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Seven of Nine joins the WWF. 47 quatloos against the newcomer.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Rock music, heavy on the synthesized percussion and guitars, fills a tiny arena. Disco lights roll through the crowd in alien patterns and glow eerily over the darkened, sunken pit of a stage. The circular balcony wall is decorated with chain links, interrupted every few meters by an alien script that looks suspiciously like Katakana--advertisements for Pokémon, no doubt.
The camera does a slow 360 degree turn from the center of the circle, showing us the entire room. Spectators cheer, argue, wager, anticipate. We see many alien species, along with a few folks in Starfleet uniforms.
As the music crescendoes, the spotlight focuses on an opening door. Four bluish lights bob up and down in the darkness beyond. Then, through the smoke, emerges an alien, slender but well muscled; his long dark hair is pulled back in a Worf Ponytail, and his body covered in a tight golden unitard.
The crowd roars its approval. The alien jogs to the center of the stage, arms raised, pumping his fists excitedly. As the ovation continues, he takes his place on the outer edge of the innermost circle, glaring at the door from which he just emerged, pounding his elbows with his illuminated fists. His eyes glisten, his teeth bare. He shrugs his shoulders, relieving the tension. He shakes his arms, taking great huffing breaths, all the while hungrily eyeing the door through which he came . . .
The darkened door becomes the center of attention for a long moment. Then, slowly, four more blue lights appear as the music changes to something foreboding, sinister, but still heavy on the guitar and drums. Another figure emerges, strolling from the abyss, as the cheers of the crowd become mixed with a few less encouraging noises.
No wonder. The beefy figure with the glow-in-the-dark Reeboks is a Hirogen, the galaxy's most notorious hunters. The Hirogen don't limit their trophies to lesser animals; if this guy wasn't in the pit, he might be scoping out the audience for his next trophy.
Compared to the first alien--who now isn't looking nearly so confident--the Hirogen isn't playing to the crowd. He makes what one might believe to be a religious genuflection of some sort, a tap on the forehead to the Great Nimrod in the Sky. (This gesture would be more familiar if he had his Hirogen Home Hunter facepaint kit. The finger to forehead ritual, the application of the Hunter's marks, is the official notification that whatever Prey he's hunting is in deep roody-poo.) There's no enthusiasm in the Hirogen's dark eyes.
But the Hirogen aren't known for their enthusiasm. Merely for their skill in the hunt. They even fought Janeway to a draw, and that's saying something.
The two aliens face off as the crowd bellows, the hundreds of voices merging into a single cacophonic white noise. The Hirogen rears back with a single fist. The other spreads his arms wide, then folds them in front of him. Brute strength versus wiry agility.
The two begin to circle each other, assessing each other's abilities. Then the smaller alien makes the first move, with a rebel yell and a series of martial arts moves. And he's pretty good; the Hirogen is knocked off his feet more than once.
But the Hirogen displays a surprising agility, at one point doing a mid-air 720 degree somersault to evade a volley of the alien's fists of fury.
All in all, it's a standard martial arts bout. Skilled fighters, mano a mano, picking each other apart until only one is left standing. The audience is getting its money's worth.
There is one sci-fi difference. The hands and feet--the blue glow--do something special when they connect with the fist-sized metallic discs positioned on the center of each fighter's chest and back. An electric charge sizzles visibly through the other fighter, dazing them momentarily. This adds an extra dimension to the personal combat.
Electricity: the great equalizer. Zap Fu.
In the end, the Hirogen takes the greatest advantage of his strength, agility, and conductivity. With a punishing volley of punches, kicks, and jolts, he sends his foe flying across the room, then pounds him with a sizzling deathblow into the cold stone floor.
The crowd goes wild. The Hirogen looks down sympathetically on his opponent, but his fist is raised skyward to accept the adulation of the spectators, now chanting an unfamiliar name, over and over and over again: Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat!
I checked the Universal Translator. Tsunkat is the rough equivalent of smackdown.
Among the revelers, we see two very familiar faces, smiling as they discuss the just-concluded bout. Commander Chakotay and chief engineer B'Elanna Torres.
Fancy meeting them here.
* * *
Captain's log, Stardate 53447.2: the crew's enjoying a much-needed shore leave on the Norcadian homeworld. While I visit Pendari, a planet in the neighboring system, I'm leaving Commander Chakotay in charge of Voyager.
Janeway and Chakotay stroll through the corridors. Janeway struggles a bit with her oversized travel bag, which the first officer seems in no hurry to carry for her. The cad.
"You may want to run a diagnostic on the shield generators. It's way overdue," Janeway says.
"Consider it done."
"And don't forget to keep tabs on Neelix's little project in the mess hall."
Chakotay frowns. "He's still trying to enhance the plasma burners in his stove?"
Janeway nods, moving the bag's strap to her other shoulder. "With some of Seven's Borg technology. I don't want him accidentally turning the galley into an assimilation chamber." Wakka wakka.
Chakotay nods. "I'll assign a security detail to keep tabs on him--unless you think we need to take more drastic measures."
Janeway smirks, then stops at the shuttle bay door. "And most important, be sure to tell your Captain when she's being overprotective." She gives her first officer an adorable look.
"I'll do that," Chakotay says, deadpan.
"Thanks again for minding the store," Janeway says, smiling.
"Even the Captain deserves a vacation once in a while."
"And her first officer?"
Chakotay grins. "He's looking forward to putting his feet up on your desk." He's rewarded for his impudence with the sort of look Janeway normally reserves for the irrepressible Tom Paris.
And with that Valentine Skunk Eye, the good Captain is off to Pendari in the Delta Flyer.
Torres catches up a moment later. "Chakotay!"
"Fun last night, wasn't it?" Chakotay asks, resuming his corridor stroll.
"There's another match scheduled at 1500," B'Elanna says, smiling. But Chakotay says he's got work to do. Torres frowns. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're in command until the Captain gets back." What's your point? Chakotay asks. "Delegate!" B'Elanna urges, only half joking. "I happen to know that Harry is free this afternoon."
Chakotay gives her a look of mock horror. "Lieutenant, you're not suggesting I abuse my power--"
B'Elanna answers with a chuckle, joined soon thereafter by Chakotay's own, as they enter the mess hall.
But the smiles fade in an instant as they stare at the large glass bowl of angry, chunky lemonade brewing on the cookstove. "Tell me that's not lunch," B'Elanna pleads.
It's worse. Neelix shuffles stiffly over, speaking through thin, tight lips. "It's leola ointment for my skin." Eeeew.
Then again, leola is an anagram for l'aloe. Maybe it would be a good ointment. Doesn't make it sound any tastier, though.
The right half of Neelix's body--face, hand--is a nasty shade of yellowish, livid red.
"What happened?" Chakotay asks, horrified, remembering Janeway's warning about his experiments.
Neelix speaks haltingly, as though his tongue is also scorched. "I was so excited to visit one of those beautiful Norcadian beaches that I forgot to take my dermaline hypospray. I fell asleep...under two suns."
"Ouch," says B'Elanna, speaking for us all. Been there, burned that.
Neelix stiffly raises the hand not clutching the small plate of tomatoes and gives a small, pained laugh. "A little more color than I was hoping for. But it'll be a beautiful amber before you know it. How's your shore leave been?"
Torres grabs one of the tomatoes while Chakotay fills his plate from the Vegan buffet. "Well, we've spent the last few days at the Tsunkatse matches," she says.
"Tsunkatse," Neelix says. "I heard some crewmen talking about that during breakfast."
"It's exciting--a real test of strength and agility," Chakotay says.
"You should come to the match with us this afternoon," Torres suggests.
Seven of Nine, who had been sitting at a table with Tuvok, joins the conversation. "From what I've heard, Tsunkatse is crude and pointless." Well, I don't know about crude, but she may be right about the other--I didn't see a scoreboard.
Ba-dum boom. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all season. Remember to tip your waitresses.
"Well, I guess we won't be saving you a seat," Torres says, hardly sorry to hear it.
Chakotay looks at the Vulcan. "What about you, Tuvok? You appreciate the martial arts."
"I have other plans," Tuvok says, handing the commander a PADD. "There's a micro-nebula approximately 1.6 light-years from here on the verge of collapse."
