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[Captioning sponsored by Paramount Television and United Paramount Network.]
Captain Ransom comes down with a nasty case of conscience. Janeway gets in touch with her Inner Clinton. Seven of Nine looks pretty in pink. B'Elanna's old boyfriend bucks for a promotion.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Since this is the season premiere, we're given the Cliffhanger Highlight Reel. "Last time on Star Trek: Voyager..."
An unseen enemy lights up the shields of the Federation Starship Equinox.
Inside the Equinox, Captain Rudy Ransom and his haggard crew raise phasers against gelatinous creatures from another dimension--angry aliens with metallic teeth who swim through the air with the grace of dolphins. Aliens whose touch can mean a quick and excruciating death--demonstrated by a crewman who dries up like beef jerky before our eyes. [Big Issue #1]
We next see the injured Captain Ransom on the Equinox bridge, misleading his rescuer, Captain Janeway: "We don't know [about our attackers]. We can't communicate with them. They've been attacking us for weeks."
The truth is revealed in our next clip, where the Voyager EMH confronts the spitting-image Equinox EMH. "Your crew has been running criminal experiments here!" VEMH (Voyager EMH) says. I know. I designed them, EEMH (Equinox EMH) says. "You?! That's a violation of your programming!" VEMH says. They deleted my ethical subroutines, EEMH responds, just before lashing out with a PADD--connecting with Our Doctor's holoemitter and making him disappear.
You know that bad news can't stay secret for long. Captain Ransom defends his actions to Captain Janeway: " It's easy to cling to principles when you're standing on a vessel with its bulkheads intact, manned by a crew that's not starving!" Ransom growls. Janeway answers glacially: "It's never easy--but if we turn our backs on our principles we stop being human. I'm putting an end to your experiments--and you are hereby relieved of your command." [Big Issue #2]
In our next clip, the EEMH leads Team Equinox to an escape from Voyager, wearing Our Doctor's holoemitter. When a firefight ensues, he deactivates himself; the emitter falls unnoticed to the corridor floor.
In Astrometrics, B'Elanna Torres reports to Janeway that their recently-designed field generator, which would protect Voyager and Equinox from alien incursion, has just been stolen--by Equinox.
Captain Ransom, back aboard his own ship, addresses his crew. "We're going home. We can't let Voyager stop us now--not when we're this close."
We see the shields surrounding both Voyager and the smaller Equinox collapse. Equinox flees, abandoning Voyager to fend off the aliens whose true beef is with Team Ransom.
Chakotay announces the grim news. We hear the high-pitched wail that heralds the arrival of aquatic doom. "Arm yourselves!" Janeway shouts, echoing Ransom's words and actions as her phaser aims skyward. The bridge crew reach for their own weapons.
Team Ransom uses the field generator to capture and kill one of the aliens. They ponder their good fortune--these dead aliens make terrific engine fuel. And now the aliens are just as mad at Voyager and its self-righteous captain, who is too principled to take advantage of a sure-fire quick way home.
That's the setup. The aliens are furious because they're being slaughtered like livestock, and they're fighting back. Janeway is just as appalled by Team Ransom's actions--but unless she can communicate with the creatures, her people are just as vulnerable to attack.
Perhaps more important, the only two Starships in the Delta Quadrant are now adversaries.
And now, the conclusion….
* * *
"Fissures are opening, all decks!" Ensign Kim shouts as tiny wormholes form near the ceiling of the darkened bridge. Phasers are aimed and fired, closing the fissures as they appear. But new fissures appear too rapidly for the bridge crew to close them all.
As Janeway fires at one wormhole, another forms behind her, unnoticed until it's too late. Chakotay hears the screech of an irate alien swooping down at his captain. "Kathryn!" he shouts; Janeway pivots to face Death From Above but cannot fire in time. She receives a glancing blow and falls to the deck with a pained grunt and a blistering scar on her face.
Chakotay joins her a moment later, attacked from another direction, his wounds even more severe.
Lucky for them, the aliens' touch is not always fatal. As the battle continues, Janeway claws her way to her chair. Shouting to Tuvok to cede tactical control to her, the captain enters a rapid series of commands into the armrest terminal.
The aliens retreat. The angry whine of fissures fades to an eerie silence, followed shortly by a collective sigh. "Good guess," Janeway says, relieved, brushing her blistered cheek with her free hand. "I used a deflector pulse to reinforce the shields. It won't hold for long."
Repair efforts begin immediately. The helm momentarily forgotten, Tom Paris tends to the unconscious Chakotay, frowning when the Doctor doesn't respond to his hails. He calls over an ensign to assist as Janeway rushes to the railing near Ops, looking expectantly at Harry Kim.
"Casualty reports are coming in," Harry reports. "Two dead, 13 wounded. We took heavy damage to the engines." The Equinox? Janeway asks. "They've gone to warp," Harry says a moment later. But there is good news--the Equinox hasn't activated their alien-fueled Death Warp. They still have time to catch Ransom.
Janeway nods. "Keep looking for--" the alien tone returns, cutting her off.
Ensign Kim's phaser is up a millisecond after the captain's; their outstretched arms sweep the air above.
Equinox escapes at low warp--more warp than Voyager can muster.
"Report," Captain Ransom orders.
"The shield grid is back in place," Commander Max Burke reports calmly. "The aliens are staying clear."
"Are sensors picking up Voyager?" the captain asks.
"It looks like they're under attack," Noah Lessing replies.
Ransom sighs. Decision time. Starfleet protocol is clear: help a fellow starship in distress.
"Maintain course," he orders at last, his voice filling the darkness of the bridge. From his expression, unseen by the hard-at-work skeleton crew, it's clear he doesn't like leaving Voyager behind--but his course was set long before his path crossed Janeway's. Getting what's left of his people home as fast as possible is all that matters now.
What choice does he have?
* * *
The turbolift door slides open. Captain Janeway has holstered her hand phaser. She now cradles in her right arm a triple-tanked hand Howitzer, a planet-smashing Boom Stick even Charlton Heston would lobby to keep off the streets. The male behind her needs both hands to wield the same weapon. The woman in science-officer blue sticks with a hand phaser.
Janeway leads the march into the corridors. Crewmen pass them at double-time, rushing from one repair duty to the next. The officers behind Janeway go their separate ways, leaving her alone--confident that the aura of fury emanating from the captain will deter any attacker more surely than even the DeathMaster 9000 she carries.
Janeway notes with approval the alertness of her crew--they rush to their duties smartly, weapons sweeping the way before them. She's trained them well.
Janeway stops cold when she rounds a corner and sees what's there. Her eyes narrow. An alien lies in the corridor, clearly dead. Like a giant sea monkey, its long body is shriveled, as desiccated as its victims. Its posture looks like a penitent in prayer at the moment of death.
Neelix arrives for his fifteen seconds of fame. Don't sneeze or you'll miss him this week. He regards the corpse, gives it as wide a berth as the narrow corridor will allow. "Captain, I found the Doctor's mobile emitter on deck nine. You might want to take it to Sickbay." Janeway extends her hand to receive it without comment, never taking her eyes from the dead alien. In the light, the creature is not so menacing. Lying on the ground, Its no-longer glowing skin now leathery and opaque, it is not so alien.
Neither Neelix nor the captain can take their eyes off the alien. They approach its body. They stop. They share a moment of grim silence.
Then, jaw set, molars cracking, Janeway proceeds to Sickbay--leaving Neelix to mourn alone.
There aren't enough beds to hold all the wounded. The floor is littered with casualties too weak to move.
Tom Paris scans one of the crew, but the sounds the scanners make (and the condition of the patient's face) tell the tale. An Asian crewman shakes his head sadly as he drapes the Starfleet-issue blanket over the crewman's head. Tom Paris, acting chief medical officer, nods grimly as he moves on to the next patient--Commander Chakotay, who moves enough to let us know he'll recover.
We get a ceiling view of Janeway's entrance. She no longer holds the rifle as a weapon; her right hand grasps the tuning-fork barrel, allowing the shoulder strap to handle the rest. There are two familiar, heavily-armed security guards on each side of the door. She steps over one injured crewman, avoiding a collision with a medic walking over another body as he attends to the patient on the table nearest the door.
Tom sees her. "Any sign of the Doc?" he asks, injecting something into Chakotay's neck.
"I've got him right here." Janeway sets the emitter on a tray and executes the command to transfer the Doctor's program to Sickbay.
The Doctor appears a moment later. "Please state the nature of the--" he looks around, answering his own question. "Don't bother."
"You should start with Chakotay," Paris says, leaving his patient to attend to someone else. "I've got him stabilized but he's got internal injuries."
Janeway and Doc head for the Main Bed. Janeway unshoulders her weapon, standing guard at Chakotay's side while the Doctor examines him. "We found your emitter on deck nine," Janeway tells the Doctor.
"I was--taken hostage by the Equinox crew. I deactivated myself to escape." Janeway only nods, so Doc continues. "Did you...stop them?" No, Janeway says. Doc manages not to show too much relief.
For those playing the home game--remember the Highlight Reel. This is not Voyager's EMH. You know it, and I know it. But nobody on Voyager knows it.
As far as we know.
"I'd ask for a status report but I'm not sure I'd want to hear it."
"Harry's analyzing the sound we've been hearing. He thinks it's some form of communication," Janeway says. Doc listens attentively.
Chakotay sits up--sorta. "Well, I once figured out how to speak with a Terrelian seapod. This couldn't be that much harder," Chakotay mumbles, his speech impeded by the massive blistering on the left side of his face. Janeway gives him an odd look. "Once I get out of Sickbay, I'll lend him a hand."
Janeway shakes her head. "We should all be focusing our efforts on finding the Equinox." EquiDoc pays attention to the players and their agendas as he scans Chakotay. He doesn't seem to like the captain much.
"First things first," says Chakotay, surprised. "We've got to stop these attacks."
Agitated, Janeway gives Chakotay a hard look, and leans in close. "Our enemies aren't the aliens. They're the humans aboard the Equinox!" Her voice isn't raised much, but the intensity behind her words is clear. "It's crucial that you don't--"
The announcing screech of alien fissures ends the disagreement. Janeway's rifle comes up fast.
Chakotay looks in the same direction, helpless to defend himself.
The alien whine is replaced by the more familiar screech of unseen seagulls.
We're treated to a breathtaking scene--crystal-blue waves crash whitely against a rocky shore on a sunny day. The oceanic cacophany has Relaxation CD written all over it.
But another familiar noise intervenes--the chirrup of a Starship doorbell.
The scene shifts from the scenery, to he who sees. We get a close-up of the haunted gray eye of Captain Rudy Ransom. "Who is it?" he asks.
It's Max. I've brought you a visitor.
