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"Tuvix II: Regarding Tuvok" meets the X Files.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Ambassador's log, Stardate 53263.2. Though helpful during my negotiations on the Kesat homeworld, Commander Tuvok certainly hasn't been the most sociable of travel companions.
Uh oh. Tuvok and Neelix, alone in the Delta Flyer, with nobody there to act as buffer between them? Yin and Yang, the ultimate loner and the consummate social animal, on yet another Road Trip from Hell?
Janeway must be in an evil mood this week.
We see Neelix, bored out of his furry skull, drumming his fingers on a control panel, which he clearly isn't controlling. Neither is Tuvok, who is catching up on his reading, a PADD entitled I'm Logical, You're Logical.
The Flyer pretty much flies itself. If it didn't, this episode would pretty much end here, as we'll soon see.
Tuvok's eyebrows, which vibrate with each Talaxian finger-fall, finally reach their limit. "Mr. Neelix!" Tuvok says brusquely. Sorry, Neelix says, doing his best to sit still and not bother the nice Vulcan.
It doesn't last. Seconds of thumb-twiddling later, he hops out of his seat and invades Tuvok's personal space. "How about a round of 'Species, Starship or Anomaly'?" he asks gamely. (Och! Tom Swiftie returns!)
Tuvok sighs. "Surely you could find something more productive to occupy your time."
As if. He's a morale officer, not a recluse. "Come on, Tuvok. It'll be fun! You think of something--species, anomaly, or starship--and I have 15 questions to guess what it is. Come on, come on, come on, come on!"
"I would prefer some peace and quiet."
Neelix tries again. "How about a riddle?"
Tuvok loses his legendary cool. "MISSter Neelix--"
"Come on! It'll be fun!" Neelix pesters. "I have no desire for fun," the Vulcan says with classic understatement.
"Okay, forget fun. A good riddle can stimulate the mind. Now, no self-respecting Vulcan can say no to that!"
Victory! Neelix's logic is annoying, but indisputable. Tuvok concedes defeat. "Very well. One riddle."
Neelix claps his hands with joy. "Okay, here goes. A lone Ensign finds himself stranded on a Class 'L' planetoid with no rations. His only possession...a calendar. When Starfleet finds him, 12 months later, he's in perfect health. Why didn't he starve to death?"
Tuvok frowns as the gears start turning. "It is a theoretical possibility that such planetoids contain hot water springs, which could sustain the man for several weeks."
"Ooh, but not for a whole year," Neelix points out.
"I concur. Logic dictates that the Ensign in question would perish." And the cobbled-together shuttlecraft he flew in on.
"Aha!" Neelix says, wagging a finger. He cackles with glee. "Ha! I stumped you." Then he giggles. "As a matter of fact, he not only survived, but his belly was full. Why?" he asks, then answers his own question eagerly, "because he feasted on dates--from the calendar!"
Tuvok glares sullenly. "Your answer is merely wordplay. It has no basis in reality. Now if you'll excuse me." Tuvok gets up, leaving the pilot's chair empty--as if it matters.
Neelix loses some of his good cheer, but not all of it--he's been pecking away at Tuvok's crusty exterior for over five years now. "Where are you going?"
"To find some peace and quiet."
"Have fun," Neelix waves cheerfully at the Vulcan's back.
The Delta Flyer's a big shuttle--there's actually room for privacy when you want it. And boy, does Tuvok want it. Putting a closed door between himself and the perky Neelix, Tuvok settles in to read.
And notices after a moment that one of the computer terminals is on autopilot as well. Tuvok, whose job is to be paranoid, suspects something is amiss. "Tuvok to Neelix," he says into his combadge.
"Miss me already, Commander?" Neelix asks playfully, swinging himself around in his swivel chair, a Tom Paris custom seat with full vibrato-massage.
"Did you activate the aft tactical station?" Tuvok asks. No, Neelix says; Why? "There appears to be a download in progress," Tuvok says. "That's odd," Neelix offers helpfully, while tasting his whiskers, playing "name that leftover."
Tuvok whips out his tricorder and walks toward the station. "I'm detecting anomalous readings."
"What sort of readings?" Neelix asks, while contemplating his navel.
"I'm not certain. But I believe it's a cloaking frequency that consists--"
A beam lashes out at Tuvok's tricorder from thin air. Literally. It's blue, and it's potent--the bluish field spreads quickly over Tuvok's entire body. Tuvok's face begins to sear like a shrimp on the Barbie. Gasping, he falls to the ground and begins to convulse.
This breaks Neelix out of his reverie. "Commander?" When he gets no response, Neelix bolts toward aft and finds the flopping Vulcan. "Tuvok!" He hails Voyager with a Mayday, then asks Tuvok what happened.
Tuvok, however, is too busy writhing in agony to reply, as his forehead sizzles like it hasn't since "Cold Fire."
* * *
"Report!" Janeway barks as she sweeps into Sickbay. Tuvok's already on the table, still convulsing as Doc does his best to stabilize him. Neelix does what he can to help.
"He's in neuroleptic shock. I'll need another 20 milligrams of synaptizine," Doc says; Neelix rushes to comply, and after a moment's preparation plunges the hypospray into Tuvok's neck.
"It's not working," Doc says. "I'll need to try direct cortical stimulation. Initiate a neurostatic pulse on my mark." Janeway takes over here, manning the console. "Now!" Doc orders. Janeway pushes a button, and we hear a pulse of energy. Tuvok reacts, but not enough--he still twitches. "Again!" Doc commands, and Janeway repeats the action.
This time Tuvok's body slackens, and Doc sighs with relief. The immediate crisis past, Doc does a more thorough scan. "His vital signs have stabilized--for the moment, anyway--but he suffered severe neurological trauma."
"Do you know what caused it?" Janeway asks. Some kind of alien weapon, Doc says. It's not all that helpful--but knowing for certain it was a weapon is important data.
"By the time I reached Tuvok whoever had attacked him was gone," Neelix says, his voice hollow.
"What about the surrounding space? Any indication of cloaked vessels?"
Neelix paces fretfully. "Between trying to tend to the Commander and piloting the Flyer, I had my hands full. I-I didn't think to scan for cloaked ships. I'm sorry."
Janeway locks eyes with the Talaxian. "You saved Tuvok's life, Neelix. You have nothing to be sorry about." Neelix accepts the words halfheartedly.
"How do you plan to treat him?" Janeway asks the Doctor, who frowns. "I won't know until I've run a series of neurological scans. But it would certainly help to know something about the weapon."
Janeway turns back to Neelix. "Neelix, these Kesat you were negotiating with...any reason to believe they might know something about this?" It couldn't hurt to ask, Neelix says with new hope.
Janeway sets her jaw. "Time to reopen diplomatic channels."
Janeway, Chakotay and Neelix wait in a conference room as a guard ushers in an alien male with a bouffant hairdo, a collarless shirt revealing a few tufts of dark chest hair, and a well-tailored if somewhat rumpled jacket. The alien smiles, his enthusiasm evidently genuine. This is a guy clearly thrilled to be here.
"Deputy investigator Naroq, Kesat security," he says, introducing himself crisply. "Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Ambassador Neelix," he says, identifying each in turn.
Janeway smiles. They haven't had a great track record getting assistance from Delta Quadrant cultures; Naroq seems a refreshing change. "You've done your homework."
"I've familiarized myself with the facts on the way here," Naroq says; you can't help but believe him.
Janeway sits near Chakotay. Very near. Roxann Dawson may well be a closet JetC . . . "We're hoping you can help us shed some light on what happened to our Crewman," Chakotay says, as the captain gets comfortable on his lap. (Yes, I'm kidding. But they do sit very close together.)
"I believe I can," Naroq. "Based on the information you provided it is my opinion that he was a victim of the Ba'Neth." His voice trembles with obvious passion for the topic.
Janeway looks up from her grazing on Chakotay's earlobe. "I've never heard of them."
"I'm not surprised!" Naroq says, eager to bring her up to speed. "In my language, their name means shadow people. They're a species obsessed with concealing their identity--extremely paranoid and xenophobic."
No wonder Janeway's feeling territorial this week--the last extremely paranoid and xenophobic species they encountered included a renegade Sandman named Kellin. Chakotay winces as Janeway's shoulder-kneading spikes in intensity, leaving the captain with a fistful of tendon.