"We'd like to take a shuttle to study it," Seven says.
"An away mission during shore leave?" Neelix asks the two party poopers dubiously.
"Commander Tuvok and I don't require recreational activities," Seven says. Yeah, right. Watching large men hurting each other, that's one thing. But watching a nebula collapse? That's entertainment, baby. Better than a meteor shower on Blueberry Hill . . .
Even so, B'Elanna can't help but get in another dig. "The Borg wouldn't know fun if they assimilated an amusement park," she mutters, clearly forgetting Six Flags Over Unimatrix One. Who can forget the fabled transwarp corridor luge run, the Fluidic Space of Horrors, the psychic who reads your thoughts in a most unexpected way…
Chakotay shrugs. "It's your shore leave--but try to enjoy yourselves. That's an order."
The festive gathering breaks up. Neelix slowly, painfully, turns back to his mess hall duties.
Tom Paris enters cargo bay two with a PADD in hand. He finds Seven of Nine packing up a couple of circular crates with handles, each as tall as Naomi Wildman, as large as trash cans.
"Here's the navigational data you asked for," Tom says, handing Seven the PADD.
"Thank you," Seven says, adding another item to the rapidly-filling canisters.
Tom can't help himself. "How long are you planning on being gone?" he asks.
"Approximately 48 hours."
Tom laughs. "Juuuust like B'Elaaanna," he says in that smug pig-boy way of his.
"Clarify," Seven demands.
"Well, she overpacks, too," Tom drawls.
"I haven't overpacked," Seven huffs. "I simply wish to be prepared for any contingency."
Paris gives her the trademark yeah, right look. "And what contingency is this for?" he asks, lifting what looks like a sci-fi glue gun.
Seven grabs something else out of another canister and then looks up. "That's an iso-modulator, enhanced to correct hull ablation in the event we encounter a meteoroid stream."
Paris holds it like his Captain Proton ray gun. "Couldn't you just replicate an iso-modulator?"
Seven places what she picked up into her packing crate, then grabs the thing out of Tom's hand. "I prefer this one." Then she's off to gather more stuff.
"Oh, I get it," Tom says. "You like to have your own things with you."
As long as he's going to overstay his welcome, he might as well go all out. He gets this faraway look in his eyes, settling in for the long haul. "B'Elanna's the same way. You know, she'd never admit it, but she still takes a stuffed animal with her whenever she's going to be away for more than a day. Toby the Targ."
For those playing the home game, a Targ is a Klingon piglike creature, a cross between a slavering steroid-enhanced dingo, a crazed warthog, James Carville, and the frumious Bandersnatch.
It's a safe bet that no self-respecting full Klingon would ever name a Targ something as cute as "Toby." B'Elanna no doubt did it to irritate her mother.
But Seven seems offended. "Can Toby the Targ correct hull ablation?" Seven asks. Tom has no response. "Your comparison is flawed."
Tom is left with his mouth hanging open. It's kinda hard to argue with logic like that.
It's not often Helm Boy doesn't get in the last word . . .
Seven of Nine lugs her twin mammoths through the corridors. Them puppies is huge. Fortunately, the handles make the black trashcan-like cylinders relatively easy for the former drone to carry.
The Doctor catches up to Seven. "Just the person I was looking for," he says.
"You require my assistance?" Seven asks, continuing her walk.
"Your company," Doc says, smiling. "I was wondering if you care to join me on a tour of Norcadia's cultural hot spots. I hear their museums are among the finest in this sector."
"I'm busy." Seven doesn't break stride.
"With what?" Doc, confused, asks. It's shore leave; what could she be busy with?
"Commander Tuvok and I are leaving to study a collapsing micro-nebula."
"During shore leave?" Doc asks. He places a hand on Seven's shoulder, and the two stop walking.
Doc takes one of the canisters from Seven and places it on the floor. "I thought we'd discussed this. Shore leave is a perfect opportunity for you to spend time with other members of the crew--to develop your social skills!"
Seven sets the other canister on the floor. "Then I suppose I'll have to develop them with Commander Tuvok." Ooh, the vixen!
Doc is stung. "Vulcans aren't exactly known for their winning personalities," he mutters.
Seven purses her pillowy lips. "You'd prefer I spent my time with more sociable individuals . . . such as yourself."
Doc struts a little. "You could do worse . . ."
"In that case, perhaps you'd care to join us," Seven suggests.
"To . . . study the micro-nebula?" Doc asks, not exactly warming to the idea. Bring your camera, Doc!
Seven picks up one of the canisters and hands it to the Doctor. "You can assist us with our analysis of veridium-oxide particulates." Ooh, be still my photonic heart!
Doc reluctantly hands the luggage back. "On second thought--you and Tuvok have a good time."
Seven shrugs. "I'll give the Commander your regrets." Grabbing the other canister, she heads off without looking back.
"Do that!" Doc calls after her. "And if the nebula isn't as riveting as you'd hoped, try to remember lesson 36--pleasant parlor games to pass the time!"
Then, under his breath, Doc adds, "You'll need it."
But her crewmates tend to forget that Seven of Nine has an almost Vulcan temperament. Few work together as seamlessly as the Vulcan and the former drone. The illogical and the irrelevant rarely intrude on their smooth efficiency.
But Seven of Nine is not Vulcan. Her best friends are the other shipboard adolescents, the Doctor ("born" less than six years before) and Naomi Wildman (a little over four years old). Seven is thirty going on nine--six years before her assimilation, three after. Twenty-five, or six-two-four.
I got yer lottery numbers right here, people.
Seven breaks the silence, though she keeps working. "Two hours, 37 minutes, 13 seconds. That's how long we've gone without verbal communication."
"Why is that remarkable?" Tuvok asks.
"The Doctor encourages me to engage in conversation during awkward silences."
"Did you find the silence awkward?"
Seven thinks about that. "No."
"Nor did I."
Simple enough. Back to work.
But their non-awkward silence is interrupted when an alarm blares.
"There's a vessel approaching on an intercept course. The hull configuration is unfamiliar," Seven says.
"Distance?" Tuvok asks. Approximately 300,000 kilometers, Seven reports.
"Hail them," Tuvok says. No response, Seven says a moment later.
We see the tiny shuttlecraft being pursued by a much larger, thick-hulled vessel. Suggestive of some Cardassian designs, but different color.
"Tuvok to Voyager." No response.
"The vessel is emitting some kind of dampening field," Seven says, a bit of emotion creeping into her voice. "We've lost engines, weapons, shields."
A sizzle is heard, and when Tuvok looks back, he sees a small, glowing red device. He leaves his seat to investigate. "It's an explosive device of some sort."
"Transporters are down. I can't beam it off," Seven says. Tuvok says he'll try to disarm it.
He doesn't succeed. The device has shielding around it.
But he doesn't have long to wait for the other shoe to drop.
B O O O O O M
When the blinding light clears an undetermined amount of time later, Seven of Nine awakens, stretched out on a table while an alien slowly runs a scanning device over her, from kneecaps to neckline.
Look--I know she's an attractive woman. I appreciate beauty. My basic instinct is to drool over TV's pretty wimmens on occasion, if it furthers the storytelling. I'm even more or less used to Seven's skin-tight outfits; I don't talk about them nearly as often as I did in Season 4.
But please. The Extreme Close Up Crotch Shot we get here was simply not needed. I like a little mystery; is that so much to ask?
The person holding the scanner apparently has a different agenda than the cameraman. He appreciates what he's seeing, but for other reasons. "Borg-enhanced physiology. You should possess superior strength, agility, stamina, and visual acuity."
If you're a fan of DS9, you no doubt caught the voice right away. Jeff Combs: Weyoun and Brunt, just to name two. It's a voice that simply oozes with charismatic menace.
When Seven sits up and looks at him, we see that the Vorta ears have been replaced with a massive forehead and a Fu Manchu mustache, but the bearing of someone used to being in control is all too familiar.
Behind the man, impeccably dressed and flanked by two very large guards, we see a number of fighters sparring, dressed in skintight suits of gold.
"Welcome to Tsunkatse," the man--soon to be known as Penk--says. "Since the game's inception, our audience has never had the pleasure of seeing a drone compete. You are going to be a very . . . popular attraction."
