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Seven of Nine gets a hands-on history lesson.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Our story begins on Tuesday, October 19, 2032. On--above, rather--the planet Mars. The next logical step for homo galacticus in the pre-Cochrane era. Just 33 years in our future. Most of us will still be alive then.
Humanity has made progress since 1999. A command module orbits Mars, designated Ares Four. (Ares…Mars…you gotta love historical consistency.) Inside the station, we see a tall, dark, and handsome man in the prime of life, chatting over a comm link with two other astronauts.
"Ares Four to Kumagawa. How was the sunrise from down there?" he asks. We see him strapped into his chair.
Beautiful. There was a little green mixed in today. It was really quite spectacular. The woman's voice is fluent English with just a hint of an accent.
"Sorry I missed it," the man says sincerely.
Next time, Lieutenant.
We see, on the small Ares-4 monitor, two astronauts walking on Mars' surface. If that sight doesn't thrill you, you're watching the wrong show.
"Any luck drilling through that lava plain?" he asks.
Roger that. We broke through the iron oxide barriers and we're down to eight meters.
A third voice, male and more heavily accented, pipes in. We should have some samples by the end of the day if all goes well.
The man strapped into Ares-4 pokes at the conveniently placed ship controls. "On to more important matters--we received an uplink from Houston. The Yankees won game five of the World Series."
You owe me twenty bucks, Kumugawa teases.
"Heh--it's not over yet; there's still game six." The man smiles. "We won't be the only ones making history today. Bokai just broke DiMaggio's record." For non-DS9 fans, Buk Bokai was Ben Sisko's baseball hero; the last of the baseball legends before the sport went the way of the dodo.
I don't believe it! The man on the planet says.
"If you ask me, Houston's been manipulating the stats," the man on Ares-4 says. (Give me names!)
They do have a few too many Kings fans at mission control, Kumugawa says.
"Well, how else do you explain Bokai beating out the Yankee Clipper?"
The reverie is interrupted when the orbiting station undergoes a bit of unexpected turbulence. The Lieutenant's eyes go wide, and his hands reach instinctively for the computer controls.
Commander? We lost you for a second there.
"The ride got a little bumpy. Stand by. Picking up some turbulence."
At your altitude? The man asks, as though an encounter with little green men were more likely.
"Checking LIDAR…" the man's eyes go wide again as he sees what's on the screen. It's big, it's weird, and it's heading right for him. "What the hell?"
John, what's going on? (Thank you…I was about to call him Major Tom…)
"There's an object closing on my position!" Lieutenant John says. Azimuth 121.6. Whatever it is, it's huge--over a thousand meters across."
How can something that big appear out of nowhere?
"I don't know--but I'm getting out of its way. Firing thrusters." It's safe to say that the Ares-4 is not a speed demon.
It's probably just a solar flare.
"Let's hope so," John says.
But then he looks out the window and gets his first sight of the spatial anomaly.
It's orange. Shaped like a football. And large enough to swallow a city block whole.
Lieutenant John's eyes dilate in the face of the brilliant and massive object. "It's no solar flare…."
* * *
Stardate 53292.7. Voyager is flying homeward at impulse.
In his corridors, Commander Chakotay relaxes with a hot mug of something, and a thick book. All he's missing for the perfect evening is a fireplace and some nice low-volume Baroque music. Maybe a big ole dog curled up by the fire.
His door chimes. "Come in," he says. It chimes again. Again he bids them enter. It chimes a third time, and he shouts at the door to let them in.
Finally he gets up, puts down the book and the drink, and checks the corridor. Nobody there. Either Tom Paris is playing another round of ding-dong-ditch'em, or there's a ghost in the machine. But it chimes again while he's out there, so Tom's single pip is safe for the moment.
Chakotay grabs the book and mug again, and hails the bridge.
And gets the transporter room.
Suddenly, the comm system comes down with a nasty case of party line--dozens of voices, all wondering who the heck they've been rerouted to. Chakotay gives up trying to yell his way past the cacophony, and in irritation once again empties his hands and heads for the door.
Which opens and closes like it's taking its orders from Stephen King. He walks toward it, and the door closes. He turns away, and it opens. Toward--closed. Away--opened. Chakotay finally manages to time his jump through the doorway and into the corridor. By the time he heads for wherever, he's in a foul mood. His hands are on his hips, just like The Janeway does when she's on the verge of running unruly butts through a wood chipper.
Seven of Nine is up late, slaving away at a command terminal in Engineering.
Chakotay arrives a moment later and makes a beeline for her. She's reprogramming the computer core, we learn. Doing a little late night hacking without permission. We see the pizza boxes and empty liter bottles of Jolt littering her workstation, and that pasty white glow of a fellow midnight codeketeer suffusing her face.
Chakotay points out that she's wreaking havoc on the ship's secondary systems, which she brushes off as a insignificant minor inconvenience, easily corrected. She's missing the point, Chakotay tells her--upgrades like this are supposed to be approved and scheduled.
For those who may have missed the first season, Chakotay can be pretty hardcore about such things. Seven might be applying the Maquis Way--but the last crewman who fell back on that defense got a five-knuckle Maquis reprimand from the first officer.
All those in favor of Chakotay getting pugilistic on the Borg, raise those brass knuckles high.
Seven stands (well, sits) her ground. "The computer core is inefficient; it needed to be improved."
"I appreciate your initiative; but that's not up to you."
"I explained the value of these enhancements on several occasions, but Lt. Torres chose to ignore me," Seven says. The hurt in her voice is evident. "I thought a demonstration would be more persuasive."
Chakotay snorts. "Well, I doubt this one's going to change her mind."
Seven looks downcast. "Clearly Voyager is not yet ready for assimilation," she mutters.
Oh, my. Wrong thing to say to the Borgophobic Chakotay. We can see the fire in his eyes, the hands on the hips, the skunk eye building.
Seven realizes her error. "A joke," she says. "The doctor suggested that I defuse tense situations with humor."
That breaks the spell; Chakotay, whose own sense of humor is often an acquired taste, smiles. "Good idea!" He says, but doesn't let her off the hook completely--he wants her to clean up after herself pronto, so he can get back to his book.
But then the ship shakes. Seven does a quick check, breathes a sigh of relief, and says that whatever just happened, it wasn't her fault.
Right on cue, Captain Kim hails the senior staff from the bridge. Something's up. Chakotay and Seven head for the bridge.
Harry Kim is sitting in the Big Chair when Janeway and Tuvok exit the turbolift. Janeway doesn't look at all happy. "It's 2 in the morning, Ensign. This better be more than a little turbulence." Her voice is a little groggy.
Harry vacates the chair, but he doesn't look a bit worried. "You won't be disappointed; we've got level-nine gravimetric distortions closing on our position." That perks Janeway up like a triple-pot dose of Jamaican blend coffee. Her science instincts are powered up before our eyes.
"They're emanating from subspace," Tuvok reports. Shields, Janeway orders.
The orange thing shows up. The technology's better in the 24th century, so we get a much better picture of the anomaly this time. Needless to say, it's one impressive little fireball.
"It's heading right toward us," Tom says. Steer clear, Janeway says.