"Well, that explains their cloaking technology," Janeway says.
"It's my belief," Naroq continues, "they've been responsible for several unexplained attacks similar to this one."
This bothers Neelix. "Why wasn't I warned about them during my negotiations with your government?"
Naroq's enthusiasm flickers just a bit. "Because my government's official position is that the Ba'Neth do not exist. Most people think they're a myth."
"There's nothing mythical about what happened to Mr. Tuvok," Chakotay says, gritting his teeth as Janeway's branding iron sizzles its way into his shoulder. "Why is your government so skeptical?"
Naroq begins to stammer just a little. "Because there have been so few encounters with the Ba'Neth and, well, no one's ever actually seen one."
Janeway regards Naroq with naked skepticism. Hopping off Chakotay's lap, her eyes bore into the Kesat's. "How many . . . encounters are we talking about exactly?"
"Before this incident?" Naroq asks. "Twelve."
Chakotay sighs. "I guess we're lucky 13."
"You're lucky I gave my supervisor two bottles of Kesatian ale to get this assignment!" Naroq says, trying to regain the captain's confidence. "Any other inspector would have simply attributed Commander Tuvok's injuries to 'unexplained phenomenon.'"
But Janeway isn't convinced. "No offense, Mr. Naroq--but what makes you so sure the Ba'Neth aren't just a myth?"
The truth is out there, captain, Naroq suggests.
Whoa. This is spooky. "Spooky" Naroq, to be exact, on the prowl for a Kesatian X File. And just like the Mulder of old, there's a skeptical science-oriented redhead questioning his paranormal theory . . .
"This incident fits the pattern, Captain! All of the alleged encounters have occurred aboard vessels foreign to this sector. I believe they've been attempts by the Ba'Neth to assess the technology of new arrivals."
"They were trying to download tactical data," Neelix offers helpfully.
Naroq beams. "And Commander Tuvok suffered severe neural damage. That's also consistent with previous attacks. The Ba'Neth were making sure he would not tell anyone what he saw."
Janeway begins to soften a little. "Maybe that's why Tuvok's tricorder was destroyed. They didn't want us to see the cloaking frequency he'd found."
Naroq practically does handsprings. "He found a cloaking frequency?" Apparently, Janeway says.
Naroq does his best not to leap into Janeway's arms. "Captain, I don't blame you for finding my theories a bit--eccentric. I'm used to it. It's why I'm still a deputy investigator." I bet he's got an office in the basement, too. "But I've brought equipment to help your investigation. Let me examine Commander Tuvok and run scans on the vessel where he was attacked. I may finally be able to prove my theories!"
Janeway frowns. "With all due respect--we're more interested in saving Tuvok's life."
Naroq offers an encouraging smile. "If we work together, maybe we can do both."
The Doctor scans the still comatose Tuvok. Naroq does the same with his own equipment.
"His cognitive, memory and logic centers have all been severely damaged," Doc reports.
"But he still has brain activity--which is more than I can say for any of the previous victims!" Naroq says, excited by this news.
"Vulcan neural tissue is extremely resilient," Doc says. "I have no doubt that a brain from a lesser species would not have survived." You gotta love Vulcan physiology.
Naroq leans in close, whispers into Tuvok's ear. "If you could only tell us what you saw, Mr. Tuvok," Naroq says.
Janeway doesn't like it; she glares. The Doctor doesn't like it either. "I don't think we'll be hearing from him any time soon," Doc says, his tone a clear warning to back the heck away from his patient. Naroq complies instantly; he doesn't want to wear out his welcome.
"Keep working," Janeway says. "I'll let you know if we find anything that might help." She turns to Naroq. "I'll take you to see where the attack occurred."
As Janeway exits, she places a comforting hand on the shoulder of Neelix, who had been holding back. Neelix approaches the bed, in no hurry to leave.
The Doctor notices. Looking over his shoulder for a moment, then returning to his work, he asks, "Something I can do for you, Mr. Neelix?"
"I want to help," Neelix says softly.
Doc frowns. "Unless you have a degree in Vulcan neurobiology that I'm not aware of, there's nothing you can do." Doc continues his work; we hear the musical response of the console.
"There must be something--"
"My advice is to return to your quarters and get some rest," Doc says.
"There's no way that I'm going to be able to sleep knowing that Tuvok is lying here like this." His voice is still soft, but there's a conviction in his tone that surprises the Doctor.
Doc turns around. Sees the Talaxian. Seems briefly at a loss for words. He finally chooses encouragement. "There have been rare cases in which comatose patients responded to external stimuli: aromas, touch, voices."
Coincidentally, I happened to rewatch "Caretaker" over the weekend. Ironically, "aroma, touch and voice" were the three things Tuvok noticed first about Neelix--and continue to be three of his defining characteristics.
Neelix brightens slightly with hope. "So you're saying that if I stay here and, and try to talk to Tuvok, I might be able to provoke some sort of response?"
Beautiful setup--and here's the spike! "If anyone can provoke Tuvok, Mr. Neelix, it's you."
Give Neelix an inch of encouragement, and he'll walk a mile. We see Neelix wheeling a cart overflowing with Vulcan items. When the Sickbay doors open, we see the circular operating area now resembles the Vulcan wing of Pier One Imports. A Vulcan flag, meditation lamps, books, scrolls, incense, and enough flowers to qualify Sickbay as a Rose Parade float.
"Good morning, Tuvok! I brought you a few more items from your quarters to help liven up Sickbay," Neelix says cheerfully. "Your Kaltoh game in case you decide you're ready for a match," he says, placing the game near Tuvok's right hand.
Neelix next picks up a beautiful gold-leaf hardbound book. "Oh, and I also thought that you might enjoy a recitation of that classic proto-Vulcan drama, Clash on the Fire Plains. I'll be performing all 23 parts myself," he says. Perhaps half-hoping that Tuvok will revive just to say "please don't."
Next, he displays the pot of colorful flowers. "I also brought you some flowers from your aerponics bay. Oh, that's fragrant, isn't it?" he says, taking a healthy whiff, and waving one flower near Tuvok's nose. Next, he lights up some Vulcan incense…and for the finishing touch, "How about some music? Computer, access Vulcan audio file, selection 56 alpha."
Now, I'm a big fan of Gregorian chants. Keep your Freedom Rock and Wu Tang Clan; give me "Omnes de Saba venient" and "Videmus stellam eius" anyday. I'm also fond of Korean-influenced Buddhist chants. So I might be one of the few who actually enjoys what happens next.
Sickbay fills with the sound of deep bass and metallic percussion. If the aural assault isn't for everyone, it does seem quite suitable for a telepathic species who might welcome anything that drowns out the thoughts of others and lets them focus on their own.
However . . . "la Donna e mobile" it ain't. Doc rushes out of his office a moment later. "Mr. Neelix! What is that dreadful noise?"
"The chants of the monks of T'Panit," Neelix shouts over the din. "Personally, I think it's dreadful, too-but it's one of Tuvok's favorites."
Doc, exasperated, throws up his hands. "I appreciate your efforts, Mr. Neelix, but I'm trying to analyze his latest neurological scans and this music is very distracting."
"You said I was supposed to stimulate his senses--" Neelix says, confused and a little hurt.
"I said 'stimulate them,' Mr. Neelix--not annihilate them!"
Neelix relents. "Computer, pause music."
The silence is deafening.
"Thank you," Doc says, returning to his office.
Neelix, wondering what to do next, doesn't immediately turn around to check on Tuvok.
A pity, that. It's a few seconds of unnecessary uncertainty. We see it first, but eventually so does Neelix.
Tuvok is sitting up in bed. You gotta love those chantin' monks of T'Panit.
"Doctor--" Neelix calls out.
Doc is there a moment later, as surprised as Neelix. They approach Tuvok slowly, afraid to break the spell. "Tuvok! You've had an accident. You're in Sickbay," Neelix says happily.
Doc whips out his scanning equipment. Tuvok blanches, saying nothing but clearly skittish. "Relax, Commander, I only want to scan you," Doc says. He reaches out again with the scanning equipment, but again Tuvok leans back, fear--actual fear--in his eyes.
Neelix senses it and clasps Doc's arm to stop the scans. "Don't worry, Tuvok. He's only trying to help you. It's only a tricorder." He takes the two pieces from the doctor and waves it over himself. "See? It won't hurt you." He hands the items back to Doc and asks him to try again.