Seven of Nine's pale gray eyes go wide.
Tuvok, we're not on Norcadia anymore . . .
* * *
"Where is Commander Tuvok?" Seven of Nine demands.
"Your comrade from the shuttle? I'm afraid he was injured in the explosion," Penk says, not sounding all that interested in the Vulcan. Too bad--if only he knew that Vulcans have 3-10 times the strength of the average human--and that the highly trained martial artist known as Tuvok can open up cans of whupass that most species can't even lift.
Everybody was pon farr fighting . . .
"I wish to see him. Now," Seven demands.
"Certainly," Penk says with a smarmy grin, nodding to a guard. "You'll learn nothing is more important to me than the comfort and happiness of my fighters."
Behind him stands the Hirogen we saw in the teaser, folding his arms haughtily. "Yes, Penk's generosity is legendary." He chortles to drive home the sarcasm, and the other fighters join in.
The Hirogen's voice is also familiar to DS9ers. Good ol' General (now Chancellor) Martok--one of my favorite Klingons.
"Quiet!" Penk snaps, silencing the laughter. Then he returns to Seven. "He's . . . envious because I've found a new favorite."
"I have no intention of participating in your game," Seven spits.
Penk grins. "Aggressive. I like that!"
Tuvok is brought in. He was crouching over the grenade when it went off in the shuttle--and he looks it. He's seen better days. Seven of Nine helps guide the scorched Vulcan onto the lower bunk.
"He requires medical attention," Seven says.
"That can be arranged . . . "
"Then arrange it!"
Penk chuckles. "You haven't won a single bout, and already you're making demands like a champion."
Seven glares. "Will you treat him, or not?"
"Will you fight?" Penk counters.
Tuvok lifts his head--sort of. "Do not comply," he gasps. "My condition is not . . . severe." Judging by the number of oozing green wounds on his face and hands, it's not a convincing lie.
"Spoken like a true competitor," Penk says approvingly, "willing to ignore his injuries for the sake of the contest." Penk turns to one of his guards. "Schedule a bout for him. A Red Match against the Pensarkan."
The Hirogen explains. "A Red Match does not end until one of the competitors is killed." His voice is not in the least bit mocking now; one suspects that no fighter jokes about a Red Match. "Your friend would not survive."
Penk looks meaningfully from the stricken Vulcan to the healthy Borg. "But you might."
"Give her a blue match, Penk," the Hirogen suggests. "You wouldn't want to lose your new favorite her first time in the pit."
"Yes," Penk agrees. "We should start you off slowly."
Seven looks at Tuvok. Makes a choice. "Treat him. And I will comply."
Penk smiles and nods. And gives a little wink.
Even Weyoun might fear this guy.
Oblivious--we hope--to the recruiting methods of Tsunkatse, Inc., the senior officers of Voyager chat about the fights over a quick snack in the Mess Hall.
"What about the seventh match?" Torres asks, sipping at her coffee.
"I'm picking the Vensiddian," Chakotay says.
"He lost his last two times out," Harry Kim points out.
"But he's undefeated against left-handed fighters," Chakotay counters.
"You should trust him, Harry," Tom says. "Chakotay knows a thing or two about southpaws."
"He was 23-0 as a light heavyweight," Torres adds, smiling proudly at her former Maquis captain.
"23 and one, actually . . . a Nausican with a mean right hook," Chakotay says, rubbing his chin at the memory. Boy, those Nausicans get around. They stab Picard, they smack Chakotay around . . .
Harry scoffs. "You think that's bad? Try taking a Parisses mallet to the ribs."
Chakotay looks at the ensign with a new modicum of respect. "I didn't know you played."
"Three-time Academy champion," Harry brags. "Now, that's a tough sport."
Chakotay snorts. "I boxed a few Parisses players in my day." He leaves the thought hanging.
"And . . . ?" Torres prompts.
Chakotay smiles enigmatically. "Let's just say they went back to playing Parisses squares after that." The four laugh merrily.
"Oh, is that a challenge, Commander?" Harry says, taunting his boss.
Chakotay takes a sip from his steaming mug. "I wouldn't want to put my Ops officer out of commission, now, would I?"
"Oooooh," Harry groans dramatically. "I can take a punch."
"Careful, Harry. Legend has it that the 'Tattooed Terror' has put more men in Sickbay than the Ankaran flu," B'Elanna says, grinning.
"Yeah, you wouldn't want to bruise your clarinet fingers," Tom adds, prompting another chuckle from the quartet.
"Hey, you want to go a few rounds? Or all you all talk?" Harry asks Tom.
"Any time, any place," Tom says, putting up his dukes. He takes a swing.
Harry snickers. "Oh, you punch like a Ferengi."
As Chakotay and Torres laugh, Tom and Harry fall into the mother of all sissy-slap fights.
Chakotay and Torres exit the mess hall into the corridor.
"I don't care what Harry says," says Torres, checking the stats on her PADD. "The Pensarkan-Bendali match is too close to call."
"I'll let you know how it turns out," Chakotay says.
B'Elanna stops walking. "Excuse me?"
"I rearranged the duty schedules this morning. You've got the bridge starting at 1400 hours." Woo hoo! It's about time we saw Captain Torres! With her trusty sidekick, Toby the Targ!
But B'Elanna isn't at all happy. "You're sticking me with that shift so that you can go to the fight!"
"I'm delegating." Chakotay resumes walking.
Torres sighs. "Oh, me and my big mouth . . ."
"I thought you'd be pleased that I took your advice," Chakotay says, deadpan.
"Words fail me."
Torres thinks. "Now remind me. The reason that you have to see that fight is because...?"
Chakotay shrugs. "I'm an anthropologist."
"What does that have to do with Tsunkatse?"
"It's a cultural phenomenon." He takes off, leaving B'Elanna to roll her eyes for an audience of none.
Cultural. Yeah. So was human sacrifice and slavery, Anthro-boy.
Doc is busy in Sickbay, tending to a much-suffering Neelix. The poor Talaxian looks even worse than Tuvok. Yellow pustules now protrude from his darkened skin, threatening to burst at inopportune moments . . . like when he's tossing the evening salad. Leola pus vinaigrette--blecch.
"You're having an allergic reaction to your leola ointment," Doc explains to the suffering Neelix. "I hope you've learned your lesson. Talaxian homeopathy is no substitute for medical science."
The Doctor slaps a hypospray against Neelix's neck. "This should help with the swelling and discoloration." We hear the hiss. Ow, he says. Normally, such are not painful, but Neelix's skin is more sensitive than usual. "But you'll have to stay out of the sun."
"But what about the rest of my shore leave?" Neelix protests.
"I suggest you limit it to indoor activities."
Neelix thinks. Then shrugs. "Commander Chakotay and B'Elanna invited me to the Tsunkatse matches. I guess I'll go."
Doc frowns. "I'm disappointed in you, Mr. Neelix! Cheering for one individual to inflict serious injury on another hardly seems like an activity you'd enjoy!"
"Well, Commander Chakotay says that it's a wonderful demonstration of athletic prowess," Neelix says.
Doc sighs. "You seem to be forgetting that Commander Chakotay is an aficionado of boxing--arguably the most barbaric sport in Earth's history." Oh, puhleeze. Boxing's nowhere near the Top Ten for barbarism, even before you throw in the padded gloves and headgear. Heck, depending on the performance, even opera has been known to be bloodier than boxing.
Ignoring the mocking tone of a certain review boy, the Doctor continues. "Surely you can find some way to occupy your free time that doesn't involve alien fisticuffs."
"Do you have any suggestions?" Neelix asks, open to pretty much anything at this point.
"As a matter of fact, I was planning a visit to the Norcadian Museum of Entomology this afternoon. There's a fascinating exhibit of beetle larvae from the equatorial sub-continent. You're welcome to join me!"
Neelix thinks aloud. "Hmm, alien bugs, or alien fisticuffs. Oooh, that's a tough one."
"Tsunkat! Tsunkat!" Neelix screams, pumping his fist in the air.
Show of hands, people--who didn't see that one coming a mile away?
This is apparently a Green Match. I have no idea how that compares with a Red or Blue Match, but my guess is that it's somewhere in the middle.
