The following is an ALL-SPOILER Review. Teaser to closing credits, I give you the whole dang episode, blow-by-blow. If you want to be surprised when you finally see it, leave now. If you don't mind having the whole enchilada spelled out for you, pull up some shuttle debris and enjoy the ride.

I rate each episode based on how much I enjoyed it--not necessarily on how good I think it is; I leave the objective takes to others. I don't claim to be accurate or objective, though only on occasion will I deliberatly try not to be. (this week, for instance.) But with luck, you'll enjoy yourself along the way whether you agree with me or not.

So kick back and toss another shrimp on the barbie. Fatherly Uncle Jim's in a storytellin' mood.


Seven swaps insults with tall people. Janeway kicks some serious alien hiney. Neelix riffs on Kevin Costner movies.

Jump straight to the Analysis


Voyager flies through some truly stunning stellar scenery at a leisurely pace.

The audio sounds like the only AM station you can get in central Kansas along I-70--unidentifiable, but even the rare blips of something resembling man-made noise beats the random static of dead air.

Then in that incomprehensible mess we hear "USS Voyager."

We hear bits and scratches. Even the closed-captioning is only a partial help.

Then even those sound bytes halt.

Janeway looks to Ensign Kim for an explanation; he says the transmission simply stopped. She tells him to locate the source. He does, and his expression changes. "Captain, the transmission was sent along the same network of alien relay stations we used to send the Doctor to the Alpha Quadrant." Ka-Chinnng!

Janeway asks if he can pound through the interference--as though any answer other than Dang Straight would do. Kim even closes that Freecell session he'd been working on throughout his shift--he means business. Harry knows better than anyone that a message from Starfleet could mean that his criminally-overdue promotion has come through.

"They said they wouldn't stop until they found a way to get us home," says Tom Paris--who sounds, oddly, less than enthused by the thought.

"We can't assume they've devised a plan this quickly," warns Tuvok. Janeway says that the communique itself is a big step--they had to use Doc to get their message through.

Harry announces he's got the message as cleaned up as it's gonna get. "Here it is."

The message plays. "This is Starfleet command to the USS Voyager. If you are receiving this message please study it carefully. We have information..."

"That's all we got. It looks like the bulk of the transmission is lodged in one of the relay stations...It's about 3.8 light-years from us on a heading of 274 mark 13."

Janeway orders a course set. Chakotay points out that the last time they used the alien relay the "people who built it" didn't approve. Janeway, eyes gleaming like Marty Feldman's in Young Frankenstein, says they'll kick that hiney when they come to it.

Neelix must have run out of decaf again....


Another ship hears the same transmission. It's big, and murkily lit, and reeks with the funk of carrion. A wall is covered with skulls--and the creatures they once belonged to look fierce. There's Predator...and Terminator... Alien!... and James Carville?[gulp]

Damn. Whoever these guys are, they're tough.

Two creatures--tall, ugly and heavily armored, with faces like the bastard offspring of Freddy Krueger and Dick Gephart and voices like Harvey Fierstein after an asphalt gargle--take note. They learn it came from across the galaxy. They locate the ship that received the transmission, and determine its heading--on a course to one of "our" modules. (They must be Hirogen.)

"Intercept," the larger and uglier of the two (let's call him "Tiny") says. While the other ("Spud") works the oddly low-tech controls (stick shifts stolen from VW Beetles), Tiny dips a finger in one of the nearby bowls of brightly colored fondue--he picks white, leaving the festive Red and Green for another scene--and dabs it on the armor over his left eyebrow (I almost called this Hirogen Max Factor). Assuming he has brows, I mean--that must come from the Gephart side of the family.

But I digress.

Tiny sighs. Nothing is quite so satisfying to a Hirogen as freshly-applied armor makeup and the prospect of a fresh kill.

* * *

The bridge crew debates the likelihood of Starfleet's having developed whiz-bang new technology for bringing them home. Naturally, Harry is the first and loudest of the "Starfleet can do anything" camp. Paris plays the doubting Thomas. Tuvok and Chakotay are open to the idea that technology or a stable wormhole could have been found in the past four years. The brief message definitely hinted that Headquarters had sent them something informational they'd find worth studying carefully.

"This kind of speculation can be intriguing but be careful about setting yourselves up to be disappointed," Momma Kate cautions.

"I'm just happy my folks know I'm alive," crows Harry, and everyone smiles indulgently. They all know he wants a lot more than that. Every time someone even mentions "home" in passing, his ears perk up. This makes for great fun at parties: Hometown, home fries, homeopathy...

Janeway surmises a lot of folks partied hearty when the news of Voyager's non-lostness reached the homefront [oh, get back to work, Harry.] Chakotay says the news might not be so good for everyone [foreshadowing...] "I'd guess a lot of people had given up on us--done their mourning, gone on with their lives--found some kind of resolution. Now they get word that we're alive but so far away that we might as well be dead."

Harry insists his parents are thrilled to know their little Harry has only died a few times, been replaced with an exact duplicate of himself, been eaten alive by alien DNA, tossed in prison, courted by a trio of vampire chicks, traveled to an alternate earth without even dropping them a line, violated the prime directive a few times, got in a pissing contest with a Vulcan over the affections of a holodeck character, committed at least one act of near-mutiny--and still manages to practice the clarinet three times a week.

And his mother worried about Starfleet being dangerous. Pshaw.

Janeway points out, "at the very least, we know the relay stations extend almost all the way to the Alpha Quadrant. If Starfleet has found a way to use them to transmit messages we'll be able to stay in constant contact with people at home. That has to be comforting." Harry says he prefers to think that Starfleet's found a way to GET them home. And until he's proven wrong, that's just what he's gonna do.

Janeway almost resists the temptation to dampen the boy's enthusiasm. Then instinct takes over, and the entire bridge crew carries him to the nearest restroom for a therapeutic Swirlie.

Constant contact with home [Down, Harry!]...I'm not sure I like that idea. The occasional contact can (theoretically) boost morale. But do we really want admirals micromanaging their far-flung homeward-bound [WHAP!] resource?

I didn't think so.


Doc marches into the Astrometrics lab, where a lone Seven of Nine feverishly moves from console to console as the Hirogen sensor array looms on the big screen. Doc chides her for missing her weekly checkup. She's been working, she says. "And just what is this pressing task?" Doc drawls. "I'm trying to retrieve more of the message transmitted from Starfleet command," she replies.

"Your devotion to duty is admirable," says Doc, one of his more subtle puns (Starfleet Command...admirable...admirals...[sigh] okay, that was a stretch), "but you must remember that your implants have to be monitored regularly."

I'm not even going there.

Seven says she's fine. Doc says his scans suggest otherwise. "How long has it been since you regenerated?" 58 hours, she says. Doc reminds her that she must regenerate in her Borg alcove for at least three hours a day. "I have gone as long as 200 hours without regenerating," she says.

"That was when you were a Borg. You seem to forget you're a good deal more human now."

This evokes a wince from Seven. "I assure you, I have not forgotten," she says, not looking up from the console. She manages to retrieve another word of text from the Starfleet message--that makes six in all, in 58 hours.