Seven of Nine and Chakotay arrive a moment later. Seven looks at the viewscreen and has a Tex Avery moment; her eyes practically leap out of her head.
Chakotay takes his seat. Janeway nods toward the screen. "Say good morning to 30 million terajoules of subspace energy," she says, excitement in her voice.
Something else is in Tom's voice. "This thing is following us. I can't outrun it at impulse." Janeway tells him to go to warp, but he can't--the anomaly won't let them. Harry points out that if it gets too close it'll start sucking the hull plates right off them.
Seven of Nine pipes up. She knows what it is; the Borg called it Spatial Anomaly 521. "We have to cut power and reverse shield polarity." Janeway takes the advice--and just in time. The anomaly flies by them, a little too close for comfort.
"That was close," Tom whispers.
The danger past, Janeway gives the thing a look from a scientific, rather than survival, perspective. "I recognize it too," she says. The Federation databanks call it a graviton ellipse, and it's known for showing up in the strangest places, making a big impression, consuming massive quantities of whatever's in range, then slipping back into subspace. Kinda like Elvis. It's only been observed a handful of times, she says.
Chakotay stares at the thing like a voice from the grave. "Ares Four…One of the early Mars missions. The command module and its pilot were engulfed by a similar phenomenon back in 2032."
Odd that Janeway wouldn't know about it, given her family's connection with the Mars program (which, even if Shannon O'Donnell's resume turned out different than Janeway remembered, was still part of her childhood education). Thankfully, Tom Paris doesn't disappoint. "I remember reading about that. Two astronauts were stranded on the surface for weeks before a rescue ship arrived."
Chakotay suggests they should study this anomaly; Janeway agrees, and tells Tom to follow it--from a safe distance, with all precautions in place. Tom gives her an Aye, Captain. Chakotay also suggest launching a probe into it. Better make it fast, Janeway says; there's no telling when it'll burrow back into subspace.
It's almost too bad nobody gives Harry a thumbs-up for waking them up for this. But the electricity bouncing around the bridge may be reward enough.
We see Voyager trailing the ellipse from a safe distance.
In Astrometrics, Seven of Nine and Tuvok study it in greater detail as the probe surfs its way to the chewy center.
They find plenty to chew on--a stable core. "The eye of the storm," Tuvok calls it. An apt metaphor, Seven says. Tuvok sets the computer to work analyzing what it finds inside the core.
Seven tells him that the Borg developed shielding that would let them slip inside the anomaly--their idea was to dissipate the puppy, not assimilate it. Seven suggests they try the same thing. (Apparently this is the anti-Omega particle, the "perfection" she sought even while Janeway was under orders to obliterate it. Seven seems particularly skittish about this big orange ball of subspace energy.)
"It would be shortsighted to destroy it; we should study the phenomenon," Tuvok says.
Seven seems surprised. She had no idea that Tuvok shared the crew's "penchant for exploration."
"I am a Starfleet officer," Tuvok reminds her.
But Seven still doesn't Get It. "When the risks outweigh the potential gain exploration is illogical!" she insists.
Tuvok actually stops working to respond to her. He stares her straight in the eye. "We can't predict what we might find here, Seven. One must allow for the unexpected discovery."
The computer beeps--analysis complete. Seven's breathing goes shallow when she reads the results--there are over 2.8 billion compounds inside that puppy. "Fascinating," Tuvok says, a rare use of that term from him.
Even more fascinating is what else they find--an item that is clearly identified as coming from Sector 001. Earth, to be exact. The type and amount of the materials is consistent with a spacecraft--like the one Chakotay had mentioned on the bridge. Could they have stumbled across the same beastie that ate the Ares 4?
Tuvok stares at the big screen, his eyebrows seriously living la vida loca. "An unexpected discovery indeed," he says, his voice hoarse.
Seven swallows hard. Her jaw drops. She knows without a doubt that Voyager's crew isn't about to leave this bad boy alone now, when her instinct is to run the other way.
* * *
The senior staff is assembled. Torres and Chakotay report the findings. We see a wire-frame depiction of the Ares Four on a wall terminal. "She was 46 meters, 92 metric tons, powered by a third-generation ion drive, and equipped with trans-spectral imager," Torres says, handling the technical side of the report.
Leaving the personal, appropriately, to Chakotay. "Ares Four was piloted by Lieutenant John Kelly. His ground team, astronauts Rose Kumagawa and Andrei Novakovich, were close to completing their survey mission when Kelly reported an object closing on his position. Then he and the command module disappeared off NASA's LIDAR scopes."
"And into the history books," Tom says. "That incident almost derailed the Mars program."
"Mankind's first encounter with a spatial anomaly," Tuvok notes.
Chakotay looks at Seven. Tuvok apparently told him about Borg experiments to get inside the ellipse. Shield enhancements, she reluctantly confirms. Tom, of course, recommends the Delta Flyer for the mission, and Janeway seems inclined to grant the request.
Seven is dumfounded. You want to find that module? She asks. Or what's left of it, Janeway corrects. Tuvok points out their window of opportunity is short--16 hours before it slips back into subspace; then we'd better move quickly, Janeway suggests. She hands out assignments, but wonders aloud who she should assign to lead such a mission.
As if there's any question who will get it. Smiling, Chakotay offers his services, and Janeway accepts gladly. Seven frowns.
Janeway dismisses the room, but Seven stays behind. She expresses her apprehensions to Janeway; humanity boldly goes where smarter species know better than to mess with, Seven suggests.
Janeway smirks. "I appreciate your concern, but--this is my call," she says. For her, and the rest of the crew, this is a no-brainer. It's a moral imperative. It's destiny.
But not to Seven. "Searching for he command module seems more sentimental than scientific.
"I can't argue with that. If scientific knowledge was all we were after then the Federation would have built a fleet of probes, not starships," Janeway explains; you can practically hear the patriotic music playing in the background--Battle Hymn of the Republic on a piccolo at mezzo-piano. "Exploration is about seeing things with your own eyes. In this case we're exploring the past."
Seven is a little slow today. "How will retrieving this artifact increase your appreciation of history?"
"By making us a part of it!" Janeway says. "In the same way that excavating the obelisks of ancient Vulcan or finding the shroud of Kahless made those explorers a part of their history." Janeway leans across the table at Seven, resting her chin in her palm, looking every inch the Mama Kate who dearly wishes to impart some hard-won wisdom to her recalcitrant child. "Here's the crux of it. As a Borg you didn't study the past; you ingested it. You've never really developed an appreciation for humanity's history. Maybe this is an opportunity to do some exploring of your own."
Seven stiffens. "Are you ordering me to join this mission?"
"Let's just say I'm encouraging you to volunteer." It's delivered with a smile, but the eyes tell a different story.
Seven is not a happy camper.
Tom and Chakotay, two of Voyager's biggest Mars buffs, view the last moments of John Kelly's transmissions aboard the Ares 4 before the ellipse swallowed it whole. The big screen shows the complete NASA record--Kelly's transmission, the two planet-bound astronauts, the rough images of the spatial anomaly, and other readings.
The focus, of course, is on John Kelly. "It's no solar flare…Wow!"