"Hold on," Ransom says. The camera pulls back into the oppressive darkness of the captain's quarters. A dull, flickering green offers the weak, but only, attempt at illumination. Captain Ransom pulls a device from the back of his neck--it's shaped like a teardrop computer mouse. "Come in."
Commander Burke enters, looking as impassive as always, accompanied by an injured but defiant Seven of Nine. Her hair is slightly mussed; her forehead shows a nasty pink gash. Ransom regards Seven appreciatively, as keenly aware of the young woman's appearance as of her technical expertise.
"I'm glad you're okay," Ransom says sincerely. "I've been using this synaptic stimulator. I was just taking a stroll along the Tenkaran coast. You're welcome to try it." Ransom extends his hand, offering the device.
Seven has never been a fan of casual banter. "State your intentions."
Ransom's eyes fall to the floor, takes a breath, then tries again. "You know, once we get our enhanced warp drive back on-line, we'll be on our way home." He takes a few measured steps toward her, but doesn't look directly at her--yet. "But it'll still take months to get there. You can spend that time in the brig, or--" he pauses for emphasis, then locks his eyes on hers. Ransom's voice softens. (Janeway used a similar approach in "The Gift." They must teach it at Command School.) "You can become part of this crew. I'd prefer the latter." Look into my eyes. You are becoming sleepy…veeeery sleeeeepeeee….
"I'd prefer the brig," Seven says without hesitation. And make sure to wipe your feet before entering my cell, creep. Burke, standing behind Seven, takes a sudden interest in the carpeting, staring past his folded arms at his own shoes.
Ransom keeps his cool, but alters his approach. "You know, Janeway's not the only Captain who can help you explore your humanity," he says as seductively as Martin Sheen ever could (I know, I know--just use your imagination; it could happen).
"You would be an inferior role model," Seven says with pungent disdain; her eyes blaze with righteous indignation. If only Mama Kate could see her little girl now…
Ransom closes the distance between himself and his captive. They stand eye to eye. Whatever else one might say about Rudy Ransom, he has managed to remain the leader of Equinox even after rank and regulations were abandoned. As we saw in the cliffhanger, Ransom knows how to rally his troops; his powers of persuasion are formidable. "Janeway clung to her morality at the expense of her crew. Maybe you should learn from that mistake."
It's an argument Seven of Nine has made often, throughout her stay on Voyager. But it's a non sequitur. "Her only mistake was trusting you," Seven drawls, chilling the room.
Ransom looks away. Burke offers a barely imperceptible shrug. Then Ransom brushes his hand lightly across Seven's hairline. "Take care of her wound," he tells Burke. Seven leaves Ransom with a parting glare as devastating as any phaser before leading the way out the door.
Ransom watches them go. Only after the door closes does he allow himself to react. Fidgeting, Ransom casts his eyes around the room, grateful for the darkness--and for the dearth of reflective surfaces in which to see his own haunted expression.
The Equinox Sickbay is as dark and moody as everywhere else. A large blue dome provides modest illumination; Seven and Burke stand near it as he examines her wounds. A young security guy stands nearby with one of Janeway's favorite phaser rifles, trying to look intimidating.
Burke performs the diagnosis with the same Perry Como intensity he's shown throughout. "First-degree phaser burns, minor lacerations. Looks like we'll have to amputate," he says, deadpan.
Well, okay, granted--Burke is always deadpan. Seven, hands clasped behind her back, gives Burke the reaction he deserves--nothing.
"That was a joke," he says, irritated--I think. [rewind] Nope. Still deadpan. "You're supposed to smile and make a witty retort."
Judges, can I get a ruling? Okay. He worked a little irony in there. He just doubled his range of responses.
Seven just stares blankly back. "I'm familiar with human banter. Yours is crude and predictable."
Burke's voice almost rises. "You know, Seven--can I call you Seven? We don't have many luxuries around here. All we've got is each other. You might try letting your shields down or it's going to be a lonely trip." Burke's eyebrows rise and fall once or twice as he speaks, as he gets the feel for his new-found second emotion.
That Seven. Only conscious for a few hours and she's already shaking things up. Nice to see some things don't change.
Burke notices something on one of the sickbay terminals. "I'll be damned. Looks like our Doctor left us a replacement." (EquiDoc didn't delete his program? Interesting.) Burke enters a few commands, and a second later Our Doctor appears.
"Seven..." Doc says, confused by his surroundings but happy to see at least one friendly face.
"We are captives," Seven says, echoing Burke's Deadpan since he's still exercising his Irony.
"I was attacked by their E.M.H.," Doc says, approaching Seven to see if she's okay.
"Looks like he downloaded you into our database," Burke says. "Good. Go treat your friend." Handing Doc the tricorder, Burke exits to look for a more appreciative audience. Doc examines Seven's injuries with a frown, not daring to talk freely as long as the boy with the big gun is nearby.
Meanwhile, Marla Gilmore is in engineering, watching as some freshly-squeezed Alien Juice sloshes around the modified warp core gas tank. Hailing the bridge, Marla says they're ready to go.
Acknowledged, Ransom says. "Infuse the enhanced warp drive with 20 isograms of the compound," he tells Lessing. The compound. How sterile. How politically correct. They whup one of Janeway's favorite baby seals upside the head with a lead-filled snowshoe, run the mushy remains through a blender for a few minutes, and voila--compound.
Everything looks good--right up to the point where the power to the Baby Seal engines goes offline. "What happened?" Ransom demands.
Gilmore responds bleakly a moment later. "The power relays are off-line. They've been--encoded."
Ransom's eyes go wide.
Faster than you can say "sabotage," Ransom and Burke are in Sickbay. Now they have two Voyager crew refusing to cooperate.
"Give us the codes," Ransom demands. No, Seven says, relishing yet another opportunity to frustrate the will of a Starfleet captain.
"If she won't give us the codes maybe we could extract them ourselves," says Burke, back to his old reliable Deadpan.
"Seven's cranial infrastructure is highly complex. You'll need months just to figure out what she had for breakfast," Doc says, smiling at his witty retort.
Seven nods appreciatively at the Doctor. Now that's how you sell a joke, her body language informs Burke.
Burke is oblivious. "That's why you're gonna help us," he tells Doc. "I refuse," Doc says smugly.
"Do it or I'll erase your program," Burke says. That, or "Nice weather we're having." He phoned it in, so I couldn't quite tell which.
While Burke, er, threatens, Ransom walks to the far end of Sickbay.
"Be my guest," Doc preens. Doctor, Seven warns protectively, but Doc waves her off. "Don't worry. They need me. They'd be cutting off their holographic nose to spite their face," he says, proud of his turn of phrase. "Now, I suggest you..."
Ransom does something in the far end of the room. Doc's program goes zzzt briefly, and Doc freezes, a blank expression on his face.
Burke smirks. Jerk.
"All right, Doctor. Now, get to work. You know what we're looking for."
Doc is suddenly quite compliant. "Very well," Doc says pleasantly. "She'll try to resist. I'll have to restrain her." Burke walks around behind Doc as the camera moves, so he can fold his arms and smirk some more from a better angle--now we have Doc and Seven on the edges of the screen, with Burke and Ransom standing between them in the background.
"Doctor," Seven says, surprised, as Doc takes her arm.
"I deleted his ethical subroutines," Ransom explains. "He'll be a little more cooperative now. Keep me posted," he tells the Doctor.
"Aye, Captain," Doc says pleasantly. "This way, please," he says, gesturing to Seven as though holding the door open for her. Doc and Seven head one way, followed by the guard; Ransom and Burke go the other way.
It's just too darned polite aboard Equinox. And that makes it even creepier. Only Seven seems to have any personality…and the now ethically-challenged Our Doctor seems ready to remove it from her surgically.
If Kirk were here right now, he'd be looking for Landru.
Voyager does a fly-by for the cameras. The exterior shot of the saucer section suggests some nasty damage.
Inside, on the bridge, the lighting is a bit dim. Not as dark as on Equinox, but we see enough damage to account for the low-power lighting.
Janeway holds up a PADD. "It's not exactly Shakespeare, but it gets the point across."
I don't know why, but this line sent me into a ten-minute guffaw. That could be the unofficial Star Trek Mission Statement.
"A small olive branch is still an olive branch," Chakotay suggests. Janeway takes the PADD over to Harry. "Run this through to your translation matrix," she tells him.
"Set your weapons down," Chakotay orders the bridge crew, a bit presumptuously--everyone looks at him.
"Commander?" Tom asks, making sure he heard Chakotay correctly. "Somebody's got to start trusting somebody around here," Chakotay says.
"Belay that order," Janeway says. "I appreciate your optimism, but in this case, weapons." Action Kate whips out her hand phaser for emphasis.
She doesn't have to say it twice. The sound of a dozen weapons being unholstered at once is answer enough. When it comes to neurogenic sea monkeys, better safe than sorry. Chakotay sighs and grabs his own phaser.
Ready to go, Kim says a moment later. Janeway orders Tuvok to drop the shields, but only around the bridge. The whine of an opening fissure crescendos instantly--a moment later, a wormhole appears near the upper-left corner of the forward viewscreen. Tom's phaser tracks the incoming alien as it flies straight toward Harry Kim, teeth bared.
Harry is the only one who drops his weapon. But it's hard to blame him. Give it no reason to attack.
The alien hovers in front of Harry for a few seconds, giving him a cold, measuring look. It apparently decides that Harry is not a threat--it flies back home without attacking. The fissure closes.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Raise shields, Janeway orders.
"If they understood our message, they haven't responded," Harry says after checking his controls.
The ship jolts. The Fissure Sound returns with a vengeance. "There's your response," Janeway growls. "Activate another deflector pulse." The whine fades. "Shields are holding at 62%," Tuvok says.
Janeway lets out a sharp breath. "That should buy us another few minutes of peace and quiet. I suggest we make the most of it. Focus your efforts on repairing the warp drive. We've got to find the Equinox." Janeway heads for her ready room.
Chakotay intercepts her. "If it's all the same to you I'd like to take another stab at the message. If we can reroute--"
Janeway waves him off. "They're not listening, Chakotay. We should be tracking Ransom, not tinkering with adverbs." She strides toward her ready room.
Chakotay follows, making it inside before the doors slide closed. "Want your first officer's advice?"
Janeway stands behind her desk. "Allow me. 'Our deflector's losing power, and when it fails, we'll be defenseless. It's Voyager we should be worrying about, not the Equinox.'" She sits down and turns on her terminal.
Chakotay stands across from her, hands on hips (hmm--wonder where he picked that up?) "You'd make a great First Officer," he says. "It's advice worth taking."
"Maybe so," Janeway says quietly, not looking up as she makes efficient use of her desk terminal, "but we have a crew member trapped on that ship."
