and pleads. "Come on, Seven. Give it a chance. The galaxy's at stake." He looks at her with those big ol' puppy dog eyes of his.

Seven melts. The corners of her mouth inch upward.

Deep in the heart of the orchestra pit, a lone saxophone starts into a Barry White number, and the electric bass soon joins in.

*

Switch to the clarinet on the bridge. Tuvok continues to listen intently.

Then everyone gets their wish. Something happens.

Be careful what you wish for.

The ship is rocked, hard. Kim and Tuvok immediately go to their stations-Harry literally vaults the railing between the Captain's chair and his Ops station. He announces that they've dropped out of warp and that power is draining all over the ship.

Every room, every corridor, every work area, loses power. Janeway gets all the darkness she can stand, and then some-though Titanic continues to play (you just can't stop it). Torres watches helplessly as the big blue warp core goes from blue to black, immersing Engineering and all within it in darkness as complete as it is outside. We cut to the exterior, as the single beacon in the Void is extinguished, one piece at a time.

Soon, all is black.

* * *

"I was hoping for a change of pace," says Harry, "but a blackout isn't exactly what I had in mind." He lifts a panel off one of the bridge stations while Tuvok holds the flashlight. "I'll try tapping into the energy reserves."

*

Chakotay, wearing his flashlight on his wrist, tries to open a door but finds the power is totally out. He stops what he's doing when he hears short, rapid breathing, and heads in that direction.

I've been told I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Chakotay's jacket is off, he's in his Starfleet undershirt, and that he looks, er, "yummy." Rippling forearms, well-defined chest, washboard abs, yada yada. Total babe, Latin Adonis, girls swoon, fertility rates skyrocket, and so on. Even in the oppressive Big Dark, his luminescent manliness is a beacon to us all.

Moving on.

*

In Engineering, flashlights are everywhere as Torres and her people work frantically. "Get inside those plasma injectors! Infuse them manually if you have to," she barks.

*

In the darkness of the Holodeck, we hear the following.

"Lieutenant!"

"Just a second. I'm not sure how to work this thing."

I'm not even gonna comment.

Paris finally manages to get a 20th-century flashlight working, which he uses to get him down the stairs without tripping.

It's a clear paradox that during the ship-wide power outage, which affects even the Holodeck, Paris and Seven are still (1) on the Captain Proton set, which should have been disappeared, and (2) in black and white, which the hologrid makes possible. But if it's working, why would the lights go out?

But oh well. In true Flash Gordon spirit, never let logic stand in the way of a good plot twist.

"Captain Protein to the rescue!" he says dramatically, smirking, holding the light up to his face to illuminate his nostrils in that oh-so-sexy way he does. He and Seven stand mere inches apart; the romantic tension is thick enough to cut thin and serve between two slices of danger. "It's not exactly Starfleet issue." Seven humors him, her silence the appropriate riposte.

Paris waves the light about until it zeroes in on the holodeck controls. They walk over and run a quick diagnostic-that they're able to at all is better than what Chakotay and Torres had to work with.

Paris reads the display. "Ship-wide power loss? Everything's off-line--main power, auxiliary..."

Seven, using her trusty PalmPilot XLVII, piggybacks in and does her own analysis. "Independent subsystems are operational--environmental controls, Holodecks..." (So answers part one of my question, why the program is still operational.) "Reroute power from this Holodeck to the emergency relays," Seven says with the Voice that Must be Obeyed.

Paris looks at her, surprised. Then he shakes his head and complies. "Yes, ma'am," he says with all the deference he would give to the Captain.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Constance Goodheart to the rescue! Chapter 21: Captain Proton bows before Girl Power.

Unfortunately, he says after a few seconds; you don't need to be a longtime viewer to recognize the buzz of negative response from the computer. "No luck. The hologrid is frozen."

Which, if you stretch it, satisfies part two. Holodeck hit a GPF. The screen's still up, but you can't do anything more with it.

Which could make exiting a problem.

*

Chakotay finds the source of the breathing. Neelix is curled into a ball against the door to his quarters, fiercely clutching his cherished blanket ("Demon") and struggling mightily not to succumb to his fear of the absolute Nothingness surrounding him.

Chakotay is the perfect person to find him. Nobody else would be as compassionate. He helps the Talaxian to his feet and leads him away. "Come on. Take deep breaths-- nice and slow. That's it."

*

Harry Kim works his magic and is rewarded with a beep. "Bingo! We've got partial sensors." The bridge is still dark, but we see the lights of several key stations go active. He and Tuvok rush to Ops, where Harry performs the initial scans. "I found the cause of our power drain. It's some kind of dampening field. The source is off the port bow. That's about all I can tell you."