This time, Tuvok doesn't flinch. But he does lock eyes with Neelix, his eyes a warning--if this does hurt, it'll be on your head.
Neelix just continues to shoot encouraging looks at Tuvok. It seems to help.
Doc looks over his shoulder and smiles. "Well done, Mr. Neelix!" he says, and genuinely means it.
Though Neelix focuses on Tuvok, he does nod at the compliment, and allow himself the luxury of a smile. He done good. But more important to him, and the reason behind a bigger smile--Tuvok is awake.
* * *
Janeway makes her way down the stairs into the aft compartment of the Delta Flyer--the site of Tuvok's injury. Naroq and Seven of Nine are here; Naroq is setting up one of his scanning devices, which looks a lot like a futuristic ViewMaster. "Commander Chakotay says you've found something," Janeway says.
"That, Captain, is an understatement. Listen!" Naroq chirps, as he activates a control panel on the Flyer. We hear a sound. "What is it?" Janeway asks. "The sound of history being made!" Naroq gushes. Janeway rolls her eyes, as does Seven. "Less poetry, Mr. Naroq; more facts," Janeway says, though she does smirk slightly.
Naroq is too giddy to let Janeway's practicality spoil his mood. "The sound you're hearing indicates the presence of veridium isotopes." Janeway looks at Seven of Nine. "Residual particles from the Ba'Neths' cloaking field," Seven explains.
"You've detected these isotopes before?" Janeway asks Naroq. "Yes, but only after they've decayed. You see, veridium has a very brief half-life--less than 70 hours. The previous sites I've studied have been months, sometimes years old!" Janeway's eyes light up. "But these isotopes are still active." Seven of Nine concurs. "We can use Mr. Naroq's photolitic converter to illuminate them."
"So you see, Captain, why this is an historic moment? We may finally learn what the Ba'Neth look like!"
Janeway doesn't quite go that far. But she is interested. "Well, let's see what we've got."
Technical stuff happens. The result: a milky cloud in the middle of the room, vaguely shaped, but clearly there.
Naroq's breath catches in his throat. You don't know how long I've waited to meet you . . ."
"So, the Ba'Neth aren't a myth after all," Janeway observes, impressed.
"This is the clearest image ever captured!" Naroq says, way impressed with the result.
But Seven isn't so easy to thrill. "Perhaps. I believe I can adjust our internal sensors to improve it." Naroq protests, afraid she might lose what little they have--but her Borg wizardry works wonders . . . within seconds, the ghost of an image resolves into something no less translucent, but far more detailed.
No question now--they found something significant.
"Tentacles!" Naroq exclaims. "I always suspected they were multipeds!" Janeway is amused by Naroq's enthusiasm, but her own interest is piqued--this lets them go to the next level. Spooky Naroq is not just a nutjob; he can actually help them. He's proved his worth.
There may be hope for Tuvok yet.
Speaking of whom . . . Doctor to the Captain. Please report to Sickbay. On my way, she responds, then turns to Seven. "If we can integrate Mr. Naroq's photolitic technology into the deflector array we might be able to decloak a Ba'Neth ship."
"The technology only works at close range," Naroq points out, butting into the conversation. "We have to find the ship before we can expose it. We still need that cloaking frequency."
Janeway indulges him--but only so far. "One step at a time."
We see a computer representation of Tuvok's meatware. "The Vulcan brain--a puzzle wrapped inside an enigma housed inside a cranium." Ba dum boom. "Tuvok's neural pathways have begun to bypass the damaged tissue. They're forming new synaptic connections. In effect, his brain is rewiring itself!" Doc practically whistles. "Whether this is due to my neurostatic therapy or Neelix's rehabilitation regimen--or some combination of the two--I can't be certain."
"Is there any chance he'll make a full recovery?" Janeway asks.
"It's much too soon to say. But, he's alert and he's already regained his basic motor skills."
"But still no speech." Janeway frowns with concern and disappointment.
"It's only a matter of time, Captain," Neelix says, urging her to look on the bright side. "Look how far he's come already!"
Doc, Neelix and Janeway look at Tuvok--who sits on his bed, legs crossed, stopping to smell the flowers, truly appreciating the aroma as though for the first time.
It's a touching scene--but not all that comforting. It would be if Vulcans were known for doing such things. They're not, so it's a vivid indicator that this isn't the Tuvok they know. "I hope you're right, Neelix. But if he could talk he might be able to tell us something about that cloaking frequency."
"We're not sure how much he recalls. For that matter, we're not certain he recognizes any of us, or even knows who he is," Doc admits. The words hang there for a moment.
Then Neelix breaks the spell. "I'm going to take him on a tour of the ship. The Doctor thinks that familiar sights and sounds might get the old synaptic juices flowing." Janeway nods, then heads for the exit.
But Neelix stops her. "Don't worry, Captain. Tuvok will be back to his old self before you can say, 'Live long and prosper.'"
Janeway, grateful, nods and smiles slightly, then exits.
On the bridge, Harry Kim mans tactical. Chakotay has the bridge. Both appear a little anxious.
Neelix arrives on the turbolift a moment later. "I've brought a visitor!" he says amiably.
Tuvok follows, decked out in his red travelin' robes. He wobbles a bit as he walks, as though not quite used to his body. His hands are splayed out a bit from his sides to help him keep his balance, but there's an ungainly randomness to his movement that is disheartening.
"Good to see you up and around," Chakotay says warmly.
"You remember Commander Chakotay," Neelix says.
Tuvok just stands there unsteadily, shifting on his ungainly legs, head cocked, like Bambi on ice. Tuvok smiles a little, wonderingly at all the new things he's seeing, all the new experiences opening to him. (Someone who has experience dealing with folks recovering from this type of head injury tells me that Tim Russ nailed this scene cold--that this is exactly how they'd expect Tuvok to behave at this stage in his recovery. I, too, thought it worked very well.)
Seeing Tuvok, so often associated with absolute self-control, in such a state, clearly pains the crew. Particularly those who consider him a friend.
Chakotay breaks the uncomfortable silence to which Tuvok is oblivious. "We were just running a shield diagnostic. Would you like to take a look?"
"This is tactical station where you work," Neelix says, leading Tuvok to the station.
"Just keeping it warm for you. Hope you don't mind," Harry says.
Tuvok touches the controls with wide-open palms. He has unusually large hands. He tries to grasp the pretty colors.
"That's the shield array. This controls the tractor emitters," Harry explains as Tuvok's hands move over the controls with what seems to be recognition.
"I think he remembers it," Neelix whispers to Chakotay.
Then Tuvok lunges at one of the controls. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Harry says, quickly countering the move as Tuvok staggers back, shrinking from the raised voice. "You just activated the photon torpedo banks."
Tuvok's first inclination is to seek out Neelix, who is at his side in an instant.
"That's all right, Tuvok," Neelix says, leading Tuvok back to the turbolift. "Everybody makes mistakes." We'll be back later, he tells Chakotay just before the doors close.
Harry and Chakotay share a worried look.
"Last, but not least...your quarters," Neelix says, showing Tuvok into the uncharacteristically non-darkened room. "You spend a lot of time here. Reading...meditating…Mr. Paris once referred to it as 'the Vulcan vault.'" Neelix sniggers at the little joke, but of course Tuvok doesn't react. "Ahh...look around, explore!"
Tentatively, Tuvok does just that--progressing slowly, his eyes wide with wonder, as Neelix looks on.
Astrometrics to the bridge. Mr. Naroq and I are ready to test the array, Seven of Nine reports.
"Stand by," Janeway says. Turning to Tom, she says, "Reduce speed to one-quarter impulse. Harry, full power to the deflector array." Aye, Harry says.
Satisfied, Janeway sits in the big chair. "All right, Seven...Do it."
Activating the deflector.
The deflector activates. A flash of white light--
And there's a ship floating just in front of them, not at all far away. And it's a big one.
"I'd call that a pretty successful test," Tom observes dryly.
"They've been watching us all along," Chakotay says.
"Hail them," Janeway orders, her voice a hard edge.
Harry looks at his Ops board, and his eyes widen. "Which one? There's practically a fleet out there!"