She doesn't really say it like she means it, as Chakotay is all too aware. "Is this really about Seven, or is it about Ransom?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Janeway says distractedly, typing some more.
"You've been known to hold a grudge," Chakotay reminds her. (Gasp!) "This man betrayed Starfleet, he broke the Prime Directive--dishonored everything you believe in. And threw Voyager to the wolves."
Janeway is too wrapped up in her research to put her heart into arguing. "Borg, Hirogen, Malon--we've run into our share of bad guys," she says, typing away. "Ransom's no different."
"Yes, he is. You said it yourself. He's human."
Janeway looks up. Her Skunk Eye is set just high enough to send a thrill of fear into a certain Review Boy.
This isn't gonna be pretty.
Chakotay presses on, knowing his life is in his hands. "I don't blame you for being angry--but you can't compromise the safety of this ship to satisfy some personal vendetta." His quiet intensity draws Janeway out fully.
No more typing. The Glare-ometer shoots up to 47. "I appreciate your candor," Janeway says softly. "Now let me be just as blunt."
The quieter Janeway gets, the chillier the room becomes. Chakotay's tattoo actually crystallizes and begins to flake off. "You're right, I am angry. I'm damned angry. He's a Starfleet Captain, and he's decided to abandon everything this uniform stands for--he's out there right now…torturing and murdering innocent life-forms, just to get home a little quicker. I'm not going to stand for it."
Janeway stands--I'm not making this up. She walks over to her first officer until they're standing nose-to-nipple. Chakotay is a good three feet taller than his captain, but Janeway nevertheless manages to stare him down. Her words fall like liquid nitrogen from her tongue. "I'm going to hunt him down no matter how long it takes--no matter what the cost. If you want to call that a vendetta . . . go right ahead."
Chakotay sweeps up the tattoo flakes and exits without another word. Janeway watches him go.
In the silence of her ready room, Janeway stares up at the ceiling. If you're watching, aliens, I hope you're paying attention --I want Ransom as badly as you do.
Lily Sloan, please report to the bridge…
* * *
Equinox establishes orbit around a large, friendly-looking planet.
Burke enters the dark and dreary bridge. "Why did you bring us here?" he asks Ransom as he takes his seat beside the captain.
"This planet has a parthogenic atmosphere," Ransom explains. "It will keep us from being detected while we make repairs."
"We also found a few deuterium deposits," Noah Lessing adds.
"Take an away team, Noah, and see if you can localize the ore," Ransom says.
"You won't be protected from the aliens," Burke says. "Arm yourselves with phasers. At the first sign of trouble, we'll beam you back." Aye, sir, Lessing says, leaving his station to a colleague and exiting the bridge.
We get a slow, loving, toe-to-throat close-up of Seven of Nine's burgundy unitard, with her inside it. The guided tour is accompanied by Doc's playful singing.
The ocular node's connected to the…sensory node,
The sensory node's connected to the…cortical node,
The cortical node's connected to the…reticular node,
We notice that Seven's legs and arms are secured in place by industrial-strength shackles, and her head is likewise clamped to the table.
Seven endures the procedure stoically but without enthusiasm. Her temples throb, an indication that she is enduring a great deal of pain.
"Oh, now, don't look so gloomy," Doc chides. "There's a silver lining to all this. Just think--we're finally going to see Earth!"
By the time Doc's done with Seven, thinking is one thing she'll have a hard time doing.
"You are obviously delusional," Seven says, surprisingly calm. "Allow me to repair your program."
"Now, why would I want you to do that?" Doc asks. "You of all people should understand. Being unfettered by ethical subroutines has made me far more efficient!" [Insert your own Clinton joke here.]
The door slides open. Captain Ransom stands in the entry, hesitant to enter. "Status?" he asks almost too quietly to hear.
"I'm going to extract her cortical array," Doc says, slaving away over a hot ocular implant. "It contains an index of her memory engrams. But once I've removed it, her higher brain functions--language, cognitive skills--will be severely damaged."
On the bright side, the Captain Proton program could soon be getting a replacement Constance Goodheart…
Ransom looks nauseous at what he's ordered the Doctor to do. Carving up aliens for lunchmeat and rocket fuel is one thing. Scooping out human gray matter like Haagen Daz--that's a bit tougher to stomach. He kneels beside the bed. "Tell me the codes," he whispers.
A pained look crosses Ransom's face. "Janeway was right about one thing--you are unique. It would be a shame to lose you." It's clear he means that on several levels. His attraction to her is obvious.
"Your compassion is irrelevant," Seven says coldly. The rapid green flashing of Doc's medical instrument is counterpointed by the blue and greenish-yellow flashes emanating from Seven's bared ocular implant (where her left eyebrow would be).
Ransom squeezes his eyes shut at the remark. "You think this is easy for me? The sight of you on that table...But you're leaving me no choice!"
Seven rolls the eye Doc doesn't have a scalpel plunged into. "'No choice'? You say that frequently. You destroy life-forms to attain your goals, then claim that they left you no choice. Does that logic comfort you?" she asks, the steadiness of her tone making the mocking words even harsher.
Only Seven's irregular breathing and the rapid blinking of her eyes tells us how much suffering she is going through. Ransom looks like he's hurting even more.
"The codes…" Ransom pleads one last time.
"You'll have to destroy me to obtain them," Seven declares.
Ransom stands. Closes his eyes for a long moment. Then, opening them, the bleakness yields to a slow nod. Ransom exits.
Doc picks up where he left off, barely skipping a beat.
The reticular node's connected to the…occipital node, …
Captain's Log, Supplemental. Our warp drive's back on-line, but repeated sensor sweeps have failed to locate the Equinox.
The door to Janeway's ready room chimes. "Come in," Janeway calls from her desk.
Chakotay enters. "You wanted to see me?" he asks, when the doors close.
Janeway frowns. "It's not like you to submit recommendations in writing."
Chakotay shrugs. "The last time we spoke you weren't exactly receptive."
"I'm afraid I'm not going to be very receptive this time, either. It's an interesting idea--but the Ankari are 50 light years in the wrong direction." Give or take10,000 light years.
The Babble bone's connected to the…Continuity bone…
"I understand that," Chakotay says, "but they're the ones who introduced Ransom to these life-forms. It stands to reason they might be able to communicate with them. Tell them to call off their attacks."
"Our first priority is to find Ransom," Janeway reminds him. Chakotay says nothing. A long silence hangs between them.
"Still no sign of nucleogenic particles?" Janeway asks, blinking first. Not yet, Chakotay says. "Then he couldn't have gotten far. Without his enhanced drive his ship's only capable of warp six."
Janeway rises from her desk. "I've been studying his service record. He's had his share of run-ins with hostile aliens. It seems that when he's being pursued he tends to hide. At Epsilon Four he ran into a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, and played a game of cat and mouse for three days in a nebula before the Klingons finally gave up." (At what point in his career was this? Klingons were the Federation's allies during the Picard/TNG years when his ship was Caretakered into the DQ.) "Two years later, he eluded a Romulan Warbird by taking his vessel into the atmosphere of a gas giant."
So Ransom is a hider. Makes sense, given his vessel and crew complement--not exactly the Big Dog on the galactic block. Janeway's got shuttles that could kick the Equinox nacelles. But Starfleet prides itself on the direct approach. Subtlety is for Cardassians and Romulans.
Okay, and Section 31--but Sloan looks really cool in black leather.
Janeway stares out the window, trying to pinpoint Ransom's sneaky little ship visually. "Go to Astrometrics. Start looking for the kind of place you would hide if your ship was damaged," she orders.
Just a thought--but it sounds like Janeway is comparing Team Ransom to the Maquis. From the extreme deference of Chakotay's "Yes, ma'am" and quick exit, I suspect he took it the same way--and he left before saying anything he might regret. The First Officer's face is too shrouded in darkness to know his thoughts for certain.
So, it must be noted, is Janeway's.
The Equinox continues its planetary orbit.
Ransom enters his quarters, visibly shaken. He walks over to his desk, looking for a diversion. He ignores the dusty book, open to a page we suspect has been unturned for months--the decidedly non-dusty bookmark is that synaptic stimulator.
With a heavy sigh, Ransom attaches it to the back of his neck and turns on, escaping from the dreariness of his quarters into an artificially-stimulated mind.
The pitch darkness of his quarters is replaced by a sunny seascape, as we saw before. The camera sweeps leftward, showing foamy waves crashing against the rocks--
Ooh, check it out. Blonde in pink sun dress at ten o'clock.
Ransom removes the stimulator from his neck and looks at it, eyebrows raised.
Marla Gilmore notes Ransom's arrival. No strict-order drill on this bridge. "How was the beach?" she asks.
Ransom shows the stimulator, palm-up. "Do these programs have people in them?"
"No, just landscapes," she says, smiling pleasantly. "Why?"
Ransom tosses it in the air, not quite casually. "Forget it," he says idly, heading for his seat.
The planet's surface is not too bad looking, all things considered. Mountains aren't too tall, the shrubbery and trees give you something to hold onto while you hike. Noah Lessing and his gold-shouldered companion are in no hurry to complete their assignment.
Lessing is in a chatty mood. "I'm reading a vein of ore. Azimuth 117...30 meters. Could run pretty deep. We might need to use phasers to excavate it."
Lessing looks around and smiles warmly. "Funny, this reminds me of McKinley park. I used to take my sister there when we were kids. This place looks just like it! As I recall, there was a family of ground squirrels who lived right over there…." His companion smiles as well, letting Lessing do all the talking.
Lessing starts to pull ahead, getting into the memory. "There was a patch of poison ivy next to it. When I was ten, I walked right through it and I swelled up like a Regellian bloodworm. When I get back to Earth the first thing I'm going to do--"
The companion gets a little too close to a shrub. No poison ivy here, but the butt of a phaser rifle does leap up to bite the poor boy right on the jaw. He collapses like a sack of russet potatoes.
Tom Paris stands over his fallen target, satisfied. For once, he won't be the bruised and bloody one on the away mission.
Lessing hears the grunt of his comrade and whirls around with his hand phaser. But he takes two quick shots to the chest and crashes to earth as well.
Chakotay emerges from the brush with his own weapon in hand. He slaps his chest. "Four to beam up!"
Dang--nice ambush! I'm impressed; I didn't even see it coming.
A surprise beep on her station terminal surprises Marla Gilmore. "We're receiving a subspace transmission." She doesn't know who. Ransom doesn't see a ship out there, but his curiosity gets the better of him. "Open a channel."
Doctor to Equinox. Respond.
Ransom's eyes go wide. "We can hear you."
Voyager's found you. They've entered orbit. They polarized their hull to mask their approach. I believe they've planned an ambush on the away team. Janeway's been tracking the Equinox for a couple of days now...
The signal dies. "Get him back!" I can't, Marla replies.