They hear Kumagawa's voice. "John, can you describe it?"
"It's at least a thousand meters wide! Bright!"
We see some static on the screen. "Your transmission's breaking up," Novakovich says.
"It's generating an electromagnetic radiation; interfering with primary systems. I can't get away from it." Kelly's voice and visage are surprisingly calm, almost detached. A real pro.
"Activating the trans-spectral imager," Tom and Chakotay watch and hear Kelly say. "I'll record as much data as I can….It's right on top of me! I'll transmit as much as I ca--"
"That's all she wrote," Tom whispers.
"NASA received Kelly's last telemetry at 0922 hours, Oct 19, 2032," Chakotay says. He doesn't say it to impress; he recalls it like a defining moment in his own life. Which it may well have been.
Tom regards the first officer in a new light. "I thought I was the Mars buff. You seem to know more about the Ares Four than I do!"
Chakotay shrugs. "The mars missions paved the way for the exploration of space. Kelly was one of my childhood heroes." Tom sighs, and there's no doubting the sincerity in his voice: mine too.
Chakotay points to the screen as the scene replays, with the sound off. "That's dedication. The man's life is about to end but he won't stop taking readings."
"Makes you wonder if those old-timers weren't made of sterner stuff than we are," Tom observes.
Chakotay looks at him. "You think we have it easy?"
Tom snorts. "You kidding? Warp drive, shields, transporters--we're traveling in the lap of luxury."
Chakotay seems to agree. "Kelly and Kumagawa, Armstrong and Glenn--they were the real pioneers."
Seven hears the last bit of that, and rolls her eyes. Then she interrupts. "Am I interrupting?"
"We were just admiring someone. Fellow explorer," Tom says.
"Hero worship--the glorification of an individual's accomplishment," Seven says, her voice bordering on mutiny.
"I guess you didn't have many role models growing up," Chakotay suggests.
"In the Collective, personal accomplishments are irrelevant," Seven says. She holds out a PADD. "The shield modifications to the Flyer are complete. We're ready for launch." That catches the men off guard. We? Seven explains that she's got the necessary expertise with the Borg enhanced shields. "I am…volunteering."
Like hell she is. "Well, You don't sound too happy about it," Tom notes. I'm not, she admits, but this mission can benefit from my expertise.
"In that case--welcome aboard," Chakotay says.
Next stop: Sickbay. To Seven's consternation, even the Doctor seems giddy about the upcoming road trip into the heart of the anomaly. He chats with her about one of his first away missions, to Arakis Prime. (You remember the place--no rain, lots of worms, spice that will fold space, Sean Young…) Seven doesn't remember it; Doc says it happened before she joined the crew. "Such an enchanting planet--crystalline glaciers, magnesium vapor atmosphere. I had to stop my scans just to admire the sheer beauty of it--to 'smell the roses,' to coin a phrase."
"An inefficient use of your time," Seven says disapprovingly.
"Perhaps," Doc says. "We're all finished here, except for one thing…" Of course; he reaches for his camera, which he extends to her. "Would you record some images when you're inside--for those of us not lucky enough to make the trip?"
"You envy my participation in this mission?" Seven asks dubiously.
"There isn't a crewman aboard who doesn't!" Doc insists. Why? She begs to know. Doc thinks. "I can only tell you how I felt that morning when I materialized on Arakis Prime. I left my footprints in the magnesite dust and thought--One small step for a hologram, one giant leap for mankind."
"To coin a phrase," Seven notes dryly.
Doc coughs. "Well, I know the sentiment isn't exactly original, but the fact is, I was exhilarated!"
It's a sentiment Seven clearly doesn't share. But before they can discuss it any further, Chakotay summons her to the shuttle bay.
Seven does take the camera with her, though.
The Flyer makes its approach. Tom Paris, behind the wheel, counts down. The field of vision is rapidly filled with an apocalypse of roiling orange.
Tom and Chakotay look pleased as punch.
Seven looks ready to punch them both.
Voyager is getting tossed around a little.
"We're within 2000 kilometers," Tuvok says. That's nothing, Torres says; the Flyer is getting tossed about like a marble in a food processor.
"They're approaching the anomaly's core," Torres says a moment later.
They lose the tracking signal, though they still have communications link.
"Punch us through, Tom," Chakotay orders. Tom needs no encouragement; he punches. A second or so later, they're inside the eye--and become a living witness to history.
Chakotay to Voyager: we're in.
Such is the sort of line that history books are created to quote.
* * *
The bridge is quiet, the expressions serene, as Chakotay describes the view inside the eye of the storm. "I wish you could see this, Captain, it's incredible."
"We're all ears," Janeway says.
"It's very calm…no gravimetric distortions. The E.M. activity is creating a natural luminescence. Tom called it 'mood lighting'."
Tom's voice cuts in. "Hey B'Elanna, it's the perfect romantic getaway."
Janeway smiles. So does B'Elanna. "I'll take your word for it." She'll have to; Tom's first date there is with Seven.
Chakotay resumes his report. "We've detected asteroid fragments, pieces of vessels, matter from every quadrant of the galaxy." Not to mention a whole mess of unpaired socks, D.B. Cooper, the entire cast of Diff'rent Strokes, Rose Law Firm billing records, and the missing two minutes from all those season-five episodes. "Next time I lose something I'll know where to look. Instead of a graviton ellipse we should call it the 'kitchen sink' anomaly." This earns a chuckle from the bridge. "The chemical reactions have even created a primitive atmosphere."
"Nothing you'd want to breathe, of course," Tom says.
Janeway twists the knife a little. "What do you make of it, Seven?" Her smile is downright wicked; she knows she's putting Seven on the spot--and recording it for posterity.
"Well, I suppose it's … intriguing. Some of the matter appears to be extradimensional in origin."
Harry whistles. "Sounds like this anomaly's gotten around."
Tom returns to the main business--tracking down the Ares. He says they've read traces of it inside.
Voyager shudders. "That was a gravimetric surge caused by the anomaly changing course by .0066 degrees," Tuvok reports.
Janeway tells Chakotay about the jolt. "We didn't feel a thing," Chakotay responds.
Janeway tells him they've got a little over five and a half hours before the anomaly returns to subspace. "You'd better get a move on." Understood, Chakotay says.
Now for the fun part. Tom gets the sensors programmed for a detailed search, but he says it'll take a few hours to run. Chakotay says that's fine; it'll give them time to analyze some of the other stuff inside the anomaly.
"We should focus on achieving our mission and returning to Voyager." Her discomfort is palpable.
Chakotay gives her an odd look. "We're not here just to find a module; we've got an opportunity to explore--"
"--to explore," Seven interrupts sharply. "I am familiar with our mission."
Brr. But Chakotay takes it in stride--he's too happy to be here. "In that case, let's get started."
A while later, the aft section of the Flyer is filled with fossils, artifacts, alien machinery, and so on.
"The fossilized microbes in this ore appear to have had metallic membranes," Seven says after scanning a large, craggy hunk of metal.
Chakotay, who had been working at another table, comes right over and takes a look. "We've speculated about the possibility of metallic life forms, but we've never discovered one."
Seven is surprised. "You're excited by this discovery."