"Wouldn't it be more efficient just to wait until we arrive at the relay station?" Doc asks. "This message is important to the captain," Seven replies.

"I'm aware of that. In fact, if it weren't for me, this transmission wouldn't have been possible in the first place." Doc poses in the classic form and speaks in his most dramatic voice. "I was the one who risked my matrix in order to go to the Alpha Quadrant. If we ever get home I expect I'll become quite the hero. 'Emergency Medical Hologram instrumental in the return of Voyager crew.' Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"

You know, Doc, you really should keep a personal log. Why bore others needlessly?

Seven's eyes go wide as Doc waxes rhapsodic about himself. "On the other hand, it is entirely possible that your program will be deleted and you'll be upgraded to conform to the most recent standards," she says. [Ouch!]

"Unlikely," Doc huffs. "I've accomplished things no E.M.H. ever has. In fact, most likely I'll become an object of intense study and discussion-- possibly even veneration."

Seven makes a gagging gesture. Nausea is relevant, I suppose.

The room starts to rumble.


On the bridge, things are happening. They are still two light-years away from their destination, and even that appears to be too close for comfort. The relay thingy is putting out some serious gravimetric forces. Harry manages to compensate, but it's like trying to sneak up on a black hole.

When the ship stops shaking, Tuvok reports a ship less than a million kilometers away--a stone's throw in space. They scan it, and find it adrift, with a gutless wonder for its only passenger, dead. They beam it aboard for an autopsy.


"He appears to have suffered a complete osteotomy. He's been gutted," announces the Doc. "A surgical procedure was used to remove the entire skeleton, the musculature the ligaments and tendons and the internal organs." All that's left is an empty skin suit, pret-a-porter.

Seven says she's seen this before. "The Borg encountered a small ship of Species 5174. They were also destroyed in this fashion." When asked if they solved the mystery, she gives a funny look. "No. It was irrelevant." (Actually, it's kinda nice that the resident Borg isn't omniscient; Voyager still has to earn its victories most of the time.)

Neelix is here. He doesn't say much. But as the captain and Doctor discuss the corpse, a strange whisper tickles his whiskers. "If you cook it, they will come." He shudders and shakes it off.

Janeway orders the alien's remains returned to his ship, and tells Seven to prep for downloading the bulk of the Starfleet message when they get near enough.


Captain's log, Stardate 51501.4. After two days at high warp we're close enough to the relay station to see it on long-range visual sensors.

"Not exactly what I expected," says Paris. "It looks ancient." Something looking not entirely unlike the Array from "Caretaker" looms before them.

Harry says it's at least 100,000 years old. Scans show no life forms, and a "Powered By a Tiny Black Hole" (quantum singularity) icon in the lower-left hand corner. It's pumping out almost 4 terawatts of energy--enough to keep a monstrous communications array active for a thousand centuries...or the average multimedia laptop running for nearly ten hours.

They get near enough for the ship to start shaking again. Harry warns against moving in closer, so Chakotay tells Paris to back them away a tad--as he does, the rumbling subsides--and calls the Captain in Astrometrics. "We're as close as we can get."


Janeway watches while Seven works.

"The datastream degraded during transmission," Seven says. "Elements have been dislocated, rearranged. It's going to require some time to decompress the message and rearrange it in the proper sequence."

"Don't worry about the sequence," Janeway says. "Get it out in bits and pieces if you have to. We can put it together later."

Seven accesses the first block of data and downloads the resulting text. Janeway reads aloud.

"'How much we miss you...we talk about you often...wondering about your...day.' Sounds awfully personal from Starfleet Command," she says with an odd smile which is lost on Seven. "'The children have grown so much you wouldn't..."

Realization dawns. Janeway's voice falls to a whisper. She gets all dewy-eyed and pouty-lipped as the simple, unexpected words fall like rain on a parched desert floor.

How does the Taco Bell Chihuahua put it? "I think I'm in love."

"These are letters. These are letters from home...."

* * *

Janeway hands a stack of PADDs to Neelix--who is looking taller and more taciturn than usual. Heck, he looks downright Shakespearian. Weird.

"You'll be the official mail carrier. We'll get you the letters as quickly as we can download them," Janeway says.

Neelix in passionate but monotonous tones, accepts this weighty responsibility in a speech that takes approximately 94 minutes. He waves a tattered American flag with the gravest face we've ever seen on him. He mentions citizenship, courage and responsibility a lot.

Three and a half hours later, he nudges Janeway awake. Wha- who-, she murmurs groggily.

"I'm the Postman," Neelix reminds her, holding up the Padds. "I promise to treat these like gemstones," he says, striding to the turbolift.


Seven finds something odd among the messages; she explains to the captain that there's a large block of text and "what may be maps" encrypted as a subchannel within the bulk of the messages from Starfleet. She says that as they extract the letters from home, the underlying message should be possible to extract.

Sounds like Starfleet's got some ideas about getting them home, Janeway posits.

She considers the most recent addition to their crew. "I'm curious, Seven--what do you think about all this? Messages, the possibility of getting home?"

Seven considers this. "It lacks any emotional resonance for me. I've never even been to Earth."

Janeway says it's possible she has family there. Seven's blue-grey eyes get slightly wider. "That had not occurred to me." Janeway continues: "You could have cousins grandparents...there might be more emotional resonance than you think."

Mama Kate just loves throwing emotional curveballs at Seven, I've noticed.


Neelix arrives on the bridge and announces that he has mail. Every ear perks up. The only letter for a bridge person, he says, is Chakotay's, much to Harry Kim's chagrin--though more are being decrypted as he speaks.

Chakotay takes the letter. "An old friend...the person who recruited me into the Maquis." He asks Neelix how he's doing these days--it hasn't been that long since he was mostly dead. Treatments seem to be going okay, but the emotional scars from such an event can take a long time to heal.

Neelix tells Chakotay he's had to reconsider his beliefs, but he thinks he's got something he can live with now. Chakotay can't help but ask what the Talaxian has settled on.

"Well, I believe in the soul," says Neelix, his voice growing sultry--and drawing in the attention of everyone within earshot. "The small of a woman's back... the hangin' curveball... high fiber... good scotch... that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap... I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, ... opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

As Neelix reenters the turbolift, every female crewman on the bridge swoons. Man, something has really gotten into Neelix this week...

Chakotay takes the letter to his seat--but within seconds his face clouds over. He hands the bridge to Tom Paris and excuses himself from the bridge to read it in private.


Neelix of Loxley rings the bell of the Sheriff of Voyager's quarters. (Okay, this is a stretch. Just write your own "bad English Accent" joke or gag to the image of Neelix bathing in Sherwood Forest, and we'll move on.)

Tuvok is working, and Neelix's announcement that one from the first batch of letters is for him fails to tear him away from his weekly tactical review. Neelix is stunned that Tuvok doesn't drop everything for the first news from home in four years.

"Do you have any reason to believe the content of the message will change during that time?" Tuvok asks.

"That's not the point! It's a letter from your family. Don't you want to know what it says?"

Tuvok's patience for the letter is greater than his patience for Neelix's pestering. He finally consents to let Neelix read the letter to him.