We get an external view--at least a half dozen vessels circle Voyager like a pool of sharks. But we can only see them a little--the deflector modifications silhouette them, but don't tell us everything we need to know.
"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. We intend you no harm."
"They're charging weapons!" Harry says. Shields, Janeway orders.
Boom. An effective warning shot--the ship jolts--but it doesn't do a lot of damage. Shields hold.
"They're scrambling, Captain--in all directions," Tom says. "Follow the lead vessel," Janeway says.
In Tuvok's quarters, the incoming fire is a source of deep fear for Tuvok, who cowers under a table, his fists white-knuckled around a chair leg.
Neelix is down on the floor with him, holding his hand over Tuvok's. "It's okay, Tuvok. I'm here with you. Everything is going to be all right. You're safe with me." Neelix chants the encouragement, driving that simple message home. I'm here with you. You're safe with me.
"Still no response to our hails," Harry says.
"I hate to ruin a good chase," Tom says, "but the Ba'Neth ship is moving out of the deflector's range."
"Seven, can you get their cloaking frequency?" Janeway asks.
Seven is trying. However, she reports, "They're blocking our scans."
A moment later, the incoming fire stops. "We've lost them," Chakotay says, frowning.
Tuvok is still on the floor, hugging the chair leg. Neelix is looking out the window. "They're gone now, Tuvok. I told you you'd be safe," he says, reassuring him.
"Yes," Tuvok says haltingly. "You…did."
Neelix is at Tuvok's side in an instant. "Tuvok? What? Tell me, what did I do?"
"You told me...I wouldn't be hurt," Tuvok says, struggling with the words, still trembling, still unable to look anywhere, his eyes unfocused.
"Do you know who I am?" Neelix asks.
"You are Neelix. I'm safe...with you."
Neelix, deeply touched, puts his hand comfortingly on Tuvok's shoulder.
* * *
Naroq and Janeway and Neelix discuss the big question--whether Tuvok is ready for a few questions about the Ba'Neth attack.
Naroq, of course, is all for it. "We need Tuvok to tell us anything he can remember about the attack."
Neelix, naturally, is not. "Captain, he may be talking again, but that doesn't mean he's ready to be interrogated! He's beginning to experience emotions--volatile ones. During this last encounter with the Ba'Neth, he was terrified!"
"We'll tread lightly, I promise," Janeway says, eager to get the answers they need, but also concerned about her officer and friend.
Neelix senses in Janeway's voice that she means it--even if Naroq doesn't. If the Fox Mulder of the Delta Quadrant gets out of hand with his questions, Neelix trusts Janeway to eject the boy like a bad warp core.
Neelix calls out. "All right, Tuvok--you can come in now." The door slides open, and Tuvok enters on his own, but very cautiously, and still with that ungainly gait.
Janeway smiles warmly. "It's nice to see you." Tuvok smiles in return. "Captain Janeway."
"That's right," Janeway says, heartened by his progress. "This is Mr. Naroq. Please sit down." Tuvok does, but slowly enough to get the already agitated Naroq practically jumping out of his skin, so eager is he to ask his questions and track down his elusive white whale. Or gray aliens. Whatever.
"Two days ago, you were aboard a shuttle with Mr. Neelix. You detected a cloaked intruder," Janeway says gently.
"He attacked you!" Naroq says, less gently.
Tuvok winces. "Yes...Th-that's why I'm having difficulty now."
"Yes," Janeway says encouragingly, "and in order to help you, we have to find the people who hurt you."
Naroq extends a scorched and nonfunctioning tricorder. "Before the intruder injured you, you managed to scan him with this." He waves it under poor Tuvok's nose; the acrid stench of ozone and fused components a vivid reminder of the recent incident. Naroq does try to be diplomatic, but his zeal simmers beneath the surface. "You recorded his cloaking frequency--but the tricorder was damaged and the information was lost. Can you tell us anything about that frequency?"
"Try to remember," Janeway urges softly.
Tuvok does remember something--bits and pieces. We see him see his tricorder.
"I was scanning," Tuvok says, getting a feel for the word.
"That's right," Janeway says. "What did you see?"
A bit more memory this time. The scan. The readout. Then the blue flash, the sizzle, and the darkness.
Tuvok drops tricorder. "I...I don't remember." I don't blame him.
Naroq leans in and shouts in his ear. "Try!" he pleads, which clearly frightens Tuvok. Neelix's indignation rises.
True to her word, Janeway intervenes. "All right, that's enough!" Her voice is a phaser set to heavy stun, and Naroq halts instantly. "We're done for now."
Naroq begins to protest. "But, Captain--"
Janeway's magical ability to make her hair catch auburn fire and her eyes blaze with annihilating whiteness reduces poor Naroq to a puddle of mute acquiescence. "Join Seven of Nine in Astrometrics. See if she's made any progress with the Ba'Neth." Her tone is soft, but absolute. End of discussion, she doesn't need to say--Naroq flees without another word.
"Well, uh, we should be going, too," Neelix says. "A few of the crew have offered to help with Tuvok's rehabilitation." He helps the shaken Tuvok to his feet, and they head for the door.
"I thought we might have lunch later, just the two of us," Janeway tells Tuvok.
But Tuvok looks uncertainly at her, then at Neelix, then back at her. "I prefer to stay with Neelix."
Janeway tries not to show her hurt, but Neelix picks up on it. "Oh, Tuvok...I'm-I'm sure that you would..."
"It's all right. You two go ahead. I have a lot of work to do anyway." No doubt true, but her brave face is clear enough to Neelix.
They leave Janeway alone. Only then does the captain allow the pain and sadness to reach the surface.
In those first, uncertain hours, any sign of progress is encouraging. But eventually there comes a point where that hope gives way to a frustration that the recovery isn't fast enough. The threshold between Whether and When is perilous, because a new element can enter in.
Does full recovery mean a return to status quo ante, or is the blank slate an ideal opportunity to reevaluate your life? As you rediscover who you were, examining bits of your life and personality, will you choose to follow the same path in every instance?
Tuvok's in his early teens--112, 113 years old. (Yup, folks, Tom and Harry were WAY off. Check out "Flashback" if Tuvok's true age really matters to you.) An appropriate time for a mid-life crisis.
The mess hall. Harry's in the mood for a little payback. He's got the small haystack of metal toothpicks resting between himself and Tuvok. "The object of the game is to turn this jumble of rods into a perfect sphere. We take turns positioning our pieces. Whoever gets the shape to appear first wins."
Ah, Kaltoh. If this game actually existed, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. The Heisenberg principle probably keeps it from appearing in the form we see on the show, but one wonders if it couldn't be done as a computer game.
The haystack looks pretty illogical at the moment. Tuvok smiles. "I like the way it looks now." My kinda Vulcan. Harry and Neelix chuckle, and Tuvok continues to smile awkwardly. It's not an expression his face is used to; it must take some effort getting those facial muscles to go that way…
"What do you say we give it a try?" Harry asks? Tuvok doesn't look all that keen on the idea--the Kaltoh game looks way complicated--but Neelix encourages him to try, sitting beside the Vulcan, placing a hand on Tuvok's shoulder. "This has always been one of your favorite games, Tuvok. It helps keep your logic sharp." Eager to please Neelix, Tuvok eventually nods.
"I'll go first," Harry says. He takes a rod out of the stack, and after a moment places it somewhere else. A brief morphing effect, and the board changes ever so slightly, growing a little as chaos cedes a few inches to order.
Tuvok says nothing, but his expression is clear enough. Whoa--huh huh--that wuz cool.
"Now you," Harry says. "Go ahead," Neelix urges. Tuvok tentatively picks up one of the sticks. He rubs it for luck. Squeezes it, wringing it for any hint of what to do next. There's no question he's thinking with all his might; we see the beads of sweat on his forehead.
Then, with nothing to lose, Tuvok places the piece. The board responds, glowing blue as the pieces are rearranged.
In all my days, I've never seen a Kaltoh game explode. Game pieces tinkle to the table like shrapnel.
Everyone in the room winces. Even Rosie from Terre Haute, who wasn't paying a lot of attention to the scene because Tommy Paris isn't on it, gasps sympathetically.
Ilsa from Oslo, a dyed-in-the-wool Tuvok fan, emits a blood-curdling yelp of anguish.
T'Molly from Mount Seleya betrays no reaction, but her eyebrows do twitch. "I grieve with thee," she says stoically to her vidscreen.