The two combatants are a female straight outta the WWF, and an alien from the Predator Planet. Both have long dark hair. They wail on each other expertly while the crowd chants "Tsunkat! Tsunkat!"
The woman, somewhat predictably, wins. "Whoo-hoo!" she says, though only those of us with closed captioning know it, because she cannot be heard over the din. "I'm ready for a Red Match. Who's next? I'll take on any challenger."
Neelix is thrilled to be here. "You were right, Commander; this is exciting! Two opponents, alone in the pit, with only their strength and agility to protect them!"
The crowd settles down between matches, as two beefy fellas lift the loser to his feet and drag him off.
"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself," Chakotay says.
"I still don't understand the rules," Neelix admits.
"It's simple. A Tsunkatse fighter wears a polaron disruptor on both hands and feet. Each disruptor delivers a bio-plasmic charge when it comes in contact one of the opponent's target sensors."
Neelix nods as awareness dawns. "So there is strategy involved!"
"A fighter has to attack his rival's sensors without exposing his own," Chakotay confirms.
"Are you two going to talk, or you here to watch?" Tom Paris teases.
Well, now there's something to watch. WWF fans, this is the moment you've all been waiting for.
IF YOU SMEEEELLLLL . . . WHAT THE ROCK . . . IS COOKING!
The guitar riff comes on strong as the doors open. The crowd leaps to its feet and begins stomping and clapping and hooting their approval as the four blue lights emerge from the darkness, connected to one very large, well-muscled specimen of Pendari manhood.
Like the Hirogen, he strolls into the pit. His gold-green outfit is pants only, with a band around his chest to hold the target sensors. Two other thick straps modestly obscure the People's Nipples from the lusty crowd.
The alien, who looks like your average incredibly strong human if not for the funky forehead, turns his head, his muscles rippling as he cranes his neck from one side to the other to drink in the adulation. He strides a few paces, stops, looks up into the crowd--and raises the People's Eyebrow high enough for the individual hairs to require oxygen masks.
Pandemonium. The crowd loves every understated swaggering gesture.
FINALLY . . . THE ROCK . . . HAS COME BACK . . . TO NORCADIA PRIME!!!
Alien women swoon, blow kisses, flash their "puppies." Men roar. Someone holds up a sign reading "Darmok 3:16."
Man. These folks really love their Tsunkatse.
"He looks like he could pick up a shuttlecraft!" Neelix gasps.
"He's a Pendari," Harry shouts. "They're known for their superior strength."
"And their bad temper," Tom adds.
"I hear they have a tendency to throw their opponents into the stands," Harry says, one-upping Tom.
"Be ready to duck," Tom counters. Neelix laughs . . . but gets ready to duck.
The Pendari smiles, perfectly relaxed. He's clearly a man used to winning. He takes his place at the far side of the inner circle, and awaits his opponent.
The booing begins almost as soon as the blue lights resolve into the voluptuous blonde female form. The crowd clearly is rooting for the Pendari.
It's not that she's cute, blonde or female. They see the Collective's Eyebrow and other relics of her Borg past. Not too surprisingly, the Borg aren't the galaxy's favorite people.
I'm not a bettin' man, but what the hey. Four hundred quatloos against the newcomer.
She does have her fans, though. The Starfleet folk are clearly on her side. And on UCLA campus, Seven's Number One Fan is climbing the walls and high-fiving his Carmen Electra posters with glee.
Rosie from Terre Haute, meet RussDog from B Dorm, the only guy I know who can howl the Voyager theme like a Jack Russell Terrier.
Seven, sleeveless, facing down The Rock. He's a happy man.
The Starfleeters in the room gasp. "Seven?" Neelix asks.
Paris and Kim, Neelix and Chakotay, look at each other in horror.
Seven of Nine simply stares straight ahead, ignoring the crowd. Her vision--and the Collective's Eyebrow--are filled with the sight of 265 pounds of sculpted Pendari, who eyes her the way a bear eyes an upstream-swimming salmon.
* * *
LET'S GET RRREADY TO RRRRUMMMMBBULLLL….
The Voyager officers scream into the pit, but the circling combatants are oblivious.
The Pendari doesn't look impressed by his opponent. "You're no bigger than a Tarkanian field mouse. Penk's insulting me by putting you in the pit to face me."
Okay. The Rock's first line isn't all that well delivered. I think speaking in first person threw him for a loop. He improves quickly, though.
"I must warn you," Seven says as the bell rings. "I possess superior strength."
"I'm trembling," the Pendari says. He sneers.
Thwack. The alien lashes out with a feinting jab, then connects with another blow that sends Seven smashing into the wall.
The audience laughs mockingly at the newcomer's plight.
Neelix and Harry continue to yell, desperate for Seven to hear them.
Seven gets up, and quickly shows the Pendari that his next blows won't land so easily. She ducks and weaves, dodges and parries, leaving the beefy alien to swing time and time again at nothing but air.
"I assure you, resistance is futile," Seven says.
"So is all your talk," the Pendari growls, coming after her again. This time he manages to smack her around a bit, and even lands a kick on her target sensor; Seven flies into a wall, momentarily stunned.
"Seven!" Neelix screams.
"It's no use. She can't hear us," Tom yells.
"Chakotay to Voyager. Come in!"
B'Elanna, sitting in the big chair, responds. "Calling to give me a blow-by-blow description of the match, Commander?" Torres gripes.
"Seven of Nine is in the pit!"
"What?!" B'Elanna's eyes go wide.
"No time to explain. Beam her out of there!"
Apparently the Pendari managed to do enough damage to make Seven of Nine mad; she's actually fighting back now. And she's not doing too badly. With a deft series of roundhouse kicks and whacks from The Collective's Elbow, she drives the much larger man to his knees.
"I have no desire to inflict further damage," Seven says, regaining her composure.
"I'm afraid I can't say the same," the alien growls. Springing to his feet, he grabs Seven by the shoulder and gives her a stiff-armed slam into the floor.
Tsunkatse. Time to layeth the smacketh down.
Seven rises. Lets loose with a flying leg kick that Captain Kirk would envy.
The two begin trading blows that would fell a redwood as the men of Voyager look on in horror.
Finally, one of the redwoods falls again. Seven of Nine collapses to her knees.
"I'm locked onto the coordinates of the pit. Seven's not there," Torres says.
"I'm looking right at her!" Chakotay shouts.
"Not according to these sensors."
"Maybe their life signs are masked," Harry Kim suggests.
"Try recalibrating the bio-scanners," Chakotay orders.
"Acknowledged," Torres says.
Seven's back in action. She's laying some more smack down. The Pendari isn't talking so much anymore.
The audience boos a bit as the two fighters begin to flicker. Hey, waitaminnit…
"There's nothing to lock onto," Torres says. "The only readings I'm picking up are photonic."
"Holograms?" Harry asks.
Paris' eyes go wide. "They're transmitting the fight from another location!"
Sure enough, we see--for the first time--what the fighters themselves see. This arena has a much smaller audience.
Penk. And Penk alone. He views from a high balcony as Seven of Nine does her best to either pound the Pendari or run from him. She climbs the walls and kicks at her opponent, who grabs at her and throws her back into the pit.
The pit and the Pendari. If only Poe were still around to do it justice.
Without the crowd, it's not nearly as exciting. There is no loud music, no cheering. The lights cast an eerie pall over the spectacle. It's even a little disturbing, to see two desperate combatants attacking each other in an enclosed space, the walls decorated by an unbroken chainlinks of servitude, their compulsion to fight overseen by the overlord who kidnapped them and forced them to battle for their lives.
Well, okay, this one isn't to the death. Not all Roman gladiator matches were to the death, either. But the combatants were still slaves, forced to fight and bleed and kill and die for the amusement of others.
As Chakotay the anthropologist is no doubt beginning to realize.
Two men work behind Penk, their backs to the battle. Even Penk doesn't watch the whole time. Rather, he's watching the ratings.
An alarm goes off on Penk's control board. "Transmission to one of the arenas on Norcadia Prime is being disrupted," Penk tells his assistants. "Compensate."
It's all about the Nielsens, baby.
Seven of Nine begins to get the upper hand. She's letting loose with a furious barrage, landing her fists and feet on the target sensors, lighting her opponent up like a Christmas tree. Finally, she's got him right where she needs him--dazed and confused on the floor, arms splayed out, his target sensor ripe for the smacking.