Tuvok orders up an On screen. Harry complies, but the result is the same inky nothingness as before. He thinks quickly. "Do we have the power to launch proton torpedoes?" Maybe one, says Harry, but why? "Perhaps we could shed some light on our predicament. I'm reconfiguring the torpedo to emit a sustained poly-luminous burst." Harry catches on quick-a warp flare. Precisely, says Tuvok.

*

Paris tries to open the hatch of his Rocket Ship, with no success. He invades Seven's personal space to tell her, "I need something to pry open this hatch," before taking the lead once again.

Paris sweeps the room with his flashlight-and pauses on the unexpected sight of-

What the heck would you call that? Humanoid, brownish, lumpy, in color (so not part of the holoprogram), sensitive to light. Kinda looks like a naked, chocolate version of Freddy Krueger. Or Swamp Thing. Or Geordi LaForge when he turned into that wussy invisible alien.

Whatever it is, when Paris hits it with the flashlight, it gets mad. It angrily rushes Paris, and smacks him hard, enveloping him briefly in light and dropping him like the Dow Jones average when Alan Greenspan forgets to take his Prozac. Seven of Nine grabs Captain Proton's ray gun, yells at the computer (frozen, isn't it?) to disengage the safety protocols (it complies), and fires.

Well whaddya know? It works. She nails the alien in the chest; it shivers uncontrollably as if freezing to death, howls like a wounded dog; its eyes go wide before rolling back in its head. It slides to the floor, unconscious.

Constance Goodheart to the rescue!

*

Neelix clings to Chakotay as they inch their way through the corridors. Neelix tells chakotay he saw something, and they proceed cautiously. At first, they find nothing, but Neelix is insistent. "I may be nihiliphobic but my eyes work just fine." A few seconds later, another sense chimes in. "I can hear breathing," he adds.

Finally, the light lands on something unfamiliar-another photophobic rocky-road alien that charges like a bezerker toward the light.

It's brought up short, though, with an angry flash of orange that strikes its back. The alien looks over its shoulder at the fearsome presence.

Janeway. Fully dressed. And packing heat.

She's baaaack....

I am disappointed, though. The official Bad Mama spank ray of the Starship Voyager did less damage than Captain Proton's Holodeck ray gun.

She takes a few more potshots at the alien, but it scurries down the corridor, avoiding another direct hit.

"Follow me," Janeway says, all business. Betsy leads the way.

"Yes, ma'am," Neelix says obediently.

Chakotay's jaw is set as he brings up the rear, but his eyes gleam with joy; his Captain is back.

*

Tuvok tells Kim the torpedo is reconfigured. Away it goes.

A streak of brilliant white lights up the exterior, heading portside.

Three large, daunting vessels are briefly illuminated.

Uh oh...

*

Torres continues to lead the efforts in engineering. "I can barely see the injector ports. How about a little light over here?"

"We can do better than that," Janeway says, leading the way, carrying something we saw back in Act One-a spare power cell, bristling with deuterium. "This power cell should be enough to get emergency power back on line."

Action Kate to the rescue!

*

Kim and Tuvok spring further into action as soon as emergency power comes on.

A second later, Torres gets the warp core working. Janeway hails the bridge, and Tuvok gives her the abbreviated version. "The dampening field has been blocked, Captain. We are surrounded by three alien vessels. 17 intruders are on board."

The aliens aren't responding to hails. Tuvok mentions that phasers make a great icebreaker. Janeway agrees.

Voyager gives a high-powered orange Hello. The aliens give a potent green Right Back Atcha.

Shield strength weakens. And they still don't have propulsion.

*

Seven assists a badly wounded Tom Paris into sickbay, where Doc takes over. "He was attacked by an intruder," Seven says. "I disabled the alien. It may still be alive."

"Bring it to sick bay," Doc orders.

I don't want to alarm you P/T types, but Tom and B'Elanna's relationship was always strengthened in episode where Tom got his butt kicked, injured, diseased, attacked, suffocated, folded, spindled, mutilated, etc-The Swarm, Macrocosm, Day of Honor, and so on.

Now Seven of Nine, after a nice holodeck adventure with Captain Proton, is dragging his charred carcass into Sickbay, mere hours after he and Torres had the latest in a long series of arguments.

I'd say Engine Gal has got some competition...

*

Voyager loses shields. The aliens reinitialize their dampening field, and lights start to flicker again. Neelix gasps; "not again..."

But as quickly as it begins, it stops.

"They've stopped their attack. They're beaming off the ship," Chakotay reports.

Another vessel shows up, unlike the other three. It came to chew gum and kick hiney.