"I don't like this game," Tuvok says, his voice filled with childlike hurt.
Harry tries to console him. "When you first taught me how to play I wasn't very good, either--but you kept encouraging me, and pretty soon I scored my first Kaltoh. It just takes practice, that's all!"
"Try again," Neelix urges, smiling with encouragement. "You can do it."
Tuvok does think about it. But then, he simply reacts. He pushes himself away from the table, sweeping the Kaltoh chips away angrily. "I don't like this game!" he says. Can Vulcans pout? It's definitely a tantrum.
Vulcans are between three times and ten times stronger than the average human, depending on who you ask. Everyone, even Neelix, keeps their distance.
A while later, Neelix and Tuvok are in Sickbay. Tuvok is a bit steadier on his feet, and he speaks with a bit more confidence. But emotionally, he's still struggling.
Tuvok shows his service record to Neelix. "The Doctor helped me access my personnel file."
"Nice picture," Neelix says. "You should see mine. It's awful." He makes a face.
"I was an instructor at Starfleet Academy," Tuvok says, almost dreamily. "I've received 17 commendations for valor. I'm a husband...a father."
"You're an extraordinary fellow, Tuvok," Neelix says sincerely.
A shadow passes over Tuvok's expression. "I…was…an extraordinary fellow."
Uh oh. "You're still the same person," Neelix says. "Then why do I no longer work on the bridge?" Tuvok asks. "We talked about that. You had an accident."
Tuvok's voice is pained. "And now I'm not smart enough!"
"Tuvok, you've just got to be patient. Look how much progress you've made already!" He gestures at the screen with Commander Tuvok's record.
But Tuvok points an accusing finger at the screen. "He...could dismantle a photonic cannon in...in less than 30 seconds! I can't even play Kaltoh!" Or pronounce it…
"It's going to take time," Neelix says, with a confidence Tuvok doesn't share, "but you'll relearn all those things!"
"How do you know that?" Tuvok demands, fear and anger in his voice.
That catches Neelix off guard. "Well, because the Doctor--"
"The Doctor?! The Doctor doesn't know how to make me better! Does he?"
"W-w-well, n-not yet, b-b-but--"
"I'll never be him again!" Again the accusing finger at the screen, then Tuvok backs away, putting distance between himself and the man in the mirror.
"You don't know that!" Neelix says, desperate to get a handle on the situation, to get Tuvok back on the happy-thought track. "The Vulcan mind--"
"I'm not a Vulcan!" Tuvok shouts. "Not anymore!" Tuvok goes postal, pushing Neelix away, tearing down the Vulcan flag and pushing the heavy bookshelf over, spilling hardbacks all over the pristine Sickbay floor.
Tuvok is no Johnny Depp, but he shows enough room-trashing potential to get a "call me" note from Kate Moss.
But the debris on the floor means that Doc feels a disturbance in the forcefield--he's on the scene an instant later. "What's going on?" he demands. Neelix assures the Doctor he can handle it. Extending his arms non-threateningly, he approaches the disgruntled Vulcan. "Please, Tuvok, try to relax. Everything's going to be fine!"
"No! Nothing's fine! Get away from me!" Tuvok bellows. He shoves Neelix again, propelling him across Sickbay.
"You'd better go," Doc says, picking Neelix up and sending him toward the door. Neelix protests, but Doc will have none of it. "Now, Mr. Neelix. I'll take it from here."
After all the progress, this setback leaves Neelix reeling. Devastated, Neelix regards the suffering Tuvok, and then, sadly, his presence no longer tolerated, heads for the exit.
* * *
The mess hall is dark when Neelix enters. But he's not alone. Seven of Nine stands by one of the big windows, lost in thought.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt," Neelix says softly, far from his usual ebullient self.
"You didn't," Seven assures him, her social development apparently advanced enough to provide a diplomatic fib.
"Yes, I did," says Neelix, clearly beating up on himself. "You were pondering...something difficult, by the looks of it. Anything I can help you with?" Anything to take him away from his own problems. Unlikely, Seven says. "Try me," Neelix says. He may not be the sharpest scalpel in Sickbay, but Neelix has shown a unique talent over the years for thinking outside the box.
Seven decides to give him a shot. "How do you find something that's invisible?" She asks.
"The Ba'Neth," Neelix guesses correctly.
Seven nods. "We have the ability to illuminate them. But to do so, we must first locate them--which we cannot accomplish without their cloaking frequency."
Neelix blanches. He blames himself for that part. "That's quite a riddle," he says, taking a seat.
"One that we might be able to solve if Commander Tuvok could tell us what he saw," Seven says. "How is his rehabilitation progressing?"
Neelix sighs sadly. "Well, I thought it was going great, but now..." Neelix gives Seven a forlorn look. "Let's just say that I've got a riddle of my own."
Seven considers this. "Try me."
Neelix starts; he hadn't expected her to offer. But hey, what could it hurt? "All right. 'When is a Vulcan no longer a Vulcan?'"
Seven has an immediate answer: "When his genetic code is sufficiently altered." Bzzzt! Sorry, wrong answer. "N-no. I-I-I was speaking metaphorically," Neelix says impatiently.
"In that case," Seven says, "a person is no longer Vulcan when he has lost his logic."
Neelix gets animated. "Right! And how does he get it back?"
"He must be taught," Seven says.
"Exactly! But what if he's brain-damaged and emotionally unstable? How does he learn?"
"It may be impossible for him to learn what you're trying to teach," Seven says.
Neelix doesn't take that well at all. "Well, thanks for the pep talk," he says sarcastically.
"I was merely suggesting that you adapt to the circumstances."
"What circumstances?!" Neelix demands. "Are you saying that the Tuvok I know is gone--that I should stop trying to help him?!"
Seven's voice rises as well. Her advice is good, and she isn't about to let it be discounted. "When I was separated from the collective I, too, was damaged. I was no longer connected to the hive mind. I lost many abilities that I had acquired as a drone. But I adapted."
"Because Captain Janeway didn't give up on you. She kept trying to help you," Neelix insists.
"But not by restoring me to what I'd been! By helping me discover what I could become."
The light bulb goes off. Finally, the message hits home. Neelix smiles with dawning awareness.
Neelix arrives in Sickbay to find Tuvok sitting on the bed, legs crossed, molding a blue flower out of wax.
"What are you making?" he asks softly.
"A flower," Tuvok says, dripping more candle wax onto the petals and smoothing it out. "It's for you." He extends it To Neelix, who accepts the gift tentatively.
"Thank you. But I'm not sure I deserve a gift."
"I shouldn't have shouted at you. I was angry. I'm sorry," Tuvok says sadly.
"You were frustrated," Neelix says. "I don't blame you. I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"Why?" Tuvok asks.
"Because I was pushing you too hard. I was trying to mold you into something you weren't." Mold…wax flower…ah, the symbolism…
"You were disappointed in me,' Tuvok says sadly. "Because I can't do anything as well as I did before." Now he's disappointed in himself.
That's why Neelix is here. "Maybe there are things that you can do better," he suggests.
Tuvok snorts bleakly. "What can I do better?"
"Well..." Neelix thinks, then looks at the flower. "This, for example. You would've considered it an 'illogical use of your time.'"
Tuvok's eyes light up, then dim again. "It's not good."
"No, it's wonderful!" Neelix says sincerely. "It's...creative. It's a symbol of friendship! Before your accident you never would have considered that my feelings might have been hurt. You--you would--would have…certainly never have made me a gift!"
The comment, and Neelix's expression, catches Tuvok off guard. "We weren't friends?" he asks, hardly believing it.
"Well, uh...we were colleagues," Neelix says, "and I certainly felt affection for you!"
"But I didn't return those feelings," Tuvok says sadly.
Neelix smiles gamely. "You...tolerated me." Tuvok--this Tuvok--doesn't understand. Neelix demonstrates using his gift for mimicry--his voice takes on a tenor that does somewhat resemble the old Vulcan's. "You said things like [cough]: 'Mr. Neelix, please contain your exuberance.'" Tuvok smiles, and Neelix smiles too. "And, uh, 'Mr. Neelix I have no desire for fun.'" Neelix giggles, and Tuvok's smile widens.
Neelix beams. "And you never smiled! You have a much better sense of humor now."