Time for the death blow. Seven rears back. The glow in her fiery eyes tells us all we need to know--she's ready to layeth the smacketh down.
Everybody was Drone Fu fighting
Tsunkats were fast as lightning
Kim thought it was a little bit frightening
But she fought with decent timing
She's a funky former Borg
From Unimatrix One
Hopped into a tiny shuttlecraft
For a little Vulcan fun
Alien bad guys stole her ship
Gave her new clothes and made her strip
Made her a Fu Fighter right away
It's enough to turn Chakotay gray
Everybody was Drone Fu fighting . . .
Down, RussDog! Bad fan! No biscuit!
But then she hesitates.
The Pendari, desperation in his own eyes, sees the change in her expression and throws caution to the wind. Using his last reserves of strength, he lunges at the Borg, catching her off guard. A few wicked punches, a nasty kick, and then he grabs the dazed Borg by the shoulder.
It's time for one of the most devastating finishing moves in WWF history . . . the Rock Bottom.
Lifting Seven up, leaping upward, the Pendari flings himself and Seven with him, and gravity crashes the two down into the stone cold floor of Steve Austin Stadium. Seven cushions the Pendari's fall, absorbing the worst of the deceleration trauma herself.
One less roody-poo jabroni to worry about. The Rock shined them Borg nanoprobes up real nice, turned them sumb*tches sideways, and shoved 'em straight up her candy--
Ahem. Sorry. Wrong show.
Rising to his knees, the Pendari lashes out with a wicked right, pummeling the silver target disc on Seven of Nine's chest. Seven's back arches in electric agony, then relaxes as unconsciousness takes her.
The bell rings.
The champion rises.
The crowd goes crazy.
"Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat!" the crowd chants, as the Pendari drinks in the love, turning his thick-necked head from side to side. Naturally, it's an act--he can't hear it.
But who said fighters can't act?
The Starfleeters look on in horror. Some look to Chakotay for guidance, as the rest of the crowd cheers the fall of the Borg.
"Voyager, four to beam up," Chakotay orders.
The Delta Flyer appears to be on its way home.
"We've scanned the Norcadian surface, Captain," Chakotay reports. "There's no sign of them."
"Any luck tracing the transmission?" Janeway asks.
"We're trying, but it's not easy. There are transmissions being sent to every planet in the sector."
"I guess you aren't the only ones who enjoy this sport," Janeway notes dryly, with a tone that could etch brass. (Thanks, Dee . . .)
"It could take days before we figure out where Seven and Tuvok are being held," Torres says.
"What about diplomatic channels?"
"Neelix is meeting with a group of Norcadian officials," Chakotay says.
"Well, let's hope he gets their cooperation."
"When can we expect you back?" Chakotay asks.
"I'm at the outer rim of the Pendari system. At best, I'm 48 hours away."
"Sorry to cut your vacation short," Chakotay says.
"That's okay, Commander. Keep me informed. Janeway out."
Seven of Nine has seen better days. Her right eye is swelling. Her left shoulder is a bright pink, like undercooked beef jerky, missing a few outer layers of skin.
The Hirogen hovers over her, waving a small instrument.
When Seven awakes, she is startled do see him. "Stay away from me!"
"It's a dermal regenerator. The Pendari you fought injured you," the Hirogen says. "Now, keep still. It's almost out of power."
"I prefer that you use it to treat Commander Tuvok," Seven says. More than her body is wounded; her voice has the suggestion of wounded pride.
"I already have. He's sleeping."
"Why are you helping us?" Seven asks suspiciously. She hasn't had the best of luck with Hirogen. Most wanted to strip her for parts and mount her nanoprobes on the wall.
"I recognize fellow Hunters when I see them." High praise from a Hirogen.
"I'm no hunter," Seven says bitterly.
But the Hirogen stares into her eyes with his own inky orbs. "I saw your match today. Your skills are impressive."
"The Pendari would disagree," Seven says, wincing.
"You almost defeated him--but at the last moment, you hesitated. You...questioned your desire to destroy your prey."
"I have no such desire," Seven insists.
"Don't you?" the Hunter says skeptically. "I thought I saw it in your eyes. With the proper training you could become a champion."
"Until our ship comes to rescue us, my only goal is to survive."
The Hirogen locks eyes again. "Do you know the difference between a Survivor and a Champion here?" He pauses for effect. "There isn't one."
Penk and his thugs arrive, the latter armed with very large rifles. "I wanted to be the first to congratulate you!" Penk says happily.
"I lost," Seven reminds him.
"Exactly! There's a great deal of hostility toward the Borg in this sector. Whenever the Pendari landed a blow, our audience grew. We're getting tens of thousands of requests to see you fight again!"
"She needs time to recuperate--to prepare for her next bout," the Hirogen says.
How convenient. Janeway's still two days out in the Delta Flyer . . .
"I agree," says Penk. "There's a Red Match scheduled for the day after tomorrow. The Pendari was supposed to compete, but I've entered you in his place. If three billion people paid to see you hurt...imagine how many will pay to see you die." With a grin of anticipation of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, Penk and his thugs leave.
Seven sighs. "Survival may be more difficult than I imagined."
"You will win the match," the Hirogen says, not looking at her.
"What makes you say that?"
The Hirogen looks at her. "I know your opponent; I know his weaknesses. I can train you to defeat him."
"I told you," Seven says angrily. "I will not kill anyone in that arena."
"Consider the alternative."
Seven rises and glares at the Hirogen. Then she looks behind her at the still form of Tuvok.
Seven turns back and stares at the Hirogen. "Teach me."
Come, Annika-san, we go. Wax on, Wax off . . .
* * *
Seven of Nine does some deft martial arts moves, then holds her arms far apart, like the first fighter did in the teaser.
"You're letting your elbow fall, exposing your target," the Hirogen says.
"You're mistaken. My arm is positioned properly." Seven continues her movements and her jabs in smooth sequence. She begins to quote, "'When executing the Tanyk Defense, the blocking elbow must remain parallel to the median sensor.'"
The Hirogen nods sagely. "Aaaahhh, The Book of Tsunkatse--"
"Commander Tuvok borrowed it from one of the other fighters," Seven says, jabbing and thrusting.
"It is obvious you've studied it well."
"I'm attempting a defense against--"
The Hirogen lunges at her, and when Seven responds by the book, the Hirogen slugs her in the kidney. Seven goes down hard.
"That was not one of the 33 sanctioned maneuvers!" Seven gasps, jumping to her feet.
"There must be 34," the Hirogen suggests wryly.
"I was unprepared for your attack," Seven complains.
"Is that what you're going to say to your opponent? Stop thinking like a drone! Sanctioned maneuvers, perfecting defenses. You cannot assimilate Tsunkatse from a book! You must live it, feel it!" He reaches out toward Seven's chest; she blocks the move. He stops, points at her heart. "In here. Your movements must become instinct. An attack can come at any time from any direction. You must learn to improvise!"
"Like this?" Seven asks. She lashes out with a kick, and when the Hirogen blocks she lands a vicious punch to his ribcage.
The Hirogen doesn't go down, but he does yelp like a puppy. He staggers toward a pylon to lean against.
"I've observed you often favor your left side," Seven says.
"Very perceptive," the Hirogen gasps. "It's a wound I sustained in one of my first matches. After 19 years, it still hasn't healed properly."
"You've been here a long time," Seven says compassionately.
"I was taken . . . during my son's first hunt," he says, still struggling for breath. He manages a weak, bitter laugh. "He was so proud to be with his father. Watching every movement I made, imitating my gestures. But instead of bringing home his first trophy, he saw his father become someone else's Prey."
"Do you know what happened to him?"
"I never saw him again. All Penk would say was that the boy was too small for competition." The pain in his eyes is evident.
Seven moves closer. "Perhaps he managed to return home . . ."
She gets a little too close. The Hirogen kicks Seven across the room; she slams against a railing, and the Hirogen is on her with his fist reared back for the death blow.
"You let down your defenses! Why?!?"
Seven is still reeling. "I was--"
"What?! Feeling sorry for me? My tragic past?"
"Yes," Seven admits.
"You must never sympathize with your prey! Unless you accept that, you will die."