And it's all out of gum.

The sky goes very bright. A baker's dozen of explosive charges, each larger than the alien vessels, sends them scurrying.

"We're being hailed," Kim reports.

"On screen. I'm Lieutenant Commander Tuvok of the Federation..."

Hey, it's Baron Harkkonen!

"I had to fire 13 spatial charges to drive those ships off. I expect to be compensated," the alien says in a voice that's gruff but not inherently unkind.

And he did just save their bacon. "Of course," says Tuvok.

The Baron looks pleased. "Now...Tell me...What are you doing in the middle of nowhere?"

* * *

Janeway and Chakotay wait in the transporter room for their new friend to arrive. When the transport arrives, the bio-filters immediately kick in. The guy's so radioactive he's practically glowing. A forcefield is erected.

The resemblance to Baron Harkkonen is not exact, but surprisingly close. Larger than life. Lots of hideous growths on his face. Most of his hair has fallen out. His isolation suit looks inflagable, and has an I/O port. The major difference: he doesn't defy gravity. Or tug at your heartstrings.

When I think of the Vogons, from now on, I'll picture this guy. Yuck.

"Welcome aboard," says Janeway warmly. "I'm afraid we'll have to talk here. You appear to be leaking."

He introduces himself as "Controller Emck of the Malon export vessel, eleventh gradient." His first bit of advice, short-circuiting Janeway's diplomacy, begins almost immediately. "I'd advise you to turn around immediately. There are more of those creatures ahead-- thousands of vessels. They are almost impossible to detect. You won't survive another attack." Janeway says they can't go back, that home is on the other side of the expanse. Emck's demeanor changes. "Mmm. Then, uh... It appears you'll be coming with me...There's a spatial vortex a few light years from here. It leads directly to the other side of the expanse. We've been using it for years."

Chakotay notes that it would (1) get them out of this black hellhole, and (2) cut another two years off their trip. Janeway beams. "Well, thank you again. I'm curious, Mr. Emck. What are you doing here-- besides rescuing Starships in distress?"

Emck is evasive. "I'm on a...transport mission." He quickly changes the subject. "My sensors tell me that one of the creatures is still aboard your ship." He wants the creature in exchange for the fast track out of the Void.

Janeway's paranoia alarm kicks into high gear. She asks questions, which Emck dodges-the Malon's relationship with the Void aliens, what exactly he's transporting, etc-the usual 60 Minutes stuff.

Emck tells her that he's leaving in two hours. "Cooperate or stay behind. I won't be coming to your rescue when the creatures return."

He meant that to be his final word. But he apparently forgot that he's not on his own vessel. After an uncomfortable pause, he says, "I'm finished here." Janeway nods, and the guy gets beamed away.

"I think it's time we heard the other side of the story," Janeway says, jaw set.

*

Sickbay is dark. Doc's alien patient requires it. "My patient is extremely photosensitive....From what I can tell this life-form may be indigenous to the void. His physiology has evolved to survive in complete darkness."

"His condition?" Janeway asks.

"Minor injuries-- phaser wounds to the chest and neck-- but that's the least of his problems. He's dying, Captain. Every organ is degrading at the cellular level."

"Theta-radiation poisoning?"

"The final stages. My guess is he's been exposed to it over a long period. There's nothing I can do."

Janeway meets the alien. It accuses her of being allied with the Malon, which she denies. She assures him they won't hand him over to Emck. "You're not a captive here."

The alien shivers in obvious distress. Doc asks if they're at war with the Malon. "Their ships are poison...They're killing us."

"What do they want from you?"

"Nothing," the alien says. "They're poisoning our space. We don't know why." Doc tries to stabilize the alien, but it's a losing cause; he suggests they get the creature back to its people; perhaps they can treat him. The alien agrees to lead them there, and thanks them for their help.

Janeway tells Chakotay to take the bridge; she's going to stay with the alien. Chakotay mentions the dampening field; Janeway expresses confidence it won't be used on them again. She looks almost cheerful. "Finally--something to put in my logbook."

*

Chakotay arrives on the bridge (now bustling with activity) and asks Tuvok to join him in the conference room. "I need your advice," he says when they're alone.

Tuvok looks moderately surprised. "A first."

Chakotay doesn't rise to the bait. "Look, I realize we're not exactly best friends. From day one, we've kept each other at arm's length. But I've always respected your judgment--and right now, I could use a little Vulcan clarity." Nicely handled! I'm impressed.

So is Tuvok. "Proceed."

Chakotay sighs with relief; after four years, that may have been the hardest part of this talk. "It's the Captain. As you may have noticed, she's isolated herself from the crew."