Tuvok's smile practically reaches his ears. "I like to smile!" he says happily.
"Me, too!" Neelix says.
Tuvok hops off the bed. He makes a decision. "I don't wanna play Kaltoh anymore...Or-or meditate...Or...work on logic problems."
"You don't have to!" Neelix promises.
Wow--that was easy. But now what? Tuvok looks lost. "What can we do instead?"
"Whatever you want," Neelix says.
Tuvok thinks. He's livin' la vita nova now. Eventually he gets an idea. "Teach me things that you like to do."
Neelix, genuinely touched, beams. He has just the idea.
Where else could they go? The mess hall beckons. Anyplace else would be unthinkable. It's the site of Tuvix's great creations. How much of that was Tuvok's doing?
Tom Paris and Harry Kim are about to find out.
Tuvok holds a bowl with both hands. In it: the sort of ice cream treat that took me back to those thrilling days of yesteryear at Farrell's. Quarts of ice cream, mounds of whipped cream…yowsa. "Here we are--a triple-chocolate wikki fruit sundae with warm fetran sauce," Tuvok announces, placing the confection with a flourish between Paris and Kim.
"Fetran sauce on...a sundae?" Tom asks dubiously. But Neelix is upbeat: "Wait till you taste it!"
"And you really made this?" Harry asks Tuvok.
"As Neelix says, Dig in," Tuvok says, nervous but hopeful.
They don't wait long. First Harry, then Tom, dig in. Their faces register the flavors instantly.
"Mmm...this is great," Harry says, meaning it.
"This is fantastic!" Tom mutters, his mouth already forking down the next spoonful. (Shame on me for mixing my metaphorical silverware…)
Tuvok smiles happily. Neelix whoops. "What did I tell you? Tuvok has a flair for food!" Tom and Harry are too busy stuffing their faces to disagree. "All morning, he's been creating new recipes using combinations of ingredients that I-I never would have imagined! For example..." Neelix heads for the counter and comes back with armloads of sweetmeats. "A terra-nut soufflé...Jiballian fudge cake with peppermint coulis...sweet leola root tart. Mmm!"
I knew leola root would make a comeback eventually. Maybe it's like rhubarb.
Paris does ask the obvious question. "Only desserts? How come?"
Tuvok smiles with innocent pride. "They taste good!" Neither Tom nor Harry argue. Tom laughs, spewing a little bit of dessert on Harry.
Harry snickers. "Yeah, you better watch out, Neelix. Tuvok may put you out of a job."
"From your mouth to the Captain's ears," Tom mumbles.
Speak of the redhead…Janeway enters the mess hall just then. Tom and Harry laugh; "She must have heard me," Harry says. The mood is chipper all around.
"What's all this?" Janeway asks, her own smile a reflection of the good mood at the table.
Tuvok looks almost guilty, like a kid caught playing dress-up with the Doberman. "We're having fun," Tuvok says, smiling sweetly. He is having fun--but when he sees Janeway, he also sees that Commander on the viewscreen, the confident, competent Vulcan. He sees a past he doesn't want, and a present issue he'd rather not deal with.
But his friends steer the subject toward Fun, and Janeway plays along.
"It turns out Tuvok is quite the pastry chef," Tom says, lifting yet another spoonful of sundae.
"Would you like some terra-nut soufflé, Captain?" Tuvok asks, extending a small ceramic cup filled with sweet goodness. Janeway takes it eagerly--and her knees go week from the flavor. "Oh! That is delicious!" she says, leaning against Tom's chair for support.
"I'm pleased that you like it," Tuvok says, beaming.
"What are you making now?" Janeway asks, as Tuvok heads for the kitchen, hefting a frosting bag. "A pistachio cake with parra creme sauce," Tuvok says. Janeway melts; "Oh, parra creme's my favorite!"
"Then you'll have the first piece," Tuvok promises, working the frosting with a smile.
Neelix is busy discussing dessert with Tom and Harry. He practically has to draw a phaser to keep Tom away from the Jiballian fudge cake. Janeway takes the moment alone with Tuvok to ask the big question. "Tuvok, have you remembered anything more about what happened on the Flyer?"
Apparently, he has. After a few seconds of silent thought, Tuvok answers. "I…detected a cloaking frequency."
Janeway smiles her encouragement. "Yes, that's right. Can you describe it?"
Tuvok has a flashback. He sees the tricorder--clearly, but he seems unable to interpret the readings. I couldn't either, but in the brief flash they seemed to resemble the readings on a graphic equalizer.
"I don't know, I..."
"Did it have a symmetric modulation? Was the amplitude constant?" Janeway asks.
But Tuvok doesn't have that vocabulary. "I-I don't understand--"
His effort is obvious, which makes the failure so much more frustrating. Janeway tries to soften the impact. "It's all right. I don't mean to push you, Tuvok but maybe if we could--"
Tuvok goes back to icing the cake. Neelix, noting the change in mood in the room, rushes to his friend. "It's difficult for him, Captain. Maybe you can try again tomorrow."
But…Tuvok hadn't given up after all. Instead, thanks to Neelix's encouragement of his creative side, Tuvok is able to say it with frosting. "This...This is what I saw." He shows Janeway the cake, with irregular swirls. Neelix doesn't get the design--but Janeway does. She smiles.
"What is it?" Neelix asks.
"A cloaking frequency," Janeway says, beaming.
Tuvok smiles. He done good--in his own way.
Captain's log, supplemental. The computer has analyzed Tuvok's diagram and identified the Ba'Neth cloaking frequency. We've narrowed the search to a handful of systems.
Voyager soon finds itself converging on a location that doesn't look all that special--but which the cake suggests is more than it seems. The bridge is at red alert.
"Here we go, Captain," Harry reports. "A nine-million terawatt cloaking field in grid 216."
Chakotay's eyes go wide. "Nine million terawatts! Whatever they're hiding, it's huge."
Janeway is all business. "Alter course, Mr. Paris." Yes, ma'am, Tom says crisply.
The bridge ready, Janeway checks down below. "Bridge to Astrometrics. Status."
"The deflector array is ready, Captain," Seven says.
Tellingly, Naroq is on the bridge, not in Astrometrics. His life's ambition is on the verge of fulfillment.
"Raise shields," Janeway says. Aye, Captain, Harry says.
"We're within range," Tom says a moment later.
It's showtime. Janeway settles into her chair. "All right, Seven...Light 'em up."
The deflector pulse lights up the sector.
The cake wasn't kidding. The Ba'Neth were hiding something big--a massive space station hangs there, dwarfing Voyager. It glimmers, shadowed but not fully revealed. But what is visible, is impressive enough.
And it's not alone. Ships fly protectively around it.
* * *
"It's an armed outpost. Approximately 3,000 life signs, 22 ships," Harry reports.
"Hail them," Janeway orders.
"No response, Captain."
Well, almost none. "They're charging weapons," Chakotay says.
"Open a channel, all subspace bands," Janeway commands.
"Cease fire immediately--" Janeway orders the Ba'Neth--
"--or I'll transmit the coordinates of this outpost to the Kesat homeworld," she finishes.
The attack stops. Tom smirks. "That got their attention."
Janeway presses on. "Several days ago, a member of your species attacked one of my crewmen. He was badly injured. In order to treat him I need to know more about the weapon that was used."
A few tense seconds pass. Then, "They're responding. Audio only," Harry says.
We do not share technology.
The universal translator isn't perfect. The voice is distorted. But it's understandable enough to keep the conversation going.
"But you take it from others," Janeway says. "The attacker was downloading our tactical database when the incident occurred."
We must assess potential threats.
Naroq pipes up happily. "Paranoid--just as I predicted!" The truth is right there.
Janeway handles the diplomacy--no need for Doc to whip out the Photonic Cannon gambit just yet. "In exchange for information about your weapon, we'll provide you with tactical data on several species we've recently encountered. You can assess their potential threats all you want." One wonders whether Starfleet would approve of this deal--but what the hey.
Fortunately, the aliens have other ideas. The Kesat investigator aboard your vessel cannot be trusted.
Naroq doesn't react as expected--he's thrilled. "You know about me?"
You have been attempting to expose us for years. You are a threat. You must be stopped.
Happy birthday, Spooky.
"They're charging weapons again," Chakotay reports.