Mr. Miyagi, he ain't.
The Hirogen lets Seven go. He takes a few steps back, assumes the starting position. "We'll continue."
Slowly, Seven moves toward him, matches his movements. They begin to circle each other predatorially.
Neelix beams in to find Chakotay waiting for him in the transporter room. "How'd it go?" the Commander asks.
"Oh, the Norcadians were shocked to learn that off-worlders might be participating against their will," Neelix says sarcastically. "The ambassador promised to begin an immediate investigation."
"You don't sound too convinced," says Chakotay as the men enter the corridor.
"I'm not," Neelix says, shaking his head sadly. "I spoke to one of the Pendari delegates. According to him, a huge percentage of the planet's revenue is derived from Tsunkatse. Nobody wants to do anything that might interfere with the game." He's looking much better, by the way; the Doctor's cure worked a lot better than the leola ointment.
"So they turn a blind eye to the recruitment tactics," Chakotay says.
"We're not going to get any help through official channels." Neelix shakes his head. "It's hard to believe a-a civilization whose favorite pastime is cheering while innocent people fight each other."
Chakotay steps into the waiting turbolift. "If Seven and Tuvok hadn't been abducted, we might still be cheering, too," he points out.
Why, that almost sounds like a moral message of the week . . .
Neelix, nodding sadly, joins the Commander in the lift, and the doors slide shut.
"What have you got?" Chakotay asks as he and Neelix enter Astrometrics.
"Well, one of the reasons we were having trouble isolating the source of the transmissions was because they never seem to be coming from the same place twice," Torres says. "At first we thought the matches were being held in various locations." She pulls up the image on the big screen, showing the blocky segments of space graphed out. A good half dozen points are lit up.
"But when we connected the dots, we realized that the pattern conformed to a flight path," Harry says. As he speaks, the dots are connected.
"One that spanned the entire sector," B'Elanna says.
"They're transmitting the fights from a ship--" Chakotay says.
"Like a traveling carnival," Neelix says.
"Well, this is no carnival," Harry says. He calls up the vessel's image. "Five million metric tons, reinforced hull plating protected by covariant shielding, neutronic weaponry."
"It's way out of our weight class," B'Elanna admits.
"The bigger they come, Lieutenant," Chakotay counters. "Transmit these coordinates to the Captain. Tell her we could use a hand."
Seven leaps around expertly. Lashes out with a devastating spin kick. Then another. Then another. Her hands move faster than the eye can see. She could be fighting a dozen invisible opponents--and laying the smack down on them all.
She rears back for the death blow, and holds the position. He eyes are the windows to the soul of the perfect killing machine.
The Hirogen licks his lips happily. He walks over to Seven, whispers into her ear. "Excellent."
Seven holds the positition. Her breathing is deep but measured. She is aware of everything in the room.
"When your opponent enters the arena what do you see?" The Hirogen whispers.
"My prey," Seven says hungrily.
"And what do you do to your prey?"
"Hunt it down . . . and kill it." The eyes don't lie--she means it. Even desires it. For now.
The Hirogen nods, satisfied. Then a cloud passes over his face. As though the mantle has passed to a new champion. "Go rest before your match," he says.
Seven stands. The fire in her eyes dims. She walks over to her bunk, but stops and turns around. "Thank you," she says.
"Thank me...by winning." The Hirogen taps his heart. Seven nods.
She walks over to where Tuvok is fiddling with a panel by the door. He's up and looks strong, but many of his exterior wounds are still visible.
"Penk's guards are making their inspection rounds. Progress?" Seven asks.
"Both the dampening field and the shielding of this vessel are tetrion-based. But without access to the control interface I can't disable either." Tuvok snaps the wall panel back in place and looks at Seven. "Your training?"
"Are you adequately prepared?"
"The Hirogen is an efficient instructor," Seven says as they walk back to their bunks. "He believes I'll win."
"That troubles you," Tuvok asks perceptively.
Seven doesn't look at Tuvok. "The idea of killing someone for the entertainment of others is detestable."
"Is the idea of losing your own life for the entertainment of others more palatable?"
"As a drone you took many lives."
"I was acting as part of the Collective."
"You're worried you won't have the strength to accomplish the task on your own."
"I'm worried that I will." It's a difficult choice. To lose one's life…or to take another's and lose what you know about yourself. To be, or not to be. But if she doesn't kill, she may sacrifice Tuvok's life as well as her own.
Sucks to be a gladiator sometimes. Where's Spartacus when you need him?
The doors open, and the two armed guards usher in Penk. "It's time," the man with the Fu Manchu mustache says.
Seven walks toward the door. Tuvok grabs her arm. "Do whatever it takes to survive." Seven nods, and follows Penk into the corridor.
The Hirogen watches them leave, a look of resignation on his face. What's done is done. Time has run out.
The floors glow red as the lights flash in earnest. The music has a desperate tone--what's about to go down, is for keeps.
Seven of Nine enters first, the red glowing on her fists and feet. The crowd boos her with gusto. She takes her place at the far side of the circle.
Then her opponent enters. Slowly. Strolling toward his rendezvous with destiny.
Hey, it's the Hirogen! The crowd cheers the twenty-year champion as he wipes his finger across his forehead, the ritual gesture of a Hunter putting on the paint in preparation for the hunt. Apparently the Borg are even less popular than the Hirogen.
Seven looks surprised. Why, I don't know.
Show of hands, people--who didn't see this coming a mile away?
* * *
Seven and the Hirogen begin to circle each other as Penk looks down. The crowd isn't here so we can hear the dialog.
"You knew," Seven says, her voice an accusation.
"Yes," the Hirogen admits as the bell rings.
"Training me was a deception," Seven says angrily. "You wished to familiarize yourself with my weaknesses!"
"I was helping you to overcome them!" Why? Seven demands. "Nineteen years is a long time. I've grown tired."
Seven's eyes widen. "You wish to be killed in the arena."
"I want a death . . . my son would be proud of."
"I won't be the one to provide it!" Seven insists.
"Then I'll be forced to kill you!" The Hirogen rears back with his fist.
Seven does the same.
The scene shifts back to what the audience sees.
The crowd cheers. Someone's about to die.
Voyager closes on the Caesar's Palace in Space.
"Approaching the vessel," Paris reports.
"Take us out of warp," Chakotay says. "Raise shields and charge weapons. Any sign of Tuvok and Seven?"
"Our sensors can't penetrate their shields," Harry reports. Hail them, Chakotay orders.
Penk appears on the forward viewscreen. "This is not a convenient time."
"I'm Commander Chakotay of the Starship Voyager. You're holding two of my people."
"You'll have to be more specific." Cocky little Don King wannabe, ain't he . . .?
"Commander Tuvok and Seven of Nine," Chakotay says, being more specific. "Return them--now."
"The Borg drone and her friend," Penk says. "I'm afraid she's occupied at the moment."
"You have 30 seconds before I open fire," Chakotay says.
"A fighter! I respect that," Penk says.
The alien checks his controls, then smiles. "But you're no match for me."
The signal ends abruptly.
Seven and the Hirogen trade blows. Seven's doing okay, but for a fight to the death it's a bit on the lackluster side.
"We can still find another way out of this!" Seven says after landing a blow to the Hirogen's sensor.
"There is no other way!" The Hirogen fights back. After a brief volley, they separate, and regroup.
"You're still dropping your elbow!" the Hirogen says. As before, he kicks her hand out of the way, and tags her on the back sensor.
The crowd cheers.
The Hirogen grabs Seven of Nine and holds her close. "Make a choice--Hunter? or Prey?" Seven struggles against him.
The Hirogen twists both arms behind her back. "Hunter? or Prey?" he demands again.
Seven chooses to hunt.
The fight starts to get a good deal more intense. The sensors light up a lot more often. Seven gives as good as she gets.
And she gets plenty.
Meanwhile, Voyager trades shots with Starship Trump. Shields light up on both vessels.
Ah, parallel imagery. You gotta love it.
"Direct hit to their aft shield generators!" Torres reports. She's getting a workout this week; first the captain's chair, now Tuvok's security station.
"Still no sign of Seven, but I've got a lock on Tuvok," Harry reports.