Tuvok cuts to the chase. "She believes that she made an error in judgment four years ago--that she's responsible for stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant."

Chakotay's eyes go wide. He frowns, fights down a flash of anger. "She told you?"

"No. I've been observing her behavior for the past four years. Guilt has been her constant companion."

That would explain a lot.

"You've known her longer than anyone. Have you ever seen her like this?"

"Only once. It was during her first year as a Commander on the USS Billings." (If Tuvok was with her, that means that this was her second command. He was assigned to her after he reviewed her performance on her first command for Starfleet headquarters.) "She sent an away team to survey a volcanic moon. Their shuttle was damaged by a magma eruption and three crew members were severely injured. The next day, she returned to the moon, alone, to complete the survey. She wanted the crew to know that their suffering had not been in vain. She could have been killed."

"Seeking redemption..."

"Precisely. Captain Janeway's methods are--unorthodox. It is her strength as a leader but, unfortunately, it is also her greatest weakness."

"Stubborn as a Klingon."

"To put it mildly," Tuvok agrees.

Chakotay makes a decision. "If she tries something like that again I want to be ready--and I'm going to need your support."

Tuvok nods.

*

They arrive at the coordinates provided by the alien. Eight ships are there, with twelve more on the way. A bio-scan confirms the terrible truth-every one of the aliens is dying from theta-radiation exposure.

"We have lived here for millions of years, undisturbed, until the Malon came....We tell them they are killing us. They won't listen. We try to stop them. They're too strong!"

"What about the vortex?" Janeway asks. "Can you close it? Keep them out?"

"We don't know how!" the alien wails in anguish. "Your ship is powerful. Your people resourceful. We need your help!"

"Bridge to Captain," Chakotay says. "They're locking onto the alien in sick bay."

"Lower the shields," Janeway orders.

"Will you help us?!" the alien begs, before disappearing in a swirl of dim violet.



* * *

In Astrometrics, Janeway stares, arms folded, at the massive view screen while Chakotay and Seven scan the Malon vessel. But scans are barely necessary; the visual alone is damning. Toxic, luminous clouds of radioactive funk, contaminated antimatter, billow out of the Malon vessel. Chakotay reports that Emck's vessel is packed to the rafters with the deadly gunk.

Janeway reining in her anger, has Seven hail the Malon. She tells him she knows why he wanted the Void alien, and asks why he's using this dark zone for his species' cesspool. Emck says that should be obvious-it's a perfect disposal site. Almost perfect, Chakotay points out-someone lives here. Only one species, Emck corrects.

One's enough, says Janeway. "We didn't come here to debate the issue. We came here to offer a peaceful solution." She tells Emck that with a little help from his Federation friends (in exchange for a piggyback through the vortex) the Malon could learn to eliminate their toxic waste problem. She said they'd be happy to meet with his people on the other side. "Show me now," Emck insists. Janeway agrees; she tells Chakotay to handle the demonstration of environmentally-friendly Federation technology.

Then Janeway tells Seven to help her figure out the vortex, "just in case diplomacy fails."

"Do you intend to destroy it?" Seven asks.

A skin-melting Skunk Eye is her only response.

*

In Engineering, Torres explains the nuts and bolts and babble about combating theta-radiation for clean energy. Emck has some questions, which Torres easily answers.

"Ingenious design," says Emck. "Our engineers would be pleased. This would solve a lot of problems on my world." He grabs the railing, staring at the impressive warp core. "Unfortunately, it would also put me out of business."

Unlike the utopian Federation, it would seem the Malon are still a profit/loss economy. And Emck knows how to play the game. His ships may not look like much, but he's pulling in some serious profit because he's the only one who knows about the vortex. But if the starship were to revolutionize their technology, he'd be "obsolete."

In short: it might be good for my people, it might be good for the aliens in the Void, but it would be bad for me. Ergo, it ain't gonna happen. And if you try to use my vortex, I'll vaporize you.

Predictably, Torres doesn't take this well. She rams a Klingon pain stick into the guy's throat.

Well, she thinks about it. Chakotay stops her before she can inflict any serious damage.

Then he does an over-the-shoulder thumb toss. "Get him out of here."

Emck is grumpy, but too confident to be truly angry. As far as he's concerned, the little ship is no obstacle at all. If they get involved in his business, It's their funeral. He leaves without argument.

In case diplomacy fails...

*

In Janeway's quarters-brightly lit now, which is an improvement--Janeway and Chakotay pore over a visual of the Vortex and discuss their options. Chakotay suggests fighting their way past Emck and using his vortex to get home, then blowing the whistle on the guy to his people, sharing their clean fuel technology, and resuming their trip home a couple years closer. Janeway says there's no guarantee the rest of the Malon will do the right thing. She's worried about the existence of the vortex.