"Wait!" Naroq says. "It was my photolitic converter that allowed Voyager to decloak you. If you give Captain Janeway what she wants, I'll give you the converter. You can use it to adapt your technology so ours can no longer expose you."
Janeway looks at Naroq--he raises his hands helplessly. Hey, it's all I got…
Janeway, surprised by the gesture, runs with it all the same. "I doubt you'll get as enticing an offer from the Kesat homeworld. It would be a shame if you forced me to hail them."
If the notorious Naroq is known to them, I'm sure the legend of the auburn queen is growing by the moment. They've scanned enough passing alien vessels to know a simple truth: do not mess with the redhead or the Ship of Death.
A moment passes.
We have an agreement.
Not bad for a day's work. And Voyager didn't fire a single shot.
Tuvok's quarters are alive with the sound of music. No monks here, though--we're talking the kind of music Will Riker enjoys. Real upbeat jazz, though not Dixieland. More like Matt Helm soundtrack stuff.
Tuvok's reading a PADD. He's smiling. Not quite back-to-normal, but he seems at peace with himself.
The door chimes. "Enter," Tuvok says.
It's Neelix. Tuvok beams at the sight of his friend.
"What are you listening to?" Neelix asks.
"A selection from Tom's jazz database--it really swings." Tuvok smiles as the slang trips off his tongue; Neelix laughs delightedly.
"Computer, pause the music," Tuvok says, and the music stops. "I've been reviewing the holodeck files. I wish to visit the Risa water recreation park. Will you accompany me?"
Whoa, wait. RISA? The Planet O' Love?!? What is this, fanfic?
I'll never look at Tuvok and Neelix the same way again. Ewww.
Neelix is touched--maybe even tempted. But (story of his life) duty calls. "Maybe after your Doctor's appointment."
Tuvok blinks. "Appointment?"
"The Doctor's analyzed the Ba'Neth weapon. And he's devised a procedure to treat you!"
Tuvok doesn't take that news well. He says nothing, but Neelix notices the change in Tuvok's demeanor.
"You should be proud of yourself! If you hadn't drawn that picture on the cake, we may never have found a treatment!"
"I wish I never drew that picture," Tuvok says glumly. Why? Neelix asks. "Because I don't wish to undergo the procedure." Uh oh. Shades of Tuvix?
Neelix tries to veer the subject toward the goal. "You're having preoperative jitters. That's all! Don't worry. Everyone gets them. Just...Just think about it. In a few hours, you'll be yourself again!"
"I am myself!" Tuvok counters.
"But...you'll be able to do all the things that you used to do--work on the bridge, advise the Captain!"
But Tuvok has other plans. "I want to be able to have fun! With you!" He's not making this any easier on Neelix, who for five years has had minimal success getting Tuvok to treat him nicely--only to win the full-on friendship lottery, in a way that he knows cannot last. Not a happy position to be in.
But nobody knows better than Neelix what this is like. He and Tuvok both. They've been here before.
"I won't be able to. Will I?" Tuvok continues. No more fun. No more desserts. No beach to walk on…
"Well..." Neelix stammers. "You won't call it fun. You'll call it 'deriving satisfaction'--but it's basically the same thing. You'll still experience emotions."
"But I won't express them," Tuvok sulks.
"Probably not," Neelix admits.
Tuvok leans toward Neelix. "Then how will you know how much I enjoy being with you?"
Neelix reels. "You've just told me!"
"We'll still be friends?" Tuvok asks. Of course, Neelix promises. "Even if I...merely tolerate you?"
Neelix offers a heartbreakingly brave smile. "I'd be lying if I told you that things between us will stay the same."
"Well, then, why? Wh-why do you want me to go back to the way I was?!"
Because Janeway's on the other side of that door, security in tow, ready to drag you down to Sickbay if need be. Because Rosie from Terre Haute has been phoning in dire warnings about subscribing the folks at Paramount to all manner of nauseating Backstreet Boyz fan club mailing lists if those rich desserts cause Tommy to pork up.
Because it's much better if it's your choice. Resistance is futile. Radical character alteration is irrelevant.
"Because," Neelix says at last, "this crew needs its tactical officer on the bridge. And I wouldn't be a very good friend if I ignored that, just so you'd be nicer to me."
Because friends look out nut just for each other, but for everyone. There's a time for fun…but there's also a time for duty, and friends look out for each other's best interests.
Tuvok considers this.
No guards, no gun-toting captain. Just two friends, walking into Sickbay on their own initiative.
"Mr. Tuvok," Doc says. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
"I was…experiencing…preoperative jitters. Neelix helped me overcome them."
"Glad to hear it," Doc says. "Now, please lie down."
Tuvok looks at Neelix. "I'll see you after the procedure?"
"Of course," Neelix says. He's not going anywhere. He's been here the whole time.
Alone, Tuvok walks over to the operating bed. He lies down of his own accord. The decision is his.
Regrets? He's had a few. But he did it his way.
Neelix looks sad. "I'm going to miss him," he tells the Doctor.
"Me, too," Doc admits.
The camera hovers over the stoic, intent face of Tuvok, as he awaits his attitude adjustment.
Time marches on.
Neelix is working away at the mess hall, and the place is hopping.
Tuvok enters, in uniform, reading a PADD with full concentration. Fully in control.
Life is back to normal.
"Hello, Commander," Neelix says awkwardly.
"Mr. Neelix," Tuvok says as he heads for a table in the corner.
Tentatively, Neelix approaches. He keeps his distance, though. "It's good to see you up and about. Are you feeling better?" he asks softly.
"The Doctor has approved my return to duty," Tuvok says without emotion.
"That's wonderful news!" Neelix says, though his enthusiasm is somewhat tempered. "How about a celebratory glass of champagne?"
"Tea will suffice," Tuvok says. It's not champagne, but that he's willing to drink anything to celebrate is…unexpected. Still, Neelix is a little disappointed. "Of course."
He stops, then turns back to Tuvok. "I'm preparing a special dinner tonight in honor of your recovery. I don't suppose that you'd be interested in preparing one of your famous desserts?" he asks hopefully.
Tuvok sighs. "I have much more important things to do than engage in the preparation of nutritionally deficient foods."
Neelix's eyes fall to the floor. That other Tuvok is apparently long gone. "Maybe another time," he says sadly, returning to the kitchen.
But Tuvok stops him with a word. "Sundays..."
"I beg your pardon?" Neelix asks.
"I've given further consideration to your riddle regarding the Ensign who survived by consuming the 'dates' from his calendar. It occurs to me that he could also have eaten the 'sundays.'"
Neelix's eyebrows waggle with surprise. "That's a very clever answer, Mr. Vulcan!" Tuvok nods, accepting the compliment with good grace.
Neelix allows himself a leer. "But it's not very logical, is it?" he asks conspiratorially, drawing closer to whisper the little secret.
"No," Tuvok admits a moment later. "It's not."
Did the corners of Tuvok's mouth turn upward?
Only time will tell.
A chat room I hopped onto this week asked me only one question about "Riddles": love, hate, or tolerate?
Answer: none of the above. I liked it, and some parts I even loved. But I have a few reservations.
Some of the likes/loves: the acting. The directing. The premise. The chemistry. The pacing (most of the time).
My chief reservation: haven't we been here before?
Okay. First things first. Tim Russ's performance blew me away. It's unfortunate that Vulcans are rarely allowed to show a full range of emotions. The best they can hope for most of the time is sardonic wit and irritation.
Irritation for Tuvok comes most often in the form of Neelix. They started this pattern way back in "Caretaker," when Tuvok was the one to greet Neelix when he first beamed aboard. Neelix was chatty, emotional, a hugger. And given Tuvok's suggestion that Neelix's first act upon reaching his quarters be a nice hot bath, you can imagine the waves of permafunk the scruffy junk dealer must have been exuding.
It's been a rough-and-tumble relationship ever since. Sometimes, it's played for humor. Sometimes, it's played for conflict and drama. On occasion, it's an excuse to really mess with them.
Once, it was "Tuvix." This second season episode transformed Tuvok and Neelix--two characters who at the time were Voyager's least liked--into a single, far more likeable hybrid character named (surprise!) Tuvix. The hour began with Neelix trying to get Tuvok to lighten up, and Tuvok trying to get Neelix to shut up. Then an accident that put them in each others' shoes for a few weeks. Followed by a return to their old selves.