"'My husband, we have been given the news that you are alive. Your children and I have asked the priests at the temple of Aymonk'"--Tuvok corrects him: "Amonak, one of the most sacred temples on Vulcan"-- "'to say prayers for your safe return.' That's very sweet! 'The most significant news is the fact that your first son, Sek, has gone through the Pon Farr. He mated and has become a father. You are now the grandfather of a healthy female who they have named T'Meni, after your mother.'"

Neelix gushes. "You're a grandfather! Isn't that wonderful? Congratulations! What should we call you now? Grandpa? Gramps?"

Tuvok rolls his eyes. "I think Commander Tuvok will suffice. Thank you, Mr. Neelix. I'll read the rest to myself." Neelix bids farewell, but wags a finger and tells him to "read it right away. No procrastinating! Who knows what else might be in that letter?"

Tuvok returns to his work as Neelix leaves...but it doesn't last. He takes the PADD and sits, taking in the contents of his wife's message, holding the PADD like the finest crystal.


Janeway enters the Bridge from the turbolift holding a PADD. It's a letter for her, she tells them; Seven just downloaded it. She tells Tom she'll be in her ready room.

She sits, takes a deep breath, and takes her first look. The to/from lines say it's from Mark Johnson, her fiancé--the guy she entrusted her dogs to before she left Earth. The guy she's saved herself for the entire trip through the Delta Quadrant.

We see only her reaction as she reads. A couple of sharp exhalations. A brief snort of amusement. The barest hint of a shudder, then a snap to tension so taut that the ventilation system passing over her registers as a whisper of an F-sharp over middle C.

When she looks up from the PADD, we know the news isn't what she'd hoped for. The look is heartbreaking.

Except maybe to J/Cers.


Chakotay enters Engineering and heads straight to B'Elanna's station, where she's working. She doesn't expect any messages from home, she says when he asks. He looks ashen.

"Do you remember Sveta?"he asks; Of course, she says. "I got one from her."

This surprises Torres, who asks why she'd be writing him.

Chakotay is silent for a long time. He's searching in vain for the words. Torres grows from concern to panic.

"Something terrible has happened," Chakotay finally says. "I read that letter for an hour before I could accept it. Now I have to tell everyone else...and I'm not sure how to do it."

He looks at his old comrade. "It's over, B'Elanna. There are no more Maquis."

Torres is shocked. "What are you saying? There are thousands of us."

"All wiped out. It seems the Cardassians have an ally...a species from the Gamma Quadrant who supplied them with ships and weapons."

Torres shakes her head in disbelief. "Atara...Roberto...everyone except us is dead?" she asks, voice rising.

"Just about. Sveta and a few lucky ones are in prison."

B'Elanna does not take this well. "Don't try to console me! I don't want to be comforted! Those were our friends...good people willing to put their lives on the line for something they believed in and now you're telling me that they are gone...that they are slaughtered." She swears to make someone pay...

"If we ever get back."


Harry brings his lunch to Tom's table. "I heard there are at least 30 more letters that have been downloaded." The prospect excites him, because it means the chances are greater (one in five?) that one of them is for him.

For his part, Tom Paris is more interested in the Mystery Dish he's eating. "It tastes vaguely like chicken but it has the consistency of corn husks."

"Is that all you can think about-- what you're eating?" Harry asks.

"Well, I don't like guessing about what I put in my stomach," Paris says. (Gratuitous diet joke omitted.)

Harry shakes his head at his friend. "Tom...we're getting letters from home. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"Not particularly," says Paris between bites of chicken husks.

"I don't believe you," Harry says, expecting Paris is putting him on.

Neelix arrives with a basket of PADDs. "Good news! Seven has been able to download some more letters." He begins calling out names: Susan Nicoletti, Fitzpatrick, Kyoto, Golwat (a Bolian), Ashmore, Dorado...as he calls their names, they leave their food behind and come for their letters. A little too politely, if you ask me. I'd expect them to be hopping up and down like their names had been called on Price is Right.

As each name is called, Harry's demeanor darkens a little more. "There's not going to be one for me," Harry says bleakly. Paris tries to encourage him halfheartedly.

"And finally...Parsons. I'm sorry if your name hasn't come up but Seven is still working." He turns to leave.

Harry bolts up from his seat. "Neelix--I thought you had over 30 letters."

"30?" Neelix asks. "Where did you hear that?"

"That's what was going around," harry says pleadingly.

Neelix's eyes are soft, but his voice is scolding. "Don't pay any attention to rumors."

As he leaves, Harry bitterly yells after him. "You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket!"

[Kevin Costner's lawyers drive up to Review Boy's apartment with a restraining order.

Oh come on--I got "Dances with Kes" and "Wyatt Urp" jokes left! I got Tin Cup and Bull Durham and No Way Out and that cameo in Madonna's "Truth or Dare" when she makes gagging noises after he called her show "neat" and calling Waterworld "Fishtar" in a Neelix dinner reference, and--

Oh, all right. Where was I?]

Neelix leaves. Those with letters read them. Those without try to keep up their hopes for the next batch. Harry sits back down heavily.

"Aren't you going to eat your lunch?" asks Paris, shoving food down his throat with both fists.

"I'm not hungry," Harry murmurs.

"You shouldn't get your hopes up, Harry. No hopes, no disappointments."

Harry gives Tom a withering look. "I'm not you." He storms out of the mess hall.


Seven enters Janeway's ready room. The captain is sitting at her desk, deep in thought--or deep in something. She doesn't look much like talking.

Seven says the datastream is getting harder to access--the longer the message sits in the relay the more it degrades, and the harder to extract.

"If we could get near enough we could try to stabilize the containment field but I can't risk taking the ship in any closer," Janeway says. Her heart doesn't seem to be into the task of finding solutions.

Fortunately, Seven has one already. "A shuttle could withstand the gravimetric eddies more easily than Voyager. I'd like to try it."

Janeway nods. "I'd want Commander Tuvok to go with you."

Seven is taken aback, even a little bit hurt. "For what reason?"

"It isn't my custom to send an away team of one," Janeway says. There is no heat in her response. Seven accepts this and leaves, and Janeway returns to her solitary silence.


Harry enters Astrometrics. He's surprised to see Torres at the controls. "I thought Seven was working in here," he says after a curt exchange of Hi's. Torres explains that Seven's with Tuvok, trying to restore the datastream. "Disappointed?" she asks, all playfulness in her voice muted by her continuing struggle with Chakotay's recent news. And her continuing issues with Seven of Nine. And no doubt concern for her friend's choice in obsessions.

And maybe, just maybe, a tiny hint of jealousy. Harry never drooled that much around her....

Whatever the reasons, whenever B'Elanna "teases" Harry about Seven, she always sounds just to this side of angry.

"Of course not," says Harry, then his voice rises defensively. "Would you stop that? I've told you, there's nothing between us."

"I know there's nothing between you. It's purely a one-way attraction." Ouch. Definitely not a happy woman at the moment.

"Very funny."

"Harry, you might as well wear a big sign that says, 'I'm in love.' Everyone sees it." More heat. She hasn't looked at Harry since he walked in. She stabs at the console controls.