Chakotay asks if they can destroy it. Janeway says yes, but it has to be done from this side of the Vortex. (Chakotay's "Suicide Redhead" alert goes off.) Chakotay says he has no problem with spending the next two years in the Void, if it means protecting the Voidies (I wish they'd named the little chocolate beasties. Call 'em Dotted Howls, I guess.)

But Janeway's two months of self-inflicted reflective hell have taken their toll. "Four years ago I destroyed the Caretaker's array to protect the Ocampa. That 'act of compassion' stranded this crew in the Delta Quadrant. I'm not about to give that order again."

Danger, Will Robinson! "This situation is a little different," Chakotay says earnestly.

"Oh, it's close enough. I'm asking this crew to make too big a sacrifice. I won't make that same mistake."

"If you have another option, I'm listening," Chakotay says.

"Chakotay, there's no one I trust more than you. You're a fine first officer." She measures her words carefully. "Are you ready to Captain this ship?" She says it like she's ready to bequeath it to him.

The question confirms Chakotay's worst fears. "Yes," he admits.

"Assemble the crew."

*

The bridge is bright, shiny, and all the important cast members are in attendance, their demeanor anticipatory. Doc is there, and Seven of Nine, and Neelix, and Tin Man, and Scarecrow, and...

There are also in attendance a few oblivious extras who could die at any time. Like that guy with the Maquis insignia standing by Environmental controls, idly touching two exposed power leads, who accidentally said a line on screen last season.

ZOT!!!

Man, I love doing that. Send him to the corn fields, Billy...

Anyway. Janeway arrives, and since it's been a few months, the reaction is formal. "Captain on the bridge" Tuvok announces.

"At ease," Janeway says. Her eyes sweep slowly over the bridge and the people on it, drinking in the images like a camel at the oasis, about to journey through the Sahara.

Janeway makes a final lap around the interior, touching an arm here, a shoulder there, asking how everyone's been, one at a time.

Janeway gets right to the point. "I'll make this brief. Your orders are to proceed to the Vortex. Use whatever means necessary to fight your way past the Malon freighter. I'll stay behind in a shuttlecraft and destroy the Vortex. Tuvok, I'll need a class-two shuttle armed with photon torpedoes. Tom, set a course for..."

The crew just stares at her. Insolently.

Torres is the first to speak, cutting the Captain off. "Forget it. We're not going to let you die out here."

Janeway turns to her, voice soft. "Have a little faith, B'Elanna. I'll have a shuttle, plenty of rations. I'll survive."

"Alone in the Delta Quadrant?" Paris asks. "No offense, but..."

"I've made my decision," Janeway says testily.

Ensign Kim joins the fray. "What about us? Don't we have a say?"

Neelix concurs. "He's right, Captain. I'd be willing to brave this Void if it meant keeping you with us."

Janeway waves them all off imperiously. "Tom...Set a course."

Tom remains seated, arms folded, eyes defiant.

"Lieutenant, I gave you an order."

Tom stands. "I can't follow that order, ma'am," he says softly, respectfully...and firmly.

Janeway looks for a replacement. Yeah, the terminally unpromotable Ensign, that's it. "Harry, take the helm."

She forgets that Harry worships the ground she walks on, and once led a mutiny against Tuvok to force a mission to rescue Janeway ("Resolutions"). " I'm sorry, Captain," Harry says.

Janeway's hair and cheeks pop into Red Alert. She marches over to Chakotay, who meets her gaze but says nothing (given his piloting skills he'd be a bad choice anyway). Torres she doesn't even bother to ask. Neelix just shrugs.

She looks plaintively to Seven of Nine. " I will not comply." Dang. She's running out of options.

She gives a sideways glance at Doc. "What's a hologram to do?" he says with a half-smirk.

The Expendables keep their backs to the Captain at all times so they won't be asked.

"As you can see," Tuvok says to the outvoted Janeway, "you're not the only one who's had time to evaluate the past."

"Yes, I can see that," says Janeway dangerously. "You realize you could all be hanged for mutiny," she says, taking another lap, putting the fear of Action Kate into them. To no avail.

Was this a mutiny, or an Intervention? Janeway finally breaks into a Big Ole Grin and calls for a group hug. Danger past; the Captain's no longer in a self-sacrificial mood. "Looks like we need another option," she says.

Chakotay is ready with one. "We fire torpedoes the instant we cross the threshold. As the vortex begins to collapse we jump into high warp."