Chakotay's surprised that she isn't. "This piece of rock is billions of years older than Earth, from a time when the galaxy was still forming. Here," he says, holding it out to her. Commander? She asks. He extends it again. "Take it." She does. "You're holding a piece of history. Maybe even the beginnings of life itself."
Seven sets it down on the table. "Unlikely."
"It's more likely than you think. This anomaly is as old as anything we've ever encountered. I could spend a lifetime studying the things it's collected." He sounds like he means it. And not just in a "if only…" sort of way. More in an "I'm seriously considering this" sort of way.
"And leave Voyager without a first officer?" Seven asks.
Chakotay shrugs. "They'd manage. Paleontology was always my first love. It was the reason I joined Starfleet."
This intrigues Seven. "Why didn't you pursue it?"
"My sense of responsibility got in the way," Chakotay says sadly. "First the Maquis, then Voyager--what I wanted to be always seemed to take a back seat."
He looks appraisingly at Seven. "Do you remember what you wanted to be before you were assimilated?"
"I was assimilated when I was a child."
"I knew I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was six."
There's not a lot of running-away room in the Delta Flyer. Seven cries uncle and admits, "A ballerina."
Chakotay smiles. Maybe there's some teasing there--Seven has a body made for roller derby, not swan lake--but there's also some affection in those twinkling eyes and upturned lips. "Maybe it's not too late."
"It was a juvenile fantasy," Seven insists.
Chakotay keeps smiling. "Those are the ones that stick with you."
"Heads up, folks," Paris says over the com channel. "I think we're getting close."
None of them were expecting to find the Ares Four looking like this.
Darn near intact.
"I'm reading hull breaches and corrosion," Chakotay says as he checks the readings. "But all things considered it's pretty well preserved." Well, so was the Botany Bay. Maybe John Kelly is still alive after all these centuries, nurtured by a sentient omniscient cloud of energy that wraps Kelly sensuously in its gossamer embrace--
Hey, it could happen.
But there's another, more practical concern, and Tom does his job and voices it. "We weren't expecting to find a fragment this big. We can't just stow it in the aft section." Talk about good news/bad news.
But Chakotay isn't about to let this historical and personal motherlode get away so easily. "We'll use a tractor beam to tow it back to Voyager."
Tom's jaw clanks against the console. Whatchutalkinbout, Chakotay?
Meanwhile, back on Voyager, Harry Kim announces that the kitchen sink is changing course again. "Third one in an hour," Janeway notes. Nothing on sensors, B'Elanna says. Janeway smirks; "I think it enjoys being unpredictable."
Torres has an idea. Maybe this thing is attracted to dark matter. Janeway likes that idea, and tells them to adjust the sensors.
Bingo! Torres finds it first--a dark matter asteroid. The bad news is, it's heading right for the anomaly. And it's close. Too close--only four minutes or so away. "We can't predict how it will impact the anomaly," Tuvok points out.
"It's a safe bet it won't be a gentle nudge," Torres says.
"Janeway to Delta Flyer--we've got a problem. The anomaly is on a collision course with a dark matter asteroid."
"We've located the Mars orbiter. We're adapting a tractor beam; give us a minute."
"You don't have it!" Janeway snaps. "Get out of there."
"Now!" Janeway bellows.
Tom and Chakotay look downcast. They know better than to cross the captain.
"Is the tractor beam ready?" Chakotay asks Tom.
Caught off guard, Tom checks. "Just about, sir." His tone is a question--you're not serious, are you?
"Lock onto the module and take us out!" Chakotay orders, then heads for his station.
Seven of Nine is furious. "We don’t have time!"
"I gave you an order!" Chakotay barks.
"Commander!" Seven shouts.
"We're not leaving without that module!" We've rarely seen Chakotay so exercised.
Tom seems torn. He hesitates just a little too long. Chakotay's voice is a bludgeon. "TOM!"
Tom shakes his head sadly, prays silently to every omnipotent being within earshot, and locks on with the tractor.
The Flyer heads for the exit, with the Ares Four in tow--at a slow crawl.
If Seven of Nine's wrath were engine fuel, they'd have left tire marks and a dust cloud.
Maybe even a meep-meep.
The bridge is tense. "Captain--both the anomaly and the asteroid are accelerating," Tuvok says.
"They're attracting each other like a pair of magnets," Janeway says, fretting. She hails the Flyer. "Chakotay, you've got less than a minute."
"The module is slowing us down," Tom says.
"Maintain tractor lock. How long until we clear the anomaly?"
"At our current speed," Seven says, dripping contempt, "40 seconds."
"We can do it," Chakotay insists.
30 seconds to go. "they're still not clear," Torres says.
"Chakotay, status!" Janeway barks.
"We're on our way."
"20 seconds," Torres says.
Less than twenty seconds later, we see a dark matter asteroid--silhouetted by the flaming orange anomaly--heading right for the thing.
Then we see it impact. It would be beautiful if there weren't lives on the line. The asteroid disappears; the exterior of the ellipse ripples like a pond filled with flaming Tang, into which a hand grenade is thrown.
INSIDE the anomaly, the Delta Flyer is very near the surface. So it catches the shock wave head on. The tractor lock breaks; the Ares 4 actually weathers the assault pretty well, but the Flyer tumbles back toward the eye of the storm, completely out of control.
Inside, the inertial dampers are still working. Chakotay isn't strapped in. But with his hands on the controls, Chakotay is doing his best to steady the ship.
Then an energy surge hits his console. It glows with electric blue.
Then, so do Chakotay's hands.
Then, so does Chakotay's whole dang body. He stiffens; his eyes bug out.
Then he springs out of his chair in a massive muscle contraction, hitting the ground hard, twitching like Apollo Creed in Rocky IV.
Voyager frets as contact with the Flyer is lost.
The Delta Flyer is in one piece, though it's dead in space.
The aft section has room to burn. Good thing, because Chakotay is burning.
The Commander is laid out on an elevated bed, face florid with nasty electrical burns. He's unconscious, and looks like he'll stay that way for a while.
Behind Chakotay, and Tom who is treating him, we see a set of white environmental suits. Foreshadowing…
Seven of Nine enters. She casts a baleful look at Chakotay, then asks Tom, "How badly is he damaged?"
"He's got a severe concussion and internal injuries. We need to get him back to Voyager."
"That may not be possible. Communications, shields and propulsion are offline."
Tom frowns. "He's stable for now. I'll give you a hand." But Seven has bad news; the shields they can fix, but the engines are toast. It can't be THAT bad, Tom says. It's WORSE, Seven says. The ellipse will vanish into subspace in less than two hours.
* * *
Chakotay begins to awaken; Paris, working on repairs, hears the groans and hastens to his side. "He's regaining consciousness."
Chakotay tries to prop himself up on his elbow--even that small effort prompts a full-body spike of agony. "Easy!" Tom says, easing the commander back into the bed. "Easy, lie still."
Chakotay's breathing is shallow. "I feel like I just went ten rounds with an Andorian."
"More like twenty," Tom says. "You were hit with a plasma discharge. The gravimetric surge from the asteroid caught us at the edge of the anomaly and tossed us back inside."