You'd think this sort of intimate commingling of DNA and consciousness would have given them a new appreciation for each other.
You would be wrong.
Four seasons later, we have another episode that starts with Neelix trying to get Tuvok to lighten up, and Tuvok trying to get Neelix to shut up.
Some things never change. Then again, Spock and McCoy bickered over "damned Vulcan logic" for thirty years. There's a difference, though; Neelix likes and respects Tuvok, but doesn't have a lot of expectations. He accepts Tuvok for what he is, and though he encourages Tuvok to have "fun" he also doesn't push in areas he knows are futile. As we saw in "Riddles," Neelix found a way to get Tuvok to play along, however briefly, by appealing to his intellect. "The Ambassador" is getting better at his job if he can find common ground with a Vulcan.
What we get in this episode is a bit of Road Not Taken for Tuvok. Stripped free of everything he was, but with a mind rapidly rebuilding itself, Tuvok can be whoever he wants to be. Or can he? Is it his choice to make, even if it is Hobson's choice? Or is everything in the lives of everyone onboard truly subsumed in the doctrine of "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one"?
In "Tuvix," they actually went against that theory. Tuvix was a better officer than Tuvok, a better cook than Neelix, and a more believable suitor for Kes. Vulcan and Talaxian merged into a more balanced, more likeable guy who was building a new life for himself. But Kes and Janeway missed Tuvok and Neelix, for whatever reason, and Janeway's word was law.
Janeway stays out of the way in Riddles, at least directly. She latches on to what she can do--find out what hurt Tuvok and see if they can reverse the damage. She needs Tuvok's help to do that, which she does as gently as she can.
Meanwhile, the focus of Riddles is on the relationship between these two underutilized characters. In the past four years, Neelix has become more useful. His cooking has improved, though not past the point of teasing. (but picking on the cook is a proud military tradition, right?) His ambassadorial position isn't honorary; Janeway has come to rely heavily on his talent for schmoozing Delta Quadrant species. He's also, by spending his career on Voyager trying to make everyone's life on board more comfortable, become very sensitive to their needs. He's even learned to read Tuvok with some success, and though those are few and far between, the effort has endeared the Vulcan to him.
So when Tuvok, who he's been eager to help discover "fun," suddenly does, Neelix is torn. On a personal level, he's overjoyed--Tuvok is gentle, good-humored, eager to please, and not at all fun- or emotion-averse. But in terms of Voyager, Neelix knows what a Regarding Henry edition of Tuvok would do to crew morale. Tuvok is a logical anchor in the senior staff. His tactical expertise has saved the ship more than once. When she listens, Janeway usually gets good counsel from him. For all his lack of human social graces, Tuvok is a guy you want to have around in a crisis.
Neelix is a creature of the Delta Quadrant. The Delta is a lean-living place. Neelix takes his good news where he can, and doesn't fret much during the lean times. His short period of association with the kinder, gentler Tuvok is a time he'll treasure--but he is too wise to deny the ship the Tuvok it needs for the sake of his own happiness.
Call it a riddle. When is a friend really a friend? Did Neelix do Tuvok a favor by convincing him to return to his old self? Is the known--who Tuvok was--preferable to the unknown--who Tuvok could be? Is it the crew's duty to return Tuvok to his family exactly as he left? Does his choice matter at all?
The important difference between "Tuvix" and Riddles" is, Tuvok IS given the choice. There is no hint that Janeway would force Tuvok to revert to his old self, though we've all seen enough Trek to know it's inevitable. The important thing is that the HOW of it is left up to Tuvok--he trusts Neelix. "You are Neelix. I'm safe with you." Neelix has been honest with him. He doesn't make Tuvok decide in a vacuum. He does put it in terms Tuvok finds it hard to argue with. Tuvok is aware of Neelix's sacrifice--that he's willing to be merely tolerated rather than liked, willing to struggle for each small victory rather than enjoy the bounty of the fun-loving New Tuvok, in the best interests of the crew he serves.
It doesn't seem fair--but life isn't fair. You can't always get what you want--but if it's right, sometimes, you just might find you get what you need. Tuvok decides to return to the way he was. Not under duress, though with plenty of regret. But he doesn't completely lose that time--he remembers. And we see a glimmer of hope, of modest change, that lets Tuvok give Neelix a hint that maybe it won't be quite as big a challenge as it used to be. "Sundays/sundaes," indeed. The Old Tuvok has his priorities straight. He might make fun of desserts, but we might see him make them if the occasion is "important" enough. Doing the important things first is what Tuvok does best. Not a lot of room for fun…but he doesn't rule it out entirely, which is encouraging.
After all, even Spock mellowed in his middle age.
Enough on that. Let me just close with this by saying that the friendship portrayed worked very well for me. The performances of Russ and Phillips drew me in. I didn't get all weepy, but I did come close a few times.
Even so, I must say I was disappointed that they didn't do something really brave--and force Tuvok to truly grow into his rewired brain. It would have meant some disruption--but seeing folks take on unfamiliar roles, perhaps Harry stepping into a new position, and getting that LONG DELAYED PROMOTION, might have been a good thing.
The other plot, the riddle of the Ba'Neth, was a bit less successful, though not too bad. Naroq, the character so much like Fox Mulder of the X Files that I was almost embarrassed to join in the chorus of those pointing it out, was well cast--a decent fellow, definitely obsessed but not unethical. His riddle was the Ba'Neth. He found his answer. Though he didn't get all he wanted--to expose them to his people--he did get the next best thing; he was public enemy #1 to his prey. Having found them, Naroq did something that paralleled Neelix--he sacrificed something he wanted (recognition) for something important (he saved himself and Voyager by abandoning his quest, and helped restore Tuvok as well).
His Fox Mulder role was counterpointed by Janeway. I'll be cocky and say the writers were doing it to make me happy--pairing my favorite redheaded skeptic with the spooky conspiracy theorist. But more than skeptic, Janeway did her best to be a friend. She did push Tuvok a little, but she did so with a sensitivity to pushing too hard. She yanked Naroq away several times when his enthusiasm got too intense for Tuvok, and she backed off herself a few times. Which for Janeway is darn near unprecedented.
This side of Janeway should come out more often.
Performances in general were excellent. They've done a pretty darn good job this year using the ensemble in a balanced way. Seven of Nine was a good supporting character--I know many begrudge her any screen time, but I don't. She is well used, just as Paris and Kim and the Doctor and others are used. We don't see B'Elanna, but it was Roxann Dawson's first directing effort--I don't blame her for not trying to direct herself the first time out. We didn’t see a lot of Robbie McNeill in "Sacred Ground," either.
The directing, speaking of which, was also generally pretty good. There were a few moments and angles I wondered about, but overall I thought the episode flowed well. I wouldn't mind seeing Dawson direct again.
The story--well, this is a season, I hope, for "last one, we promise." After 500+ hours of Trek it's impossible not to repeat yourself, but some of them are simply too common. Equinox had more than shades of Scorpion. Survival Instinct had a lot of I, Borg and several Seven of Nine episodes in it. Barge of the Dead covered some of the same ground as Day of Honor. Alice was just another spelling for Vis a Vis. Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy--elements of it are found in darn near every Doctor-centric episode ever made. "Riddles" is Tuvix and Regarding Henry and X Files and…well, you get the idea. Yeah, they (usually) improved on the originals, and I've enjoyed this season so far--but if they want to rehash existing works, the least they can do is find variations on lesser-known classics. "Latent Image" introduced me to Dante's La Vita Nuova. Counterpoint helped me rediscover Mahler. I hope they will look into some of Aristophanes', Plautus', Terence's old works.
Not that a remake of CHRISTINE was necessarily a bad thing. It just wouldn't have been my first choice.
Seven of Nine as CARRIE, now…that'd be something.
Anyway. It's late and I'm rambling.
All in all, I enjoyed this. I'm not THRILLED, but I enjoyed it. It was a pleasant, touching episode, with some good laughs, some thought-provoking issues, and so on. I didn't mind that we didn't see the "elusive aliens." They remained a bit of a mystery--as seems appropriate. If we get all the answers, what's left to "riddle me this"?
Call it ( * * * ) on a four star scale.
Next week: if the previews are any indication, Voyager becomes one serious hiney-kicking urban assault vehicle. You gotta love Sweeps.