"Beam him to Sickbay," Chakotay orders. "Keep targeting those generators."
"Transport complete," Harry reports a moment later.
Chakotay hails Sickbay. "Do you know Seven's status?"
"She's being forced to fight--to the death," Tuvok says as Doc tends to his wounds. "I believe they're on the uppermost deck."
Harry scans the ship. "That section's protected by multi-phasic force fields. I can't penetrate them."
"Shields down to 40 percent," Torres yells.
Seven's hair's starting to fall out of place. Her eyes are a bit on the glassy side.
The Hirogen is smacking her around like she owes him money.
"You're getting weak!" The Hirogen rages, tagging her hard in the face again, then shoving her back with both hands.
"I should have found worthier prey!" he pushes her back further, walking her up the wall of the arena, then grabbing her and tossing her into the center of the pit, face first.
"You're imperfect," the Hirogen taunts.
Uh oh. To the perfection-seeking Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix one, adopted crewman of Action Kate Janeway, them's fightin' words.
Everybody was Drone Fu Fighting . . .
The Hirogen never knew what hit him. Hurricane Annika opens up a fresh can of whupass on his scaly butt. Spin kick. Spin kick. Trip. Stomp. Boot-scoot.
"Is that the best you can do?" the Hirogen taunts again, realizing he's found the key to keeping Seven in the game. He lunges--but Seven parries, then lets loose with one, two, three kicks to the midsection, another to the head, followed by a thundering Species 094 Noogie of Befuddlement to his frontal lobe.
The Hirogen goes down hard. Seven gives an old-fashioned nyuck-nyuck and Curly Shuffles around the arena.
And the crowd, sensing a new champion about to be crowned, begins to cheer for the former drone. "Tsunkat! Tsunkat!"
Way to go, Seven. Now you're a bloody goodwill ambassador for the goldang Borg . . .
Voyager continues to trade phaser volleys with the alien vessel.
"Shields are down!" Torres yells.
"Evasive maneuvers," Chakotay orders. "Harry?"
"Still can't get a lock!"
"Should I get us out of here before they knock out our propulsion?" Tom asks pragmatically.
"Not yet. If we can't beam her out, maybe we can shut down the transmission."
Paris likes the suggestion. "If nobody's watching, then why continue the fight?"
Chakotay nods. "Start targeting their signal generators," he tells Torres.
"Hull breach on deck eleven!" Harry yells.
Seven of Nine, her eyes aflame, giddy with mayhem, works the Hirogen's face like a punching bag as the crowd stomps its feet with delirious pleasure. She runs over to the wall and hangs onto it for leverage; the Hirogen charges after her, but she boots him viciously with her red-glowing heel. The Hirogen flips in midair and lands hard.
"Tsunkat! Tsunkat!" The crowd cheers, leaping to its feet, anticipating the coming kill.
"We've lost weapons!" Torres yells.
"Another vessel is approaching," Tom Paris reports.
"Great!" Torres growls. "Now they're bringing in reinforcements!"
But Tom smiles. "No, this one's on our side. It's the Delta Flyer."
Sure enough, we see the little shuttle that could, blasting its way across the hull of the much larger ship.
"Good to see you, Captain!" Chakotay says.
"Nothing like getting back to work after a long vacation," Janeway says back, just before the Flyer is rocked by weapons fire.
"We need you to target their signal generators."
The Flyer goes on another strafing run, targeting one of the massive satellite dishes on the upper deck. We already know the captain can shoot, and she doesn't disappoint--the base of the dish explodes, and the pieces float away.
How's that for technical difficulties, Chester?
The crowd is chanting in earnest now. Seven is clearly in control of this fight. "Tsunkat! Tsunkat!"
But then the drone and the hunter, the hunter and her prey, begin to flicker.
And fade away.
The boos begin as the empty pit of death reveals itself for what it is--a fraud.
The crowd spontaneously and unanimously picks a different chant.
"You suck! You suck!"
It's nice to see that in two quadrants, Milk Duds can do some serious damage when thrown in anger.
Of course, the combatants are not aware of this. They keep fighting.
Penk curses as the Nielsen Alarm sounds. "We've lost more than half our audience. Reroute power to transmitters five and six!"
Seriously, folks--they have got to stop storing fireworks on the bridge.
"They've reduced power to their force fields," Harry reports. "I've got two life signs in there--Seven and a Hirogen--but I can't get an individual lock."
"Transport them both if you have to." Chakotay looks to helm. "Tom."
"Aye, sir," Paris says. For whatever reason, they send the best pilot they have to the transporter room in the middle of the battle, with no shields and no weapons.
At least Chakotay's not driving.
The two warriors stand in the center ring, too tired to run. They just hammer each other with vicious punch after vicious punch. Face. Chest. Sensor. Face.
"TsunKAT! TsunKAT! TsunKAT! TsunKAT!"
The action, as throughout the episode, flips between what the spectators see, and what the fighters themselves experience. The awesome spectacle of the Tsunkatse Red Match, versus the hollow silence of the actual arena where the two foes face off in a winner-take-all polaron burst grudge match of death. But there's no grudge here; the mood in the real arena is one of melancholy.
The Hirogen wants to die. But he won't go gently into that good night; whoever defeats him must be worthy of the honor of taking his life and claiming the Hunter's trophy. He has chosen Seven of Nine to be the agent of his death, and he has trained and prepared her, challenged and goaded her, and finally taken her to the mat--there can be only one. It's Seven's choice--live and kill, or die at a hunter's hands.
The audience doesn't see any of this. All they see is some galaxy-class fighting. They're getting their money's worth. "Tsunkat! Tsunkat! Tsunkat!"
Seven lays the smack down in earnest. Punching bag volley to the face. Then a combination of blows to the chest sensor, lighting up the Hirogen like a neon sign. Then a vicious boot to the same sensor with a shout of primal rage.
And the Hirogen is down for the count. The prey is hers for the taking.
Seven kneels over her former mentor. Raises her hands high.
"Never let your prey suffer," the Hirogen wheezes. "Kill it," he pleads, rasping.
Seven looks down with compassion, then clenches her fists. Killing now would be a mercy.
But the transporter locks onto them both. Blue trumps red.
Freedom beats slavery.
Seven, her arms still raised, finds herself back on Voyager. The Hirogen is still at her mercy.
But Tom Paris, and a half-dozen overly-armed security guards, have other ideas.
"Seven? Stand away," Tom orders, waving his hand phaser.
Seven slowly puts her arms down. "It's all right. This fight is over."
Seven slowly rises to her feet. Then she reaches down with her hand.
Slowly, the Hirogen reaches up to take it.
Captain's Log, Stardate 53529.4: We've resumed course for the Alpha Quadrant and initiated repairs. I can't say I'm sorry to see this shore leave come to an end.
In Sickbay, the Doctor tends to Seven of Nine while Chakotay speaks with the Hirogen. "We've located an Hirogen hunting party three light-years away. They've agreed to rendezvous with us."
"I'm grateful," the Hirogen says. Chakotay leaves.
"Would you excuse us?" Seven asks the Doctor.
Doc frowns. "Very well. But if you should need anything--an analgesic, a phaser rifle...don't hesitate to ask." Casting a suspicious, warning look at the old Hunter, Doc walks off.
"I apologize for the Doctor. He's very protective of me," Seven says. Her voice cracks a little when she says protective. She wuuuuuvs him. Though, if Tuvok was single, I think Doc might come in second.
"He doesn't realize how well you defend yourself," the Hirogen says. He rises from the bed, and walks over. He removes the sensor disk from his chest and hands it to her. "A trophy." For a Hirogen, this is the highest praise.
Seven accepts it willingly. "What will do you now? Search for new prey?"
"No," the old Hunter says. "This time I will be searching for my son."
"If he is as clever as his father, he may be difficult to locate."
The Hirogen leans in close. "I've been wondering. Would you have killed me?"
Seven thinks about it. Seems to discard several answers, many of them no doubt flippant. "I don't know," she finally says.
The Hirogen stares deeply into her eyes. He grins, and lets out an approving growl. "Fortunately, you were right. There was another way out."
Tuvok shows up in Astrometrics looking much better. Fresh uniform, and his wounds are healed.
"I thought you might require assistance," he says.