Harry shuffles his feet. "Look, I'll admit that for a while...well, she's a very attractive woman--but I've gotten over that!"

Torres isn't convinced. "O-kay..."

"Fine," says Harry angrily. "Believe whatever you want."

Torres drops the subject, but she's still not letting him off the hook. She needs someone to beat on in her current mood, and Neelix is off Dancing with--

Sorry. I forgot.

"If you didn't come down here to see her, why did you?"

"I wanted to know..." Harry begins loudly, then his voice becomes as meek as a child's. "If I'd gotten...a letter...yet."

The massive chip on Torres' shoulder drops off with a clank. It's easy to forget that this is still Harry Kim's first mission as a Starfleet officer, wet behind the ears, and missing the heck out of home. But that voice melts away the years and the frustrations and reminds her that he is her friend, and he's hurting in a big way. She finally looks at him, her face filled with compassion.

"Sorry," she says sincerely. "I haven't seen anything so far."

"Do you think...there's going to be one for everybody?"

"I'm sure that Starfleet contacted the families and friends of everyone on this ship." Those not dead or in prison, she doesn't say. Her own concerns are momentarily forgotten. "They know how important that would be."

"I hope so," Harry says as fervently as anyone has ever said those words.

"Harry...you'll get one. Try to be patient." She smiles weakly, bolstering her friend as best she can.

You gotta feel for the boy. When the episode started he was already counting the hours until they'd be home. Now he's just trying to not give into the fear that he'll be the only person on board who won't hear from his family.


Seven and Tuvok work the controls of the shuttle as it nears the sensor array. It's a bumpy ride.

Seven finally brings up a personal question. "Commander, am I correct in assuming that Vulcans are incapable of lying?"

"We are capable of telling lies. However, I have never found it prudent or necessary to do so." (What about that stint with the Maquis?)

"You have never lied?"

"Only under orders from a superior officer." (Ah.)

"Then I must ask you something. Is it the captain's custom to send at least two people on an away mission?" Boy; this must really have bothered her. Perhaps she's feeling a little guilty over the look Janeway gave her in "Message in a Bottle" after she'd zapped the Hirogen dude.

"It's not only her custom; it's recommended Starfleet protocol," Tuvok says.

"I see," says Seven, who seems to feel a little better.

"Is there a purpose to your question?" Tuvok asks.

"I am wondering if the captain still doesn't trust me--if she feels I require supervision."

"I am not certain how the captain regards you." (Really? That surprises me.) "But her decision to have me accompany you on this mission shouldn't be taken as evidence of any particular attitude."

They reach their objective and throw a polaron pulse at the array. The brief special effect seems to have done its job; the data stream should be okay again, and "should prevent further degradation of the signal."

"Let me ask you a question, Seven," Tuvok says. "Is the captain's opinion important to you?"

Seven chooses her words more carefully than Mike McCurry on Subpoena Day. "My understanding of the hierarchy on Voyager is that the captain's opinion is important to every member of the crew."

For these two, it's darn near a heart-to-heart chat.

Their shuttle gets jolted. (Uh oh. Not another one....)

Whatever jolted them caused their navigation systems to go south, and all their other important systems as well. They try to contact Voyager, but they are intercepted first by "whatever jolted them."

Hey, hey, it's the Hirogen...

* * *

Long story short: Big bad Hirogen ship hunts tiny defenseless shuttle. Tuvok and Seven manage to shoot off a distress beacon before the Hirogen tractor beams haul them in and a zapper of some sort knocks them out cold.

Both ships are dwarfed by the truly monstrous sensor array. Even without the black hole, you'd expect it to have its own gravitational pull.


Torres hails the bridge; Janeway answers. B'Elanna, actually smiling a little, asks if "Lieutenant Paris" can come to Astrometrics. "I think I've got something he'd want to see."

Janeway says he's on his way. Paris looks like he wants to object, but doesn't dare. Janeway looks composed enough, but she's not her usual no-crisis-no-stress jovial self. He wordlessly leaves the bridge.

He arrives in Astrometrics a moment later, and Torres gives him a warm look. "It's a letter for you. It's coming through right now."

"For me?" Paris asks cautiously. "It's right here," she says. He coughs. "Who's it from?" he asks neutrally. "I can't tell yet," she says, noting the difference between Paris' lack of enthusiasm over something Harry would kill for, and wondering what's up.

"Maybe it's from the rehab colony telling me I've violated probation," Paris jokes.

As jokes go, this one's DOA.

"Why are you acting like this?" B'Elanna asks.

"I just want to know who the letter's from, okay?" he says, voice rising a little.

If he were Seven of Nine, he'd be dead where he stands. But Torres doesn't respond in kind. She waits a second, then replies softly, "we should know in a minute."

Paris says he'll be on the bridge and practically sprints for the door. B'Elanna is flabbergasted. "What? You're not going to wait?"

"I'm on duty," he says.

"Voyager is hanging in space. There's not a lot to do at the helm," she teases.

"I just thought that I should be at my post," he protests.

"You may be able to fool someone else with that ploy. But you're talking to me, Tom."

"Just download the letter, okay?" Paris says less kindly than we are used to from him, and marches to the door. He's one interruption away from gnawing his own leg off to escape.

Do you guys get the feeling Paris would rather not hear from anyone in the alpha quadrant?

Before he can leave, she reads off the From line of the letter. "It's from Starfleet. From...an Admiral Owen. Do you know him?"

Paris gives up trying to leave. "Admiral Owen Paris," he says resignedly. "That's my father."

Torres looks at him. "That's wonderful."

Tom laughs without mirth. "Yeah. Maybe."

Finally, he lets his guard down. "I...I don't know exactly why, but...the more everybody gets excited about these letters from home, the more I don't want any part of it. Maybe because...what I have on Voyager... is so much better than anything I ever had back there. I just don't want the reminder."

It's not often Tom Paris lets himself be this vulnerable. If you recall from "Persistence of Vision," Tom Paris' greatest fear was getting ridiculed by his father, who refused to see any real change in his son. It was all the product of Tom's mind, but that was the nightmare: continued parental disapproval. He had to travel across the galaxy to get out from Admiral Dad's shadow, and the closer they get to home, the smaller that comforting Parental Buffer Zone becomes.

"You're not the same person you were four years ago," she assures him. "What makes you think he is?"

"No," says Tom, snorting in disgust. "You don't know him."

"At least give him a chance," Torres begs. "He's obviously reaching out." (I feel very sorry for B'Elanna at the moment. What she had hoped would be her first bit of good news of the day--providing a letter for Tom--has turned almost as sour as the news about the Maquis.)

"When he forms an opinion about something nothing can change his mind!" Tom says, the heat returning to his voice. (Geez...talk about a chip off the old block.)

Torres gives up. "Fine," she whispers, frustrated, and moves away from him. She throws the PADD on the console with the others, and leans against it. Then she decides it's her turn to vent.

"Excuse me if I can't feel terribly sorry for you. I learned this morning that a lot of my friends are dead and I've gone from being so angry that I wanted to kill someone" (lucky thing Seven was on an away mission) "...to crying for an hour."