"Ransom to away team. Noah, prepare to beam back to the ship."
Gilmore's eyes go huge. "They're not down there!"
Ransom looks on the verge of panic. But he swallows it as training takes over.
"All hands to battle stations!"
Is anyone else having a Wrath of Khan flashback right about now?
* * *
Action Kate is on the bridge.
"30,000 kilometers and closing," Tom Paris reports.
"Target their power core," Janeway says, a bit too eagerly. Behind her, Chakotay frowns.
A brief battle ensues. They trade photon torpedoes, causing minor damage and degrading each others' shields.
"Bridge to Torres," Chakotay calls. "Status?"
"I can't locate their shield grid generator. Can you divert more power to sensors?" Behind her in astrometrics, we get a pretty cool real-time X-ray sweep of the Equinox.
"They've damaged our deflector, Captain," Tuvok reports. "If it goes off-line we'll be vulnerable to the alien attacks."
"Noted. Target his weapons array," Janeway orders.
"We lost all phaser banks!" Gilmore reports to Ransom.
"Torpedoes! Full spread!" Photon torpedoes, once a finite supply, haven't been a problem since all those Wal-Marts opened up in the Delta Quadrant.
Burke notices something sami-familiar. "It's B'Elanna. She's trying to bypass our security protocols."
"Stop her!" Ransom growls.
Torres sees the astrometrics display short out and curses silently. "Computer, open a com-link to the Equinox. Workstation 33 beta."
The channel opens. "Max, listen to me!"
Burke switches to Emotion #2. "Back for round two, B.L.T.?" he asks ironically.
This isn't one of our games! People are dying over here!
"I wish you didn't have to be one," Max says deadpan.
Max ignores her. Appropriate for a first officer, he looks out for Number One.
"Shields are weakening," Tuvok shouts.
Janeway has her eyes locked on the forward viewscreen. Her hand rests on Tom's shoulder, kneading it unconsciously. "We've almost got him. Keep targeting their weapons array. One more torpedo ought to do it."
"Captain..." Tuvok warns.
Janeway cuts him off sharply. "Fire!"
"Weapons are down!" Gilmore shouts.
Janeway to Ransom. Surrender your vessel.
Ransom doesn't give up easily--not when there's someplace to hide. "We still have thrusters, don't we?" Aye, sir, Gilmore says. Ransom nods. "Lay in a course through the planet's atmosphere--60-degree vector."
Voyager's crew watches with horrified fascination as the Equinox plunges toward the planet. After a moment we see resistance as the atmosphere buffets the Equinox shields.
"What the hell is he doing?!" Janeway exclaims angrily. "Follow him!" (Why, for heaven's sake?) Paris manages to swallow his objection--Janeway's fingers are perilously close to puncturing his tunic and the tender shoulder muscles beneath--and complies.
The two starships play a game of chicken in the upper atmosphere. (Okay, thermosphere.) Janeway plunges her larger, more populated vessel after the renegade ship. Ironically, she never tries to knock out the enemy shields long enough to transport Seven of Nine back home. Doesn't even mention Seven--or try to communicate with her.
All she sees is the great white whale. And tells Tuvok to aim for the tailfin.
Tuvok points out that their shields are draining steadily.
Harry points out that the inertial dampers are off-line.
Kim Inertial dampers are off-line.
Chakotay points out that the aliens are just waiting for the chance to open up some more wormholes.
Janeway continues to glare at the screen.
"Captain!" Chakotay screams at her, desperate to break through.
Finally, more out of annoyance than anything, Janeway relents. "Break off pursuit," she says, disgusted.
"They're retreating," Gilmore reports, relieved.
Ransom sighs. "Take us up!"
"They took heavy damage--shields, propulsion," Burke announces, deadpan.
"Get us out of here," Ransom growls.
"They've gone to warp," Tom Paris says. "Match their course and speed," Janeway orders. "We can't, not until we restore primary systems," Harry says, adding that it will take a few hours. (How conveeeenient.)
Janeway sighs angrily. Then she smiles an unpleasant smile. "At least we didn't come away empty-handed."
Those shackles that Doc used on Seven of Nine are apparently starfleet-issue. Janeway's got Lessing's arms clamped behind his back in a chair in Cargo Bay 2. Seven's not around--she won't mind the Captain using her quarters for a little Good Cop, Psycho Cop. Chakotay is here, looking not at all happy to be a part of this.
"I want Ransom's tactical status. I want it now, Mr. Lessing."
Lessing is not in a cooperative mood. It's hard to blame him. He should be in the brig or confined to quarters, being treated to a little Starfleet Justice. "Or what? You'll hit me?" he spits.
Janeway leans forward, putting her hands on both his shoulders. "No, Crewman. I'll drop the shields around this room and let your little friends come pay you a visit." She doesn't look like she's kidding.
Lessing's bald head lets us see the throbbing of each vein and artery--let's just say he's nervous. "That would be murder."
"You could also call it poetic justice." Janeway pushes off from Lessing's shoulders.
It takes Noah Lessing a moment to regain his composure. He turns to Chakotay, who is standing way back. "I suppose the plan is that you're going to come to my rescue now, right?"
"There's no plan as far as I know," Chakotay says. "The Captain's on her own." He doesn't sound at all happy.
"Ransom's status, now," Janeway demands, leaning in close once more.
Lessing screws up his courage. "No way in hell," he growls, trying to look as determined as possible.
Janeway shrugs. "We all make our own hell, Mr. Lessing. I hope you enjoy yours." She walks toward the door. "The com is active. We'll be outside if you have a change of heart. Chakotay follows her out. Lessing watches them go.
Janeway heads for a wall panel and begins entering commands. "What are you doing?" Chakotay asks.
"Weren't you listening?"
Chakotay is horrified. "Don't do this!" He'll break, she assures him.
Inside the cargo bay, Lessing sweats in earnest as the whine of an impending fissure begins.
Tuvok notes the change. "Bridge to the Captain--we've lost shields in section 29 alpha."
I know. Stand by.
"He's a loyal officer," Chakotay urges. "He's not going to betray his Captain. Put up the shields!"
"He'll break," Janeway says calmly, picking her teeth with a rusty stiletto, using her phaser to tattoo "No Mercy" on her forearm.
"As you were," Janeway says, glaring at her first officer.
Chakotay runs over to another wall panel and enters the shields up command. Level nine authorization required, the computer says. So sorry.
"Damn it, Kathryn!"
Janeway juggles unpinned grenades. "You're panicking. He's going to talk."
Captain, a fissure is opening in that section! Tuvok reports urgently.
"Understood," Janeway says calmly, holding her open palm over a lit candle.
Chakotay can stands no more. He whips out his phaser and enters a couple other commands, opening the cargo bay doors. He spots the open fissure and fires into it a few times until it closes. Then, grabbing the still-seated but trouser-soiled Lessing and dragging him into the corridor, Chakotay slams the prisoner into the wall.
Janeway watches Chakotay's insubordination with mounting fury.
"Okay, you've demonstrated your loyalty to your Captain. Fine," Chakotay says. "Now let's talk about the Ankari."
I've never seen a volcano walk before….until Calamity Janeway, without a word, walks between Lessing and Chakotay and away from the scene. Both men yelp at the incidental contact--the molten fury of the captain burned sections of their respective uniforms clean away, causing nearly as much physical damage as a touch from a Fission Flounder.
In the conference room, the senior staff gathers. All but Neelix, who may still be in the corridor, standing guard over the dead alien.
"If there's an Ankari vessel less than two light years from here, why haven't we detected it?"
"Apparently, they use a unique form of propulsion, which makes them very difficult to find," Chakotay replies.
"You think they'll be willing to help us?" Tom asks.
"It's worth a try. Mr. Lessing has agreed to show you how to adjust the sensors," Chakotay says. Janeway's attempt to get Lessing to betray his captain failed, but he apparently was more than happy to supply information that could lead to communication with the aliens. It's good to know there's some Starfleet left in Noah Lessing. "Once you find the Ankari ship, set a course."
"Aye, sir," Tom Paris says. Janeway is standing, arms folded, seething in the back of the room, letting Chakotay do things his way…for the moment.
The traitorous EquiDoc (apparently unnamed himself…how about Michael Jonas Salk?) tries to look inconspicuous as he asks, "Did our prisoner disclose any--other information?"
If anyone suspects Doc isn't who he claims to be, they aren't letting on. "I'm afraid not," Chakotay answers. Michael Jonas Salk sulks--no new info to leak to Equinox. For now. "The rest of you continue with the repairs. Dismissed," Chakotay says. The room clears quickly, leaving Janeway and Chakotay alone--she calls after him to stay behind.
"All right. We're going to try it your way. But I want to make one thing clear--"
"Our first priority is to get Ransom," Chakotay finishes for her, hotly. "If there's one thing you've made clear, it's that."
Janeway goes quiet again. Uh oh. "We've had our disagreements, Chakotay--but you've never openly opposed me."
Chakotay glares at her. "You almost killed that man today."
"It was a calculated risk and I took it." The lack of emotion in her voice is chilling.
"It was a bad call."
Janeway's voice rises, but stays nonemotional. "I'll note your objection in my log," she says, accentuating each word.
"I don't give a damn about your log! This isn't about rules and regulations. It's about right and wrong. And I'm warning you--I won't let you cross that line again."
Janeway glares at Chakotay--but with far less heat than one would expect. Her rage-o-meter is either off the scale, or it's been shut down entirely. And I don't know which is scarier. "Then you leave me no choice," she whispers, staring at Chakotay as she would at a malfunctioning replicator--and borrowing a phrase from Captain Ransom. "You are hereby relieved of duty until further notice."
Chakotay shudders. Had it really come to this? "What's happened to you, Kathryn?" he pleads, desperate to get through to his captain.
Janeway's response chills him to the bone. "I was about to ask you the same question," she says, her eyes like twin black holes.
Chakotay watches her go, and wonders where this will all end.
Because right now, compared to the captain, getting through to the aliens may well be child's play.
* * *
Voyager bears down on a much smaller vessel, whose evasive maneuvers are no match for the piloting wizardry of the blue-eyed Starfleet helmsman and his redheaded captain.
"They are not responding, Tuvok reports.
Janeway glares at the vessel on the viewscreen. "Tractor beam," she orders.
Tuvok stiffens. As acting first officer, it's his turn to stand between Calamity Janeway and the Real World, while Chakotay cools his heels in his quarters. "Captain, the Ankari ship has done nothing to--"
"Just do it!" Tuvok shakes his head sadly, then complies--a cone of blue energy reaches out from Voyager to engulf the small Ankari craft.
"We're being hailed," Ensign Kim says a moment later. Onscreen, Janeway orders.
One of the Ankari stares into the viewscreen. It makes a disgusted noise. "Starfleet." The disdain with which the alien says that word pierces Janeway's soul. "Yes," she says.