"There'll be a massive shock wave on our tail." She seems to like the idea. Dangerous, risky, action-packed. Torres already knows how to beef up the rear shielding.

"There's still one obstacle-- the Malon," says the Captain.

Tuvok is also well prepared. "Antimatter waste has weakened the bulkhead surrounding their cargo hold. A direct phaser strike should disable them." Doc smirks. "Poetic justice." Tuvok nods. "Indeed."

"You realize it will reduce our chance of getting through," Janeway says, trying one last time to do the sacrificial thing.

"Chance is irrelevant. We will succeed."

"A vote of Borg confidence. Who could argue with that?" Doc says airily.

Oh well. So today is not a good day to die, after all. But maybe the Malon will get lucky.

Janeway gives in. She'll stay. Drat the luck. The worst part is, she knows the rules have changed. "All right," she says, slapping the railing behind her chair. "Back to your stations. Let's do it." Chakotay barks the orders for battle stations.

The lights dim. Chakotay takes his seat. As Janeway passes him on the way to the Big Chair, she whispers harshly. "You told them. They knew coming in."

Chakotay meets her gaze. "Let's just say I wouldn't be a 'fine first officer' if I hadn't."

Check mate.

Janeway finally allows herself to smile.

* * *

The Starship Voyager flies through a field of exploding ship-killing fireworks. It's quite a visual.

"Return fire," says Janeway. "Hit them with everything we've got."

Phasers are joined by the rarely-used photon torpedoes in a furious volley. The stubborn Malon vessel refuses to go Boom.

"Their shields are holding," Tuvok reports. They try hailing Emck, but the Malon response is another round of spatial weaponry.

The battle merely slows their progress toward the Vortex. A Malon barrage takes out the port nacelle, but Tom can outpilot anything with one engine tied behind his back.

Which he gets the opportunity to prove.

Successfully. Paris breaths a sigh of relief when the dozen or so spatial charges fails to do too much damage, and they find themselves within visual range of the Vortex.. Only a stray yeoman or two are on fire.

"Captain Proton to the rescue," notes Seven of Nine approvingly. Captain Janeway, perplexed, casts a curious look at Tom Paris, who laughs out loud. "I'll explain later."

Paris/Seven fanfic writers: start your word processing engines....

Time to intercept the Vortex: "47 seconds." Yes, really. Janeway tells Tuvok to keep firing at the Malon.

Then stuff explodes. The other engine goes out.

Three cheers for inertia!

"One more hit and we're dead in the water. Without warp drive, we'll never outrun the shock wave."

Like that's gonna happen. They reinforce the aft shields even further and keep on gliding. "We're going to ride that shock wave out of here--let it push us to the other side," Janeway says.

Three Void vessels are coming at them from the direction of the Vortex.

Fortunately, anyone shooting at the Malon is okay with them. They open fire on Emck, and draw enough fire away from Voyager to give it those last precious seconds.

All is ready. They're in position. And the Malon shields are weakening. That's all Janeway needs to hear.

"Target their cargo hold. Time to take out the garbage."

Phasers. Photon torpedoes. Leftover pleekta rind casserole. Three copies of Waterworld.

The freighter goes Boom in a most satisfying way.

Voyager floats into the Vortex, and Janeway orders the photon torpedoes dropped like mines.

A few seconds later, they explode. A massive ball of plasma rapidly overtakes them.

They start surfing.

Paris manages to maintain control of the helm throughout, but by the time the shockwave finally dies down, their forward progress is slowed to a crawl.

And it's still dark outside.

"That little maneuver brought us up a bit short," Kim says. "We're still 200,000 kilometers from the boundary."

So they wait.

*

Slowly, the ship inches forward. Everyone strains at the view screen for any sign of light.

Paris speaks first. Doc questions his eyesight.

A panel chirps. "Bud."

Could be nothing.

"Wise" goes another.

"Ur," says a third.

A symphony of sensor alerts erupts on the bridge.

My gosh-it's full of stars...

Yeppers. The view screen is now awash in colors of the sort that Hubbel made famous.

"Harry, what do you see out there?" Janeway asks.

Harry foregoes the sensor sweep. He steps away from the panel and walks toward Seven of Nine. "I see a densely-packed region with thousands of star systems. Looks pretty lively." He smiles at Seven of nine, who stares at Tom Paris with lips pursed.

Janeway seems satisfied. "Full speed ahead."

I dare not ask-with what? They're still coasting.

But what the heck-it sounds good. And with B'Elanna on the job, they'll be back to good old boring peak efficiency in no time.

[Analysis]

Before I get to the review, let's recap some of the other shows out there that had season premieres recently.

The parallels are striking, aren't they? Let's continue.