"The command module?" Chakotay asks through gritted teeth. We see Seven, with her back to the commander, tense up; all this, and he's still obsessed with that relic…
"It's adrift. 300 meters off our port bow," Tom tells him.
Chakotay tries to sit up again, and again winces. "Then we can still salvage--"
"Not so fast! We can't get engines or shields back online, not to mention a tractor beam. We'll be lucky to get out of this in one piece," Tom says. Whatever anyone else says, the Delta Flyer is Tom's baby, and when he's flying, he's in charge. With Chakotay in serious medical trouble, Doctor Tom is doubly in charge.
And while Tom may be as enamored of the Ares Four as Chakotay, and clearly empathizes with Chakotay's desires, they do have more pressing concerns, and at the moment he's doing a better job than Chakotay of keeping the priorities in order. Until the Flyer is working again, the module is a secondary concern. They're on a tight schedule as it is.
"I can help!" Chakotay insists.
"You're in wore shape than this ship!" Tom counters. "You want to help? Lie in the bed. Doctor's orders." Chakotay doesn't argue.
The Flyer trembles a bit. "Another gravimetric surge," Seven says after checking the monitors.
"I'll see if I can reinforce the structural integrity field." Tom exits the aft section, leaving Seven and Chakotay alone.
Which may be more dangerous than floating dead inside the belly of the beast. Seven of Nine's radiating waves of indignation toward Chakotay that could fry what circuitry remains intact.
"You might try drawing power from auxiliary life support," Chakotay offers helpfully.
"That system was damaged as well," Seven says. Her tone is a clear invitation: shut up.
Chakotay winces as much from Seven's attitude as from his plasma-fried innards. "What about the secondary relays?"
"They're off line." Burn in hell…
"That doesn't leave us many choices. Try rerouting the phaser couplings."
"We explored that option while you were unconscious!" Why don't you just die, already?
Chakotay is nothing if not dogged. (After the console zapped him, he's been hot dogged…) "Then maybe you can bring me up to date."
"There's no time," Seven growls. "I suggest you recuperate. We have the situation under control."
"It doesn't look that way from here!" Chakotay's voice rises; Seven's contempt is getting on his already singed nerves. "I'm still in command of this mission!" once again he tries to prop himself up; once again, he pays for it, and emits an agonized groan. "I want to know what's going on!"
Seven whips around, and Chakotay realizes he may have picked the wrong person to provoke. Seven wasn't all that keen on this mission to begin with. Now, they're stuck here. "Very well. We were ordered by the Captain to leave this anomaly, but you chose to disobey that command. As a result of your obsession with the module we are now trapped along with it." Her voice continues to rise; sparks fly from her ocular implant. Her fists are clenched, and drops of sweat (excuse me, "glow") bead on her upper lip as she fumes. "In all probability we won't survive without--"
"Point taken," Chakotay says, cutting her off. His voice drops in volume, but there's steel behind it. "Now why don't you continue--without the attitude."
Seven wasn't ready for that response. She is stunned silent for a moment, then reaches for a PADD. "An inventory of the damaged systems," she says, handing it to him. "Read it for yourself." The anger in her voice has, if not exactly gone away, at least changed direction. Returning to her original plan--ignoring the guy who put her life in danger--Chakotay is able to read in silence.
Ironic, given that he chewed her out at the beginning of the hour for screwing with the computer systems and preventing him from doing just that.
Chakotay lies back in the bed, holding the PADD up to his face with one scarred and florid hand. It seems to put less strain on him in this position. "I made a mistake. I put the mission at risk."
"You put our lives at risk!" Seven seethes, not looking at him.
Chakotay winces. Then his expression changes--we've seen that look before. "Well, if we don't make it out, someone's bound to come looking after us in a few hundred years."
Seven looks at him, gaping.
"Defusing a tense situation with humor--remember?"
You gotta love a good callback. Even Seven can't help but soften a little. They aren't exactly even, but Chakotay found a way of putting it that Seven can't help but relate to. She doesn't quite smile, but her ocular thermostat drops a few dozen degrees. Now Chakotay's most likely cause of death will be either his internal injuries or natural disaster--and not disgruntled coworker.
Just as the hatchet is buried, we hear a scratchy broadcast. Voyager to Delta Flyer. It's Janeway.
Seven lunges for the monitors. "They're using a probe with a transmission relay." She heads for a wall computer.
Voyager to Chakotay, please respond. We can't detect you.
"Captain, we can hear you!" Chakotay says.
"I'm matching their frequency," Seven says. "Voyager, this is the Delta Flyer--respond."
The transmission is much clearer now. Are you all right? What's your status?
"We've sustained heavy damage, Captain, but we're alive," Chakotay says. "It's good to hear your voice."
Seven sighs. Leave it to Janeway--if there's anyone in this part of space more single-minded than the boys of Delta Flyer and their Mars module, it's Janeway when it comes to her crew.
Next step: conference call. If the Apollo 13 scene where they had to fit a square peg in a round hole (the air filter scene) doesn't come to mind, I'm hereby issuing a homework assignment: get ye to a video store.
The Flyer is in trouble. They have only so much time left.
Time for the brain trust to earn their replicator rations.
Harry suggests they modify a class-two shuttle for a rescue mission. Tom reminds him that it took hours to modify the Delta Flyer--and that was with the highly-efficient Seven leading the effort.
Tuvok suggests they modify the tractor beam and punch through. Harry says they'd never be able to punch through to the core. Janeway tells them to start working on it anyway.
B'Elanna Torres has been awfully quiet, poring over a PADD. You can see the gears turning, though. When she finally speaks up, it's clear she's going way outside the box--just like a miracle worker ought.
"You say your energy conduits are fused," B'Elanna says.
Correct--we can't access any primary systems, Seven says.
If the replicators were working we could whip up a new plasma manifold and be on our way, Tom adds.
B'Elanna smiles knowingly. "What if I could get you an old manifold?" Excuse me? Tom asks.
Torres goes over to the wall display and calls up the Ares Four schematics. "The command module may be a few centuries old, but its power distribution system isn't that different from the Flyer's." She closes in on a tight detail view of a part of the module. "Right here--this control panel in the main cockpit. It was called an ion distributor. With a few tweaks it could be modified to channel warp plasma."
Square peg in round hole, indeed. Both sides of the line are silent for a few seconds; nobody expected this. But
Even if it were possible, we have to obtain the object before we can adapt it, Seven says, disbelief in her voice. Surely you jest…
Naturally, though, the humans and Vulcans and holograms on board love the idea. Janeway's eyes gleam. Tom, Janeway asks, "do you have enough power to beam one of you to the module?"
Tom checks. "Yes, ma'am. I'll go."
"Not so fast," Janeway says. "If another gravimetric surge hits we'll need you at the helm. Seven--"
The poor Borg can't cut a break today. "Are you 'encouraging me to volunteer' again, Captain?"
Janeway has the grace not to cackle. "You read my mind."
Oh, man. When Janeway gives homework assignments in humanity, she doesn't mess around. Next time, Seven might want to consider just auditing the class.