"Leave us alone. There's nothing of value on our ship," the Ankari says.
"We need your guidance," Janeway pleads. "Your Spirits of Good Fortune are attacking us."
"Of course they are. You've been killing them!" the Ankari says angrily.
"We are not the ones responsible!" Janeway's tone is measured but intense.
"Equinox," the Ankari says, with even more disdain. "That's right," Janeway says, nodding emphatically. "Can you communicate with the aliens?" Release my ship, the alien demands, but Janeway shakes her head. "I can't do that. Not until you agree to talk to them."
The Ankari considers his options. But Janeway has given him no choice. "I will summon them," he says at last. But he adds, his voice rising harshly, "But you must talk to them. You must convince them." Janeway has no problem with that.
Well, maybe one problem--this was Chakotay's idea.
In Cargo Bay Two, with Tuvok on one side and Janeway on the other, the Ankari switches on one of its people's miniature pipe-organ summoning devices. The tubes on top of the device glow a dim, pulsing orange color.
It doesn't take long for fissures to form. First one alien, then another, then a third swim in an overhead circle like sharks circling their prey. Janeway and Tuvok keep their weapons holstered.
The Ankari translates the alien screeches. "They say they want the humans to die!"
Tuvok rolls his eyes. "A difficult place to start a negotiation."
Janeway ignores the comment (too bad--it was a good one). "Will they understand me?" Janeway asks, not taking her eyes off the aliens. Yes, the Ankari says. "We didn't do this to you. We're trying to stop the humans who did."
It doesn't take a translator to understand the alien response. Angry. Strident.
"They don't believe you would harm your own kind," the Ankari translates. Hoo-boy, have they misread humanity. (Speaking of which, have you noticed that EVERYONE we've seen on Equinox is human? And--Noah Lessing excepted--white? I found that mighty peculiar.)
Janeway doesn't laugh. Neither, surprisingly, does Tuvok. Janeway provides a serious response. "We have rules for behavior. The Equinox has broken those rules by killing your species. It's our duty to stop them!"
The alien response is emphatic. "Give us the Equinox," the Ankari says. "Give us the Equinox!" He shakes his head. "They insist on destroying the ones who were responsible," he says, almost apologetically. It's slowly dawning on the Ankari that Janeway is nothing like Team Ransom.
"We will punish them according to our own rules!" Tuvok shouts above the din. The aliens shriek their protest even louder; no need to translate that. Tuvok presses on. "They will be imprisoned. They will lose their freedom!" The protests grow even more agitated--and they're breaking formation a bit, moving uncomfortably close to Janeway and Tuvok.
Janeway, allowing Tuvok to speak for her at first, now decides it's time for Action. "All right!" she bellows, shutting the aliens up momentarily. "If you stop your attacks, I'll deliver the Equinox to you!"
Tuvok looks at her, shocked. The Ankari does as well, though its open-mouthed stare is how it looks pretty much all the time. ("How does it speak?" some have asked. Who knows. I'm sure the Universal Translator manages. It always does. When it's meant to, anyway.)
"Captain..." Tuvok warns, but Janeway waves him off, not breaking her gaze at the swarming aliens. "I know what I'm doing, Tuvok."
Tuvok marches over to her. "These beings would destroy Captain Ransom and his crew," he reminds her.
Janeway ignores him. "What's their answer?" she asks the Ankari.
Tuvok's eyebrows twitch. "Your behavior is irrational. We could find another solution."
Janeway ratchets her Death Glare to eight and launches an ocular volley at Tuvok. "I've already confined my First Officer to quarters. Would you like to join him?" She turns her stare back to the aliens. "Well?!" she demands impatiently.
The Ankari blanches. What kind of creature betrays their own kind to a certain destruction? Then he remembers the rumors flitting about the quadrant about the other Starfleet vessel, the one on which he now finds himself.
Never mess with the redhead.
The Ankari starts when the alien noise changes to an appreciative whistle. "They agree," The Ankari says bleakly.
The corners of Janeway's mouth turn upward, as Tuvok mutters a silent daaaaaaaamn.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Equinox continues on its way homeward, still at regular warp.
Burke and Ransom enter the bridge. Burke reports on the engines. "We're going to need more fuel. We've only got enough left to jump another 500 light years." Under normal conditions, it would take Voyager about six months to travel that far. But the critter-juice engines eat up that kind of mileage in a matter of days, perhaps hours.
A shadow crosses Ransom's face. Pained, he looks at his first officer. "'Fuel'? Is that the euphemism we're using now? You mean we need to kill more life-forms?"
Uh oh. Careful, dude, your conscience is showing.
"Several more," Burke says, deadpan, moving along to his next assignment.
Leaving Ransom alone with his thoughts. One suspects his mind is a very troubled place.
But for the ethically-unfettered Doctor, ironic music appreciation is the catchphrase of the day. Sweetly he sings as he works his medical magic on Seven of Nine's cortical implant.
Oh, my darling,
Oh, my darling,
Oh, my darling--
Seven of Nine has her eyes closed until Doc gives her her cue--by touching one of Seven's ocular implant nodes.
Seven's eyes spring open. "Clementine..." she sings with perfect pitch but zero feeling.
The lights are on, but nobody's home. Literally. Whatever Doc's been doing to her, he's awfully far down the road.
We hear the door open. Ransom enters, but not all the way--we see only his utter-black shadow over Doc's shoulder. "How much longer?" he asks from the darkness.
"Another hour. Maybe less," Doc says pleasantly, then chirps his next line. "You are lost and gone forever--"
He touches Seven's eyebrow implant with his hypodermic-like medical instrument. Seven responds. "Dreadful sorry, Clementine..."
It's sweetly sung . . . but Doc's selection is morbid, to say the least. What's next, Annabell Lee?
Ransom enters the scene. "What are you doing?" he asks.
"Her auditory processor," Doc says proudly. "We used to practice duets together. In fact, I taught her this--old chestnut," he says, letting the term trip off his tongue. Here's a man who really enjoys his job. "Light she was and like a fairy--"
Tap. "…And her shoes were Number Nine," Seven sings blankly.
"Herring boxes without topses," Doc sings.
Tap. "Sandals were for Clementine"
"Drove she ducklings to the water--"
Ransom can't stand a moment more--who's being tortured here, anyway? "Enough," he says. He has trouble looking at Seven of Nine--there is nothing left of her except what he needs most--the information she protected with her very life.
Doc takes only mild umbrage. "Why the long face, Captain? You're about to get your crew home. She tried to stand in your way. You had no choice," he adds cheerfully.
The words sting. "No choice--" Ransom repeats, whispering bleakly. He has the sudden urge to escape. "Thank you, Doctor," he says, and heads for the exit.
Doc calls after him when Ransom reaches the doorway. "When this is all over, perhaps you'll allow me to teach you my repertoire." He smiles unpleasantly pathological smile. "I'm going to need a new partner."
Ransom sprints out of sight.
"Hmm," Doc says, amused. Then he returns to his patient.
Drove she ducklings to the water...
Ransom enters his quarters. It's a bit lighter than usual--soft blue illuminates the doorway. He gazes at the debris and open conduits that had once been a birghtly lit, well-maintained habitat fit for a Starfleet captain. Now--there was nothing worth looking at.
And so…it's seascape time. Or landscape. Either way, it's an escape. Ransom attaches the reality-fleeing synaptic stimulator that seems to become his last, best hiding place.
The rocks stand firm against the crashing waves. Off to the left, a dry patch, a great viewpoint.
The blonde in the sundress is there, long hair flowing over her shoulders, glistening in the sunlight.
Ransom takes a chance, and mentally walks toward the stranger.
Only it's no stranger. When she turns around, he discovers it's Seven of Nine.
Only it's not. No Borg implants. No exoskeletons. Nothing to mar the perfect human flesh. And the expression--more human, more vulnerable, more seductive than the ex-drone we're used to.
This is the Seven of Nine that Harry Kim sees in his dreams.
You! What are you doing here? Ransom demands.
"Hiding. Like you," she pouts.
I'm not hiding, Ransom protests.
Seven doesn't press the point. She looks around. "It's beautiful. I can see why this brings you comfort."
I don't know what you're talking about, Ransom says.
Seven looks at him, filling his vision with the depths of her eyes. "But it isn't real."
You're not real. Now leave me alone.
"It's not too late to stop," Seven says,
I…don't have a choice.
Seven's tone grows more urgent. Her eyes blaze. "Find. Another. Way."
There is no other way.
"Stop trying to hide," Seven says angrily.
I told you! I'm not hiding! Get away from me! Panic grows in Ransom's voice.
No!!! Ransom shouts.
Seven's wrath explodes. She morphs into a screeching, raging alien.
Ransom yanks the synaptic stimulator from the back of his neck and glares at it. Even the final hiding place, Ransom's own mind, is no longer a refuge.
But there is no time for recriminations. Or for rapidly-escalating panic. Ransom's communicator chirps.
Bridge to Ransom, Burke calls.
Ransom swallows hard, still looking at the stimulator. "Go ahead."
Janeway's found us.
He hesitates, still shaken by what he just saw. Grimly, Ransom acknowledges. "On my way."
* * *
Equinox's debris-cluttered bridge is abuzz with activity. Commander Burke coordinates. "Distance?" he asks about Voyager. "50,000 kilometers, closing fast," Gilmore reports. "Maintain course," Burke says.
Ransom arrives, still looking haunted--but with a look of renewed determination. Burke fills him in. "Voyager's approaching at high warp." Burke smiles--he knows what his Rudy likes to hear. "There's a class-two nebula less than a light year from here. Janeway's sensors won't be able to track us once we're inside."
Whoa. Excellent. The ultimate hider against the ultimate hunter. Wrath of Khan, here we come!
"I think that we should pursue this course--"
Ransom cuts Burke off. "No. Open a channel."
Burke almost adds Surprise to his repertoire. "Change of tactics?" he asks.
"You might say that. It's time we found another way home."
Burke commits--he's now officially Surprised. "Another way?"
Ransom sounds almost giddy. "We're going to cooperate with Janeway, Max--if she's willing."
Max Burke slips back to Irony. "Rudy, with all due respect--have you lost your mind?" You know, if ever there was a time for intensity, this would be it--but Burke still acts pretty darned laid back.
"Just the opposite," Ransom says, practically dancing--a tremendous burden has been lifted. He's moving toward the light--
"They're within range," Gilmore reports. "They're charging weapons!"
"Hail them," Ransom orders.
Burke manages the most deadpan mutiny I've ever seen. "Belay that. Raise shields."
Ransom whirls on his first officer. "You're relieved of duty, Commander!"