B'Elanna's composure crumbles. "And now I'm just trying to...to accept it and move on...."

Well don't just stand there, you idiot, hug the woman!

Tom rushes to her, embracing her tightly. "B'Elanna...That's awful. I am so sorry. And here I am going on about something that doesn't even matter anymore." He desperately wants to believe that.

But B'Elanna knows he doesn't. "No, no. I'm sorry. It obviously does. You care what he thinks about you."

Until this moment, he may have denied it. But there's no room for lies or denial. Tom faces B'Elanna's words...and knows she's right. "I guess I still do."

They let go, but stay close to each other. "I'll let you know when i get the whole letter," she promises. He nods, they almost kiss, she places a comforting hand on his cheek, and he holds her hand gently on his way out the door.

Chakotay was right--mail call is really starting to suck.


Janeway's studying something on her desk terminal when Chakotay rings and enters. He tells her the mission was successful and the letters are coming through a lot more easily now. (If that's so, then Paris' letter--which was in progress--should be done soon.) Janeway says this is good news.

"I've learned a few interesting things about that relay station. It's generating as much energy every minute as a typical star puts out in a year." [Dang!]

"What's amazing to me is that someone 100,000 years ago was harvesting microsingularities," Chakotay notes.

"If nobody shows up to protest [foreshadowing] I'd like to stay here for a while--try to find the answers to some of these questions. This is the kind of archeological puzzle that's always fascinated me." Her words are not matched by her eyes--they're still a bit glazed over. She hasn't touched Chakotay at all yet.

She offers him a cup of coffee; he declines. He notes, diplomatically, that she hasn't talked about her letter yet. "Who was it from?"

Janeway tells him. "It was from Mark...The man I was engaged to. He told me about the litter of puppies my dog had--how he found homes for them how devastated he was when Voyager was lost...how he held out hopes we were alive longer than most people did...until he realized that he was clinging to a fantasy. So he began living his life again--meeting people, letting go of the past." She fills in the details like a witness to an accident--almost in shock. "About four months ago he married a woman who works with him. He's very happy."

"And how do you feel about that?" he asks softly.

"Well, I knew he'd eventually move on with his life." her voice drops to a desolate whisper. "But there was such a finality to that letter...."

Well don't just stand there, you idiot, hug the woman!

Kim to the captain. Can you come to the bridge?


Captain and first officer forget their troubles and exit the ready room

"We picked up a distress signal from Tuvok's shuttle," Harry says (what, not Seven's?). "Sensors show there's no one on board."

Chakotay and Janeway share a stunned look.

* * *

Inside the Hirogen vessel, bones rest in hammocks while Tuvok and Seven lay unconscious and bound separately on the hard metal floor.

Tuvok is the first to stir. He notices the bundled and mounted mortal remains of countless species--and instruments on the walls that look primed and ready to help Tuvok and Seven join those piles of death.

He calls out to Seven, who is still out like a light. After a few more attempts she awakens groggily.

"Where are we?" she asks, trying to shift herself into a sitting position--difficult with her arms tied behind her. Some hairs fall out of place, disrupting the perfection of her appearance.

"I assume we're on the alien ship," Tuvok says, also trying to rise.

"This is most uncomfortable," Seven says. "Have you seen anyone?"

"No. If we can reach one of those blades perhaps we can cut through these bindings."

They won't get the chance. Tiny stomps in, graceful as an earthquake, and hauls Tuvok and then Seven to their feet. "You were pathetic prey. Easily taken. The hunt was not a pleasure."

Poor baby.

Tiny wraps one of his enormous hands around Seven's neck--the thumb and fingers actually touch. "I could snap your puny neck with one twist," he threatens. (Well, duh.) Seven doesn't look all that intimidated, though. She simply stares at him and says nothing. He lets go with a huff. "Hardly worth taking."

Tuvok does most of the talking; he explains when "asked" that they were just picking up their email. "Let us go and we'll never use them again. Scout's honor."

Tiny says "I took you on a fair hunt. I claim the relics of the chase." (This is not good.) He breaks out some black paint from the table and marks Seven, then Tuvok, over the right eyebrow.

"Are the others on your ship able to put up more of a fight than you were?" he demands of Seven.

"You will find our captain a formidable opponent and our ship heavily armed," Seven says simply but with conviction.

"Good," Tiny rumbles. "Strong prey makes for a better hunt."

"Release us now and you'll be safe. Otherwise we will destroy you," says Tuvok calmly.

Spud shows up and dang near spits. Not that it would do much good--both Hirogen wear permanent mouth guards. Whether it's for breathing or for translation is anyone's guess. Maybe it's a Mr. Megaphone designed to make their voices more impressively daunting. Maybe without them they sound like Mike Tyson on Helium.

"Pitiful relics," Spud says.

"They're the first of their kind," counters Tiny. "I will be envied."

Spud says he's located Voyager and that they're an hour or so away. Tiny tells him to go to Stalking Mode.

Spud doesn't rush to comply. "The rest of the group is on its way."

"I wanted to claim this prey for myself."

"We may not be able to take them alone. We need the others." (I thought you said they were pitiful, Spudster...)

"I won't share a prey with the others. These two must be the only relics! Prepare them!"

If I understood this right, Tiny intends to blow up Voyager so the other crew cannot be claimed as "prey." Or something.

In the hunt, roadkill don't count.

Spud begins preparations. He picks up a nasty looking hand-mixer looking thingy.


Harry detects a ship and informs the captain. By the time she asks what kind it is, he has the answer: Hirogen--and Tuvok and Seven are on it.

So much for Stalking Mode.

Hailing frequencies open, captain.

"I'm Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager. You have two of my crew on board."

"Disconnect your links with our module and leave this space," Tiny rumbles.

"Not without my people," the diminutive redhead says forcefully.

"They are my relics!"

"I'm prepared to offer you something for their safe return. Surely we can come to an agreement."

Tiny waves her off. "If the rest of the group arrives you will be taken as well. I'm giving you a chance to run."

Oh, like that's gonna happen. "We don't run," Janeway says sharply.

Kim reports three more ships coming in at Ludicrous Speed.

"Don't be foolish," Tiny practically begs. "Leave now and save yourselves."

"Give me my people and we'll do just that."

"They're mine!" Tiny whines.

Dude, you just crossed the wrong woman.

"Then get ready for a fight," Janeway says, and her eyes light up. The best way to deal with bad news is to give Action Kate time to vent.

Say it together with the woman, folks:

"Red alert."

Tiny's beady little eyes go wide.

* * *

Tiny strides into the massive Trophy Room. Spud--the shorter of the two--stands between the standing Seven and Tuvok--neither of which even is as high as Spud's shoulders. These Hirogen, simply put, are two tall muthahs. If they could shoot a decent free throw, they could give Shaq a run for his money.

"Are they prepared?" Tiny asks. Neither Seven nor Tuvok looks worse for wear; "preparation" is not defined. I'm curious, but no answer is forthcoming this week.

"Yes. But now is not the time for it. We should wait until the others arrive and take the ship."

"I want to make the first kill. You will verify it," Tiny growls.