Tom Paris eases the Delta Flyer closer to the Ares Four. "Come on, just a little closer….That's it for thrusters, but I got us within transporter range. Ready?"
In the aft cabin, Seven of Nine is almost fully outfitted in the white environment suit. "Stand by," Seven says, grabbing small pieces of equipment for her journey.
"Ironic," Chakotay whispers from his sickbed. "You're doing what I've always dreamt of. Remember--when you set foot in that module, you'll be stepping into history."
"History is irrelevant," Seven scoffs.
Normally, the crew lets that cliché pass unremarked. But not this time. "Irrelevant?!" Chakotay says, amazed. He seems to bite back a reply, chooses a softer one instead. "Do me a favor--when you're over there, download whatever you can from their database. And also, take a minute to look around--so you can tell us what it was like."
"There may not be time," Seven says. It's clear she wants no part of Chakotay's obsession.
But Chakotay's look is a dying man's plea. He wouldn't ask if it weren't so important to him. Perhaps Seven should have fallen on an old standby: death is irrelevant. History is one way of cheating death--those honored dead live on. The past comes alive again.
Seven softens, and promises to try.
That's good enough. Good Luck, Chakotay says.
Seven beams in. It's dark; she turns on her flashlight and looks around. Nothing special so far--no ghosts from the past.
"What's it like in there?" Paris asks.
"Dark. The ambient temperature is -260 degrees. There appear to be fractures in the aft bulkhead."
"Is the cockpit intact?" Seven scans; yes, she says, and heads in that direction.
In the cockpit, Seven passes her light around the room. She gasps softly when the light falls on a sleeve, from which extends a desiccated hand. John Kelly is here, preserved all these centuries, still manning his post even in death.
Seven stares at the corpse a moment longer, then seeks out the computer core. Attaching a portable power pack, the lights are soon on. "I've brought the main computer online," she announces.
Her voice is soon joined by another. "I've lost contact with the team on the surface. And I can't get a fix on my position." It's John Kelly, on a computer monitor--a voice from the dust. Irritated, perhaps a bit spooked, she mutes it and moves on to the business at hand.
"What was that?" Tom asks.
"There's an active data file. It appears to contain log entries."
Tom and Chakotay, in different rooms, react the same. "Can you play them for us?" Chakotay asks.
"I believe so," says Seven, who clearly would prefer not to.
Chakotay grunts. His words are a bit groggy. "Consider it my last request."
How can you say no to that? Seven casts another apprehensive look at the John Kelly in the captain's chair, then at the John Kelly on the screen. With a sigh, she resumes the log.
"--and I can't get a fix on my position. But I’m alive. And the C.M. seems to be intact. (sigh)… I'm inside this--whatever it is."
Tom swallows hard as Kelly continues his talking, surprisingly calm for a guy who just got swallowed by a spatial anomaly. "Could you hear that, Chakotay?"
Chakotay looks dazed by the revelation. "It's amazing. Everyone assumed he was killed instantly."
Kelly continues. "…what I've gotten myself into. It's very calm; like I'm in the eye of a hurricane. It's a little spooky; The way I figure it--"
We step into the WayBack machine, to 2032. John Kelly floats through the command module, no stranger to weightlessness.
"If there's a way in, there's gotta be a way out. I'm gonna fire up the spectral imager before I initiate another engine burn. Collect as much data as I can."
Kelly reaches one of the monitors at the far end of the room. "Jeannie, I may not be bringing you back the Mars rock, but I promise you, I'm gonna do everything I can to get home."
* * *
Earth Year 2032 C.E.
Lt. Kelly floats his way through the conduits of the Ares Four, going about his duties. He enters his vocal record into a headset that could have come right out of an Office Depot catalog.
"Ares Four, mission record, October 23rd. I'm starting to feel like Jonah. How long was he in the belly of that whale? Three days? I've got him beat by a day or two already." We can tell the passage of time by the stubble on his face.
Kelly reaches a console. "The E.M. interference is disrupting communications and LIDAR." He moves to another panel. "I can't see the stars; there's no way I can get a fix on my position. If this thing's moving as fast as it was when it pulled me in I could be a long way from Mars by now." From his tone, one might guess that the idea would appeal to him--if he had a way to get home to tell about it.
"The imager's been working overtime cataloguing all the matter in here. But A lot of it defies analysis. I think we're going to need to make room on the periodic table."
Kelly's professional detachment slips just a tad. "Where the hell am I?" He whispers.
But back to work. Another monitor, another reading. "Power levels have dropped another 15% since my last systems check."
A scraping noise grabs Kelly's attention. He floats over to a window--and gasps.
We see what he sees--a large, very large chunk of what could only be an alien vessel. There are strange but deliberate markings on the metal plate. Painted on.
"I…I think I just saw another spacecraft! Either that…or all this dehydrated food has gone to my head." Kelly floats over to the monitor by the window for a more detailed look. "I got it! The hull's made of some kind of alloy. I can't make heads or tails of it!
Stardate 53300. No idea about the decimal point.
Seven of Nine works on extracting the distributor as Kelly's voice and image are seen over her shoulder. She does her best to ignore it--but it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so. The tale of a lone person fated to die in this elliptical anomaly hits a little too close to home right now.
"I shouldn't have been so dismissive; I remember giving Kumugawa a hard time when she claimed she saw a UFO over the Gulf. I told her it was a meteor--or another piece of MIR. I guess I owe you an apology, Rose." Tom and Chakotay, also alone in their respective cabins of the Delta Flyer, two of John Kelly's biggest fans in the Delta Quadrant, also reflect on the words of this long-dead but close kindred explorer.
"Ares Four, mission record, October 25th. It's been a nice place to visit, but I'm ready to come home. I've prepped the ion drive, channeled all the thruster reserves into the main tank. I have enough fuel for one last engine burn. Wish me luck."
We see Kelly take a photograph from its cubbyhole--he squeezes his eyes shut, then looks at the picture. Of him and Jeannie, no doubt, in a happier time. He returns it to its place, having said his silent good-byes.
"Ignition sequence. 5…4...3…2…"
The command module bucks like a bronco. "I'm losing pitch control. Gyros aren't responding. Power failure. I've got to abort. I'm not going to make it!"
The record ends in static.
Seven of Nine finds the picture right where Kelly left it. It's very old, but well preserved. She looks at it. Then she looks over at the last resting place of the man. Reverently, she puts the photo back where she found it and resumes her duties.
But there's another log from Lt. Kelly! The guy's got more lives than a cat.
But his time is running out. Along with the oxygen, I suppose. His voice is groggy, giddy. "All systems go. Watch me Dad, I'm flying." He makes the exaggerated noises of explosion, and giggles. "Bad landing! Call a medivac team. Heh."
Paris to Seven. Status.
Seven shuts off the recording; she doesn't want to miss a moment. "I've located the device but it's fused to the hull. Stand by."
Well, make it quick; we've got less than fifteen minutes.
Seven hits the play button again.
"All systems go. Watch me Dad, I'm flying. Booooom….Bad landing! Call a Medivac team. Heh."
Kelly's got a lot more stubble. He's no longer moving around; he's strapped in, and looking too weak to move much.