Burke casually pulls out his phaser. "I'm taking command," he says conversationally. "Anyone who isn't with me, speak up now." Gilmore shares a look with another crewman, but makes no move. Nobody else speaks up either. Burke smiles. "Take him to the brig."
Marla Gilmore makes her decision. She pulls out her phaser and aims it at Ransom. "I'm sorry," she says sincerely. She points toward the turbolift, and Ransom grimly leads the way off the bridge.
Burke smirks, then gets down to business. This has been a busy episode for him--now he digs deep into his theatric repertoire to approximate captainly Determination. "What's the status of our weapons?"
"Full complement of torpedoes," an unnamed crewman says. "Minimal phasers."
Burke checks up on his ace in the hole. "Open a secure channel to their Sickbay. Stand by weapons," he says.
Voyager's sickbay is still quite full with patients on nearly every bed, but at least the floor is clear. Doc tends to a patient when he hears a beep. Looking around to make sure nobody's watching, he walks over to a comm station labeled "Protocol 047." (Go figure.) "I'm here," Michael Jonas Salk, Equinox EMH, says.
We'll need your help, Doctor, Burke says. "See if you can find Voyager's current shield frequency."
"Acknowledged. I'll need a few minutes."
Voyager swoops down on its prey.
The bridge is dark and grim. Everyone's here but Chakotay.
"They are firing torpedoes," Tuvok reports. The ship rumbles and shakes from the impact. "Direct hit to our port shields," Kim says. "They're holding!"
"Return the favor," Janeway says coldly. Torres, standing behind the captain, casts a concerned look at Janeway.
Voyager tosses photon torpedoes at Equinox by the handful. The smaller ship lurches under the barrage.
Ransom is surprised when Gilmore stops. "This isn't the brig." It's the engine room, in fact. (I think.)
"I know," Gilmore says, dropping her phaser. She smiles warmly. "I'm with you, sir. Let's find a way to end this."
Ransom breathes a sigh of relief. "We'll need to access transporter control."
Two more of Voyager's torpedoes fly straight and true. The shields must have been down; the tip of Equinox's port nacelle explodes, then explodes some more, its length violently shortened. Wow.
"We've damaged their port nacelle. They're venting plasma!" Harry reports.
"They're dropping out of warp," Tom says.
"Stay with them," Janeway drawls.
We see Equinox come out of warp, listing slightly, trailing a nasty line of thick cloudy plasma. Voyager drops out of warp a moment later, and continues to pursue on full impulse.
just when things look very bleak for Equinox, EquiDoc hails from Voyager. "I've got their shield frequency. I'm transmitting it to you now."
Burke smiles nastily, and folds his arms. "They'll try to remodulate. Keep monitoring." Aye, sir. Doc says.
"They've slowed to one quarter impulse," Torres says. The crew regards the very wounded Equinox. It looks almost over.
"Prepare a tractor beam," Janeway says, voice gravelly.
"They're launching another torpedo," Tuvok reports. Janeway is contemptuous. "Full power to the forward shields." She's not worried by this pitiful show of defiance.
We watch the torpedo track in and grow larger.
To be, or not to be…
The bridge goes white with a massive explosion. Hair gets mussed.
"Hull breach on deck four!" Harry bellows over the alarm klaxon and noisy explosions and escaping steam.
"How'd they get through our shields?" Torres demands angrily.
Janeway looks equally furious. "Hard about! Get us out of range," she tells paris. To Tuvok, she adds, "Remodulate the shields."
Doc notes the change in shield frequency. Dutifully, he forwards the new data to Equinox, his evil works unnoticed by anyone on Voyager.
"They're retreating," a crewman reports to Burke.
"Pursuit course. Maintain fire."
DANGIT, BURKE, SHOW SOME !@#%$!@% EMOTION, FOR PITY'S SAKE!!!!
Equinox lobs even more torpedoes at the retreating Voyager. The shields offer zero resistance, thanks to the Equinox Doctor's undiscovered espionage.
The bridge of Voyager lights up with dozens of small explosions. "They took out the weapons array!" Harry reports after one nasty blast.
"Tuvok!" Janeway demands. Tuvok works his panel furiously. "I've been rotating the shield frequency every ten seconds." (You'd think they'd wonder why this was happening…)
Another explosion. "We've lost impulse engines!" Tom Paris reports.
When things are at their bleakest, Harry reports that they're being hailed. "It's Ransom." Janeway's eyes flash. "Put him through."
Ransom appears onscreen. We see Marla Gilmore in the background. "Captain," Ransom says, "I'm prepared to surrender the Equinox. But I'm no longer in command; Max decided to stage a little mutiny."
This was the last thing Janeway was expecting. She stares at the screen, betraying no emotion, her eyes twin flints.
Ransom continues. "But--I think I can stop him. I've isolated transporter control. I can beam all of us to Voyager. You might want to have some guards standing by; not everyone here is going to be happy to see you."
Janeway hasn't moved an angstrom. The bridge catches its collective breath, waiting for some--any--reaction from Janeway.
We see her eyes. The war of emotions. The clash of responses.
Finally, she reacts. "Proceed," Janeway says evenly.
You can hear the collective whoosh of eyebrows raising in unison. Tom Paris looks over his shoulder. "Ma'am?"
Janeway doesn't relax her poker face. "He's still a Starfleet Captain. He may have forgotten that for a while . . . but I believe him." Torres' jaw drops.
Whatever anyone else might be thinking…Tuvok sighs with relief. As the lone witness to what Janeway was planning to do, her change of heart is most encouraging.
Ransom nods and signs off.
An alarm sounds on the Equinox bridge. Burke gets agitated. "Someone's trying to beam us off. Force fields!" Wow--he actually raised his voice!
Welcome to the party, pal.
"They're deflecting our targeting scanners," Gilmore reports.
Ransom shakes his head. "Then beam the others to Voyager, yourself included. I'll take care of Max." Gilmore hesitates--Ransom may be sentencing himself to death--but seeing the look on his face, acknowledges. If he's going to go down, she can't deny him the opportunity to go down with honor. She nods bravely, then enters the new commands into her station terminal.
"Computer," Ransom says, "Give me access to the shield grid."
A half-dozen guards enter the transporter room, wielding high-end phaser rifles.
The first to arrive--flat on her back, unconscious, diagnosis unknown--is Seven of Nine.
No, wait--Seven's eyelids flutter open. That's a good sign.
In Sickbay, the Equinox doctor passes on yet another shield frequency to his comrades.
He hears a noise, and pivots to see--himself.
"Well...I see you've made yourself at home," Our Doctor says, rage in his eyes.
"What are you doing here?" Equinox Doctor says, surprised.
"Taking back my Sickbay!" Our Doctor takes a menacing step forward.
"Stop where you are!" Equinox Doctor shouts. "I've planted photonic charges throughout these holo-projectors. With one command sequence, I can blow out your entire--"
Our Doctor isn't buying it. "Computer, delete the Equinox E.M.H.!" he shouts while Equinox Doctor is still blustering, eliminating the evil hologram forever. Our Doctor, home at last, rushes over to where Equinox Doctor was, and shuts off the shield frequency display.
The crewman receiving data from Voyager frowns. "The Doctor's not transmitting anymore."
Burke frowns. "Burke to Doctor, report."
I'm afraid your physician's no longer on call,Our Doctor says. Burke frowns some more.
Max, this is the Captain. I've dropped the shield grid everywhere except the bridge and my current location. The vital systems are exposed. I suggest you beam toVoyager while you still can. (In Engineering, we see fissures open and a couple of aliens get trapped in the defense grid. They attack the warp core, though, and something nasty begins to happen.)
The crewman's eyes go wide; he turns to Burke. "The core is overloading. We've got to get out of here!"
Burke shrugs. "Where? Voyager's brig?"
"It's better than being vaporized," the crewman says.
"We still have a working shuttle," Burke says.
"The shuttle bay's two decks down!" the crewman protests, justifiably afraid. Burke saunters over and grabs a phaser rifle.
"Sir, the aliens!"
Burke shrugs again and heads for the door. "We'll make it," he says casually.
The crewman nervously grabs his phaser and follows.
Both hands too full of phaser rifle to fold nonchalantly, Burke does manage some intensity as he leads the way through the smashed corridors of Equinox. The crewman in blue, another male and a female accompany him.
Two wormholes appear in the corridor. Phaser blasts close them again. "This way!" Burke orders crisply, sprinting ahead, his subordinates in tow.
They see two more wormholes open up in front of them--and others forming to replace them faster than the foursome can fire.
Then two more wormholes open up behind them. Burke whips around, but it's a heavy weapon, and he's no Janeway.
One of the aliens grabs Burke full-on in the face. He goes down.
He does a little "ah-ah-ah-ah" as his face desiccates, but even that he manages to deliver nonchalantly, gasping his last as enthusiastically as he's strolled through most of the last two episodes.
My only regret is that Tom Paris didn't get to kick Burke's butt personally before he died.
"There's only one life sign left," Harry Kim reports. "It's Ransom."
Janeway acknowledges silently. She enters some commands in her armrest terminal.
Ransom appears on screen. His ship looks even worse than usual. "Captain," she says, much more compassionate now.
"Things didn't work out exactly as I planned. But you've got everyone worth getting." So, I suspect, did the aliens.
Janeway isn't satisfied. Now that Ransom's worth knowing again, she won't let him go without a fight. "We're beaming you out of there."
Ransom shakes his head, as much to belay that idea as to shake the flaming sparks out of his hair. "This ship is about to explode. I've got to put some distance between us! I've accessed helm control."
"You can set auto-navigation and then transport to Voyager!" Janeway counters.
"There's no time! You've got a fine crew, Captain. Promise me you'll get them home!" Bleakly, Janeway nods. "I promise."
The signal cuts; the viewscreen returns to the sight of Equinox, still listing badly, now moving away, trailing plasma.
Ransom finishes his course adjustment. Not liking the growing devastation around him, Ransom does what we suspected he'd never do again--plug in to the synaptic stimulator.
If you've got to go, you can't beat the view. The seascape is sunnier and more invigorating than ever. We do see someone there--Ransom himself, dressed in an Irish Spring wool pullover, enjoying the view.
Equinox explodes. The warp core makes a darned impressive Boom.
There is silence on the bridge. Everyone is left to their own thoughts, freed for the moment from the urgency of encroaching aliens or incoming torpedoes.
The looks on the crews' faces varies. Some are relieved. Some are somber at the loss of a sister Starfleet vessel.
Janeway's expression is best left unmentioned.
Captain's Log, Supplemental. With the Equinox destroyed, the aliens have withdrawn to their realm. I've reinstated Chakotay and we've set a course for home.
Doc--the only EMH in the Delta Quadrant (aside from that one backup they've long since forgotten about)--runs a scanner over the ocular implant of Seven of Nine. Only this time, Seven is sitting on the bed, and accepts the ministrations without complaint.