Comparatively speaking, Voyager's season premiere was an absolute original.

*

I wasn't very impressed on first viewing. "Dune" meets "The Lorax," I wrote some friends. Big problem: too many plots that deserved more attention than they got.

Janeway's angst could have gone for a whole episode; she's got a lot to fret about from the last four years. They did do something interesting, and tie it all into that one fateful decision four years earlier to blow up the Caretaker's array, the decision that stranded them in the Delta Quadrant. I suppose if you're worried about anything else that's happened the past four years, you can blame it on the original event.

Janeway's brief conversations with Chakotay were useful-and many people were thrilled that finally Janeway showed a little introspection and acknowledged her own flawed humanity, something I've longed to see. But I would have loved to hear a few personal logs, of Janeway all alone in her darkened quarters, nobody to second-guess her while she beats up on herself. What's the very worst she can say about herself, to herself, about the last four years? What other memories might it dredge up-on Voyager, or before? It could have been another "Tapestry," without the assistance of Q.

It wasn't bad as given-I just wanted a lot more. Mulgrew's life-sucks performance when she didn't want to see anyone; her Action Kate moments; her delicious moment when she delivered the line about "taking out the garbage." Loved those. Vintage Janeway.

The mutiny scene-feh. It was not convincing, nor were the events leading up to it. Doing it on the bridge does undermine her authority, and well intentioned as it was, she shouldn't have stood for it. Sets a bad precedent for the future. A Starship isn't a democracy. Mutiny has its place, but only in extreme conditions. This felt like Tough Love followed by a Group Hug.

But perhaps, after two months of deadly dullness, everyone was out of practice being Starfleet.

Anyway. I thought the mutiny was lame, if modestly heartwarming. For such a pivotal scene, it should have been more. The simple image of Janeway holding a phaser rifle, blasting away at an intruder after the pitiable state Chakotay had last seen her in, was comparably far stronger.

*

The "Night" aliens: basically a plot device, Spotted owls with phaser banks. They're the victimized indigenous culture that the crew gets to look good by helping. I have a hard time imagining how they evolved, where they evolved, and how they came to develop their vessels, weapons, etc. What matters is, they're there, they can talk to speed the plot along, and they need help but are capable of lending a hand in their own salvation. Like most Aliens of the Week, we barely scratch the surface, but that's a hazard of the format.

They seem like decent enough guys-not the best looking creatures, though. I tried to avoid the more obscenely scatological descriptions that came to mind.

*

Emck - he's the only Malon we see, but we can assume a lot. One, it's a moneyed culture. I can't imagine getting into as unenviable an occupation as toxic waste dumper without there being some significant compensation. Second, they are advanced (they have energy, and destructive power, to burn), but not necessarily sophisticated. Except economically. Self interest is a powerful motivator, and as Emck says, he's got a lot of money and power to lose-and Voyager is a threat to that.

That he'd continue to dump his toxic waste into the Void after learning of the existence of the Void aliens doesn't speak well for him, or his crew. If he's the only guy who knows about the vortex, then he's basically an imperialist with his own private Heart of Darkness to exploit, pollute, and destroy.

Yes, even Nothing can be fragile.

Clearly, there was a message to this show. It harks back to the Original Series approach: modern problem told as future tale. It wasn't heavy handed; no "pollution is bad" lines. The story handled that stuff well enough on its own. The old "show, don't tell" rule was followed well, and we got the message without having it spelled out for us.

*

Frankly, the last half hour of the show was far better than the first. Most of the "we're bored" scenes were, well, boring. Paris and Torres do some of the most uninspired bickering I've ever seen. I liked them better before they were together-their arguments at least had some fire to them-and they were still relatively fresh.

Not that I want P/T to go away. Far from it; they wouldn't have made it this far if there weren't something there to begin with. I just want more than what we got in "Night." Happy or sad, getting along or spitting at each other, I only ask that it be interesting. Here, the words may have been different but it was the same tired old tune.

*

"Captain Proton." What can I say? I liked it. Nicely cheesy. Dr. Chaotica slithered appropriately, the robot's "battle" with Seven of Nine prompted my biggest laugh of the night, and it provided Paris with some of his best scenes. The chemistry between Paris and Seven was real, though I wouldn't read as much into it as the Breakdown suggests. We didn't see many scenes between Seven and Paris last year, so I wouldn't mind if Constance Goodheart makes a return visit.

This bit could be overused, and it's definitely not "crew hanging out" material, but as an occasional diversion, even for a once in a while Celebrity cameo, I'd look forward to it.

May I humbly request that Paramount's people call Adam West's people. I'd pay to see that.