"John Kelly's first flight--not exactly A-OK. Remember that, Dad? I jumped off the roof with a parachute made of blankets. I guess I didn't calculate the aerodynamics. Of course--I was only six."
Seven of Nine reacts strongly to that. Ballerina; paleontologist; seafarer; astronaut. What is it about six year-olds and their dreams? Seven's were interrupted by assimilation. Chakotay's, by a sense of duty. John Kelly achieved his dream--only to die from it.
"I guess this is John Kelly's last flight. This time I can't blame it on pilot error."
Tom Paris reacts strongly to that. A lump catches in his throat. His hero--they have more in common than he realized. He squeezes his eyes shut. Then opens them as he hears Kelly say, "This time…no regrets."
Lying on his bed, Chakotay blinks back tears as he listens. "What I've seen proves we were right to come out here. We're not alone--I know that now."
Seven of Nine is now thoroughly engrossed in the record. It's impeding her efficiency--but resistance is futile. She can't help but be moved by these ancient but familiar words.
"The module's losing power. I'm taking life support off line. Rerouting whatever's left to the imager. Keep it running as long as possible. Mission Control…Dad…" Kelly squeezes his eyes closed. "Whoever finds this…do me a favor. Take all the data I've collected and put it to good use."
His voice grows stronger with sudden passion. "I hope you don't look at this as a failure." He coughs. "I don't!"
The effort seems to have drained him. "Actually, I do have one regret. I never found out who won the World Series."
His voice trembles. "I'm tired. I can't--"
The transmission ends in static.
Seven blinks away tears as she does the last of the extraction work. She yanks it out with a grunt. She places it with a magnetic thwump on the console. Then she reaches for a tricorder and enters a rapid series of commands.
"Paris to Seven--how's it going over there?"
"I have the distributor; I'm downloading Lt. Kelly's database!"
"Hurry; we're running out of time." Notably, Tom doesn't object.
While she waits, Seven looks over at the dead hand with the wedding ring still on. The body no longer horrifies her.
A beep announces the download is complete. Seven grabs the distributor.
And she makes a decision. She attaches her combadge to Kelly's uniform. Past and future meet; khaki and crystal.
"Lock onto my bio-signature and my combadge," Seven orders.
Paris is kneeling before an open command panel. There's a big gap where a conduit should be.
Seven arrives, still wearing the space suit, with the distributor. Paris scans it, and with a relieved exhalation of breath he nods his approval. Seven takes her station.
Now they just have to make the thing work.
"Delta Flyer, report," Janeway orders.
"We're trying to integrate the distributor," Paris says. "Stand by, Captain."
Janeway turns to Tuvok. "How long do they have?"
"Try bypassing the power couplings," Tom says. No effect Seven says a moment later.
"Resequence the ion modulators; see if that does it."
We hear a surge of power; a very good sign. "Power conversion in process," Seven says.
Tom runs over to verify for himself. "We have propulsion, shields--" The two biggies.
"The plasma flow is still fluctuating," Seven points out.
"Stay on top of it," Tom orders, then takes his seat in the pilot's chair. His turn now. "Paris to Voyager!"
"Open the shuttle bay doors, we're coming home!" There's one for the history books.
"Acknowledged." We see Janeway close her eyes. One more hurdle cleared. One more to go…
"Laying in an escape trajectory…"
We get an exterior view. The anomaly seems to get prettier--and more daunting--each time we see it. It seems to be melting, a liquid inferno.
Voyager is in hot pursuit.
"The ellipse is returning to subspace," Tuvok reports.
Janeway runs over to Ops. "The Flyer!"
"They're approaching the perimeter. 2000 meters. 1800."
Torres is flying the ship today. "The anomaly's submerging!"
Inside the Delta Flyer, components begin to explode. Tom and Seven hold on.
We don't see how Chakotay's holding up under the turbulence.
Voyager gets closer, ever closer, to the flame. If she were a moth, she'd be on fire by now.
"Are we in tractor range?" Janeway asks. Not yet, Tuvok says. She orders Torres to take them in closer. Torres hesitates, but Janeway breaks out her signature line, "Do it." She does it.
"They're still out of reach. Another 300 meters," Tuvok says.
Closer, Janeway tells Torres. We'll be pulled right in with them! Torres says. Just a few more meters, Janeway says.
They inch closer.
"We're too close!" Torres says.
"I've got a lock," Tuvok says--music to Janeway's ears.
"Reverse thrusters, full impulse!"
We see Voyager struggle against the mighty anomaly, but slowly pull away. And that tight blue fishing line of energy slowly pulls away as well--bearing the Delta Flyer.
The anomaly disappears into subspace.
Inside the flyer, Seven and Paris share a look of great relief. They're pretty much at Voyager's mercy, so they can let the tractor work its magic.
Seven finally has the luxury of time. She stares at her now historic tricorder, the last resting-place in realspace of the Ares Four database. Compared to the ancient rock, which held no meaning for her, she caresses this artifact like a treasure without price.
Captain's Log, Stardate 53301.2. The away team collected over 60 teraquads of data on the anomaly. Before we begin to analyze them, we've decided to pay our respects to an old colleague.
It's a shame they couldn't wait until Chakotay was well enough to attend.
But most of the crew is here, decked out in their finest dress uniforms. Seven of Nine is in her deep indigo blue unitard, and she looks absolutely stunning.
A torpedo-sized casket is in the center of the room, draped by a Starfleet/Federation flag. The text says Federation, but instead of the field of blue stars, the center features the Enterprise insignia. I'm not sure exactly which flag it is. Either way, it's a fitting tribute to one of mankind's own.
Janeway addresses the room--and no doubt the history books, for the words spoken over the actual remains of Lt. John Kelly deserve no less.
"Space…literally it means--nothing, a vacuum between stars and planets. But by the same token it means everything. It's what connects all our worlds--Vulcan, Kronos, Talax, Earth.
"Centuries ago, mankind sent its first wave of explorers into that void--astronauts like Mr. Kelly. They paved the way for the first colonies, the first starships, for those of us who've made space our home.
"We commend the spirit and the bravery of Lieutenant John Mark Kelly as we commit his body to space. He will not be forgotten."
There is a moment of silence.
Seven breaks it. She steps forward, asks to speak. Janeway nods.
"I--did not know this individual. Had I encountered him as a Borg I would have found his technology unworthy of assimilation." To defuse a tense situation…
"But we are more alike than one might think. In a sense his desire to explore was not unlike a quest for perfection."
In Sickbay, the Doctor stands at attention beside Chakotay's bed. Chakotay, still in recovery, chokes back tears as Seven speaks.
"His contribution helped secure humanity's future--and in some ways, my own."
Then Seven speaks her final tribute for John Kelly's ears alone. Standing close to the casket. She whispers, her voice breaking, to honor his last request. "The Yankees--in six games."
If anyone heard it beside Tom Paris, they would likely not have understood the reference--yet. But Tom does. He smiles. He couldn't have said it better himself.
Janeway nods to Tuvok. "All hands--attention," he snaps. Crisply, everyone does.
The scene shifts, and we gets a head-on view of the photon torpedo tube as John Kelly's casket is committed to the space that he helped his people reach.