"Good as new," Doc says a moment later, placing the instrument on the tray at the foot of the bed. "I'd like you to regenerate for the next few hours. It'll help stabilize your cortical array."
Seven nods. "Understood."
His work as doctor complete, Doc finds himself unable to look at Seven as a fellow crewman. "Regarding the...unpleasantness aboard the Equinox," he says, his voice breaking, wracked with guilt. "I hope you don't think less of me."
"Your program was altered," she notes, compassionately, not bearing a grudge.
Doc sighs with relief--he values her friendship, at minimum--but he's still worried. "It's quite disconcerting to know that all someone has to do is flick a switch to turn me into Mr. Hyde," he confesses, walking toward her.
Seven tilts her head slightly, as though in thought. "Perhaps you should enhance your program with security protocols. It will prevent such tampering in the future."
Doc brightens. "Good thinking!" Seven nods, accepting the compliment.
"When I'm done regenerating, I will assist you." Thanks, Doc says, smiling sincerely. Seven graciously accepts his thanks, and hops off the table.
As Seven of Nine heads for the door, she looks over her shoulder coquetteishly. "You were off-key," she says, teasing.
Doc follows her. "I beg your pardon?"
Seven stops a few meters away from the bio-bed. "'My Darling Clementine,' third verse, second measure," Seven reminds him.
Doc blanches at the memory, then frowns with consternation. "That's impossible!" She's just impugned his musical perfection, he realizes with horror. Such an insult cannot stand.
Seven, hands clasped defiantly behind her back, regards the doctor haughtily. "Your vocal modulations deviated by 0.30 deci-hertz. I can assist you with that as well."
Doc nods slowly, challengingly. "Really?" he drawls. Seven nods defiantly.
Doc begins to pace. "Holodeck Two, tomorrow, 1600 hours. Just you, me..." he stops, and the two stand nose to nose. Well, they stand as close together as they can and maintain a TV-PG rating.
Doc ends with a menacing flourish, through gritted teeth. "--And a tuning fork."
Seven's eyes dance. "I look forward to it." She pivots gracefully and exits, with the edges of her full mouth curving ever-so-slightly upward.
Doc watches her leave, smiling.
Can I just say, as a proud flier of the Doc/Seven relationship banner…WOO HOO! Ladies and gentlemen, we got chemistry!
The mood is a good deal more somber in the conference room. Tuvok stands at attention as Janeway puts on her best "I'm very disappointed in you" demeanor.
This time, she's saving time by chewing butts in bulk.
"The last time we welcomed you aboard you took advantage of our trust," Janeway says, marching down the line of five former Equinox crewmen. "You betrayed this crew. I won't make that mistake again." At the end of the line are Marla Gilmore and Noah Lessing. All five crewmen look suitably contrite.
Janeway glares up at Lessing for a moment, then continues as she walks back down the line, calling each crewman's name as she passes by. "Noah Lessing, Marla Gilmore, James Morrow, Brian Sofin, Angelo Tassoni: you are hereby stripped of rank. You'll be expected to serve as crewmen on this vessel. Your privileges will be limited. And you'll serve under close supervision for as long as I deem fit."
Janeway then regards the lot of them. "This time, you'll have to earn our trust. Dismissed." One by one, they file out, with Tuvok bringing up the rear.
Poor guys. They won't get home within a few months after all. On the plus side, they're probably a whole lot safer, and more comfortable. And they might--just might--reach home with some self-respect intact. Something they might not have been able to do if they pulled into Space Dock One still stoking the engines with leftover alien.
Soon, the conference room is empty, aside from Janeway--and Chakotay.
Janeway has trouble looking at her first officer. "Repairs?" she asks softly.
"Coming along," Chakotay answers softly.
Apparently she has trouble talking to him as well. She heads for the bridge. Chakotay follows.
"How's the crew?" Janeway asks over her shoulder.
"A lot of frayed nerves," Chakotay says. He walks to the back of the bridge, inspecting the damage to a ceiling conduit as Janeway stares out through the forward viewscreen, her back to him. "Neelix is organizing a potluck...to help boost morale." The repair teams aren't making a lot of noise, so they can almost whisper across the room and still hear each other.
"Will I see you there?" Janeway asks, not daring to turn around.
"I'm replicating the salad," Chakotay says, trying to sound nonchalant.
"I'll bring the croutons," Janeway says, her voice heartbreakingly soft.
It's probably not a coincidence that this strained conversation is taking place on the bridge. The nerve center of Voyager is in need of significant repair--as is the relationship between captain and first officer. But the lights are on, the lines of communication are flowing (well, trickling) again. The time for healing has begun--but it will take time.
Yeah, yeah, I know--everything'll be peachy again next week, just in time for someone else to have a personal crisis.
Janeway cautiously moves toward Chakotay. He meets her half-way. (Dang, we're just full of meaning here, ain't we?) But when their paths intersect, Janeway turns away. They're close enough to whisper and not be beard.
"Chakotay...You know..." Janeway struggles to get the words out. She swallows hard. "You may have had good reason to stage a little mutiny of your own."
Chakotay looks at the ground, measuring his words carefully. "The thought had occurred to me--but that would have been crossing the line."
Janeway looks up. She doesn't see any trace of Chakotay's trademark twisted humor. Janeway considers what he just said--and what it means. She did cross the line, and they both know it. The only thing that altered her course was Ransom himself--the whole thing could have ended far more badly than it had. Luck was with them in the end-- as it had often been--but would it always? The next time--and of course there would be a next time--they encountered another line, what would they do?
Janeway had crossed. Chakotay hadn't. Would she follow his lead next time? Would she heed his advice, or relieve him of his duty?
For the first time in a long time, Janeway seems to be thinking about these questions rather than simply saying, "I was right, you were wrong, but I forgive you." This time, Janeway is admitting, in her own way, that she was wrong.
Maybe there's hope for this command structure yet.
Janeway casts her eyes to the ground--and notices something else of metaphorical significance. She reaches down and picks something up from a pile of debris.
The ship's official plaque. U.S.S. Voyager. "Will you look at that," Janeway says desolately, wiping at it halfheartedly, unable to scrub away the stains along with the dust. "All these years, all these battles. This thing's never fallen down before."
Chakotay gently takes the plaque from her. "Let's put it back up where it belongs."
Chakotay exits the screen. Janeway stands transfixed, haunted by a horrifying case of déjà vu.
The Sci Fi Channel will soon be showing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The irreverent promos state the obvious: "the even-numbered Trek films didn't suck." The odd-numbered films, by implication, did.
I maintain that Voyager has had an even-season curse.
The big question is, will the trend continue?
It's hard to say from a single episode, particularly a conclusion to a summer cliffhanger. I can say, though, that I liked this episode a good deal more than the conclusion to Scorpion that launched Season Four. Which is intriguing, because "Scorpion" and "Equinox" have much in common. Voyager gets reluctant additions to the crew; the captain and First Officer butt heads over a very thorny command decision; Janeway puts her ship in harm's way.
But I found this story a good deal meatier--and more believable--than Scorpion. The characterizations and performances also held together quite well overall.
Let's start with the title. "Equinox." It's also the name of Captain Ransom's ship. Since the premiere aired on September 22, which is right around the autumnal equinox, the timing also seemed fortuitous. The name means those two days of the year where Day and Night are "equal." Just before the equinox, either daylight or night gets a greater part of the day. But it's shrinking, and the other is growing.
After the equinox, they trade places. Not literally--Ransom doesn't become lightness. But he does start getting lighter, as his conscience works on him. And Janeway does start getting darker, as her vendetta leads her to more extreme and questionable decisions. In the end, though, Voyager encounters another "equinox"--and the overall trend now is toward the light. Ransom is trying to do the right thing. Janeway trusts him, and "forgives" him, and sets aside her fury. When the Equinox lights up the darkness of space in the explosion, it's the dawn of a new day. The death of Night subsides, Light and Life and Hope return to Voyager, and the wounds can begin to heal.
What did we see in this two-part episode? In the beginning, we had Ransom and his crew, few in number, under attack--and for good reason. Their actions were "dark"--they'd caught and slaughtered aliens for fuel--and the "fuel" was fighting back. Voyager, at the same time, is "light;" the ship is working well, at full power, its crew happy and well fed and walking in lighted corridors.
Then the two cross paths. Darkness and light, for a time, are equal. They combine, they commingle. Janeway and Ransom compare notes, but Ransom holds back--until Janeway discovers the truth.
When the two ships separate, Equinox is still "dark"--but so, increasingly, is Voyager.
Eventually, Ransom bottoms out at his own private nadir, and begins crawling back toward the light. Meanwhile, Janeway--consumed by the knowledge that a fellow Starfleet Captain is giving Starfleet a bad name in the Delta Quadrant, begins a rapid descent into darkness and peril as well.
Do Janeway and Ransom ever swap places? Does Janeway ever become more "evil" than Ransom? I say No. Janeway would have had to sink far lower than Ransom did to merit that kind of condemnation. But did she step over the line? Clearly, she did. After the autumnal equinox, there is more darkness than light--and Janeway voluntarily turned off some of the lights.
Janeway's interrogation of Lessing was ruthless--but worse, it was doomed to fail. She demanded exactly what Ransom was demanding from Seven of Nine--and both preferred death to "dishonor," defined as betrayal of their own ship and crew. As Chakotay later proved, Lessing was willing to assist in contacting the Ankari. Getting the aliens to stop their attacks would benefit Equinox as much as Voyager. (This isn't completely true--Equinox still needed to harvest aliens for fuel. But it was suggested in Part One that a few of Ransom's crew would have been happy to stay aboard Voyager.) Lessing has absolute devotion to his captain, just as Seven of Nine sabotaged the Equinox warp drive and preferred death to giving any assistance or cooperation to Ransom.
Janeway's willingness to hand over Equinox--and by extension, "the guilty"--to the aliens is also ruthless, but easier to defend. They needed to find Equinox anyway so they could rescue Seven of Nine (and, though they didn't know it, the Doctor.) They needed to get the aliens to stop attacking Voyager, which was innocent of Equinox' crimes. As with the Borg, Janeway drew the line in a different place, and anticipated an Agreement that worked for both--and that they'd work out the separation agreement when the time came. As it was, "those worth saving" got saved, Burke and those who joined the mutiny got a taste of alien justice, and Ransom went down with the ship--things we'd have pretty much expected to happen anyway.
Only Janeway knows how far she'd have taken her "deal with the devil." But I must admit, I think Janeway made the right call.
I've been reading a recent book by Michael Ledeen, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership. Essentially, he takes The Prince and other works and updates them with commentary and with more modern and relevant examples. Given Ledeen's tendency to favor the "ruthless and righteous," those who weren't afraid to use extreme means to achieve moral ends, I think I know how Machiavelli would have labeled the various players.