"If there is a battle, we must join in." Must be a Hirogen rule of the game or something.

"The others can wage the battle."

"Perhaps you are more interested in collecting relics. Perhaps your judgment is clouded." Spud looks like he's making a power play.

"Don't question me again," says Tiny, advancing on Spud, who lowers his gaze.

Talk about pitiful.

"I suggest you think carefully about your decision," says Tuvok. "If you kill us our captain will hunt you down and show no mercy."

"I'm not concerned," says Tiny.

"She's a redhead."

Tiny hesitates. But the script must go on. "Lower the harness."

Spud scans Seven. "Long, coiled intestines-- an interesting trophy," he says with a touch of pleasure.

If Seven of Nine was hoping for someone who cared about who she was inside, this is probably not what she had in mind. "What possible use could you make of my intestines?"

"Unusual relics are prized. Yours will make me envied by men and pursued by women."

Have you thought of buying a Camaro, spud boy?

"You are a crude species," says Seven contemptuously. "Only your size makes you formidable."

Spud wraps his meaty paw around Seven's throat again. "Your insults are as pitiful as your efforts to escape."

Seven only sneers. "You want insults? I picked this one up from Species 8192. 'Your momma so stinky--"

Tiny cuts her off, telling Spud to string Tuvok up in the dissection hammock. (You could call it a Spud Web. Get it? Hoo-boy, I kill myself sometimes.) "This one first. I want the female to witness what will happen to her."

"Their bone structure makes it difficult to cut from the back. This will take time."



Torres tells janeway they're at least a half hour from grabbing the rest of the Starfleet messages. Janeway tells her to keep at it.

For tactical, they learn that the Hirogen ship has a hull that resists beaming stuff through it. And the incoming vessels have more firepower by far.

Four against one. Hardly cheery odds...for the Hirogen.

Janeway gets the bright idea to use the singularity's gravity as a weapon, and has her people prep the ship for the expected added stress. It'll be tricky to retrieve Seven and Tuvok with all the extra gunk in the area (shields, gravity fields, weapons discharges) but heck--if it was easy, this wouldn't be Voyager.

When all is ready, Voyager tweaks the array. "Try the transporter lock, Harry."


The Hirogen vessel starts to buckle, sizzle, and groan.

"Stabilize the ship!"

"I can't. The gravity well is pulling us in!"

While Spud tries to work the controls, Tuvok (who was untied so he could be placed in the harness) takes his chance. He grabs the scythe-like blade from Tiny and slashes the big guy's throat. He starts to gurgle, but is amazingly not dead, or even bleeding. Before Tuvok can attack Spud, Tiny grabs his arm, shakes him like a rag doll, and tosses him across the room and into a wall.

Seven is not impressed. "Ooh, you're so stroong," she says. "Smelling!"

Tiny whirls on her. "Oh, now that was just plain mean," he says, and a tear begins to form.

"That vessel is weakening the module's containment field," Spud says.

"Ready your weapons. Signal the others to attack!"


Torres reports that the ship's defensive measures with the array hosed the rest of the message. "I've gotten as much of it as I'm going to get."

Janeway acknowledges. We can see Harry's pained look behind her.

Janeway hails the ships. "Agree to retreat, and we'll restore the containment field."

The Hirogen's answer is with a bang. Stuff starts to explode.

But that's not the worst of it. "Their weapons are destabilizing the containment field!"

Janeway tells the aliens to stop firing, or they're digging their own singularity-engulfed grave.

The Hirogen are used to being the pursuers. They keep firing.

The Little Black Hole That Could...does. The field that had channeled its immense energy collapses, and it makes up for 100,000 years of lost time, swallowing the sensor array like a Fun Size bag of M&M's (for those unfamiliar with the Fun Size--it's about seven M&M's. You can swallow a whole bag in one gulp and have plenty of room for a mouthful of Mountain Dew.)

As the array goes...so goes the Hirogen. In short order, three large, powerful Hirogen vessels are crumbled like beer cans and tossed down a very tiny hole.

A Giant Sucking Sound fills the vacuum of space. And it's dragging the final Hirogen vessel and Voyager in as well.

Harry says he's close to a lock on Tuvok and Seven, but the gravity well will make it dangerous. Janeway says to do it anyway--they're running out of time.


While Tiny and Spud try to save their ship, Seven and Tuvok get all sparkly.


They may have disappeared from the Hirogen vessel, but reconstructing Harry hasn't finished the job. Tuvok and Seven are still in the pattern buffer. And it's not looking good. But he manages to deposit the away team in Transporter Room Two just before Tiny and Spud are crushed like swaggering petty dictators with delusions of godhood in a particle accelerator.

But Voyager is still getting sucked in.

Janeway barks out commands. Life Support is diverted to engines. Engines are ordered to 120 percent. Harry shouts that it could breach the warp core. "So will the black hole, Harry--just do it!"

"Yes Ma'am."

Somehow, the ship breaks free before getting torn to bits. It's still a rough ride, but it's getting smoother by the minute.

"Resume course," says Janeway. "I'll be in Astrometrics."


A tense Torres has some bad news for the captain. She shows the sensor array as it was...and as it is. "The energy released from the singularity created a massive discharge along the relay network. It disabled every one of the stations." We see a domino effect as the array becomes simply a bunch of bright dots. Janeway asks about the Starfleet message; Torres says most of the underlying text came through, along with" (her face clouds) "a few more personal letters."

Janeway asks how soon they can see the coded message. Torres says it will take a while to decode, and suggests Harry work on it. She excuses herself to deliver the letters.

"Neelix can do that," Janeway says.

"No need!" says Torres--something's going on here. She's acting funny. "Anyway, there's one that I want to do personally." She takes the PADDS and leaves Janeway in Astrometrics. The captain stares at the screen--and the loss of 60,000 light years of Mail Call.

Where's Costner when you need him?



Torres puts Harry out of his misery. She sees him first as she enters the bridge. "Good news, Harry," she says, smiling, handing him a PADD. "I got this at the last minute."

Like a kid at Prixin, Harry practically jumps into her arms, he's so happy. "It's from my folks! Thanks!" He practically hyperventilates with joy.

Now for the other message you've all been waiting for. Torres takes an extra moment to steel herself for the moment, then walks over to Paris.

"I'm sorry, Tom. I wasn't able to download yours in time."

Paris seems at a loss for words. "Just when I was getting eager to read it," he admits.

"You could assume that he said he loves you, and that he's proud of you," she offers, biting her lip a little.

Tom considers this, emotions warring for dominance. Finally, he sets his jaw. "I think I will."

Don't ask me why, but I think B'Elanna is hiding something.


Captain's Log, Supplemental. Seven of Nine and Commander Tuvok suffered no serious physical damage after their encounter on the alien ship. I've been eager to hear Tuvok's impressions of the species who took them hostage.

"I learned very little about them but I believe we should consider them extremely dangerous. They seem to lack any moral center."

Oh, dang--they're Yuppies!

"Do you know why the relay network was so important to them?" Janeway asks. Tuvok says he assumes they used it for communication. (So all that talk about relics and prey and stuff didn't give you any extra clues, logic boy? It's the interstellar analog of bassmasters' underseas fishin' radar!