A long time ago, I wrote a column asking "where's the wonder?" in Voyager. While Voyager has its strengths, it often failed to meet the jaw-dropping ideas that made TOS (and, IMO to a lesser extent, TNG) so special. Exploring humanity. Its past, its future, its character, the issues it faces.
"One Small Step," I believe, answers the question beautifully. That sense of wonder is here. The story is fairly simple, at its heart--what are we doing risking our necks so far from home?
As a Borg, Seven of Nine had a fairly black and white approach to things. Things worth exploring, things worth assimilating, things worth destroying, things worth avoiding. What adds to perfection? What detracts from it? What threatens it? To her, this subspace anomaly is a threat. But these reckless humans are drawn to it like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As the outsider, Seven gets to be the one who has to struggle to "get" why the humans go all squishy over their own history.
The teaser may have been a fictional scene. But the sight of humans working on and above Mars within my lifetime was stirring. I'm just old enough to remember Neil Armstrong and the first moonwalk. It sparked my interest in science, and science fiction, from a very young age. I'd love to see that next Small Step outward.
The current excitement, among the excited, is over the next big hurdle--Mars. We've landed stuff there. We've named rocks after cartoon characters. We drove a Mars Rover by remote control, grabbing some beautifully detailed photos of the Red Planet. We yearn for the day when humans will one day set foot on another planet.
It's no small coincidence that Robert Picardo, an advisory council member of the Planetary Society, directed this episode. Or that the Mars Millennium Project has school kids thinking about, planning for, and in some cases designing--a community of humans living on Mars by 2030. Those kids currently screaming over 98 Degrees and Pokèmon, if they get excited over the possibility, could be the very ones who make it happen--not just by hoping for it, but by expecting it. Demanding it. And just doing it.
The hard part will be overcoming some major obstacles. Funding. Logistics. And enthusiasm. The first two can be overcome; the third may be the most daunting obstacle of all. As Apollo 13 showed, it wasn't long after the first moon landing that a trip to the moon was a virtual non-event to the media, at least compared to the other news vying for Top Story status. It took a near-disaster to remind us that throwing three people a few hundred thousand miles away inside an oversized high-tech soda can is hardly routine. But in the 1970s, a common refrain was, "if we could put a man on the moon, why can't the government…" and our national priorities shifted.
In the mid-70s, the first shuttle was created--and christened Enterprise, to honor the show that in many ways kept the dream alive in a very bleak period. In the 1980s, the shuttle program went from awe-inspiring to barely newsworthy--until the Challenger disaster in January 1986. Eventually, the shuttle missions resumed--and today those flights are again barely newsworthy, unless there's some "twist" on the story, a new "first" to grab the public attention.
As Douglas Adams suggested in his fifth Hitchhiker's Guide books, Mostly Harmless, the first batch of aliens to reach Earth will treated as a historic global event. The second batch, a curiosity ("Another spacecraft; this one's pink.") The third will be lucky to get tickets to Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.
In a way the continued success of the shuttle program is very good--we're extending our reach, and we've found reasons to go up again and again. The payloads deployed are changing the way the world lives. Global communications nets. GPS systems. 500 channels of fun on television.
All of it, of course, available--for a price.
A permanent space station is one next logical step. We've had Skylab and Mir--it's not a whole new frontier the way a manned mission to Mars would be. However, the downside of a Mars mission is that there's no clear commercial benefit to it yet. Turning our own orbit into a commodity means folks could vacation in space--and the Marriotts and Hyatts and Howard Johnson's and Motel 6 are no doubt itching to be among the first to put you up--way up--while you're there. You could flit up to high orbit and back in a weekend.
But a mission to Mars, like the original space program, will likely require the backing of nations. The commitment of time and resources and infrastructure is something not even Bill Gates could simply cut a check for. Government sponsored Columbus. He provided proof of concept--and, more significantly, major economic incentive to return. NASA's moon trips were definite proof-of-concept--we could indeed send someone to the moon and bring them back safely--but once we got to the moon a few times, we didn't see much reason to keep doing it. Armstrong was the moon's Columbus, but we have yet to see a lunar Mayflower, or an Ellis Island on the Sea of Tranquility.
Maybe one day we will.
This feels like an ensemble piece--almost. It's a great Chakotay episode, a very good Tom episode, but it seems more Seven's episode than theirs. Seven interacts with almost everyone this week--Janeway, Tuvok, the Doctor, Paris and Chakotay, and John Kelly. Even so, Chakotay plays a big role this week, and Beltran plays it well.
The scenes between Chakotay and Seven worked well. There was a circular series of events; Chakotay began the episode chewing out Seven for letting her passion for upgrading the memory core (in pursuit of greater efficiency and perfection) override the standard operating protocols. Later, Chakotay does the same thing. The stakes are higher when Chakotay does it--lives are on the line, rather than the mere temporary inconvenience Seven puts people through. But Seven learns something all the same--when she unloads on Chakotay, he uses her own technique to defuse the tension.
Chakotay also brings out something new from Seven's past--her childhood dream. Granted, it's hard to picture Seven of Nine as a ballerina. But it told us something new about young Annika Hansen, even as we learned something about Chakotay. His dreams. What he's put before them when he's felt the need. Chakotay and Seven don't talk that often, which is a shame; they play well off each other. Good chemistry.
Paris and Chakotay made an interesting dynamic this week. We've seen them clash before, but this week the relationship was curious. Both were avowed fans of the Mars program, and of John Kelly in particular. The two were sent on a dream mission--to recover bits of the lost command module, if possible. But when faced with an intact module, they chose differently. In an odd twist, Paris was the relatively mature pragmatist and Chakotay was ruled by his youthful passion. When Tom was being ordered around, he didn't argue, though he did (understandably) hesitate. When Chakotay was injured, Tom had no trouble assuming the take-charge role. If he's bucking for Lieutenant, I'd say away missions like this will be evidence that he's earned it.
Last week I complained about the special effects being used ineffectively. I have no such complaints this week. The dramatic mood was heightened, well, dramatically by the CGI scenes. The imagery was downright beautiful, but more importantly--it fit the story, moved it along, and added to the experience.
I've very much enjoyed the episodes directed by Robert Picardo, and this was no exception. Picardo brings a real passion to his assignment this week, and it shows. Emotionally, this episode drew me in about as completely as I've ever been. I was right there with Seven of Nine as history came alive.
Of course, above all it's a celebration of, and practically an open plea for, the Mars program, which has yet to happen--and isn't guaranteed to happen. John Kelly isn't real--but he's nicely representative. We should be so lucky to have someone like him in our future--though we would be even luckier to not lose anyone.
This episode suggests that the road to the stars won't be without risk. That we may indeed lose some along the way. Those who venture out may not seek death-but neither do they fear it. Not enough to keep them at home. The reward--the chance to be out there at all--is worth the risk. The pioneers blaze the trail--and their graves sometimes mark the path. Not as a warning to turn back--but as a reminder of how far we've come, and some of those we have to thank for it.
If I was still giving out five stars, I'd give it here.
Ah, what the heck. 5 Stars.
Next Week: Why is Voyager REALLY in the Delta Quadrant?