In the end, the only Prince he would likely have approved of would be Janeway. "It is better to be feared than to be loved," Machiavelli would say. Those who sacrifice respect for love--which you could say Ransom did by tossing out Starfleet protocol and compromising his principles in the pursuit of a speedy way home--are weaker and less effective in the end than those who inspire fear. As soon as Ransom tried to "do the right thing," he was overthrown.
By contrast, Janeway had a moral objective--to stop Ransom from killing aliens and restore the good name of Starfleet. Her means were often extreme, but in the end, she accomplished all her goals--and Voyager was saved. If some of it was only "luck," Machiavelli also devotes a lot of attention to the importance of that trait as well. Luck took a few years to catch up with Janeway in the Delta Quadrant, but she's generally had it ever since. Luck can often keep you alive when nothing else will. We've seen Voyager on a run of bad luck, and it wasn't at all pretty.
But at root, Janeway has her principles, and she sticks to them. Trust and loyalty are big with her--and once you prove she can't trust you, you might as well order your casket. A Prince betrayed either responds decisively, or is in danger of losing her place. Janeway relieved Chakotay of duty, told Tuvok he was one more objection away from the same fate, and put the surviving Equinox crew at the very bottom of the Voyager chain of command. Machiavelli would approve.
He would chastise Janeway for not listening to Chakotay's good advice, but he would have no trouble with her slapping her first officer down when he threatened her position, as he did right before she relieved him of duty. Right or wrong on the issues, Chakotay's challenge to Janeway's authority had to end decisively, one way or another. Had Chakotay prevailed, Voyager's command structure would have been in doubt--as we saw on Equinox, where some few followed Ransom, and some followed Burke.
A starship is not a republic--its rigid chain of command is more like a constitutional monarchy. The Rule of Law should prevail, but in case it doesn't, the chain of command favors whoever's on top. Either way, Janeway wins, until she's too weak to continue. If Janeway is only "allowed" to be captain while Chakotay thinks it's safe, she might as well not be captain. Therefore, this episode strengthened Janeway's authority, even as it called her judgment into question. She may have acted as an unwise Prince at times, but she solidified her position on the throne. Chakotay accepted Janeway's decision (however grudgingly) to relieve him of command--the alternative would have been a far more perilous path. Likewise, Tuvok backed down when Janeway threw down the gauntlet.
Comparatively speaking, Ransom was a weak leader, using escape far too often, leaving too much authority in Burke's hands. When he tried to reassert control, Burke challenged him--and won.
Burke would fail Machiavelli's scrutiny, because he seeks power for selfish ends. He doesn't care who he has to step over, or what he has to slaughter, to get home. Burke treats everything "like a game," according to Torres; his low-key brand of amorality is either the product of uninspired acting, or brilliant interpretation. (Personally, I was unimpressed--could you tell?--by Titus Welliver's sleepwalked performance. He seemed to be playing it "cool," but in the end this approach simply didn't work for me.) Burke knew how to exert power--but the ends he sought were not the sort of which Machiavelli would approve.
Chakotay shouldn't be considered--he plays the role of advisor to Janeway's Prince. He abdicated his floating Maquis throne five years ago. If he ever assumes the Big Chair, I'll reevaluate that. But Chakotay is not eyeing the captaincy for himself. As an advisor, he would have been praised for his correct priorities, and for arguing as forcefully as the Prince will allow but leaving the ultimate decision to her.
It may seem odd to apply The Prince to Star Trek. But consider the role of the Starfleet captain--it makes a bit more sense than you might at first believe. A Starship is a community--a traveling polis, a self-contained branch of the larger Federation tree. A captain is by turns a general, a mayor, an ambassador, a philosopher, an historian--and at times, judge, jury, and executioner.
Janeway has never shied away from any of those callings.
The Prince has the reputation as a fairly cynical book, hardly the stuff Star Trek wants to be associated with. But look at the episodes of all four Trek series. Right ends were frequently accomplished by ruthless means. Bad people, bad gods, bad computers--if they stood in the way of the Enlightened State, the Captains rode in and cleaned house. Might and Right worked hand in hand to accomplish acceptable ends. If it wasn't always pretty…well, it's not supposed to be.
But in the end, if the Right Course is championed, even by a negative example, then it fits nicely within the philosophy of Star Trek.
Enough with the thoughts. Let's talk execution.
First--the character dynamics were generally terrific. The intensity between Janeway and Chakotay was as good as we've ever seen it, and perfectly in character for both. Sometimes they yelled; sometimes they whispered. But the conflict continued to grow between them until the end, when we saw them attempting to heal the rift between them. The understated nature of the final scene turned some people off (along with the fairly obvious parallel to the Janeway/Ransom "plaque" scene in the first part) but I liked it. The silence between them was also used effectively throughout.
In a way, it would have been nice to have more interaction between Janeway and Ransom, but it was also good to see the two captains working against each other from their own "kingdoms." It was important to see each captain acting AS captain in detail, and for Ransom that happened best aboard his own ship. The decision to portray him as a "hider" who ultimately ran out of places to hide, was effective.
Ransom interacted well with Seven of Nine. It was she who helped turn him around, by ridiculing his "I have no choice" excuse. I've heard from many, wondering what the deal was with Seven appearing in the seascape program. I thought it was fairly obvious--his mind, already heavily stressed, was rebelling against him. His encounter with Janeway shook him--she had judged him very harshly, and whatever he may say, part of him agrees with his fellow captain. He did what he thought he had to do to survive--but a Starfleet captain has some priorities higher than survival. (Yesterday's Enterprise is one example--the loss of the Enterprise C to the Romulans led to the Federation/Klingon alliance. When it was denied that opportunity by a spatial rift, the result was an altered timeline in which the Federation was on the verge of destruction at Klingon hands.) The right thing isn't always the self-interested thing. Seven willingly submits to self-destruction to delay the homeward progress of Equinox. Her accusing stare and cutting words help to haunt Ransom until he changes his course.
In this episode, the Burke/Torres matchup was almost an afterthought. Personally, I'd have liked to see more--had Burke been as interesting as he had been in Part One. But given the time constraints, I prefer the greater focus on the captains that we actually got.
Seven of Nine and the Doctor--wow. What can I say? Ryan and Picardo make a great on-screen team, whether he's dissecting her without any ethical subroutines, or challenging her to a singing contest as an excuse to date. The two generate some terrific chemistry, and I'm grateful that the producers have chosen to continue the development of these two as a "team" (not to say "couple"). I like this new wrinkle in their relationship, to go along with teacher/student, software/hardware, outsider/outsider, genius/genius. They simply work well together, and their scenes--the chilling songs, the friendly banter at the end--were one of the show's great strengths.
On the matter of the Doctor. I'm not sure I see why the removal of ethical subroutines alone would turn Doc into an eager, efficient accomplice to Ransom. Unless he added some sort of Loyalty Oath subroutines as well. The Doctor's affection for and loyalty to Seven are well-established. You don't need to be ethical to stick with your friends. You'd almost expect Doc to be…well, to be more like he was when he returned to Voyager and took back his sickbay--he deleted his rival before the Equinox EMH could attack him. Software assassination, committed without hesitation, swift and ruthless. In this way, Doc was very much like Janeway this week. One could argue that Doc double-teamed Ransom with Seven by saying exactly the "wrong" things to further Ransom's guilt, but I think Doc played it straight. He did what he was told, and didn't hold back. Seven suffered under his hand. When he had the opportunity afterward, he deeply regretted it.
The event brought up a good point, one I hope will be addressed in the future--increasing Doc's internal security. It's about darn time, in fact.
Now. Logically, as I said, I have little problem with most of what Janeway did.
Emotionally, though, I struggled a bit more.
There is a common complaint out there about "Psycho Kate." Janeway is often all over the map, her actions and attitudes suiting the needs of the story. If she needs to be the hero, she's a hero. If she needs to be off her rocker, she's shown as off her rocker. Janeway is sometimes less a character than a plot device, a Swiss Army phaser that can be manipulated to perform myriad tasks.
In this sense, she's more like Captain Kirk than the other captains. Janeway is not a continuity character, but is rather a conglomerate character. Even so, there are enough character traits that we can guess what she'll do next.
If someone crosses her, she'll get angry. And she'll strike back. Hard.
As Chakotay says this week, "[Captain], you've been known to hold a grudge."
She has some absolutes. She wants to get home. She wants to do it her way. She hates taking the long way around. She will fight against injustice, but her own brand of justice is occasionally, shall we say, controversial. She wants to be loved by her crew, but she'd rather be feared than loved--if someone won't follow her willingly, Janeway will compel obedience.
It may make sense from a Machiavellian perspective. But this rather hard-nosed style, particularly in an episode like this, does not make Janeway look sympathetic. Unlike captains, actors DO need to be loved, and as the lead of Star Trek Voyager, Mulgrew's character isn't always well-served…and isn't here. "Equinox, Part II" is a terrific episode, but as the latest addition to Janeway Lore, this episode hurts her likeability.
It's almost a contradictory goal--make the captain both legitimate, and cuddly. Fair or not, it's harder to do that with a female captain; the nasty decisions that a Sisko or a Kirk can get away with, may backfire on Janeway. Some feel she's got to be a role model at all times--smarter, better, righter, more perfect.
But you know what? Picard was like that at first, and I HATED that about him. I didn't start warming up to Picard until he began to show his flaws in earnest. We want our captains imperfect but getting better every week. To stumble on occasion, pick themselves up or accept a proffered hand, and continue, wiser for the experience.
So while many complained to me about Janeway's performance, I for one was glad to see it. Janeway confessed to Chakotay that she'd screwed up. That is a significant character moment for Janeway. The hard-nosed, hard-charging captain, we've seen that before. In fact, we've seen her do far worse, and nobody's spoken up. This time, she was questioned--and in the end, she agreed. She started out judging Ransom harshly; at the last, she had to revise her opinion of the man, and of herself. That she was willing to do so, even though she was the Last Captain Standing, is very, very encouraging.
But I can understand why folks were so upset. The character growth I found so encouraging, was of necessity preceded by behavior that is hard to defend and VERY hard to feel enthused about. Not even I was rooting for Janeway when she was giving Lessing the "say your prayers" routine.
This is already way too darned long, so I'll wrap up.
Performances: with one exception, excellent.
Story: Intricate, powerful. The more I watched it, the better I liked it.
Special effects: terrific.
Emotional impact: Not exactly a Starfleet recruiting film. Few "heroes" this week.
On a 4 star scale, I'm giving it (* * * 1/2). I liked it better than the cliffhanger.
Next week: Seven thinks about rejoining the Collective…AGAIN?!?