Or not.)

"I doubt we've seen the last of them," Tuvok remarks tellingly. We've already seen the previews for next week--it's a pretty safe bet their paths will cross soon.

Chakotay rings and enters, and Tuvok makes his exit. Chakotay says that after their latest near-death experience, all the repair crews found to work on was a little routine maintenance on the warp coils.

Janeway offers him some coffee. "Cream and sugar?"

"Two sugars," he says. She seems repulsed by the very idea of soiling a perfectly good cup of black coffee that way.

"You know, you drink too much of that stuff," Chakotay observes. "If I'm not mistaken that's your third cup this morning."

"Fourth," she huffs, surprised he'd underestimate her like that. "And on a day like today it won't be my last. Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised. It's gotten me through the worst of the last three years. I beat the Borg with it."

They share a chuckle at that. The Collective and Species 8472 combined didn't stand a chance against a Redheaded Captain Powered By Java.

She says she's not as worried about the ship as she is about the crew. "I think they were hoping mail call would become a regular part of their day."

Chakotay tells her that "Neelix is putting together an impromptu party. He thought it might cheer them up." Set to begin as soon as everyone's gathered together.

If you plan it, they will come...

"Leave it to Neelix to come up with the right idea at the right time," Janeway says with approval.

"How are you doing?" Chakotay asks seriously. Janeway says she's fine. He snorts. "You'd say that if you just had your legs torn off by a Trachon beast."

"Look what you've been through in the last few days. We finally make a connection with home and it's ripped away from us." Janeway's head falls back on the sofa.

"We manage to make another enemy who's going to try and hunt us down and destroy us." She begins rubbing her head like those "Scientific Method" aliens are putting the screws to her again.

"And on top of that--"

"It's all right. You can say it. On top of all that, I got a "Dear John" letter."

Janeway sighs. "It wasn't really a surprise. I guess I didn't really expect him to wait for me considering the circumstances. It made me realize that I was using him as a safety net. You know-- as a way to avoid becoming involved with someone else."

"You don't have that safety net anymore," Chakotay says, leering.

"That's right," Janeway agrees. J/C hearts race.

"Then again, my life is far from uneventful here in the Delta Quadrant. It's not like I would have had a chance to pursue a relationship even if I had realized I was alone."

Oh, yeah. Not like a monkey-infested planetoid with plenty of wood for building headboards and bathtubs was any sort of hint....what's with all this "alone" crap anyway? If she feels she's alone, it's her own dang fault. The big guy sitting next to her with the body art and the Angry Warrior stories has made it clear on numerous occasions that she's only as alone as she wants to be.

Oh, sure, a captain's life is a lonely one by nature. No beach to walk on...

"You're hardly alone," says Chakotay, yet again, "and to my way of thinking, there's still plenty of time."

That doesn't quite have the desired effect. "Plenty of time," she repeats, voice empty. 60,000 light years of travel time.

Without a communications net.

Time for another shot of caffeicinno.

"Neelix to the ready room. The party's about to begin and there are only two people missing."

"We're on our way," says Janeway, pointing a finger upwards for nobody in particular. She doesn't comment on his hideous British accent.

Chakotay rises from the sofa and offers her his arm. Laughing, Janeway takes it. And together, they leave her ready room and head for the party.


Consider this a sequel to "Message in a Bottle." This ep covers the consequences of that episode.

Starfleet manages to make use of the sensor array to contact Voyager. They provide a bundle of personal messages...and something more. Something potentially useful, that will take time to uncover. I thought this was a very nice touch. Don't give everything away at once.

As amusing as "Message" was, this episode has an appropriately somber tone. The inevitability of messages from home guaranteed that there would be bad news (the demise of the Maquis was already known to DS9 fans, for one thing) and I also liked that not everyone got a message, and that not everyone welcomed one.

The second contact with the Hirogen was...okay. They're not all that interesting so far to me. Seven herself said it--they're big and strong (Seven used to put a lot of importance on being Big--many--so I guess this is a good measure of growth for her that size no longer seems to matter), but otherwise they don't have a lot going for them. They're hunters, but Seven and Tuvok and Janeway had no doubt that the Hirogen (at least these Hirogen) would be the hunted in a fair fight. That Janeway managed to take out four vessels that outgunned her with a little ingenuity and a lot of help from Black Hole Fu does tend to make the Hirogen a little tough to take seriously. So far.

But Voyager keeps raising the stakes. In "Message" it was an electric wedgie. Here it's not only First Blood, but the hosing of a 100,000 year old piece of very useful property.

There is some potential. They have "rules of the hunt." They have some sort of social structure, and some competition among themselves--friendly or otherwise. They have Achilles' heels (pride and overconfidence) that make defeating them possible, even with their physical superiority.

So...for this round, the Hirogen are a mixed bag. More bark than bite, but there is some potential here. And with Janeway's latest spanking and the destruction of their property, the ante's been upped. If the Hirogen are used to being the bad boys on the galactic block, they have to do something about Janeway and Voyager to save face.


Now...about the array...

I said in the "Message" review that I wanted the thing used at least once more, because it was just too juicy a plot device to ignore.

Well, they followed through. And just when I was considering the downsides of having the sensor array available for the bulk of their journey...they eliminated the problem.

And it wasn't entirely their fault.

They used the black hole to defend themselves. But it wasn't their intent to destroy it. The Hirogen delivered the fatal blow to the array by ignoring Janeway's warnings and continuing to fire.

Had Voyager intentionally destroyed the thing, I would have been less satisfied by the end result. They've already done that ending.

What did they get in the interim? Some letters, which brought pleasure and pain.

And a secret to be revealed later.

Some of the letters were obvious. You knew we'd hear from Mark, and it was easy to guess that he'd have moved on with his life. In MOSAIC (also by Jeri Taylor) we learned that Janeway had long since resigned herself to the possibility--or at least believed herself to have done so. But that doesn't matter. Concrete proof that he had gotten on with his life--that's going to sting no matter what. You can't be engaged to someone and not feel something when they find happiness with someone else, even if you feel happy for them. There's some petty, prideful thing in all of us that secretly wishes that nobody we ever dated will ever completely get over us.

What broke my heart was Janeway's observation that "there was such a note of finality." We didn't see the contents of the letter, but I imagine the gist of it was, "glad you're not dead, but the engagement's still off." If she was hoping, however guiltily, that he'd be pining for her, she's disappointed.

So, now there's no excuse. If she doesn't let Chakotay build her another bathtub and soon, there will be mutiny in the ranks.


The other expected bombshell wasn't quite the disruptive influence I expected--though I suppose they could revisit it. Chakotay and Torres learn that the Maquis is dead. Now, we don't know who are strictly defined as Maquis--I'd like to think it's mostly those who actively took up arms against the Cardassians, and not entire planets (such as Chakotay's homeworld). But I'm not going to hazard a guess.