"Thank you," Seven says distractedly, looking ill at ease.
After a few moments of working in silence, Tuvok speaks. "I realize we share an affinity for silences. But in this instance...I feel compelled to speak. If you hadn't offered to take my place in the arena it's likely I would have been killed."
Seven winces. "I made the logical choice, as you would have."
"Still, I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Assisting me with these recalibrations will be sufficient thanks."
Tuvok doesn't object. He begins the requested task. Seven walks over to work nearer to him.
"Have you fully recovered?" he asks.
"I'm experiencing minor pain beneath my occipital implant. But the Doctor believes it is temporary."
Tuvok stops working--Seven can't help but notice the deliberate drop in efficiency.
"I wasn't referring to your physical condition," Tuvok says.
Shaken, Seven struggles for the words for a moment. "When the Hirogen referred to me as weak, he was correct."
"But you overpowered him."
"Because I lost control," Seven says, trembling.
"Given the circumstances, your behavior was understandable."
Seven shudders. "I've spent the last three years struggling to regain my humanity. I'm afraid I may have lost it again in that arena."
"You're experiencing difficult emotions," Tuvok points out.
Tuvok commands her attention with his words. "Then you haven't lost your humanity." Seven turns to look at him. "You have reaffirmed it."
Seven of Nine won't be okay immediately. It'll take at least a week.
But through the Vulcan's well-chosen words, the healing has truly begun.
This episode benefits from all the Sweeps Month hype. The expectations for this puppy were so low that anything less than complete disaster would be greeted with profound relief.
It's a boilerplate story, fairly well told. The massive promotion of the faceoff between The Rock and "Voyager's Battlestar Babe" turned out to be for a mere warm-up fight. This was for the crossover crowds, the attempt to lure over the WWF fans who tune into UPN on Thursdays. Trek fans might have been more swayed by the guest stars from DS9, Jeff Combs and J.G. Hertzler, around whom most of the episode revolves.
Coming off the previous week's "Memorial," where the crew endures the memories of the murderers of 82 innocent colonists, this week shows them enjoying a different kind of violence--martial arts. While this might seem incongruous, I contend that there is a vast difference between the mass butchering of innocent people, and two people matching their skills in single combat--provided, of course, they're doing it for the love of competition and not because they're slaves.
Humanity is huge on games--many of them violent, either on or off the field. Even the fictitious 24th-century Parisses squares has a body count (witness "Real Life"). And if you look back in human history to the heydey of Greece and Rome, gladiator matches were common. We see their analogues today in sports like boxing, wrestling, Battle Dome, American Gladiators, etc. We want the single combat; we like the adrenaline rush of war by proxy. We don't want to see anyone killed, but we do like to tune in for a good beating every now and then.
But when I say "we," I know I don't speak for all. Some are horrified by such barbarism, of the celebration of man's inhumanity to man. Some cannot countenance violence in any form, to any degree.
And some DO want to see fights to the death. I don't know how many death matches go on in real life. I'd hope none, but I have a low opinion of my fellow species and suspect some rich and/or powerful and amoral people are not too sick to resist the temptation to put on underground gladiator games. And as long as someone's willing to pay for such a thing, someone else is going to be willing to arrange it, if history is any indication.
But even those of us who would be horrified at the thought of seeing real death seem to go in droves to the movies or video stores or channels or video games that allow us to view, or participate in, virtual mortal combat.
We're wired for it. Most of us can channel those urges and instincts in other directions, but the competitive nature of mankind is innate and indisputable. It's a rare and precious individual who is able to rise above the Darwinian steel cage match mentality.
Kobiyashi Maru is the archetypal Trek conundrum--the no win scenario. Made famous in Star Trek II, it's the Starfleet Academy test of leadership and character, to see how a cadet responds to a no-win situation. According to legend, it was beaten only once--by James T. Kirk, who refused to acknowledge that any situation is no-win. His adventures reflected that attitude. He--and those he commanded--often paid a great price, but he rarely failed to find a way out of even the most hopeless situations.
But Seven of Nine isn't a captain. And she doesn't have the Original Series writers backing her up.
Seven of Nine is at a stage in her post-drone existence where she feels shame and guilt and remorse for what she did as part of the Collective. She called them "useful" emotions last week, because they help her prevent making bad decisions in the future.
But here, she's not given much of a choice. Kidnapped while on an away mission with Tuvok, forced to fight in a "crude and pointless" alien sport in order to keep herself and Tuvok alive, Seven faces a tough decision. She's strong enough to be a champion. But she doesn't have the heart for it. It's hard to blame her; she's already got millions of lives on her conscience.
The Hirogen, as well, are known for hunting and killing in large numbers. It's a defining characteristic of the species--it defines their philosophy. It must be galling for this Hirogen to be a slave, handed his prey and forced to fight for the amusement of others.
Is all of Tsunkatse tainted by slavery and forced fights to the death? If so, I can't imagine Chakotay would have been so keen on it. The fighter in him would appreciate the martial arts. The anthropologist in him might have been interested in the cultural aspects of the phenomenon. But the moralist would not stand for it.
Chakotay and the crew did turn fairly quickly against Tsunkatse when they realized its darker side. And even then, he and the crew seemed oblivious to the concept of the "Red Match", which seems odd given how much study they seemed to be making of the game and the combatants.
The game Tsunkatse reminds me a bit of the Kumite, which was the subject of the Van Damme movie Bloodsport. Supposedly held just across the border from Hong Kong in Communist China, the full-contact fighting tournament brought in contestants from every continent, featuring every conceivable fighting style. Death in the ring was possible, and not prosecuted, but the point was for the best of the best to willingly match skills against each other. Held by fighters, for fighters.
Naturally, there was an audience that paid for the privilege. Some just wanted to see the epitome of human fighting skill showcased. But some probably just enjoyed watching humans punish each other. And if they got to see someone die…so much the better.
It would seem that the point of the episode is, "this is a bad thing."
Which makes it ironic that in order to sell the story, they bring in one of the more famous specimens of warriorhood from the World Wrestling Federation--one of the most violent spectator "sports" in America today, outside of presidential politics. A sport where the fights are scripted but blood often flows for real.
The fight scenes in "Tsunkatse" weren't bad. At times they were pretty good. The WWF does it better, but they're performing for a live audience. But the point of "Tsunkatse" strikes me as a not-so-subtle slam at that other gem in the UPN crown. The loud music, the rowdy crowds, the large people hurting each other--with the evil Penk filling in for Vince McMahon.
The irony is how they use the glorification of violence to send a message about it. Like "The Running Man" in a way. It's also a bit like Rocky V, which I happened to run across last night on cable. Although the sleazy boxing promoter didn't hold anyone in slavery, the gross manipulation of people who used their physical skills to pull themselves out of their poverty is in its own way relevant. Even though many sports stars make pretty good money these days, many more don't--but there are many, many people who make very good money off of their efforts.
The real point of this episode, though, concerns Seven of Nine. It's one of the first challenges to her humanity that is completely separate from her Borg identity. Any crewman could have found themselves in similar circumstances and been forced to deal with the same issue. To fight, or not to fight. Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the kicks and punches of outrageous fortune, to do nothing and let an injured comrade be forced into a situation in which they'd surely die, to hold back and risk losing your own life, or to become one with the "game" and risk losing the self.
I liked the ending, where Tuvok pointed out that Seven's difficult emotions were a reaffirmation of her humanity. Those emotions are there to keep us human--difficult, but useful. It's when we're past feeling them that we have the most to worry about.
The performances were quite good. The Rock was generally pretty good, though more effective when he was fighting than when he was talking. Combs was good as Penk, and Hertzler was very nicely effective as the tired old hunter. Jeri Ryan did a terrific job in a demanding role.
There were some nice scenes unassociated with the Tsunkatse--the Paris/Torres/Kim/Chakotay mess hall scene, the space battle scenes, Neelix and the Doctor in Sickbay, the Doctor/Seven scene in the corridor. The Paris/Seven scene was cute but a little grating--why is Tom sharing so many personal details about B'Elanna to her sworn enemy?
All in all, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It wasn't the Anti-Trek episode so many seemed prepared to hate.
Call it (* * * 1/2).
Next week: Borg babies. Cute. Crazy. Assimilated. Check, please.