Some have suggested that this shows Paris at his worst-incorporating buxom eye candy into the story mainly for atmosphere. The teaser bimbo was quite definitely that-all she did was scream. The genius was counterpointing that character with Seven of Nine-equally impressive to look at, but she doesn't come close to the loyal sidekick Paris was looking for. At one point, he's taking orders from her, a nice turnaround.

It could be interesting, if they follow up on this, to see if she teaches Tom anything about those adolescent fantasies of the early 20th century, where men were men and women were impossibly proportioned and surrealistically attired. As well, I'll be curious to see if it assists in Seven's continued assimilation into the Voyager collective.

*

Another comment on Captain Proton.

Some have wondered why they chose this as the "sociology review" to represent the 20th century. I think the answer's fairly obvious; some of the most influential science fiction of the last few decades has come from Star Trek itself, but they couldn't come out and say that. Of the rest, most of that's still copyrighted, expensive to license or recreate (Trek doing Star Wars?) or would just be too complicated to explain in a mere two minute scene. (Would you want to see a two-minute Dune, or Ender's Game, or Ringworld?) James Bond would work-but look what happened when DS9 tried that. If you can still find someone with a copy.

The cheesy sci-fi serial is like a game of solitaire-really easy to play, simple rules, not a lot of detail to get in the way of the action. Dopey is good, overacting is practically required. (Paris was actually more subdued than he needed to be-as he delivered his lines, i echoed them using the voice of The Tick. "Mad alien genius, I say to you, knock off all that evil!")

A little dab'll do you; Flash Gordon lasted decades that way. I wouldn't want to spend a whole hour on that set, but it was never meant to. Then, or now. Dr. Chaotica is no Professor Moriarty.

*

The breakdown in crew moral and routine was distressing.

When you're bored-work. If there's nothing to do, make something up.

It doesn't speak well for Captain or crew that in only two months they were all a bunch of slacking couch potatoes sniping at each other while waiting their turn in the Holodeck.

Janeway's Martyr routine has been old for a long time. The innovation: they said it out loud, and they did something about it. In a way, it's about time. The idea of Janeway sacrificing herself, though, was forced-there were plenty of ways to get into the vortex that didn't involve Janeway staying behind. Perhaps they set up the whole episode to lead to this-crew is stir crazy, Captain's in a deep blue funk of guilt, everyone's out of practice being starfleet officers, they're not operating on all thrusters, so when there's finally something to do, it all happens at once, and they are still reacting rather than thinking. But it doesn't put them in a very good light.

Except for Chakotay, of course, who was looking nicely tan, cut, rested and ready for action. (There you go, Karen; don't say I never gave you nothin'.)

*

Harry and Tom used to make great banter together; lately (since "Demon") it's been pretty lame. Such lines as "you're such an optimistic guy" should be buried in a peat bog. They should rewatch "Message in a Bottle" and take copious notes; that was Tom and Harry in fine form.

Other crew pairings fared better. Chakotay/Janeway worked well. Chakotay/Tuvok was a welcome departure from the standard sniping; it showcased Chakotay's leadership skills well, and it may have changed their relationship, subtly, toward somewhat more amicable coexistence. Tuvok/Seven's scene was brief but cute, and reprised Tuvok's meditation lamp. Doc/Neelix was good. Chakotay/Neelix was terrific. Paris/Torres, as mentioned, didn't impress. Paris/Seven: give me more scenes like this. Janeway/Seven: toned down from last year, but still nicely effective. The body language and other silent communication was handled quite effectively.

*

The show ended fairly well--action packed, good tension, several twists, not too easy. It wrapped up most of the plot threads pretty well. though the "coasting into the light" was somewhat anticlimactic. I would have expected them to at least look happy about their early parole from the Void. High fives, cheers, end zone dances, anything. They just exited the bowels of hell, when mere hours before they were looking forward to two more years of it.

A little enthusiasm was warranted. If they've become such adrenaline junkies that they can't get excited about shortcuts like this, I start to worry in earnest.

*

All in all, this was a good effort, but not what I'd call a smash. Call it * * *. (up from my first impression of * * ). Special effects, smashing as usual. Background music was effective. Dialog was mixed, but there were some good strong moments. Some good character development for Janeway and Neelix (both of which, I think, could have been explored in more detail), and some intriguing directions in crew relationships-some of which worked better than the carryovers from last season.

All in all, not bad. Not great, but not bad.

Next week: "Congratulations, Miss of Nine, it's a bouncing baby Borg."

Other Reviewers:


Copyright © 1998 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.


Last Updated: October 18, 1998
[Previous Review] [Home Page] [Next Review] [E-Mail]