The fact is, the Delta Quadrant Maquis have been dead for a long time. We rarely hear them use the word anymore. I can understand the initial reaction from Chakotay and Torres--anger, hurt, devastation. The loss of that many people you care about would be overwhelming in any case. But I can also understand the rapidity of their recovery--it ceased to be their fight a long time ago. They're as Starfleet as anyone else on board. At this point, it's highly unlikely any of the Maquis left on Voyager would be arrested if they were to return to Voyager today. They've redeemed themselves and then some. It would be politic to treat them like heroes.

What surprises me is that any Maquis would still be in prison. Everything they said about the Cardassians, all their warnings about treaty violations and abuses, was correct. I'd think the Federation would want as many able-bodied freedom fighters as they can get, and the Maquis were as good as anyone at holding their own.

The near-death of the ship and crew seems to have put the Maquis news in perspective. There needs to be space to grieve, but survival comes first.

All the same, I wonder that Janeway didn't address the issue at all. Didn't ask about letters to Chakotay, didn't ask about news of the Maquis (you'd think she'd have heard). This news is potentially explosive to morale, and on a more personal level is devastating to her first officer and friend.

Ah well. There's always next week...


Ensign Harry's got more to worry about than Seven this week, thank goodness. I've always been a bit annoyed when he's the first and most optimistic whenever even the slightest chance of contact with or travel to Home is invoked. It's a knee-jerk reaction, and you'd think he's been disappointed enough times that he'd be a bit shy about jumping the gun on enthusiasm. It's understandable, but it's almost a cliche by now.

The matter of the letters, though--that worked pretty well for me. He misses home something fierce, and though most of the time he can do his job quite well, he's still a youngster who desperately needs that contact with his family and that hope of seeing them soon. He knows--and we know--that his parents dote on him. His mother tried to convince Janeway to let her send his clarinet to them before they shipped off. So if they're alive to write, they're going to write.

So the lack of mail from his family is more than he can bear.

It's telling that he didn't expect any mail from his one-time fiancé, Libby. After "Non Sequitur," we haven't heard much about her. I think he dropped her like a bad transmission after that episode, and he hasn't looked back. Had she written, he wouldn't have cared much except as far as the news applied to his family.

I was very happy to see him get that letter. The contents didn't matter much to me. I'm just glad he got it. It would have been too cruel--and dramatically unsatisfying--to deny him.


Torres, it would seem, didn't get a letter. She didn't much expect one. But Chakotay's letter affected her. So did Harry's--the one bit of good news. So did Tom's.

Funny, isn't it? No letter to call her own, but the three men she cares most about on board all needed her support because of their own letters. It was a strong--if wrenching--Torres episode as a result.

And the question must be asked. Did Tom's message from his father really not make it?

Honestly, I think it did. And she spaced it, because Tom's worry was well founded: Admiral Paris is as stubborn as ever, and his letter would have done Tom more harm than good. She was just acting too strangely around Janeway in that final scene in Astrometrics, really not wanting Neelix to deliver the last batch of mail, wanting to handle it herself.

If the message for Tom really hadn't arrived, she wouldn't have cared if Neelix delivered them--she would have talked to Tom anyway to offer condolences. And the good news for Harry isn't enough for her to have been that protective of the mail.

When last she'd seen Paris, he didn't look like he could handle bad news from his dad. Her carefully worded "you can assume it was a nice letter" on the bridge seemed more like a fingers-crossed coverup than an accurate guess at what he might have said. I think she's protecting him.

I don't expect them to revisit The Letter, but if they do, that's my guess.


It seems B'Elanna has had to do a lot of the work in this relationship. Day of Honor, admitting her feelings, learning to stop running away. Paris has helped her with this--but he hasn't had to work nearly as hard on his own problems.

Well, this week, he did.

We saw a bit of Season One Tom here--the humor-covers-pain routine, the I-don't-care attitude, the running away from problems. He was pretty self-centered throughout the episode (being no help at all to Harry in his hour of misery, and oblivious to B'Elanna's own misery) until Torres cornered him and forced him to face what was on his mind. Their confrontation wasn't a shouting match, but it was tense, and it was painful to watch.

I mean that in a good way. It felt like a genuine, character-appropriate moment, and a good building moment for the characters and for the couple. I thought it was well played, especially on Roxanne Dawson's part, but Robbie McNeill was also nicely understated, and nicely textured.


Tuvok's message was handled fairly well. He and Neelix are still strange bedfellows, and it was a nice scene between them that played on their differences. But Neelix is rubbing off on him a little--Tuvok heeded his advice sooner than he probably would have otherwise. That Talaxian enthusiasm is indeed infectious sometimes.


Neelix is also showing some definite character differences this week. His enthusiasm is muted where appropriate, his sensitivity to the feelings of those as yet untouched by letters from home is appreciated. His job as morale officer comes in handy this week, and he fits the bill. Kudos.


Seven of Nine seems to be growing. She's growing more aware of the opinions of others. In this case, Captain Janeway's.

What brings it on, I'm not sure. My guess is, last week's death glare from the captain for her unauthorized zapping of the very first Hirogen got to her. When she's not allowed to take a shuttle out by herself, she takes it as a sign of mistrust--it's not, but it gives us an idea of what she's thinking, and that's welcome.

She doesn't come right out and say that the captain's opinion matters to her, but it's clear she values the captain's importance to the crew--of which she is apparently now considering herself a part. She asks rather than acts this week, and that's a step in the right direction. When she tells the Hirogen that her captain will kick their sorry oversized butts, she sounds awfully proud of the thought that Janeway IS her captain.

She's still got a long way to go. But it's a good start.


Anything else? Well, the collapse of the Array and the destruction of the Hirogen ships was pretty cool. The Hirogen ship looked awfully low-tech for such a widespread and powerful race -- they must be a people in serious decline. Those Hirogen dudes were extremely tall. Why one of them didn't go down for good or even stop talking the same way when Tuvok slashed his throat, I'll never know. The significance of the Hirogen paints does have me curious.

I guess that's about it. I could say something about the Hirogen "rules of the game," but they're still fairly unclear. We know that at least some of them put winning before fairness, though--and maybe that's a weakness to be exploited. Maybe those who miss the good old days when folks played by the rules when hunting down innocent sentient creatures. Maybe there are Hirogen who tire of the hunt, or who think it's wrong--Tuvok's comment about "no moral center" is based on contact with only two Hirogen. They could have been bad apples.

Hopefully the next episode will tell us more. We'll see more Hirogen--as well as a visit from an old friend sure to give Harry nightmares.

So...on a 0-10 scale, I'm going to give this an 8.75, or (* * * *). I thought it was pretty solid all the way around, a necessary and appropriate follow-up to "Message in a Bottle," and a good introduction to the so-called Hunter arc. Good performances by all. The strengths are very strong, and the weaknesses aren't debilitating. I enjoyed it a lot. And in the spirit of Valentines Day week, the relationship moments were quite effective.

I'm looking forward to next week.

As for Costner--I can't believe I didn't reference The Bodyguard.

Next week: What happens when the hunters become the hunted?

If you want a second opinion, check out Julia's, or head on over to the lounge where Kris and some of her pals offers their musings from the Rec Room O' Reviews.

Copyright © 1998 Jim Wright

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

Last Updated: February 14, 1998
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